Metallic shrapnel fly faster than bullets; the space shuttle crashes; Astronauts killed or ejected into space. The guilty? Space debris – remnants of a Russian satellite blown up by a Russian rocket. The one survivor, Ryan Stone, has to find his way back to Earth with oxygen deficiency and the next viable spaceship hundreds of miles away
Over on Mars, 20 years into the future, an exploratory mission from Earth is going awry. An epic dust storm forces the crew to leave the planet and leave behind an astronaut, Mark Watney, who is believed to be dead. He needs to figure out how to grow food while waiting for rescue.
Hollywood knows how to scare and inspire us through space. Films such as Gravity (201
This is just part of the story, but with people in the center. No one wants to see astronauts killed or stranded in space. And we all want to enjoy the fruits of successful planetary science, such as determining which planets can host human life or whether we are alone in the universe.
But should we care? beyond the universe beyond how it affects us as human beings? That's the big question – call it question 1 of extraterrestrial environmental ethics, a field that too many people have long ignored. I am one of a group of researchers at the University of St. Andrews who are trying to change that. How we should value the universe depends on two other fascinating philosophical questions:
Question # 2: The kind of life we are most likely to discover elsewhere is microbial – how should we look at this life form? Most people would accept that all people have an intrinsic value and not just a role for someone else in terms of their usefulness. Accept this and follow that ethics sets limits on how we can treat it and its habitats.
People are starting to accept that the same applies to mammals, birds and other animals. What about microbial beings? Some philosophers, such as Albert Schweitzer and Paul Taylor, have earlier argued that all living things have a value that would naturally include microbes. However, philosophy as a whole has not found consensus on whether or not it agrees with this so-called biocentrism.
Question # 3: For planets and other places that are not hospitable to life. What value should we put on their environment? We may be interested in our environment on Earth, especially because it supports the species that live here. If so, we can extend the same thinking to other planets and moons that can support life.
But that does not work for "dead" planets. Some have suggested an idea that is called aesthetic value, that certain things should be valued, not because they are useful, but because they are aesthetically wonderful. They have applied this not only to great artistic works such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Beethoven's Fifth, but also to parts of the Earth's environment, such as the Grand Canyon. Could that apply to other planets?
Assuming that we could answer these theoretical questions, we could ask four important practical questions about space exploration:
Question # 4: Is there a duty to the environment on others Protecting planets? When it comes to sending astronauts, instruments or robots to other worlds, there are clearly important scientific reasons to ensure that they do not take terrestrial organisms with them and deposit them there.
Otherwise, if we discover life I would not know if it was indigenous – not to mention the danger of completely eradicating it. But is scientific clarity all that counts, or do we have to start thinking about galactic environmental protection?
Question # 5: In addition to biological contamination, what would be considered a violation of such an obligation to treat the environment of this planet with respect? Maybe drill for core samples or leave instruments or put tire tracks in the dirt?
Question # 6: What about asteroids? The race is in full swing to develop technologies to harvest the countless trillions of mineral wealth that presumably exist on asteroids, as reported in The Conversation . It helps that nobody seems to regard asteroids as environments that we need to protect.
The same goes for the empty space. The film Gravity gave us some human-centered reasons to worry about building debris in space, but could there be other reasons to oppose it? If so, would it be our duty to create less debris or something stronger – as if we were not producing new debris or even cleaning up what we have left?
Question # 7: What considerations could offset the arguments in favor of behavior? ethically in the room? From the various reasons for it – intellectual / scientific, utilitarian, profit-oriented – are all strong enough to override our obligations?
We must also take into account the inevitable risks and uncertainties. We can not know what advantages space missions will have. We can not be sure that we are not biologically contaminating the planets we visit. What compromises should we make between risk and reward?
Discussions about space have the advantage that we no longer depend on anything. These ethical issues could therefore be some of the only ones that people can approach with a great deal of emotional distance. For this reason, answering these questions could help us make progress on earthbound issues such as global warming, mass extinctions, and nuclear waste disposal.
Space exploration also directly raises questions about our relationship to Earth – once we've overcome the technological riddles of terraforming a planet like Mars or how to reach livable exoplanets. I will leave you with a very important one for the future:
Question # 8: Given that the Earth is not the only potential home for humans, what reasons for protecting their environment Let's stay as soon as we can realistically go elsewhere
B Enjamin Sachs is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews.
This article was published on The Conversation . Read the original article.