Our Terraforming Legacy

Science demonstrating the impact of climate change on our environment and our future is clear, but bringing this this to a societal consensus is proving difficult. Much of this derives from shortfalls in presentation and perception. There is the fallacy of perceiving small numbers as indicating small effects. An average global temperature rise of 1 or 2 or even 4 degrees seems in personal experience to be quite minor when compared to daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations. Ocean level rises of a few inches or centimeters seems quite minor compared with our everyday experience of the much larger heights of waves and tides.

But these human-made changes in earth’s environment are indeed substantial and consequential and should not be trivialized either intentionally or unintentionally. Advancing science communication will help further our efforts to bring about the political and societal actions necessary to limit and reverse the substantial damage humans are making to the global environment.

This is our home and the home of all life that we know. The damage to the global environment imperils our only home. As much as we might enjoy speculating about terraforming the cold thin atmosphere of Mars for our future as laid out in science fiction stories, we should also look at our nearer neighbor Venus. With its runaway greenhouse effect, Venus is a warning of the future our actions as we continue to terraform Earth.

By Edward D. Levin, Ph.D., Duke University edlevin@duke.edu