|Looking for a home|
Yet, on Ascension Island in the Atlantic, a largely barren cinder, a legacy of the truly great minds of Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker and others continues to take shape - an artificial ecosystem that is being primed with plants, and largely left to just get on with the job of bootstrapping itself. The BBC reports that over the past 150 years, cloud forest has become established on the highest peak of Ascension, involving purely imported species, shipped in over the decades by the Royal Navy. And it seems to be working - an ecosystem is steadily emerging from the barren wilderness and finding its own way of sustaining itself.
And this is making people turn their thoughts to Mars, the desert planet. Could something similar be done there? I will admit that as a small boy I used to think about this sort of thing. After watching Carl Sagan's "Cosmos", I imagined shipping millions of little clear plastic containers to Mars, loaded with seeds, nutrient and anti-freeze, to germinate, eventually break their containers, and start populating the barren red wastelands with greenery. Liberate the water, heat and thicken the atmosphere, and turn the desert to jungle.
Now, small boys know even less about ecosystems than the adults they turn into (I think - that may be a contentious point), and nowadays I can see a few obstacles to that. Such as the sheer tenuousness of the Martian atmosphere, and the great difficulties anticipated in getting plants to bloom.
But to heck with Mars - we should be doing more on EARTH, and this is where PZ hits the nail on the head. We need to return vast tracts of the surface of our planet to a proper wilderness state. Not a managed wilderness - but a proper wilderness, devoid of people. We (I would suggest) need to get used to the idea that we humans can live on our part, and let the other part act as our Gaian reservoir, our buffer. Not build roads or railways through it, not use it as eco-tourist destinations, but just leave it the heck alone - let evolution get on with the job.
Then we can put our cloned mammoths in the zoo, and we might even be able to squeeze a bit more time out of our civilisation before the whole project goes tits up.