Our vision for farming in space was well received by judges and fellow participants at the Mars City Design Competition, which could be expected considering this is a group already dedicated to achieving multiplanetary settlement. However, we recently spoke at an urban farming forum in Dublin, Ireland, where we found that many people are still quite incredulous about whether geeking out on all this space stuff is a good use of time and resources. A lot of Irish people we spoke with saw space exploration as a remnant of Cold War muscle flexing, which historically has resulted in many assaults on human dignity.
Many question whether it is wise to invest public funds in space exploration projects. They understandably think there can’t be anything useful for us in space. Consider the conditions: Mars is a hostile wasteland and Earth is relatively habitable, despite mounting environmental issues. At Galactic Farms we acknowledge that there are truly many problems on Earth that need to be addressed immediately. But can we so quickly assume that our energy and resources would be wasted in Mars colonization?
I can see the validity in this argument. Indeed, space exploration is an extremely costly endeavor that seemingly yields no immediate benefits, beyond the philosophical joy of knowing that humans have accomplished something incredible. Mars colonization also requires a level of risk taking that doesn’t resonate with a lot of people. If we are to enlist the support of these skeptics, we need to show that research directed at space exploration has applications that are immediately beneficial to humanity. And indeed, what has been discovered through space exploration research is highly aligned with our environmental goals, specifically in the fields of resource conservation and sustainable agriculture.
In response to those who think that trying to get to Mars is a waste of energy, consider this: The constraints of living on a space station will force us to develop methods of extreme energy and resource conservation, and these techniques will undoubtedly have application on Earth as we inch closer to the end of the fossil fuel era.
Attempting to build sustainable agriculture for closed-loop systems allows us to rethink conservation in a way that has not been necessary in our resource-rich past. By removing the idea that unlimited inputs from the Earth’s natural resources is a given, we are forced to design our food systems in a resource conservative manner.
Resource conservation is a very fraught topic. It has been an uphill battle to enlist government and industry support for this much needed paradigm shift. Interestingly, this is where space colonization can motivate us. The technology needed to survive and adapt to climate change is deeply lacking in funding and respect. However, space exploration is sexy and exciting. If people aren’t motivated by stewardship of their planet, then maybe we can motivate them to pursue conservation through harnessing the very powerful human drive for expansion. We can use the discoveries geared towards space exploration to inspire sustainable practices here on Earth.