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Not This Again

The "rocks have rights" crowd are worried again about vandalizing space:

Edward O Wilson has suggested that biophilia, our appreciation of Earth's biosphere, is a by-product of evolving in this environment. If he's right, we might find we don't care about other worlds in the same way. This raises the alarming prospect of rapacious lunar mining altering the view from Earth.

Maybe our biophilia will kick in here: after all, our view of the Moon is one of Earth's natural vistas. Surely we can agree that we don't want that changed? It is an awesome thing to look up and remember that human footprints once marked the Moon's surface. It's quite another to imagine the moon looking like an abandoned quarry.

No, we can't agree. Note that this was in the context of a discussion on "eco issues" on the moon.

Here's the "eco issue" on the moon (and in the rest of the universe, as far as we know right now). There is no "eco" there. There is also no "bio" for our "biophilia" to kick in about. Ecology and biology are about life, something that exists only on earth. It's one thing to want to preserve an ecosystem, but when one simply wants to preserve the entire universe in its current "pristine" state, there's something unsettling and misanthropic going on.

Why is it all right for a meteroid to slam into the lunar surface and leave a crater (which has happened billions of times throughout history, and continues today) which is how the moon got to look the way it is, but a pit for mining is verboten? Would he object to seeing the lights of a lunar city up there? Does he have any idea how far away it is and how much mining one would have to do to see it from earth, even with a telescope?

What is this worship of entropy? What is this loathing of humanity? What is this apparent loathing of life itself?


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Leland wrote:

Concur about "eco" and "bio" being about life. However this:
It's quite another to imagine the moon looking like an abandoned quarry.

That's what it looks like to me now. On the flipside, most earth quarries are not visible from space even at LEO. None are visible when looking back from the moon.

Most of the commenters at New Scientist are blasting the post and rightfully so. Then there is the occassional comment like this:
Also, if we start mining the moon, we may change the gravitational pull it has on the Earth, which would mess things up here too.
Apparently New Science is about opinion and beliefs rather than physical realities. We might as well go back to believing lightning is hurled from the heavens by Zeus and Apollo pulls the Sun around the Earth.

Roy Lofquist wrote:

Poster on the wall of a mining supplies company in Tucson, Arizona:

Earth First!
We'll mine the other planets later.

Raoul Ortega wrote:

an abandoned quarry.

Sounds like a description of Nevada. Actually, the moon looks better, because there's no wind to uproot the sagebrush and pile it up against the fences.

Frank Glover wrote:

Thanks, Leland. Many times in the past, when promoting extraterrestrial resources as a means of *less* damage to Earth, I've often phrased it:

"Some people say that strip mining makes an area 'look like the surface of the Moon.' They're right. I'd rather use...the surface of the Moon, instead."

Now, if there's anything in the way of native life, we might want to use an ethic expressed in Star Trek II as to where the instant-terraforming 'Genesis Device' shouldn't be used: "There can't be so much as a microbe, or the show's off!"

But if it's a truly dead world, I don't care if you turn it into another Disney World....

Brock wrote:

I think it would be pretty cool to look up at the Moon and seen webs of interlinking city lights. Or try using a backyard telescope to see Lunar City 1.

memomachine wrote:


I await the day that people protest a manned mission to Mars, which I personally oppose for other reasons, because it'll disturb the pristine nature of Mars. And of course bring out our nature destroying habits where we'll pollute Mars ... yada yada yada. You know the drill.

Seriously. Why is the word "pristine" misused so much by these whacko people?

Like ANWR. Pristine? I don't think so! It's been crapped on for thousands of years by caribou. If I brought a huge herd of caribou and had them crap on your lawn you wouldn't describe the result as "pristine" now would you?

Of course not!

memomachine wrote:


"Also, if we start mining the moon, we may change the gravitational pull it has on the Earth, which would mess things up here too."

Isn't that a positive?

If we're going to have higher sea levels because of global warming, **snort**, then having reduced gravitational effects on tides, and thus lower tide action, be a benefit?

Strip mine the moon!

Carl Pham wrote:

What is this apparent loathing of life itself?

Let's not be melodramatic, or more precisely, let us not buy into our opponents framing of the debate. You're accepting your enemy's definition of terms for the argument, Rand, which means you've 50% lost already.

The debate isn't really about ethics, or philosophy, or any such thing. It's much simpler, it's about power, both social and political. Guys who are philosophy professors (the original author) or journalists (the NS blogger) have maximum power when philosophical cleverness or the ability to turn a catchy phrase or tell a heart-tugging story are valued highly. On the other hand, they have minimal power when the ability to turn iron ore into steel or draft the plans for a moon orbiter are valued highly. Guess which world they want to live in?

Not surprisingly, the philosophers and the journalists push the point of view that engineering goals -- which are, by definition, all about changing the environment to better suit people -- are suspect, even dangerous, unless firmly controlled by....guess who?! Why, philosophers and journalists and lawyers, of course! Sensitive people, who have been educated to understand all kinds of subtle ineffable unmeasurable issues that you lunkhead gears-and-wires men are too coarse to understand. What a surprise.

jjs wrote:

Also, if we start mining the moon, we may change the gravitational pull it has on the Earth, which would mess things up here too."

How much material would we need to move from the surface of the moon to affect its gravitational pull? In any case all the proposals for the use of moon material, with the exception of fusion fuel, have been to use the material in situ.

Mike Puckett wrote:

"How much material would we need to move from the surface of the moon to affect its gravitational pull? "

Almost as much material as would be required for "Bruce GagaMaggots" fantasy about rocket hydrocarbon induced global warming fdelusion to come true.

Scott wrote:

While I agree that Mr. Wilson's concerns are rather silly, I can imagine changes to the moon's surface that would be offensive to me. What if mining operations, ore processing and manufacturing processes were to significantly decrease the moon's albedo? I know this is rather far fetched, but if self replicating machinery were to be developed in the future... Full moon nights at White Sands wouldn't be the same. I do think that perhaps some gross guidelines are worth thinking about.

Mike Borgelt wrote:

"Then, before returning, chilled and shivering, Baedecker saw one more thing. Crossing the band between light and dark where knife black shadows cut ragged holes in the faint earthlight, Baedecker saw the lights. Strings of lights. Circles of lights. Lights of cities and transportways and quarries and communities, some burrowing,some spreading proudly across the dark mare and highlands, all waiting tenaciously for the dawn."

from "Phases of Gravity" Dan Simmons

Note the "spreading proudly". What the hell is wrong with these people haters?

Ed Minchau wrote:

Scott, that would be awesome. In fact, if it were possible to do so at a profit, then if Coke or Pepsi asked me to I would carve their logos across the entire earthside of the moon.

Carl Pham wrote:

While we're at it, what about the Sun? Surely its appearance is of much higher aesthetic concern.

What about all those solar power panels that Real Soon Now (Vote Obama! Change! Hope!) will provide our petawatts of power? When they get going, and suck up all those ultraviolet/blue light photons from the Sun, we'll be left with a dirty red dim light to fill our sky. No more beautiful blue cloudless days for summer barbecue and baseball -- all the blue photons will have been consumed by ecoprotest barons to power the home theaters in their Gore-style mansions, the pigs. We need some rules, clearly.

Not to mention the darker consuming so many of those nonrenewable solar photons, we probably hasten the day when the Sun runs out of nuclear fuel and goes nova or expands to burn the Earth to ashes. What then, irresponsible short-sighted consumerist fools?

Or what if extracting all those ultraviolet photons cools the Sun below fusion temperature, and it just goes out? We need to be more careful stewards of our fragile "Home Star," or as Carl Sagan would call it, the Pale Yellow Dot -- it's the only one we've got!


Paul Milenkovic wrote:

I think what the fracas about ANWR is the notion of wilderness and that there should be parks, preserves, or other parcels of land upon which there should be little or no human footprint or sign of human civilization.

Its not about the caribou or about the polar bear or about the mosquito population in Arctic summer. That ANWR is a gosh-forsaken swamp that no one goes there is part of the point. The notion is that ANWR is so remote, so much a mosquito-infested bog in summer, a frozen waste in winter that no one would want to go there, leaving that particular expanse of land free from roads, pipelines, lights, cars, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and so on as a matter of principle.

From the standpoint of people who care about this sort of thing, the thought is "oh gosh, I thought there could be at least a tiny amount of true wilderness left on this Earth, and now they want to drill for oil." If they explained it that way, more of us would understand, but like people belonging to any "pressure group", they can't tell us their real motivation and instead have to build up some narrative about a special ecosystem. There is nothing special about ANWR apart from being an ecosystem believed to have minimal human influence.

Some people who hold this view about the wilderness concept talk some ways about the human influence on the surface of the Earth that sounds truly misanthropic. But different times and different cultures have different ideas about what constitutes "nature."

Is a city park nature because it has some grass and maybe a pond instead of all concrete? Is a farm nature because it is mainly greenspace and has deer, racoon, and other wildlife, even if it is in maize monoculture? Is a conservation park in Madison, Wisconsin nature, even though it was once a farm under tillage and they now let noxious weeds ranging from Canada thistle to garlic mustard spread in the place? Is ANWR nature, even though no one in their right mind would vacation there?

I think Michael Crichton had an interesting counterpoint to environmentalism in his polemic-as-a-novel titled State of Fear. He has this section where he talks about how the human species is so much a part of the landscape that there is little in the landscape since the Pliestocene that hasn't had human influence on it. Wilderness -- no such thing for the last 10,000 years. The Smokey the Bear campaign where we try to remove human influence by preventing humans from starting fires, and we have the most human-influenced environment imaginable of a forest laden with tinder capable of being sparked into the worst conflagrations.

I manage some land where I am trying to control garlic mustard and other weed species, and I know of "weed warriors" who would look in horror at use of Roundup, but in the city conservation parks they are virtuous in their reliance on volunteers and hand pulling, and they do such a poor job that this weed is going to take over every plot of unmown land and tree undergrowth in the City of Madison. I look askance of some of the ideas of nature, wilderness, or land with reduced or no human influence -- no such thing. I say drill in ANWR and do it responsibly with the best possible controls against spills.

Norm wrote:


We'll just dig up the backside.

Adam Greenwood wrote:

To paraphrase Orwell, these people are objectively the enemies of mankind.

Mark B. wrote:

Can't they just do all the mining, etc., on the far side of the moon? Then no matter what kind of a mess they make, we'll never have to see it from here!

memomachine wrote:


"Can't they just do all the mining, etc., on the far side of the moon? Then no matter what kind of a mess they make, we'll never have to see it from here!"

With Hollywood around?! Never!

We'll just create a massive movie style prop that'll look like the moon, put it in orbit in front of the moon so the actual moon'll be obscured. Then we can strip mine that baby to our hearts content.

Yeah just joking. I was joking about the caribou. Frankly I have a hard time understanding how some people approach nature. I was listening to one female enviro-nut blowhard talking about how any drilling on the one tiny piece of ANWR we need for oil would "destroy her view" and "spoil it forever".

Can I point out that even after all of those eruptions people still live on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Land recovers. It's not a virgin. Land don't have hymens.

ken anthony wrote:

Had a hmmmm moment... Don't you have to be somewhere to see a view? ...and if you are, aren't you potentially spoiling someone elses view by being there?

Wait! If you own something, aren't you depriving others the right to own it? We should abolish ownership to avoid this problem.

What if we settle all of our disagreements and everyone agrees that we all are of one mind... and discover that the answer is 42. Just then the Vogons vaperize Earth to make way for a new hyperspace bypass?

Nuke the moon! Ok, where'd I put my medication?

Anyone else notice that the 5th largest planet in our solar system got the 5th largest moon?

1. Jupiter, 2. Saturn, 3. Uranus, 4. Neptune, 5. Earth
1. Ganymede 2. Titan 3. Callisto 4. IO 5. Luna

Which proves beyond a shadow of doubt that Zeus is a thief! How else do you explain Callisto and IO?

IO? What computer nerd with a bad hangover named that moon? Rocks have feelings too!

OH, and never give ice-cream to a diabetic before blogging.

Vesuvius... obsolete or obsidian? It's not clear to me (it's translucent.) Did I pass the Turing test?

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on July 24, 2008 11:47 AM.

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