Monday, April 05, 2004

Martian utility

Michael Williams is having fun at the expense of those who think it is unethical to terraform Mars. But he's just going after the low-hanging fruit. The slightly more respectable argument against terraform Mars is utilitarian: "If there is life on Mars, then who knows what we might learn from it. We can't risk destroying it before we find it." I've heard this argument before: "We must protect the rainforests. There might some obscure plant there that contains the cure for cancer." The problem with the argument is that it the expected utility of native Martian bacteria and obscure rain forest flora is actually quite low, due to the low probability that we will find a valuable use for them. One might as well argue, "Don't show up on time for work today; stop by the convenience store to buy a lottery ticket. You could win millions." (OK, I guess I'm going after low-hanging fruit too.)

The only likely goods of a "pristine" Mars are aesthetic appeal to some and partial satiation of scientific curiosity for some. Of course, a (human) populated Mars would allow many more people to enjoy Martian scenery up close and allow much greater scientific investigation of Mars. Thus, I see no reason not to terraform Mars. I say we dump any loony ideas about a Moon base or human travel to Mars for at least a century, and start making Mars a place worth colonizing.

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