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Terraforming Mars

Andrew Lillico has put a rather brilliant blog post up at the Telegraph about terraforming Mars. His case is that the money we intend to spend on mitigating small amounts of climate change are vastly greater than the cost of terraforming Mars and would come to fruition on similar timescales.

There are two standard objections to such terraforming. First, it is said to be too expensive, altogether, to be plausible. Second, it is said to require too long a timescale to be plausible.  Both of these objections appear decisively answered by climate change policies and indeed energy policies in general. Between now and the 2035 alone, global investment in energy and energy efficiency (in many cases with a many-decades payback period) is estimated at about $40 trillion, of which $6 trillion is in renewables and $1 trillion in low-carbon nuclear. We are willing to spend many trillions on projects that could take over a century to come to fruition.

The post has only been up for a few minutes, but the reaction on Twitter has been hilariously splenetic and entirely devoid of any substance. Get yourself some popcorn.

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Reader Comments (37)

We must build Arks 1 and 2 ASAP.

Aug 19, 2014 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered Commenterturnedoutnice

Send the climactivists to Mars: they have the "expertise" in spending vast sums of money: Ark3 a la Douglas Adams.

Aug 19, 2014 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterLjh

O/T but it makes me so mad (also on WUWT) from SDA:

Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant's concentrated sun rays -- "streamers," for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair

Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one "streamer" every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator's application to build a still-bigger version.

Aug 19, 2014 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterSwiss Bob

Providing transport to Mars would likely be a highly profitable business venture, I can't be the only one who would pay almost anything for One Way tickets for a large number of individuals.

Aug 19, 2014 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

Strange thought. Hmmm... if Mars were to become the next fashionable delusion, I might go along just for kicks.

Aug 19, 2014 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

Mann would probably be able to find a Martian tree whose rings prove that runaway CO2 ruined Mars.

Aug 19, 2014 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Mikky, hahahahahaha....gud un....

Aug 19, 2014 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

Hi Andrew.

Do you think the terraforming post is credible?



Aug 19, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterDoug McNeall


No idea at all, beyond the Nat Geo article that Lillico linked to.

Aug 19, 2014 at 11:35 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill


OK, thanks. To be clear, I think that the post is not credible. A quick google of the cost of the financial crisis threw up between $6 and $22 trillion, although the standard of reporting was so rubbish that it wasn't always clear if this was just for the US or a global figure.

I say, in the light of that, $2-$3 trillion is the kind of change you find down the back of your sofa. So why aren't we already terraforming Mars?


Aug 19, 2014 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterDoug McNeall

Pointing out that climate control (terraforming) on Earth is as challenging as terraforming Mars is not a bad thing.
Now if the climate kooks will finally notice that Earth is already terraformed, and then reach logical conclusions.....

Aug 19, 2014 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

If Elon Musk concentrated on his vision for space transport as seen here rather than on Tesla cars, then this might become a reality sooner rather than later.

Aug 19, 2014 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Doug McNeall (Aug 19, 2014 at 11:46 AM) asked "So why aren't we already terraforming Mars?".

Well, there are many reasons (e.g. lack of the necessary transportation infrastructure, economic return on investment) but the most fundamental one I know of is that humans may not be able to reproduce successfully in the lower gravity environment (i.e. only 38% of Earth's) and no amount of terraforming is going to change that... unless you're thinking of importing an extremely large amount of 'material' from elsewhere :-)

Aug 19, 2014 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

The only source for the claim that we could 'terraform' Mars and how much it would cost seems to be a speculative article in National Geographic.

Aug 19, 2014 at 12:35 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Dave Salt,

the most fundamental one I know of is that humans may not be able to reproduce successfully in the lower gravity environment (i.e. only 38% of Earth's) and no amount of terraforming is going to change that

An article that appears to be mocking combating climate change by comparing it to a process that could lead to the extinction of the human species. Seem rather ironic to you?

Aug 19, 2014 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnd Then There's Physics


"humans may not be able to reproduce successfully in the lower gravity environment"

I'm sure we could adapt.. :-)

Aug 19, 2014 at 1:09 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp


"runaway CO2 ruined Mars"

Well, the atmosphere is 96% CO2 (although not especially warm)!

I realise it's also a lot thinner, but the total amount of CO2 there is still an order of magnitude greater than here.

Aug 19, 2014 at 1:12 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

"humans may not be able to reproduce successfully in the lower gravity environment"

Or they may be able to. As far as I know it hasn't been tried.

Aug 19, 2014 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered Commentertty

tty (Aug 19, 2014 at 1:47 PM) said "Or they may be able to. As far as I know it hasn't been tried."

That's exactly my point: it's a significant factor but there's currently no empirical evidence to prove it one way or the other... a bit like CAGW :-)

Aug 19, 2014 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

I remember James Hansen once claimed that a single small factory making freon was enough to prevent a new Ice Age from developing. Given that Mars is so much smaller than Earth it should be even more potent there. Also we know that Mars has very large amounts of frozen CO2 and H2O so once they start vaporizing/melting we have found ourself a tipping point that might even be real....

Actually Mars may well terraform all by itself in several hundred million years, about when Earth starts becoming uncomfortably warm as the sun keeps getting brighter.

Aug 19, 2014 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered Commentertty

Mars Pioneers has a nice ring to it ... MPs.... , Arks, public subscription, effective use of public funds... crikey - it's win, win, win......

Aug 19, 2014 at 2:09 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I read this as a diatribe about the futility of spending on climate change reduction but a lot of folks seem to have picked up on it as a serious proposal.

"A Modest Proposal" comes to mind.

Aug 19, 2014 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

clovis marcus (Aug 19, 2014 at 2:12 PM), I tend to agree... though I think Doug asked a reasonable question.

Aug 19, 2014 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

There have been proposals for terraforming Mars in the past. I've no idea when the first one was made. When I was a teenager in the 60s I would have been very surprised if anyone had said that there would no manned voyages to Mars by the middle of the second decade of the next century! I would love to see a successful manned flight to Mars in my lifetime, or even a Mars flyby. I would also support proposals for terraforming Mars and establishing permanent colonies there.

People who are too young to remember the Space Race have no idea just how exciting it was.

Aug 19, 2014 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

clovis: Yeah, this is Lillico as Swift - and I'm not talking the new Apple programming language!

Aug 19, 2014 at 2:41 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I was thinking more about the comments on the article than what was said here.

Sorry I wasn't clear.

Aug 19, 2014 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

"humans may not be able to reproduce successfully in the lower gravity environment"

Or they may be able to. As far as I know it hasn't been tried.
Aug 19, 2014 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered Commentertty

...despite science fiction writers fantasing about it for decades. Just needs the right model I suppose.

Aug 19, 2014 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Slightly askew from the topic but...

Does anyone here know of a dataset showing the icecap extent, "year" by "year" for Mars? Observations might go back as far as Percy Lowell's... There'd be two sets, actually, north pole and south. Some sort of average to the "usual" latitude and anomolies plus or minus by degrees of latitude or maybe estimated/calculated square kilometers of area.

Any recommendations?

Aug 19, 2014 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterpouncer

In light of subsequent history it's interesting to note that James Lovelock with a collaborator Michael Allaby published a piece of 'plausible fiction' titled "The Greening of Mars" over 20 years ago. It's a long time since I read it but from (an admittedly unreliable) memory the worldwide collaboration to terraform Mars was a way of ending the cold war and began with installing warheads of CFCs in all the world's stock of ICBMs that could be tweaked to achieve escape velocity and lobbing them at mars.

Aug 19, 2014 at 4:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterJ.G.Anderson


A question I've been asking since I discovered Svensmark et al.

About six months back I put a suggestion into "The Sky at Night" office about exactly this - and was gratified to see them run a piece last month about planetary weather. They did not however explore if the was any correlation between ice cap episodes and other observable features of Martian climate which synchronised with events on Terra. The dust storm episodes are observable from here - and the rovers AIUI have some meteorological instruments which could provide some fine grained stuff to work with to see if the sun's impact on a 'ooman free environment is detectable beyond day and night.....

Digging around this is I suspect "discouraged" but renowned astronomer R.T. Fishtail would doubtless be enthralled were he still with us :-)

Gertude's guide to Mars Pioneering

A whimsical view of life on other planets by the late Gertrude Moore, mother of famous astronomer Patrick Moore, who provides the foreword. Her drawings and descriptions are humorous, yet informed. She paints a picture of a universe inhabited by exotic beings, often with amorous intentions. The paintings were made over an extended period, between 1900 and 1974

Aug 19, 2014 at 5:19 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Where did I read a previous critique of ecofascism that costed various of its policies using Missions to Mars as a unit of currency, to make them easier to express?

Aug 19, 2014 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

I thought that Carl Sagan's plan for Venus was much cheaper than this.

He proposed firing a load of algae and other simple organisms into the Venusian upper atmosphere and leaving it a millenia or two to eat all the CO2. Simples.

Aug 19, 2014 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

What a great place to relocate the wind turbine industry.

Aug 19, 2014 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterAllan M

Interesting, but I suspect the money would be better spent terraforming Venus for multiple reasons, all of which should be self-evident, but if not, ask and I'll go over some next time I drop by.

Aug 20, 2014 at 1:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterBodhisattva

Bodhisattva (Aug 20, 2014 at 1:32 AM) said "I suspect the money would be better spent terraforming Venus for multiple reasons".

Although this is getting way off topic, spaceflight is a subject I'm very familiar with and I have to say that I disagree.

If we wanted to create large and permanent off-Earth settlements that would be self-sustaining and able to evolve, the easiest way would be to build O'Neill colonies. However, if you really wanted to live in a gravity well similar to Earth's, then building a floating colony in Venus's atmosphere would be far easier than terraforming it...

Aug 20, 2014 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

"$2-$3 trillion is the kind of change you find down the back of your sofa. " --Doug McNeall

More like the kind of change Obama finds down the back of other people's wallets.

Aug 20, 2014 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

I have a third objection to terraforming Mars.

Any atmosphere we generate would be lost the same way any prior atmosphere of Mars was lost.

It's too small, it has no magnetic field, it would be a waste to try.

Now Venus - there is a planet we might consider!

Aug 23, 2014 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBodhisattva

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