Friday, April 18, 2014

The Ethics of Terraforming

As we enter a new phase in human history whose defining element could be space exploration, there are many issues that could become points of scientific debate. For example, one major point of contention as we become increasingly proficient in space travel could be the ethicality of terraforming, or altering a planet or moon in order to make it habitable to humans. The points of debate here are completely conditional on the existence or absence of life on that planet or moon. Particularly, should we terraform a planet that contains life if the process of terraforming could harm or even eradicate those indigenous life forms? The answer for me is quite simply no. I don’t think it is morally acceptable to go into the habitat of another life form and completely alter that habitat, and in turn kill off that life form, just because it could benefit us. People may say that small unintelligent life forms on other planets are intrinsically less valuable than humans, so therefore it is within our rights as superior beings to take over their world. The same people would most likely say that destroying those life forms truly isn’t a big deal because they aren’t as important as humans. I would call those people “species racists”. Just because a species seems to be inferior and inconsequential compared to humans doesn’t mean that we are superior to that species and can do whatever we want to them. White slave traders were convinced that Africans were an inferior race and that justified enforced servitude, and oh how wrong they turned out to be. I wouldn’t want to see humans return to repeat that history in the form of terraforming.

That being said, the more important question is whether or not we would actually terraform if we knew it could harm other life forms. I really do believe that we wouldn’t. I think that as humans we feel a guilt over what we have done to our own planet which would stop us from destroying another life form. We all know that our species has developed civilization in such a way that we now have an uncontrollable and irreversible pattern of poisoning of destroying our own earth. We destroy our own forests to expand our domain, destroying ecosystems and driving entire species into extinction in the process. We are seeing and hearing the effects of this habit of ours every day, and it bothers us. We know we are terrible to our world, and we wish we could change it, but we can’t. Because of this guilt, I do believe that we would refrain from terraforming if it threatened the existence of another life form. This hypothesis, however, is conditional on the threat to human existence. If the human species is in danger of becoming extinct, then all bets are off. Because our will to survive as individuals and as a species is so strong, we would absolutely destroy another life form if it was a situation of life or death for us. Let’s hope it never comes to that.
Tristan Lockwood