Editorial

Just Not the Way You Think: A Checklist for Armageddon

SRINIVAS BALAGOPAL

EDITORIAL EDITOR

 

Underwater Cities

 

Architecture:

Whether it is Atlantis or “Star Wars,” every underwater city seems pristine. They appear to be carbon-neutral and safe, providing sanctuary against storm-tossed rages, giant squids, and noxious pollutants. Our homes would be essentially reinforced bubbles of atmosphere, powered by geothermal vents and equipped with their own hydroponic food sources and kelp burgers. But it would also provide a whole new range of jobs, including food technologists if you want kelp to taste like chicken.

Other Forms of Life:

In 2016, we spent almost $1.4 trillion on tourism. But anyone who has been to Monterey or, at the very least, seen “Finding Nemo” appreciates the delicate beauty that is the sea. Whether it is exploring the Sea of Okhotsk, or basking in the sun drenched waters of Bora Bora, the sea offers untapped vistas of beauty and knowledge. The current estimates are that there are almost 100 million species of animals that have yet to be discovered. Living underwater would allow us to coexist with new forms of life that we never even knew existed.

Saving Humanity:

The UN estimates that there are almost 2 billion people affected by desertification, which makes bountiful land bare, leading to starvation and eventually war. As of 2017, an equal number of our fellow humans lacked access to potable water.  But researchers are now studying whether we could farm underwater to provide food and desalinate sea water. For example, off the Italian coast, a former chemical engineer set up “Nemo’s Garden,” which has six underwater greenhouses growing almost 700 plants. Take that, kelp-chicken! Underwater farms have the potential to feed an expanding and hungry planet, where the soil is being overworked.

Transportation:

Today, hydrogen cars are portrayed as cutting-edge technology for land transportation. But consider this: could hydrogen-based technology power five-seater mini-subs? At least the scenery would be more interesting than sitting in traffic on the 101. But also, could technologies like Hyperloop be expanded to work underwater? We could travel from San Francisco to Tokyo in three to four hours rather than 12 hours. Imagine being in Tokyo for lunch!

 

Space Colonies

 

Architecture:

Like ocean dwellings, we are still talking about pristine, oxygenated bio-domes. The International Space Station is proof that we can exist in space, albeit uncomfortably.  But before you start thinking about what you’ve seen in “Avatar,” “Star Trek,” or “Star Wars,” there are a few cumbersome details to consider, such as food, water, and plumbing. Oh, there’s radiation and microbes, as well. Conservatively, it would take a year to start living on Mars. Certainly, we can do this, but it will take enormous effort of will and money.

Other Forms of Life:

Microbes on Mars and methane on the Moon are only the beginning. If we do land on Mars, then be warned: we would not be the only ones visiting. We have our own traveling companions: bacteria and other microbes. Trillions of them. There is a real risk that some of these microbes could find their way onto the surface of Mars and, in doing so, contaminate any Martian life. This would be true of any extra-terrestrial land mass we land on. But, on the other hand, we may discover whether we are the only sentient life forms in the universe. That’s certainly appealing.

Saving Humanity:

Space colonization and finding a planet outside our solar system could definitely save humanity for our own present follies. Why “could?” Simply because we, as a species, have a real talent for exporting our problems. Would we pollute another planet the same way we have done with our own? Would we start mining in search of new minerals that would feed our consumerism? These are real issues that we need to consider. On the other hand, we would be able to solve our fresh water crisis because we could mine icy asteroids. Additionally, 55 Cancri-e, a planet discovered in 2004, is worth $26.9 nonillion. I would argue that that is worth exploring.

Transportation:

The problem with space travel is that the universe is really, really, really large. On the topic of speed, 20 light years is a journey of 81,000 years with current technology.  Hollywood, with its faster-than-light drives, hyperspace, and wormhole technology, belies a simple truth: Einstein may have been wrong. Recent theories around quantum entanglement and negative matter suggest that while the light barrier is currently unbreakable, there may be other ways to “get around” that. It’s almost as if we are standing on the shore of one land mass and wondering what lies at the other end of the horizon.

 

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