Extravagance, Thy Name Is Humanity


Scientists have revealed a provocative new theory of moving planets like Mars, pictured, into an orbit that would create habitable conditions through such methods as using a satellite’s gravitational pull. (NASA/GODDARD)

The plans were extravagant in the extreme. For centuries, the thought of creating a Dyson Sphere, that is, manufacturing an immense hollow ball around the Sun with the inner edge of the shell positioned at One AU or the exact distance of Earth’s orbit from its star was thought to be the absolute cure-all for every problem introduced on the mother planet by human beings. The inner surface area would capture one hundred percent of all generated solar energy, providing an all but inexhaustible amount of power and living space, so humanity would run out of neither.

One of the biggest drawbacks was that you’d have to cannibalize every other object in the solar system just for the raw materials, plus you would have to find a way to create the energy necessary for the manufacturing process. However, the engineering genius even to design such a fantastic structure didn’t exist among Earth’s best and brightest and probably never would.

Science fiction writer Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” might do as well. Imagine taking the “equator” section out of the Dyson Sphere and utilizing it in the same way. Not as much living space or energy capture, but still a whole lot more than simply living on the tiny blue marble called Earth.

But Niven was a science fiction writer and Ringworld was no more attainable an achievement than the Sphere.

Twenty-first century Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson suggested that moving other planets such as Mars and Venus into the “Goldilocks” zone around the sun might be feasible, but not very feasible. However, if you could do it and provide each planet with a rotating molten iron-nickel core so it could generate a magnetic field, and terraform suitable atmospheric compositions and densities, it would give the human race three planets to live on instead of one.

The problem here is that even if you had the necessary technology to move planetary bodies to the desired locations, gravitational resonance would hurl Earth out of its orbit as you moved the other planet(s) in.

But Earth was continuing to heat up and fill up and something needed to be done. Since the industrial age, humans had always looked to their genius and innovation to rescue them from the problems they themselves had created using their genius and innovation.

Robin McKeun woke up along with five billion other human beings. It would take days for her to recover from the effects of eight-hundred years of deep hibernation. As she reclined in the resuscitation pod, she wondered what she would find when she and the rest of her colony, one of five anchored to the bottom of each of Earth’s oceans, returned to the surface.

Her grandfather William Marshall Sacks developed the initial plan, and her mother Amanda Sacks McKeun was part of the Ring of Ten, the scientists, engineers, visionaries, and financiers who were responsible for implementing the ambitious project. This was to be accomplished using a series of guided close flybys of massive asteroids, both between Jupiter and Earth and between Saturn and Venus with the goal of gradually changing the orbits of the two inner planets.

On its most basic level, the plan was simple. As an asteroid passed by its target planet, the asteroid transferred some of its gravitational energy, slowly boosting the planet to an orbit further away from the sun. Earth was getting too hot and Venus had a surface temperature of molten lead. Both planets needed to be in an orbit where they would be cooler. Gently pushing both worlds away from their central star would accomplish that goal.

A reawakened humanity would then have two habitable worlds for the price of one. The only additional engineering required was the terraforming of the Venusian atmosphere and creating an externally generated magnetosphere to protect the surface from solar radiation, both child’s play compared to the feat of moving not just one but two planets into new orbits.

“As your mother, I’m giving you the news ahead of time Robin, but in less than a week, we’ll have to make the information public, well, first we tell the three colonies to be evacuated and only later disclose what we know to those who will stay.”

“Which ones, Mother?”

“Oh don’t worry. The Arctic, Indian, and South Pacific Colonies will be saved so you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“Mom, you’re talking about condemning two billion people to their deaths.”

“I’m talking about saving three billion human beings including my own daughter.”

They were communicating across a secure vid channel, Amanda being in the Indian Colony and Robin residing in South Pacific.

“What about Raul? He’s in North Atlantic.”

“Look, dear. I’m sorry about your lover, but I can only play favorites once. You’re my daughter so your colony survives. In a week, the three colonies will be informed of the situation and their populations transported to the spaceports in Delhi, Reykjavik, and Queensland to board their ark ships for Venus.”

“So what! A month after that, you’ll tell the other two colonies that they can take their chances by remaining in their undersea habitats as the Earth, forced to the outer edge of the Goldilocks zone by gravitational resonance, replaces Mars in an orbit over 140 million miles from Sol.”

“That’s about the size of it, dear. At least Earth won’t be pushed out of orbit entirely and become a rogue planet like Mars.”

“Mother, you are a cold-blooded bitch.”

“The price you pay for being one of ten people on the entire planet who decides the fate of the human race and two planets, I’m afraid. I wasn’t chosen just because I was an astrophysicist you know. The bright side is that Venus is now comfortably orbiting the sun at an average distance of 92.96 million miles. That’s just about spot on, don’t you think?”

I wrote this for The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt writing challenge. For Friday, 29 December 2017, the prompt word is Extravagant.

That’s a tough one because it can go in so many different directions.

I started with the basics and looked up the word both on Dictionary.com and Wiktionary.com. At the latter, I found out that:

From Old French and French extravagant, from Medieval Latin extravagans, past participle of extravagari (“to wander beyond”), from Latin extra (“beyond”) + vagari (“to wander, stray”).

Interesting, but still no story ideas. I needed a topic that crystalized the meaning of extravagant.

For some reason, the idea of creating a Dyson Sphere popped into my head. After all, you’d have to consume every last bit of matter in the solar system to build one, and the primary motivation would be that you’d already extravagantly exhausted all of the resources on Earth.

But the story is too big, and Larry Niven already created and owns Ringworld, so that was out. I couldn’t find any other viable solar system spanning habitat designs in a quick Google search, but I did find the Daily News article Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson reveals man’s ability to move uninhabitable planets into ‘Goldilocks Zone’ is 100 percent possible and a piece from the Guardian called Nasa aims to move Earth, both which gave me the “core” of my story.

Oh, I had to solve Venus’s pesky “I don’t have an internally generated magnetosphere” problem using clues from this article, though I ended up making the external generators technological.

It’s difficult for me to inject “humanity” and “personality” into a saga with such a grand scope without making it 10,000 words long, but hopefully my little exchange between Robin and her mother Amanda helped a bit.

Two bad about two billion people, including Robin’s lover Raul, but I suppose that among the three billion survivors, the younger McKuen will find a suitable mate. At least that’s what Amanda thinks.

8 thoughts on “Extravagance, Thy Name Is Humanity

  1. Well, done carefully, I can see that balancing two planets, or even three, in the plane of the earth’s orbit at 1AU in “the Goldilocks zone” could be done, though to maintain stable orbits at the same orbital rate the masses of the additional planets would need to be virtually identical to that of earth. Otherwise, “racing” collisions would occur. Thus, restructuring the planetary system would require a bit more than mere “terraforming”. It would require mass balancing. Without such rebalancing adjustments to their masses, it would not do to move existing planets such as Mars and Venus into orbits in the zone closer to 1AU but not in the same orbit with earth, because of gravitational interference when they pass one another due to the differing orbital rates that each of their masses demand. Further, if the goal is to produce truly earth-like conditions, which are the only conditions that we know from long experience can sustain life as we know it, it might be necessary to restructure them also as binary planetary systems each with a relatively large single moon, to create similar cyclical tidal forces.

    But you cited another suggestion, here, about moving the earth a bit farther away from the Sun in order to make the climate cooler. That would be terribly short-sighted, ignoring that climate change is a cyclical phenomenon that has included ice-ages as well as warm periods like the present, toward which even the worst of human contributions to greenhouse gasses has had a virtually negligible effect (contrary to the data-selective assertions of some popular voices these days). Moving Venus might be a workable possibility to cool it and bring it into the center of the Goldilocks Zone, where perhaps it might be restructured to have a suitable mass, magnetosphere, atmosphere, etc., but moving earth because of a little temporary increase in warm stormy weather is asking for another, possibly permanent, ice-age. That *would* be a non-negligible human contribution to global climate change, and not for the better.


    • I understand your point of view and generally share it, but the people subscribing to climate change seem to see it as inevitable and permanent, at least those who would embrace something as radical as moving Earth further away from the Sun. That moving planet might eventually be possible, doesn’t mean it would ever be practical.


      • I’ve never quite understood how this view of climate change became a religious dogma, presuming that humans caused a problem and that humans are therefore responsible and able to undo it. The view fails to distinguish between human activity and cosmic activity that is entirely beyond human influence, and ignores geologically-documented history of both warmer and colder climatic periods that are totally unrelated to any human technology that could have global impact. I suppose it might be the frightening notion that humans may have to suffer under circumstances that are quite beyond any hope of their control that might evoke such an irrational religious response. But it is counter-productive to concentrate on the limited ability of human technology to influence global climate when instead it could be turned toward developing methods to cope with the irresistible changes in the present stage of an ongoing climate cycle. We might need to improve buildings to withstand storms and other assaults. We might need to relocate entire cities away from flood-prone areas. We might need some undersea-habitat cities. We might need improved agricultural technology to change deserts into gardens, not unlike what Israel has had to do but even more so. We might need to find ways to collect excess energy from the environment to reduce storm-generating tendencies, and redirect that energy to productive uses. But all of these notions derive from accepting climate change, and working in concert with it, rather than fighting battles against natural forces that are much bigger than we are.


      • Although people of faith are often criticized by secular people for their/our dogma, they have just as much if not more baggage and many respond with blind obedience to their Priesthood the News Media.


  2. I’m not much interested in the topic of global warming (while I do care a lot about clean water* and that kind of thing, as I think you do too, James), but I’m curious about this “News Media” topic. I wonder how people who watch FOX [and I know you said you don’t] or something else that is taken as “God’s truth” or (if libertarian possibly) the atheist friend’s “handbook to the heart” think it makes sense to call what they dismiss religious (as if in contrast for betterment) or even call it “the” media, as if they themselves have no sources — or “sources” to be more accurate, with them, at least much of the time. And I have seen traditionally-religious people share “news”/supposed facts, with no sources, for the flock to take in as gospel, from the pulpet, as it were. But the acolytes aren’t only in pulpets.

    To give an example of the kind of thing I “wonder,” I have shared direct videos and conversations and so forth, of people speaking and acting for themselves, and been met with the response that such is gossip and that I should be quiet (ironically enough… given a recent story you wrote and some of the commentary on that). The moral of the story is that two people could stand on a sidewalk and witness an event and one of them would say not to speak of what was just seen until someone [like Bannon or whoever] tells us what we are supposed to say we “saw” and, going forward, what we are “allowed” [if we choose to be in that squadron of subjugation] to believe about it and promote. That is the world we now live grappling with or ignoring, or furthering.

    {Additiinally, as I reread your comment, it isn’t the case that it’s only people who don’t believe the kinds of religious things you’d call faith — while it wouldn’t be productive to get into all the permutations of what might be true and what drives you crazy — who can or do participate in climate science or think human influenced warming happens. (Of course, that statement is assuming your faith isn’t defined that way as a tautology.)}

    * I care about, also, ruined habitats or homes (or avoiding such), including nature. Momentum against what are often presented as climate change topics is not infrequently intended to squelch concern for neighborhoods or houses or farmland or forests, and so on, so the ruin can continue or be neglected.


    • …. met with the response that such is gossip and that I should be quiet (ironically enough… given a recent story you wrote and some of the commentary on that). The moral of the story is that two people could stand on a sidewalk and witness an event ….

      In other words, a witness “is” a gossip and and a liar is a witness of “true” things.

      Notes for clarification: First, the “response” wasn’t iterated by you — as you know and as may or might not be obvious enough to most readers… as I’m still posting — but came from one of your guests (one of my fellows, except that he’s a fella and I’m not).

      The irony was a pointing of the finger — within his, said, response — toward yet others (not at me or my kind on that occasion but), in the habit of psychological projection, at those who wouldn’t hear women as witnesses (even though the grouping of people he aimed at are rather not known for rejecting women as witnesses). It would seem the effort was to send a rhetorical signal (no matter how preposterous on the face of it) as if the signaler were open to witnesses even-handedly.

      Where I said “moral of the story” — it probably would’ve been more helpful to say “lesson of the interaction” [as I didn’t mean to reflect that your story was or contained the moral to which I was referring or that I was delineating]. Yet, we could look at the matter as a story within a story or a continuing story with sub-stories… or an ongoing stage with many sub-plots… or attempted genuine conversation strewn with disingenuous distraction, but not distraction at all (depending on each perspective) when manipulative subterfuge is a low-grade objective (like a virus).

      {There is a parallel in the boast of a more obvious agent of harm in current affairs, with the public statement (as a blatant admission of the assault on values-based thinking) that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot people and get away with it. (He could get away with other things as well, as he also said.)}


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