Down in Jungleland: No Place like Homehttps://indianexpress.com/article/express-sunday-eye/down-in-jungleland-no-place-like-home-5471228/

Down in Jungleland: No Place like Home

Why Earth is still our best bet to build ourselves a home in.

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(Photo: Ranjit Lal)

The buzz has been around for a while — how the only real hope for us to propagate our species in the future is to eventually settle on other planets, because living on Mother Earth will become untenable. I think even the late Stephen Hawking mentioned this and already apparently bookings have been made by people who want to “settle” on Mars — and have their children there, whenever that becomes tenable.

The very thought makes me shudder. Sure, I know human beings have always been explorers, seeking out new frontiers (especially with a view to exploit them) — after all that’s how all the continents and oceans and rainforests on earth were discovered. It takes guts and great derring-do. But to want to live permanently on a place like Mars, no thank you. To visit the red planet — sure — provided you have a return ticket to earth.

A lot has been said and written about the stark, desolate “beauty” of Mars: its aridity, its shades of orange and sienna and tobacco, and, of course, the possibility of it secretly harbouring life. But all said and done, it is still a sterile, silent, empty world that will kill your spirit in no time and make you yearn for the sapphire blue planet shining in the distance.

We really show very little appreciation for what we have here on earth: A planet still brimming with a bewildering variety of life-forms — each a specialist in its own right, making the whole shebang work in perfect harmony. From bacteria to baleen whales, every living creature has a role to play, a niche to fill. It took 4 billion years for this machine to get into good working order (despites setbacks on the way) and we’re still figuring out bits and pieces of its machinery.

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Of course, the hard-nosed amongst us, tell us that it’s idiotic to get all gooey-eyed and breathless over the “wonders” of nature because it all boils down to genes pushing their private agendas to get ahead using complex chemistry, nothing more. But even if we are deluding ourselves, it’s a wonderful kind of delusion. How many of us will refrain from taking photographs (well, selfies these days) of a spectacular sunrise over the glittering snows of the Himalayas?

Or not be left gasping at the sheer beauty and power of the mantis shrimp — that kaleidoscopic underwater mini-power-boxer? Or catch our breath with admiration and envy as a cheetah rockets from 0 to 100 kmph in less than three seconds?

There is also evil genius at work, which many of us will perhaps appreciate even more! The rabies virus irritates the heck out its host (knowing that it is condemned) so that it bites and scratches another victim enabling the virus to hitch on to another host and live on. The Machiavellian Toxoplasma protozoa, has its honeymoon inside the guts of cats — and its babies are evacuated in a litterbox or on the ground. A rat trundles along, and picks up the Toxo, which begins a deadly journey to the rat’s brain. Here it unravels the circuitry which warns the rat to run from cats, and instead floods it with “feel good” dopamine, making cats appear sexy to rats. So off it goes in search of pussy-love and promptly gets consumed. The devious Toxo protozoa can now begin its honeymoon in its catgut boudoir, because no other place will do!

For us, so used to pulsating life everywhere, a dead place like Mars will just not do. Oh yes, we may even carry life-forms from earth to Mars, probably and morbidly, just to see what happens to them, but you can’t replicate a living ecosystem on a desiccated hot (or freezing cold) and lifeless planet. On Mars, as on other planets we’ll have to make life-sustaining systems (air and water for a start) to work as they do on earth. Also, the main intention of most of us wanting to “colonise” Mars is to rip it off any precious metals and minerals we can use for ourselves and that will make us rich.

Sure, there’s going to be a frantic race between nations to put the first man on Mars. (Astonishingly countries might even agree to a joint-venture). It’ll be exciting to watch, as much if not more than when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. We might even colonise the red planet to the extent that astronauts stay there for months at a time, as they do on the international space station. But to emigrate to Mars, like the way Europeans emigrated to the US? No way.

Life on earth they say is becoming untenable but who’s to blame for that? We foul our oceans and rivers and fill them with plastic, make the air toxic, dump garbage everywhere, consume far in excess of necessity and point fingers at one another. And even if we did, by some miracle, find a salubrious place to settle on some other exotic planet, far, far away, you can be sure we’ll be doing the same thing there all over again.

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher.