Lessons From The Stars: How to Live on a Climate Changed World
September 13, 2017 11:03 AM   Subscribe

How to live on a climate changed world: Can we move from a Class IV ("thick biosphere") to a Class V planet: Planets in which an energy-intensive technological species establishes a sustainable form of cooperation with the biosphere that increases the productivity of both? posted by yoga (8 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I question the value of any "planet category" system that (1) fails to label several planets in our own solar system and (2) places earth at the "highest," or next-to-highest, level.

Class I: Planets without an atmosphere. (Mercury or Earth's moon).
Class II: Planets with atmospheres but no life forms (Venus and Mars).
Class III: Planets with a "thin" biosphere that might sustain some biological activity, but it does not affect the planet as a whole. No current examples of Class III planets exist in the solar system. Earth before life ... 2.5 billion years ago...
Class IV: Planets with a "thick" biosphere strongly affecting the flow of energy through the rest of the planetary systems (Earth today).
Class V: Planets in which an energy-intensive technological species establishes a sustainable form of cooperation with the biosphere that increases the productivity of both.

Several planets and moons seem to be on the line between Cat 2, "atmosphere but no life," and 3, "maybe life but it's not affecting the planet." Jupiter's Europa and Saturn's Enceladus are both being studied as "could support life" with no identified life forms but also no data about microorganisms or underground, underwater organisms. Where does Jupiter fall? It's got a LOT of reactive atmosphere, plenty of the kind of volatility that could support life - just not remotely similar to terran life, and possibly different enough that we'd have trouble even recognizing it.

I like the concept of, "are we moving to, or can we move to, a situation where we collaborate with the environment instead of just warping it at random?" That's definitely worth discussing. I'm not sure it's useful to put that in a framework of planetary evolution, with a data set of a handful of planets and exactly one that's recognized as being above Category 2.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:37 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


We are so fucked.
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Can we move from a Class IV ("thick biosphere") to a Class V planet: Planets in which an energy-intensive technological species establishes a sustainable form of cooperation with the biosphere that increases the productivity of both?

Uh, not anytime soon. Biospheres are insanely complex and we are really good at fucking them up.

Kudzu, Black rat, Cotton whitefly, Snakehead fish, Asian carp, Burmese python, Cane toad, European rabbit, Nile perch, etc.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:43 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


jesus fucking warpdrives

we can't organize even the simplest pan-cultural or pan-state event that don't revolve around war or trade without descending into idiotic tribalism (and the war/trade is pretty close)

and

we are ruled by imbeciles and sociopaths who deny the simplest forms of causality and serious long-term thinking/planning for the short-term pursuit of unimaginative, crude power

and, for our pièce de résistance

the single space station we have - a pissing little box with a historical high of 13 people - takes up a significant fraction of our off-planet efforts, and we are currently fucking those up.

talking about definitions is nice. anything more and it's like a dog planning to get a goddamn phd. WE ARE NOT READY.

ie we have to fix our culture before we do geo-fucking-engineering.
posted by lalochezia at 12:00 PM on September 13 [24 favorites]


Clearly folks can work for extended periods in space, and be very effective at various projects. It's all going to be slow until there is a critical mass of well literal mass, a chunk of rock that is resource sufficient to mine and build "stuff" without needing to send every bit up in an expensive vehicle. That means the moon or asteroid capture. At that point the transition to all dangerous manufacturing off planet will ramp up quickly and folks will make this place one big park. Vote for pro-space legislators and if reading in a certain foreign and have contact with, ah oligarchs, suggest that the first trillionare will be off-planet.
posted by sammyo at 1:00 PM on September 13


metafilter: ruled by imbeciles and sociopaths who deny the simplest forms of causality
posted by blue_beetle at 1:32 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Wow, I just finished the edits on a book about climate change, society and the future so this is so far up my alley I think it might actually be my house.

We are totally fucked, tho.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 3:02 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


Echoing the opinion that a system for classifying planetary biospheres that excludes Jupiter, Saturn, Europa, and Enceladus shows some impoverishment of imagination.

Jupiter and Saturn, which contain more than 90% of non-Sun mass of the solar system and are probably most like the most numerous objects that occur in space, might be Class G (for gas): Planet's energy dynamics occur mostly or entirely in the atmosphere. In Cosmos, Carl Sagan speculated about life forms circulated by convection in Jupiter's denser layers --- speculation which made a big impact on me as a kid. I guess that such creatures would make Jupiter a Class II/III planet in this system.

The ice moons Europa and Enceladus, where we currently believe that Earthlike life is most likely to be found in our solar system, might be Class O (for ocean): ice acts like a mineral, so the biosphere occupies the planet's liquid mantle, and there is no atmosphere (or biosphere) above the planet's icy crust. This seems like the biggest gap in the classification system. In Nick Lane's recent book on the jump from simple to complex life, he writes about evidence for a biological role in some sedimentary processes. Lane suggests that the appearance of a metabolic pathway where waste output was a gas like oxygen or carbon dioxide, rather than a solid like iron sulfide, was an innovation that allowed living things to avoid encasing themselves in their own excrement, and that this innovation may have come rather late in the organization of what we now call "life."

I thought this might be addressed in the paper, but now that I've found a freely-available preprint, I think it isn't.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 6:34 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


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