Should we move to Mars or plant 500 billion trees?

The planet Mars has always fascinated us. Named after the Latin word for war, it has inspired storytelling by H.G. Wells in The War of the Worlds and Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. More recently we have sent a series of crew-less spacecraft to Mars, some orbiting the planet, others landing.

Today, both NASA and tech billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are investing billions in spaceflight technology with the hope that we can establish a human colony on Mars. However,  the  technical,  financial, physical and psychological challenges are immense. Not only do we have to travel in a tin can for several months, we also need  to create  a sustainable ecosystem from scratch once we arrive. These challenges can be overcome in theory, but I find myself asking if it might be better to improve our existing habitat here on Earth, instead?

So I was encouraged to read an article last week in the journal Science which found that we have 4.4 billion hectares of unused but suitable land to plant 500 billion trees. These trees would capture 205 gigatonnes of carbon, enough to cut atmospheric carbon by 25%. Whilst most of us may not have the technical and financial resources to migrate to Mars, we do have the resources to plant trees!

In  related  research, we  could  also begin  to reverse climate change and the loss of  biodiversity by rewilding our landscape with meadows as well as woods. Rewilding Britain explains how this approach and philosophy brings nature back to life and restores living systems.

I can’t help thinking that we need to forget the “boys-and- their-phallic-toys” narcissism of these tech billionaires and instead help nature to help us clean up the mess we’re making of this planet first.

“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; in terms of ten years, plant trees; in terms of 100 years, teach the people.”