Terraforming Mars may be less expensive than climate change mitigation

terraforming _mars_animFrom the Andrew Lillico (via Bishop Hill) the costs of terraforming Mars -vs- mitigating Earthly climate change seem to have similar values and timescales. Josh provides a cartoon as well.

We can terraform Mars for the same cost as mitigating climate change. Which would you rather?

One frequentlyquotedstudy of the global costs of mitigating climate change put them at around $3 trillion by 2100, with the main benefits being felt between 2100 and 2200. Here is alternative way to spend around the same amount of money with around the same timescale of payback: terraforming Mars. A standard estimate is that, for about $2-$3 trillion, in between 100 and 200 years we would be able to get Mars from its current “red planet” (dead planet) status to ” blue planet” (i.e. a dense enough atmosphere and high enough temperature for Martian water in the poles and soil to melt, creating seas) – achievable in about 100 years – and from there to microbes and algae getting us to “green planet” status within 200 to 600 years.

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.

Josh is on the case:

terraforming _mars

cartoonsbyjosh.com

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Bill Yarber

We will never be able to successively terraform Mars! It does not have a molten iron core, thus no magnetic shield. The solar wind has already blown away 90% of whatever atmosphere Mars once had and will do it again if we ever created an atmosphere dense enough to support fauna and flora similar to that on Earth. Get real, living in domes is the best we can hope for on Mars, and significant shielding will be required to make that safe.
Bill

James the Elder

Mars has no magnetic field and not enough gravity to prevent the solar wind from ripping away the atmosphere. Or so I was told some years ago.

James the Elder

Two for two; the science is settled.

Gunga Din

Josh forgot the plug for the electric rocket. Otherwise…8-)

Terraform Mars please – Bill Yarber, even if you are right about the solar wind, we could compensate by topping up the atmosphere every few million years. Mars did lose much of its atmosphere, but it kept its air long enough for significant geological changes such as erosion to occur, thanks to the ancient atmosphere supporting running water for a significant period of time.

Mark Bofill

Aww, see, I was all ready to pipe in and say that this is something I’d gladly fork over some more tax dollars for! At least until I read the bit about the magnetic field.

Interestingly, Venus also has no magnetic field.

Khwarizmi

Mars:
Earth masses – 0.1074
surface gravity – 0.3799
Not enough gravity to sustain a breathable atmosphere long term.
But the idea is surely not meant to be taken seriously. It is, rather, just another post modern attempt to socially-construct a sickly, fragile, human-damaged story of climate on Earth by pretending it would be cheaper to make a new version from scratch – on Mars.
Sad & pathetic.

Berényi Péter

Bill Yarber August 19, 2014 at 2:36 pm
We will never be able to successively terraform Mars! It does not have a molten iron core, thus no magnetic shield.

Why, wrap a superconducting coil around the planet, start a current and you’ll have your shield.

TimTheToolMan

The first ship should include hairdressers, phone sanitisers and climate scientists.

Seriously guys, whats you idea of “long term”?
A reconstructed Martian atmosphere would last at least a million years or so, probably a lot longer – plenty of time to organise the next topup.
Nothing is forever – eventually Earth will become uninhabitable as well.

Mark Bofill

How does one go about computing what sort of gravity you need to hold an atmosphere (for how long) and the effects of solar wind? I’ve never thought about it before.

more soylent green!

Ditto on the solar wind, magnetic field, etc. If we can terraform Mars, the atmosphere won’t stick around. Of course, facts like that don’t often enter the climate change debate, so why worry? Let’s do it!

Goldie

Well the magnetic field thing shows precisely why Earth is so important and rare. I hardly need point out that the molten core and high rate is spin are only two parts of this. The third being a moon of similar mass to our moon that exerts sufficient gravity to stop us spinning off our axis.

Mark Bofill

Uhm, nobody face punch me ok I know it’s just wikipedia. Still, wikipedia seems to think the magnetic field isn’t the primary mechanism by which atmosphere gets stripped away. They cite this Lammer, H.; Lichtenegger, H. I. M.; Biernat, H. K.; Erkaev, N. V.; Arshukova, I. L.; Kolb, C.; Gunell, H.; Lukyanov, A.; Holmstrom, M.; Barabash, S.; Zhang, T. L.; Baumjohann, W. (2006). “Loss of hydrogen and oxygen from the upper atmosphere of Venus”. Planetary and Space Science 54 (13–14): 1445–1456. Bibcode:2006P&SS…54.1445L. doi:10.1016/j.pss.2006.04.022 which I obviously haven’t read. 🙂
I seem to be reading that Venus doesn’t have much of a magnetic field either.

george e. smith

“””””…..A standard estimate is that, for about $2-$3 trillion, in between 100 and 200 years we would be able to get Mars from its current “red planet” (dead planet) status to ” blue planet” …..”””””
Well news flash ! in 100 to 200 years, $2-3 T will just about buy me my morning Senior coffee at McDonalds.
What do these people use as a substitute for brains ??

urederra

TimTheToolMan says:
August 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm
The first ship should include hairdressers, phone sanitisers and climate scientists.

…and banana milkshakes.

TonyL

The answer is a simple Induction Furnace. Build the induction coils in orbit around the planet. When you power them up, you get an induced current in the core. At sufficient amperage, the current melts the core through resistive heating. At that point, the magnetic field re-establishes itself, and you are on your way. No problem, you just have to dare to think big. I always did want to build an induction furnace so big you could toast a planet with it.

Edward Richardson

The Mars rover Curiosity cost about $2.5 billion dollars, and weighs about 2000 lbs.

For $3 trillion, we might be able to get 1500 tons of equipment on the surface of Mars.
..
Anybody know what kind of 1000 ton machine can teraform an entire planet? A full blown nuclear power plant weighs more than 1000 tons.

James the Elder

psion (@psion) says:
August 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm
Interestingly, Venus also has no magnetic field.
———————————————————————————————
More gravity, and the heavier molecule CO2 resists the wind, much like Mars.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_escape

schitzree

Edward, you aren’t thinking of economics ot scale. For instance, the first thing we’d build is a large station in a transfer orbit (or just move the ISS). And there are lots of other places where scaling up will improve cost savings.

It’d be a heck of a lot more interesting than watching the idiots tackle “catastrophic” global warming, but of course, doing ANYTHING with Mars won’t slam the people of the world back into the Stone Age (or before it), not to mention that none of the problems of Mars will be OUR FAULT. So there goes guilt as well. I guess that means it’s a no-goer then. Pity.

Edward Richardson says:
August 19, 2014 at 3:47 pm
Most plans call for some variation of seeding the planet with lichens and bacteria to start liberating oxygen, eventually establishing a small human colony in a crater and then building the rest of the necessary infrastructure in-situ. You wouldn’t need to transport very much at all in that case, and it would be spread over a long period.

dccowboy

Anybody know what kind of 1000 ton machine can teraform an entire planet? A full blown nuclear power plant weighs more than 1000 tons.
————————
yeah, in the Movie ‘Aliens’ they had a fusion power plant ‘atmosphere processor’ that they euphemistically called a ‘shake & bake’ planet that could do the job. Oh wait, that seems to have presumed that there was a substantial atmosphere already present. well, that and the part about the thing going nuke if the cooling tower got broken probably make it unrealistic.

dccowboy

archonix says:
August 19, 2014 at 4:21 pm
Edward Richardson says:
August 19, 2014 at 3:47 pm
Most plans call for some variation of seeding the planet with lichens and bacteria to start liberating oxygen, eventually establishing a small human colony in a crater and then building the rest of the necessary infrastructure in-situ. You wouldn’t need to transport very much at all in that case, and it would be spread over a long period.
=——————
Might be easier and faster to crash a large, water based comet/asteroid on the surface to supply a ready made sea.

Pat Frank

Probably the first thing to do in terraforming Mars is drop a bunch of icy comets onto it. The heat of impact plus the resulting water vapor will heat the surface and provide an H2O/CO2 atmosphere. Icy comets can be navigated toward Mars using mass drivers located on their surface. See also Gerard K O’Neill’s The High Frontier.
Following raising a water vapor/CO2 atmosphere, Mars is seeded with photosynthetic and denitrifying bacteria, to produce oxygen and nitrogen, respectively. Follow that with soil-producing microbiota.
It would all take while, but it could probably be done with today’s technology. What an exhilarating and inspiring project that would be! The technological spin-offs would likely be enormous and positive.
Xenoscientists would be upset, though, because the possibility of ever finding potential Mars bacteria or their fossils would be gone forever. Likewise, enviros would be upset because all that pristine natural Marsness would be polluted with the products of technology; not to say, shudder with humans. Myself – I love the idea. Bringing a dead planet back to life. What’s not to like?
And think of the river trips down the Valles Marineris! 🙂

I can see great value to this. But, before I proceed I must apologize to the readers for subjecting them to my presence twice today on this site. Aw, screw it, I’m not gonna’ apologize.
Anyway, we all hear about the obesity epidemic. Well, once we’ve successfully terraformed Mars we can send all the obese people (assuming the rockets can get off the ground) to that red planet where, voila (I use that word too much), everybody who’s overweight will instantly weigh about 2/3rds less than they did here on Earth.
Furthermore (sorry, I’m not done yet), the above exercise will demonstrate that gravity is actually a more powerful natural force than CO2.

David Ball

We could use legislation to force Mars’ atmosphere to comply,…..

You couldn’t even begin to do either of these things for $ 2 trillion. Not much useful stuff can be done for a $trillion. Don’t believe me , look at that the US federal budget and tell me how much truly useful stuff gets done?

Now terraforming mars, establishing manned bases there and on other planets was where I thought we would be now , as a teenager in the 1980s.
So we survived mutual assured destruction, global cooling and muslim outreach, now the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global warming is an expensive bust, maybe we could reset our priorities.
OK for the easily alarmed and running scared sections of humanity, having all our eggs on one planet is stupid(assuming catastrophe happens) so logically there greens will support developing Mars.
The asteroid is coming, so rational people could easily support an alternate human base.Not to mention the technology developed to terraform planets will most likely double as asteroid removal devices.
As for the deficiency a planet lacking a magnetic field.. this is an opportunity to think big.
We are at our best when facing challenges, new frontiers and adventure, the rising madness across the world is partly due to no purpose, no outlet for the energy of young men.

Edward Richardson

Pat Frank says:
August 19, 2014 at 4:25 pm

“drop a bunch of icy comets ”

It took 10 years for Rosetta to orbit a comet. We don’t even know what it is made of. Even if we planned on “moving” it, it would take centuries for it to be deflected into a collision course with Mars.

njsnowfan

Mars atmosphere is 95% C02 and average temp is -55f Earth’s atmosphere is .040% C02 and average temp is much higher.
People can live there but is would be worse than living in Newark New Jersey.

more soylent green!

Tom Trevor says:
August 19, 2014 at 4:35 pm
You couldn’t even begin to do either of these things for $ 2 trillion. Not much useful stuff can be done for a $trillion. Don’t believe me , look at that the US federal budget and tell me how much truly useful stuff gets done?

Ah, another party pooper.
Of course the price tag for decarbonization is going to exceed $3T by many, many times. Remember the story that we could transform our transportation infrastructure to hydrogen vehicles for $20 billion (this was circa 2005)? Hell, I’d take that deal in a heartbeat if it was true. But wishing doesn’t make it true.

Before dismissing Martian terraforming, read Robert Zubrin’s book on the subject.

Kent Gatewood

How does the TLA involved in collecting tribute for the government function on Mars?

Bill Illis

We can’t terraform Venus without also increasing its spin rate. It faces the Sun for 116 straight days which means the surface continues heating up for 2000 hours or so versus Earth which is just 10 hours or so of temperature increase in a typical day.

ferdberple

Nothing is forever – eventually Earth will become uninhabitable as well.
===========
not so long ago earth’s atmosphere was 35% oxygen, as compared to 21% today. Even today oxygen continues to fall. Better get a beachhead established on another world while the getting is good.

It will be cheaper to terraform Mars. 2 Reasons.
#1 – no liability. You just do it.
#2 – Since when has a government program ever stopped or come in on budget?

Clive

I see Americans don’t have irony detectors!

ferdberple

the surface continues heating up for 2000 hours
============
yet there is almost no difference in daytime and nighttime temperatures.

pat

***just make sure it is not your pension fund! IEA want $53 trillion. yikes.
13 Aug: RespondingToClimateChange: Swedish bank SEB tops green bond league table
***SEB has worked with the World Bank to develop the green bond concept since 2007, in response to interest from pension funds…
Worldwide, the International Energy Agency says some US$53 trillion of finance is needed by 2035 to prevent dangerous climate change…
The Climate Bonds Initiative estimates the wider universe of bonds used for climate-friendly activities is worth US$500 billion. In five to seven years’ time, Flensborg expects up to 10% of bond issues to be “green”…
http://www.rtcc.org/2014/08/13/swedish-bank-seb-tops-green-bond-league-table/

Gary

Kickstarter, anyone?

the US federal budget and tell me how much truly useful stuff gets done?
=============
the $$ of the project will always grow to fit the available resources.
Look at Canada. $2 billion for a gun registry that didn’t work. A working gun registry for Canada fits on an excel spreadsheet. But none of the people working on the project had any incentive to see it end.
Same thing with a trip to Mars. There will be endless meetings to discuss the color of the fabric for the seats.
You want to terraform Mars? Find gold on Mars. People will find a way to drive there in their 4×4’s.

LarryD

The adiabatic lapse rate for Mars’ atmosphere is the same as for Venus’. Venus’ atmosphere has a pressure at the surface of 9.2mPa (Earth’s is .1mPa), Mars’ is around 0.4-0.87kPa. Mars needs a lot more atmosphere, starting with nitrogen.

Robert of Ottawa

So we just create an equatorial superconducting magnet. There’s the magnetic field.

Pamela Gray

Golden eyes with red hair? I’ll go for it. Lots fewer lib…I mean aliens on Mars than on this planet.

ferd berple says:
August 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm
I agree, although Mars is too small to make much difference in the long run. Its total surface area is about the same as Earth’s present land area, but with an ocean, that would soon be cut about in half. Of course people could happily live on a shallow sea.
Mars’ atmosphere has enough CO2 right now. We just need to increase its combined nitrogen, oxygen, argon, water, methane, etc levels by about an order of magnitude.

There’s an old joke that says if the former (and soon to be replaced) Soviet Union had gotten to the moon first then we’d be on Mars today. In the early days of the space race there was a genuine concern that they could’ve landed a man on the moon first. In retrospect that fear was somewhat unfounded. In those early days all those launches were with ICBMs. The initial greater success of the Soviets was due to the fact that their ICBMs were bigger. The US waited to develop ICBMs till we had more compact, lighter nuclear warheads. Thus our launch vehicles did not have the payload capacity of theirs. The US ultimately prevailed because we had the money back then (certainly not now) to construct purpose built rockets in the later stages of the race. The Soviets did not.
But, at the time this was not known. And the strategy to compensate for a failure to win this race was for the US to then attempt to land an astronaut on Mars by 1985. Nuclear rocket engines were developed for just such a mission. Nuclear rods would heat the fuel to provide propulsion so oxygen would not be required for combustion, therefore the spacecraft would not be burdened with that additional payload. Once underway the manned capsule would revolve around a counterweight on a sling with the centrifugal force providing artificial gravity to the inhabitants.
None of this was ivory tower, pie in the sky, theoretical dreaming. To illustrate the seriousness of it those nuclear rocket engines had been successfully test fired in the Nevada desert in the middle later 1960s.
Alas, this was never to be. Instead of using our energies to satiate the natural human desire to pursue a future in which to find what our imaginations had sent in advance, I fear we will have to, instead, use our energies to prevent a return to a primitive past. Gentlemen, start your engines.

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.
————
Third, the EPA would never approve it. It would endanger some yet to be discovered Martian sand flea.
Fourth, Occupy Mars squatters would be sent there to block the terraformers.
Fifth, the Greens would protest: “Keep Mars red!”. I guess that would Make them Reds.
Oh wait – they already are.

Interested

Nitrogen is the biggest problem. We need far more of it than we have detected so far on Mars.
It’s quite possible there’s enough CO2 sequestered in various reservoirs – polar caps, soil – to provide between 300 and 500 millibars of atmosphere (maybe more?) if the planet can be warmed sufficiently to release it.
It’s been estimated such an atmosphere would take between 10 million and 100 million years to ‘sputter’ away to space.
The average animal species lasts around 4 million years. Depending on your view of human history, we may have around 3 million years left in approximately our present form, before evolving into something else.
But in any event, a man-made atmosphere around Mars will last far longer than any time frame we need worry about at present. And who knows what planetary engineering technology we may acquire in just the next 1000 years alone – easily enough to effect ‘repairs’, I’m sure.
In my opinion, terraforming Mars is, without question, the single most important thing humans could do with their time and energy over the next few centuries.