Monday, May 11, 2009

Is that all there is?

May's theme for the Year of Science is "Celebrate sustainability and the environment." To which, for the first time in the YoS program, I say: Bah. And: Faugh. And: How disappointing.

Wait a bit on the torches and pitchforks.

By all means, let's study how the environment works. Heck, we live in it. And wouldn't it be great if we came to understand how to build a stable biosphere. It'd be handy for, say, long-term spaceflight or establishing off-world colonies. And certainly I have no quarrel with efficiency.

That's no reason to make a goal of "sustainability."

I find sustainability fatalistic and inward looking, lacking in ambition. Whether I put on my technologist hat or my SFnal specs, I have to ask: why should our aims -- and our imagination -- be so limited?

There's an entire UNIVERSE out there. Why isn't our ambition to tap a few off-Earth resources? Why don't we consider moving the dirtiest industries someplace -- in orbit a thousand miles up, say, or on the moon -- where sunlight is unfiltered by atmosphere and unaffected by weather? Someplace where pollution won't matter? Why don't we think about moving out to the moon, and Mars, and the Belt?

The universe, presumably, is a zero-sum game. But one tiny planet? We're nearing the level of technology at which Earth limits us only if we let it.

To me, sustainability is less about science than it is a mass movement. And the sad thing about sustainability as a goal, and about those situations where environmentalism becomes religion or politics, is that once we lower our sights it becomes all to easy to forget how to raise them.


AReichl said...


It's like someone practicing yoga, looking into "himself", finding nothing (hehe) and finally getting crazy.

Wasn't "Is That All There Is?" the title of the Apollo 12 mission from "From the Earth to the Moon" ?

Edward M. Lerner said...

My one association with "Is That All There Is" is the song performed by Peggy Lee. for the lyrics, if you're curious.

Catreona said...

Ed, me to. But then, I tend to think in song titles and lyrics. 8)