back to article Considering the colonisation of Mars? Werner Herzog would like a word

Film-maker Werner Herzog has upended the scorn bucket over billionaire electric car and space firm mogul Elon Musk's plans to create a city on Mars. In an interview with Inverse, Herzog described Musk's dream of colonisation as "an obscenity", and compared humans to locusts, emptying one planet of resources before moving on to …

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: There’s hope yet!

              > Libya, and the Med could provide enough surface area to provide Europe with enough to replace all of Europe's energy needs (and likely Africas too at the moment).

              And those were exactly RWE's plans in Libya, sunk by their own arrogance, stupidity and criminal mindset on one hand, and by the US, France, UK and Germany grossly miscalculating the outcome of a "revolution" (which outcome was a certainty to anyone remotely familiar with Libya).

              From their side, EDF's genius idea at one time was to relocate the bulk of nuclear plants to Morocco. Thankfully, they seem to have shelved the idea.

              As for wind, EU intends to expand wind capacity 20-fold (?) in the next few years. Do search for an exact figure, that's off the top of my head.

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: There’s hope yet!

          UK Charging Network woes...

          ‘Why did it take nine hours to go 130 miles in our new electric Porsche?’

          https://www.theguardian.com/money/2020/nov/28/electric-cars-porsche-charging-network

      1. gypsythief

        Re: There’s hope yet!

        "...but battery-powered EV are not the solution for everybody, just for urban people who don't need to travel."

        To which I say: John O'Groats to Land's End, in a Tesla Model 3, 855.2 miles in 15h 32m with just 1h 32m for charging?

        Electric cars have gone way, way beyond the original Nissan Leaf and "just for urban people who don't need to travel." With the addition of a rapidly growing network of conventional and fast-charging stations they are more than capable of long distance journeys far faster than certainly I would like to make them.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: There’s hope yet!

      It seems you took the red pill. While there is a lot to admire Elon Musk for, his ability to play the capital markets is probably his greatest skill.

      He’s already single-handedly shown us that you can mass produce electric cars

      Nope, I think you'll find other manufacturers have built more. But he managed to make them desirable. Whether Tesla has net positive effect on emissions is debatable but there's no doubt it's moved the discussion and he's being given ridiculously cheap access to capital as a result. Incumbents did drag their feet, but so did governments and regulators.

      1. Clive Galway

        Re: There’s hope yet!

        I disagree. Once you factor in the million-mile battery and AutoBidder, he's making it so that electric cars will be way more affordable (More upfront cost than ICE, yes, but it makes you money and benefits society when it's not in use)

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: There’s hope yet!

          Electric motors, yes. Batteries less so. They're currently a subsidised way of making the middle class feel good about themselves.

    2. Mage Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: There’s hope yet!

      The Victorians had rechargable cars.

      I went to school on an electric trolly bus and the milkman used an electric rechargeable truck.

      Musk thinks big with other people's money and has a limitless ego.

      1. CrackedNoggin

        Re: There’s hope yet!

        Yes! I delivered milk in an electric Express Dairies truck in '78 '79. Range: about 20 miles, with enormous lead acid batteries.

      2. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: There’s hope yet!

        Now see, an electric trolley bus made sense, and still makes sense.

        If you electrified one lane of a motorway and most A roads then EV's would have effectively unlimited range and would only need a small battery. They would also work for people like me, who in the countryside and need a car, yet live on streets of victorian houses with double yellow lines outside my house, making at home charging litterially impossible.

        Then all you have to do is roughly triple the electrical capacity on the grid to acomodate the additional juice required. Something that there has still been zero discussion of since people are protesting about preserving the current level of power generation.

    3. CrackedNoggin

      Re: There’s hope yet!

      Human are genetically optimized to live on earth. Knuth said "premature optimization is the root of all evil (or at least most of it) in programming.". Why? Because it makes software inflexible. We are inflexible with respect to the environment we can happily live in.

      Life will be spontaneously created on planets if the environment allows it. The more and complex advanced the lifeform, the higher the degree of optimization.

      For an advanced lifeform to get rid of of that optimization/inflexibilty constraint would require redesign from the ground up. But the result wouldn't be human(or whatever the advanced lifeform is called). If there's something "out there", that's what it is.

      Regardless, how about "feeling satisfaction" at just because somewheres, sometimes, life appears, at least fleetingly - our spiritual brethren?

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: There’s hope yet!

        And why does he call an interplanetary system a Starship?

        Ego and PR gone mad.

    4. cyberdemon Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: There’s hope yet!

      So far nobody seems to have mentioned the lack of not just an atmosphere on Mars but a magnetosphere..

      The ionising radiation on Mars that it receives from from the Sun is orders of magnitude more than that seen in the vicinity of Pripyat, Fukushimka etc. and is comparable to earth after an apocalyptic nuclear war, except without a breathable atmosphere.

      No matter how much we have fucked up the Earth, it will be better than Mars for a very long time.

      I for one will welcome Mr Musk to make his home there.. Send Bezos, Zuck and SatNads too!

      1. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: There’s hope yet!

        Exactly - any technology capable of terraforming Mars is easily capable of reversing the damage we have done to Earth.

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Humans like locusts

    Using all the resources we can reach... just like locusts, eh? But at least humans can consider other options, and maybe think this is perhaps not the best way to do things... contraception would be a start.

    Living on a single planet when there's all that real estate out there? If a species can get off its home planet, it should. In a wide wide universe, I wonder how many didn't, and succumbed to famine/plague/poison/large rocks landing on their heads?

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Humans like locusts

      > Using all the resources we can reach... just like locusts, eh?

      Or cockroaches, or mold, or whatever other example of life there is.

      While I understand Herzog's point of view that we shouldn't just waste this place and (try to) move on, it remains that, as living beings, we are programmed to spread and colonize every biotope we can survive in, however harsh. It's a question of survival, and as a species we evidently like to survive (else we would had gone extinct already).

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: Humans like locusts

        Musk's stated goal is to make humanity a two planet species. Plenty of people are working on making humanity a zero planet species. Who do you think will win? Would Mars only be considered a draw?

        1. Dave559 Bronze badge

          Re: Humans like locusts

          "Musk's stated goal is to make humanity a two planet species."

          I'd be much more impressed if Musk was investing in space elevator research than in his fairground toy tube train ride (how to reinvent a metro system, very badly).

          But his rockets are cool, though.

      2. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: Humans like locusts

        The big difference between humans and locusts or whatever other biotic organism is that, whereas they're driven by immutable hard wired imperatives, humans have a brain with the propensity to moderate their consumption of space and resources. It's about time we started using that propensity rather than merely aiming to survive as a species while seeking ways to avoid doing so (in fact continuing to behave like locusts &c.). We can stop doing that, but our societies will have to abandon "growth" as the yardstick of success. It's actually quite a new yardstick - probably no more than 500 years old, against the million or so that humans have been around, so it's eminently feasible to do so if we have the will. For a start, go on using your old iPhone until it actually stops working.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Mike 137 - Re: Humans like locusts

          Way to go, Mike! Oh, and we should tell the military to stop using oil and polluting Earth. Rise your hand all of you who can se US/Turkish/Russian/Chinese armies becoming carbon neutral in the near/medium/long term.

          Humans have a brain and I find that unfortunate.

        2. the Jim bloke
          Headmaster

          Re: Humans like locusts

          I find the constant use of "Humans" as a single entity description.. simpleminded to the point of being childish.

          The human race is divided into multiple cultures - more than races, with different ethical values and priorities, and what is desirable in one is frequently considered rank stupidity in another. These value differences exist not only between nations and ethnicities but also within them, as the fracturing of the USA has been rubbing into our faces recently.

          Bearing this in mind, each of us should act to support what they personally consider worthwhile, -be it interplanetary colonization with or without a 'z', or back to nature environmentalism, militant nationalism or economic or religious feudalism.. whatever.

          Stop tying to fix everything and just do what you can, knowing that other people with divergent ideals will be actively opposing you.

          If Musk can make some progress towards a Mars colony, good on him, and best wishes for everyone involved (plus the expectation they will all die horribly but hopefully provide useful data in the process)

          If some one else wants to restore Earths disappearing icecaps and rainforests.. good for them too.

          Personally I am not a fan of more coal/oil/gas development but there are people who are investing their futures in that... and as such they deserve to die in a fire.. but they have reasons which are valid for them.

      3. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Humans like locusts

        Mars would be like "a frontier".

        People who want to be FREE would go there for THAT reason, alone.

        I know _I_ would, if I could.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: Humans like locusts

      "Should" is always such a hard word to define. I'd be interestedto hear why you think this is a moral position, as opposed to just a pragmatic one.

      1. cbars

        Re: Humans like locusts

        I dont know about Neil, but for me: morals cannot occur without life. Life is by definition continued, so the only imperative that makes sense is to continue. Living on two planets improves the odds of success in meeting that imperative, so any moral definition would prefer it. The alternative is to not continue, which violates the process of life and is therefore either a contradiction or meaningless.

        Everything is natural, including humans, no need to get all high and mighty. Does it really matter that humans have caused extinctions....? Emotionally yes, literally no. Once you understand that it's smooth sailing, all the way to Mars and beyond baby.

        Though it would of course be nice if people would all stop at 2 kids, eh? (I say that as child 3 of more!) Maybe buy the veg thats not wrapped in plastic and just wash it...? We can dare to dream

  2. iGNgnorr

    Comparison

    If there's one person who is as annoyingly opinionated as Elon Musk, it is Werner Hertzog. However, one makes real progress toward the future and the other makes films.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Comparison

      Having opinions he might, but holding them doesn't get in the way of Herzog bringing other people lives, views and opinions to wider attention through his documentaries.

    2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: Comparison

      "If there's one person who is as annoyingly opinionated as Elon Musk, it is Werner Hertzog."

      I see your Elon Musk and raise you a Peter Thiel.

  3. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Who's doing it?

    "I would like to add something about Elon Musk: he is doing the doable – electric cars, reusable rockets, and soon improved batteries...."

    He's not doing it - he's just paying for a lot of very (and in a few cases apparently some less) smart people to do it for him and taking the credit for the results. The two things he's proved himself at are accumulating wealth and self-promotion.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Who's doing it?

      >He's not doing it - he's just paying

      And yet by talking to investors, bringing in money and hiring skilled people he's made things happen faster than they otherwise would have. Without these things, you'd just have some talented engineers without the resources to accomplish anything.

      So, he's not an engineering genius. So what? He sees what is necessary for engineers to work and gives it to them by developing a sustainable business model. That is surely a valuable skill set in and of itself.

      An army matches on its stomach.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: Who's doing it?

        Fair comment Dave 126, but what I object to most is his habit of taking the credit for the innovation and engineering. He's their banker, and good on him for that, but the folks that actually create the real stuff (rather than just the blue skies fancies) should get the recognition they deserve.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Who's doing it?

          > the folks that actually create the real stuff (rather than just the blue skies fancies) should get the recognition they deserve.

          Not a fanboy, but I've consistently seen Musk give credit to others, take responsibility himself, and literally share the stage with his engineers at both Tesla and SpaceX.

          A different matter is how media may or may not report things.

    2. PerlyKing Silver badge

      Re: He's not doing it - he's just paying

      I disagree, from a position of little knowledge :-)

      What I gather from the Internet is that Musk really is an engineer, but one who recognises his limitations.

      His real genius seems to be hiring smart people, giving them a clear target and (crucially) the tools to achieve it.

      The fact that he's the only name I know from Tesla and SpaceX probably supports the self-promotion aspect, and he's definitely said some dumb things on Twitter (which is, after all, the purpose of Twitter ;-) but he is certainly the driving force which has shaken up a couple of industries.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: He's not doing it - he's just paying

        I'm not sure we can say, that Elon has any notion of what he does or does know anything about.

        It's a man who said there would be close to 0 covid cases by April. Of course that was likely just to push for allowing factories to remain open.

        That would be on brand for Elon - the whole screwing over workers to ensure his own profits.

      2. Mike 137 Silver badge

        "What I gather from the Internet is that Musk really is an engineer"

        Certainly he took a degree in engineering, but considering his financial and social clout I would take any public info about him as at least vetted by the man himself, so his bio is likely to be positively slanted. As to clear targets, I'm not sure he's done that all that often. He frequently seems to fly off on tangential techno-fantasies. Sometimes the smart people he hires find ways to build from these, as in the case of SpaceX, but the rest of his projects still seem very much works in progress, largely because the problems they address are much harder to solve than originally thought. Space flight, after all, is not all bleeding edge innovation - there's lot of prior art to build on, but the autonomous vehicle breaks entirely new sensory ground.

    3. Filippo

      Re: Who's doing it?

      Okay, but the money is a very important part of getting stuff done. It's not the only part, it may not be the most important part (depending on point of view), but it's definitely a very important part by any reasonable definition. With this kind of efforts, you need either a government or a crapload of money, and governments are dropping all kinds of balls these days.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who's doing it?

      > He's not doing it - he's just paying for …

      Go on mate, I'll hold your beer.

  4. revenant

    "...humans should 'not be like the locusts.' "

    It's a bit hard to descend on Mars like locusts when there's bugger-all to eat there - there won't be any life there (assuming there isn't any at the moment) until humans do descend en masse.

    As far as we know, there isn't any life anywhere else, so until we know otherwise, I look on human colonization of the planets as us spreading life from the one place that it exists, to places that are barren.

    It would help, though, to have some international agreement on what to do if we do find life elsewhere.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: "...humans should 'not be like the locusts.' "

      "It would help, though, to have some international agreement on what to do if we do find life elsewhere."

      I for one will welcome our new ...... oh, you get the idea!

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: "...humans should 'not be like the locusts.' "

        There is an idea that wherever there is liquid water, Enceladus and probably one or more of the Gallilean Moons of Jupiter, there could be basic life, similar to bacteria.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Investigation_For_Enceladus

        https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/jupiter-moons/callisto/in-depth/

        "data from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the 1990s revealed Callisto may have a secret: a salty ocean beneath its surface. That finding put the once seemingly dead moon on the list of worlds that could possibly harbor[sic] life."

        There has been little public discussion of the ethics or legality of humanity colonising an already inhabited world, well, not that I've seen. So to become a 'two planet' species we either need to find out how to survive in a lethal environment that doesn't harbour rlife, or one that already does.

        1. Dave559 Bronze badge

          Re: "...humans should 'not be like the locusts.' "

          "There has been little public discussion of the ethics or legality of humanity colonising an already inhabited world"

          There was also very little discussion when some of humanity colonised (or invaded, depending on quite how much you want to emphasise it) already inhabited other parts of our own world!

          There'd be some fascinating alternative histories if we had had a United Nations equivalent way back then to prevent invasions. It'd also be kind of interesting if instead "explorers" had had to agree some kind of trade, investment, and legalised immigration deals with the existing locals, and how things might have turned out…

          You do raise a very interesting point, however. At what stage of evolution of life, if at all, would it be acceptable to colonise or, if necessary, terraform another planet? Bacteria, lichen, small furry creatures (from Alpha Centauri or otherwise)?

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: "...humans should 'not be like the locusts.' "

      Indeed, it always seems a bit of a weird argument that because trashing the only place with an actual livable biosphere is a bad idea, it must therefore also be wrong to exploit the resources of a bunch of barren rocks. There are all kinds of issues with the idea of permanent planetary colonies, and people can endlessly argue about which are more important and which can be solved, but the idea that using up some rock on a big rock is inherently bad is just plain weird.

    3. Filippo

      Re: "...humans should 'not be like the locusts.' "

      I agree. Besides, *all* life, bar none, will spread anywhere it can find usable resources. I mean, is lichen bad for spreading on a rock now...? From my point of view, intelligence is what life has evolved in order to be able to spread across planets.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        "intelligence is what life has evolved in order to..."

        Forgive me, but evolution does not work like that and never did. There is no purposive mechanism.

        Change occurs, and unless it's sufficiently detrimental it persists. Not, as some Darwinists assert,. only if it confers an advantage. Some evolutionary change confers advantages, but much of it is simply 'also ran' change that does no significant harm, and persists for that very reason. Accumulation of such non-detrimental change sometimes acquires emergent properties.

        The human brain evolved, like all other brains, as a body controller (not "to control the body" though).Abstract thought probably emerged by chance via accumulation of other evolutionary changes, but it persists insofar as it can confer an advantage. However it only confers that advantage if you use it. Rendering Earth uninhabitable and flocking to somewhere less robustly supportive of life to do the same there doesn't seem to be a well thought out strategy for the survival of the species.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: "intelligence is what life has evolved in order to..."

          Flocking to somewhere less robustly supportive of life to avoid rendering the earth uninhabitable, on the other hand...

          Not that it will of course; it seems manifestly impossible that population could be shipped off-planet faster than it expands. But a second planet to live on - no matter how risky or difficult or expensive - will give the species a little breathing room while it discovers that it doesn't have to have more than one child per person...

          Really, give, the promises of the sixties, we should be all over the solar system by now and half way to Alpha Centauri.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "...humans should 'not be like the locusts.' "

      > It would help, though, to have some international agreement on what to do if we do find life elsewhere.

      We usually eat it.

  5. frankvw
    Facepalm

    Where's the money?

    Exploration has always been driven by Man's insatiable curiosity, need for expansion and investigation. Colonization, on the other hand, has always been driven by profit and nothing else. America was settled because it was a land of huge resources and settlers could build a better life there than in their countries of origin. The "scramble for Africa" was driven solely by a desire to exploit the resources found there. And so on.

    Mars, on the other hand, has little profitable resources to offer. Yes, Man could conceivably eke out an existence there somehow, but what would pay for the huge investments required for such an undertaking? It's a desert. There's all the dust, sand and rocks you could want, and a little water ice as well (but not too much) but that's it.

    Forget the very real problems of terraforming Mars. What will really make sure Mars will never be colonized (barring a single, small scientific outpost perhaps, which is NOT colonisation) is the simple fact that there's no profit to be made on such a venture. The cost of lifting anything to Mars are so great that you would need to find something like Unobtanium on Mars to make it worth it.

    The moon suffers from similar problems, although to a far lesser degree; it's closer and therefore cheaper to reach, and Helium-3 might (!) be the bonanza that could potentially make it worth it. But what profitable commodities does Mars have to offer to cover the costs of colonization, exploitation and transportation, AND make a profit on top of that? If there is one, I can't see it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where's the money?

      And there you have got to the very heart of all our problems, we are obsessed with money and work.

      At this stage we should be able to feed the worlds population, nobody should go hungry, but they do.

      The constant need for 'growth' means we consume resources way more than is needed persuading us to consume way more than is needed than to just to fulfil a need, and polluting the planet in the process

      When humanity has needed to expend great amounts of money, time and energy to accomplish something we have done it, in wars or times of great crisis the accountants are the first to get fired.

      In the West most people should be earning double the amount we now earn if wage increases had kept the same pace with the past increases, instead we get more austerity and the rich get immensely richer.

      Soon human workers may become a rarity, will society change to a more humane way of letting people live their lives?, I very much doubt it!

      We are still a bunch of unevolved ape descendants, just watch advertising to see it's all about shelter, food and sex.

      Foreign policy has barely evolved beyond "We are more powerful than you, do as we say or else" (either commercially or militarily).

      Sad...., as the alien in Contact says about humanity, "You have such beautiful dreams, and such terrible nightmares"

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Where's the money?

      > Mars, on the other hand, has little profitable resources to offer.

      Profitable? It most certainly has the same mineral resources Earth has, so if there is enough water, Mars could be easily self-sustaining. It's not a "get rich fast" place, but then again America wasn't either: It was a place of opportunities and potential freedom.

      Besides, don't mix up biological colonization and Colonization as in pith helmets and rifles. There was no real profit in settling in the sub-arctic frozen wastes where nothing grows, scraping a harsh life from hunting and fishing. Yet, humans did it. Living in or near the big deserts isn't fun either, yet humans did it too.

      So it doesn't matter if Mars will never be the green seashore paradise one would dream of, it remains a place where humans can potentially live. Life will be difficult, but not more difficult than life was back then for those people who colonized inhospitable regions of Earth.

      1. frankvw

        Re: Where's the money?

        "Profitable? It most certainly has the same mineral resources Earth has,"

        Exactly my point. The same stuff as we have here does not cover the cost of going to Mars for it.

        "so if there is enough water,"

        Which remains to be seen.

        "Mars could be easily self-sustaining."

        Possibly, yes. But you're missing the point: colonizing Mars would take a huge investment with near-zero returns. Granted, the spinoff in the form of developed technology will indirectly benefit us all. But that's not the way investors and taxpayers like to see their money being spent.

        "It's not a "get rich fast" place, but then again America wasn't either: It was a place of opportunities and potential freedom."

        And enough people could afford to get there, paying for the trip out of their own pockets. Let me see you do that on a trip to Mars.

        "Besides, don't mix up biological colonization and Colonization as in pith helmets and rifles. There was no real profit in settling in the sub-arctic frozen wastes where nothing grows, scraping a harsh life from hunting and fishing. Yet, humans did it. Living in or near the big deserts isn't fun either, yet humans did it too."

        Because they pretty much had to. So yes, when things become so crowded here that we'll have to spill over Mars, we'll re-evaluate.

        So it doesn't matter if Mars will never be the green seashore paradise one would dream of, it remains a place where humans can potentially live. Life will be difficult, but not more difficult than life was back then for those people who colonized inhospitable regions of Earth.

        1. Mike 137 Silver badge

          "when things become so crowded here that we'll have to spill over Mars..."

          I strongly suspect that things won't get that crowded as natural control mechanisms (famine, plague and a demonstrable natural decline in fertility in most animals that seems to accompany overcrowding) will start limiting growth before than happens.

          But even if we do get that crowded, by the time that happens we'll no longer have resources to spare to colonise other planets, or even maintain previously established colonies on them. Indeed, considering the massive international debt incurred so far through covid just as an example, we'll probably run out of the dosh to even start such ventures long before that.

        2. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Where's the money?

          > that's not the way investors and taxpayers like to see their money being spent

          While generally speaking you're right, apparently there is one now.

          I don't like him, but that's as irrelevant as I am. *shrug*

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