Patrick G Cox

Future Human Habitat

With climate change so much in everyone's mind it seems appropriate to examine a few ideas on how humanity might end up having to think about our future habitations on our world. As you would expect, writing Science Fiction a writer needs to give the way humans might need to live on a different world a lot of thought. Personally I think we are a very long way from being able to "terraform" another world to fit our rather specialised needs, so, how would we adapt? What would we be realistically able to do to live on a planet like, say, Mars?

NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and others are already applying their minds to this, and coming up with some interesting answers. One of the biggest questions is what would such future settlements be able to find and use that is already there, and what would they have to get from Earth? Obviously, the more they need to get from 'home' the more difficult, and the more expensive the whole exercise becomes. So, ideally, we would initially send the absolute basics, and then develop and adapt what is available there. That's where it starts to get tricky, since extracting metals from ore is an energy intense operation. Mars being geologically all but inert, means there will be nothing like the transfer of minerals that occurs in our own soils (which is also hugely dependent on soil bacteria, insect activity, and so on ...). Then there are small problems like water, food production, atmosphere regeneration and so on, all things we often (or most of us) fail to give much attention to unless compelled by something like the climate change protests, or the impact of changing climate itself.

Once one starts to look at all these things you very quickly realise that our "environment" is a lot more complex than we think. Simply building a habitat on Mars is the easy bit. In order to get plants to grow there is going to require a great deal of effort. Even assuming we can get a soil 'culture' going with the right bacteria, and all the things that control them, we then run into the questions of pollinators, things that control them, and so on and so on. Then we need plants that will grow there in sufficient quantity to feed us. It is encouraging to note that there are scientists working on that one, and not just for future space colonies. Without getting into an argument about it, the climate is changing. That has huge implications for us (and everything else) as a species. Which brings me back to my starting point.

If humanity is going to survive what appears to have the potential to bring about a mass extinction and completely change the Earth as we know it, we need to do one of two things. Adapt very quickly, or change the way we currently live and use the planet in order to "buy time" to adapt or find some solutions. I would suggest that our first step is going to be changing the way we build towns, houses, commercial and industrial centres. I think we may need to look at creating "Habitation Centres" which provide an enclosed environment that concentrate commercial and industrial activities with housing and recreation and community areas. Think of a very large sports stadium, with the tiers seating replaced by tiers of 'housing units' atop commercial premises, atop industrial operators. the centre remains a park, perhaps with swimming and other recreational spaces, and the whole interior is a controlled atmosphere space.

An example of the type of structure I suggest could become a closed habitat

Recycling water, heat capture and reuse, waste recycling would all play a part. "Wind Towers" would be used to ensure the air circulation is good, and they can also be used to generate electric power to supplement solar accumulators. The general idea would be to create, rather in the manner of the Eden Project in Cornwall, an enclosed habitat dedicated to providing an "Ark" for as wide a bio-diversity as possible alongside humans. Transport would have to be by centrally managed autonomous 'trains', monorail systems and, of course, direct linking transport to other such habitat 'domes'.

By making each of these domed towns as self-sufficient as possible it should be possible to reduce the human impact on the surrounding countryside. That would allow better land usage (assuming the climate allows it), and reduce the problem emissions. Hopefully it would also permit the currently worst affected land and forests to recover.

Well, it's a long shot, so I guess it just becomes a question of when (and if) someone will make a start at trying to change our thinking on it all. Oh, and just to get people thinking, I suspect that when we do get to Mars, a lot of human activities and accommodation will have to be located below ground ...

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