Last week, scientists at NASA’s Mars Exploration programme confirmed the existence of flowing water on Mars.
This discovery comes after years of exploration, providing scientists all over the world with refreshed hopes of discovering life beyond our own planet. But even though this is a wondrous discovery, how does a mission like this really benefit us?
When we think about how much more could be spent on making our own planet a more inhabitable place, investing so much into the discovery of life elsewhere begins to seem a bit foolish.
NASA is funded by the US Government, an expense that in 2010 for example, added up to $20.4 billion. In the same year, the US spent $32.5 billion on green energy, just $12.1 billion more on something that is arguably crucial to the survival of this planet.
There are so many problems that need dealing with right now. For starters, we have a third world devastated by poverty, HIV and a lack of clean water.
Half the planet’s wildlife has been lost in the past 40 years and according to scientists, we have officially entered into a sixth mass extinction thanks to our exploitative and unsustainable practices.
Over eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped in the ocean every year due to the terrible management of the planet’s soaring waste levels – of which most could be reduced if recycling and eco friendly packaging were enforced.
A huge portion of the ocean is as alien to us as Mars, yet we continue to destroy it. Surely this is hard evidence that any kind of investment into stepping foot on other planets should be brought to an abrupt end.
And it’s not only the sea we’re damaging. The planet’s climate is at a constant risk of increasing beyond a safe temperature due to our incessant reliance on fossil fuels and the mass production of meat (cows fart methane). Ironically, the land used for the mass production of meat is only made possible by deforestation – a practice that by itself significantly contributes to climate change.
The climate’s temperature needs to stay under 2C. If it doesn’t, the effects of climate change will quickly become a whole lot more obvious. To put it into perspective, there is a good chance that New York and other coastal cities will sink in the next 100 years.
I don’t want to shower anyone with doom and gloom, but this is the reality of the world we live in. Couldn’t the billions of dollars being spent on jaunts to Mars be spent more intelligently?
Ironically, it is our hunt for ‘intelligent’ life that has lead us to this point. All the billions of dollars spent on Mars exploration boil essentially down to a very expensive curiosity. Are we alone in the universe? What else is out there?
So let’s think about those questions. We are one planet in a solar system made up of eight planets. Our solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy – home to an estimated 100 billion other solar systems. The Milky Way, according to the best estimates of astronomers, is one of another 100-200 billion galaxies.
And that isn’t taking into account quantum physics and the idea that separate realities can exist simultaneously. The universe might in fact have no beginning and no end and there could be an infinite number of them existing at once.
So is the answer to our romantic questions not obvious? Why invest so much in finding out?
Besides anything else, if superior intelligence does exist elsewhere in the universe, would it want anything to do with a species that has shown such a lack of compassion for everything but itself?
So let’s imagine that life has been found elsewhere and the technology for space travel has been invented. What then? Would we ravage the land and exploit the resources of other planets in the same way we have on our own? Where does our desire to conquer our surroundings stop?
NASA is a demonstration of the immense power humans have to push boundaries and challenge the impossible. Indirectly, much of the technology we enjoy today is as a result of their work. But in this case, is a sustained and expensive effort to find life on Mars a waste of this ability? Shouldn’t the same level of ingenuity be invested into working sustainably with what we have on this planet?
The good news is, there are indeed people all over the world doing just that. Slowly, but surely, things are changing thanks to people power. Revolution happens every day. None of it seems radical or particularly obvious right now, but change takes time.
If you’d told a gay man from the 1920s that not only would he not be thrown in a prison cell for being gay, but could marry his partner, he’d probably laugh in your face. LGBT activists fought for years for this to become a reality and the end result is thanks to all the small actions, which add up to one big action.
Let’s hope we can say the same thing about many more global issues in another 100 years.
The small actions are already taking place. Next week for example, plastic bags in supermarkets will cost 5p, a tiny decision that could drastically reduce wasted plastic.
Tesco recently introduced a scheme that aims to donate their wasted food to charities, influenced by the more ambitious actions of France, who recently made it illegal for supermarkets to waste unsold food. These are the tiny actions that, over time, will help alleviate some of the previously mentioned issues. There are too many more examples of this to mention.
Whilst the intentions behind these decisions may be based more on swinging public opinion in their favour than a selfless commitment to global issues, they still happened. The results will be the same either way, and it was all thanks to the public piling on the pressure.
Even David Cameron’s recent decision to let 20,000 Syrian refugees into the UK by 2020 was as a result of the huge pressure mounted against him by the public. It may be an insignificant number, but it’s something. Our voices make a difference; we just need to make them heard. It’s never been easier.
So yes, the prospect of life on Mars may be fascinating, but maybe it’s best to leave these life forms be until we’ve figured out how to look after the life forms on our own planet first. There is so much work to be done.
In 2100, would you rather your children be living in a world free of poverty, inequality and waste? Or one where there is an American flag on Mars?