Posted inOpinion

Our Views on the Union Debate

“This House Would Populate Mars.”

Image Credit: Niamh Jones

Co-authored by Nidhi Bhaskar (Proposition) and Freya Jones (Opposition)

If the Oxford Union’s Mars debate already feels like a light-year ago, we’ve taken a look back to refresh your memories. Is human habitation on Mars even possible and if so, is it desirable? Read on to discover our opinions on the motion and consider whether or not you would populate Mars…

In favour of the proposition

Although the question of whether individuals should populate Mars remains hotly contested, it is undeniable that such a venture would push human innovation to the zenith of its capabilities. This endeavour would not only provide us with opportunities to expand human presence out of the Earth’s closed system, but also could inspire us to develop cutting-edge technology in the face of need.

Plans to develop the technologies that could allow humans to travel to Mars parallel the creation of innovations such as radar and computers during the political upheaval of World War 2. Necessity is the most compelling driver of innovation, and in the face of our looming climate crisis, human beings must once again find alternative solutions for collective survival.

Despite concerns regarding the inequities that the occupation of Mars would bring, or the resources that would be wasted upon such endeavours, the ability to create a “back-up plan” for future generations if the Earth becomes inhospitable could be integral to the survival of our species.

Lastly, and most importantly, maintaining a mindset focused on collectivism is undoubtedly necessary as humanity attempts to populate Mars. Indeed, this mission brings with it a chance for a Cold-War-esque resurgence of the Space Race and dangerous competition between global superpowers. As both the proposition and the opposition rightly noted, such a contest would likely be detrimental and yield a wastage of resources. However, the (perhaps idealistic) potential for the population of Mars to serve as a mission that could unite scientific efforts and transcend national lines paves the way for a new era of cross-cultural collaboration.

To successfully populate Mars, humanity must commit to conjoining its collective body of knowledge and working collaboratively to secure a future for our descendants. Only then can we maximise our efforts to create technological advancements and transcend the planet that we currently call home.

Summary of Union Speakers

Chris Collins

Chris Collins argued that Mars offers tremendous opportunities for scientific discoveries. Furthermore, he believes that populating Mars could redefine the philosophical and anthropological questions of what it means to be human, while revolutionising understanding of our own planet and solar system.

Dr Greg Autry

Dr. Greg Autry, a space policy expert, described the inhabitation of Mars as just another step in the progression of inspirational space advancements. He argued that our species needs a backup plan to survive and that the Earth is not the be-all-and-end-all.

Alfredo Munoz

Architect Alfredo Munoz spoke of his own experience in designing a blueprint for a Martian city, stating that human beings need to provide for future generations. He argued that Mars is a “lighthouse” which allow us to develop more sustainably and transcend current human capacities.

Vedika Rastogi

Vedika Rastogi argued that our journey to Mars must be a global effort and is an opportunity to improve human collaboration. By portraying the population of Mars as a global issue, it is possible for us to help ourselves improve international correspondences.

In favour of the opposition

Even in this day and age, the idea that we should populate Mars is simply ridiculous. But before we get into that, it’s worth noting how easily every one of the proposition’s arguments can be shot down in flames.

“The climate crisis may cause Earth to become less than habitable…” Okay. But still, who in their right mind would leave one acrid, inhospitable planet for… another acrid, inhospitable planet? If it ever comes to a mass exodus, moving to a frozen wasteland with no liquid water and a very thin atmosphere doesn’t seem like a smart solution. For there to be any logic in that at all, Earth would need to have become even less hospitable than Mars, and however bad the climate crisis may be, I really can’t see that happening. Not even the distant future. Furthermore, isn’t the climate crisis a reason to pour our scientific energy into improving the world around us, rather than ignoring the problem by stargazing? “There is no Planet B”, remember? That catch phrase caught on for a reason.

“But populating Mars would do wonders for human innovation and scientific knowledge…” Okay. Although wouldn’t developing technology to solve problems here on Earth do the same? Fascinating though space-exploration may be, we have plenty of unanswered scientific questions in our own world. A plan to limit antibiotic resistance, a cure for terminal illnesses… need I go on? Would it not be more unifying and rewarding to address these issues than to speculate about the minutiae of Martian subsistence farming?

“The collaboration needed to populate Mars would redefine human relationships…” [insert pause] Would it? Would it really? And even if it did, is that desirable? Despite our frequent complaints about the nature of human interaction, our antagonism, factionalism and familial instincts have not changed since time immemorial. They are known as “human nature” for a reason, and to alter this would be to alter what we fundamentally are. So if we’re going to take a leap and change millennia of behavioural legacy, should we really do this for the sake of coexisting on Mars? Furthermore, it just wouldn’t happen – think how difficult it was to adjust to life in a pandemic. Adjusting to life in a different part of the solar system is a bridge too far, especially given how poorly we continue to communicate with even our closest neighbours. Saying this is neither cynical nor defeatist, only realistic. We need our creature comforts – do you fancy a Martian washing machine, Martian shower or Martian toilet? Can’t say I do, particularly…

Beyond this, the population of Mars would pose ethical difficulties of astronomic proportions. Even if the mission succeeded, who would move into the most hospitable ares (assuming there are any)? Would we end up with one planet being dependent upon or monopolised by the other? How would religion fit in? Would we maintain a sense of nationality? And how can we justify the money and resources that the mission would take?

But this is getting hypothetical, because populating Mars would never work – the effects of space on the human body are prohibitive, not to mention massively discriminatory for those with disabilities. There would be few means to maintain a balanced diet on Mars, and attempts at agriculture may even contaminate the planet’s barren non-ecosystem… In short, attempting to populate Mars would be a nightmare. Please don’t go there.

Summary of Union Speakers

Joshua Platt

Joshua Platt argued that attempts to populate Mars may deepen political divisions on Earth by leading to another Space Race. He also said that Earth’s international and economic inequalities would be unavoidably projected onto Mars.

Sylvia Ekstrom

Sylvia Ekstrom, an astrophysicist, argued that the human body is not fit for life on Mars and it would be impossible to provide substantial food for a permanent population. She added that the introduction of human bacteria to Mars would have unknown and potentially damaging consequences.

Dr Sean McMahon

Dr McMahon, an astrobiologist, maintained that life on Mars would take a terrible toll on the physical and mental health of humans. He pointed out that there are some locations on Earth, such as Antarctica, where no one is expected to live, so doesn’t think that people should be moved to even harsher conditions on a new planet.

Dr Anjana Ahuja

Dr Ahuja argued that Earth is a familiar territory in which we have a good sense of our capabilities; she maintains that it will consequently be easier to improve conditions here than start afresh in a new environment.