“The first planet we will need to terraform will be Earth,” said Professor Roslyn Torgrimson. “And the reason we’ll need to do that is to save humanity from extinction. We are using up our storehouse of surface minerals and fossil fuels at an alarming rate. And the renewables — food, wood, and water — are being turned into products at an exponentially increasing rate. We are already seeing signs that the continents are in imminent danger of collapse, due to the burrowing activity of mining nanites.”
Professor Torgrimson, her thick brown hair now graying at the temples, turned away from the audience to clear her throat before continuing.
“The planet is collapsing.” A gasp from some of the younger members of the audience.
“Or rather, the nanites are turning the relatively ordered layers of the planet’s crust into a randomly assorted scree of artificial debris. Some of this debris is accumulating in piles as garbage, some gets recycled into other products, and a vanishing percentage is virgin products formed from freshly dug materials. That’s the stuff that gets consumed or used in our homes. … And the best thing to do is let that happen.”
Now a general murmur from several corners of the room. Togrimson looked small and frail as she stood below the raked seating of the auditorium, filled to capacity on the university campus of the University of Western Iowa. Since the war, UWI had become the leading engineering institution in North America, a large bronze plaque bolted to one wall a testament to the successful efforts on campus to create new superweapons to defeat the heavily armed but disorganized narcobosses who had controlled Central and South America for more than a century. Some of the inventors of NA’s winning armaments sat together, frowns deepening, along the left wing of the room.
Nelson Magar couldn’t resist blurting a challenge to the professor — his mouth frequently got him in trouble in the science courses he audited despite a major in philosophy. “We can’t let that happen! The melting poles have already submerged one-third of the landmass of the Earth. Why would we want that?”
Togrimson’s cobalt black eyes came to rest on the student, piercing his forehead and boring to the back of his head. Nelson remained still, refusing to give way to the curiously intense glare of his mentor. Dear god, thought Togrimson, I’m going to have trouble with that student someday, especially if he intends to finish a graduate program in geoengineering rather than the harmless humanities.
“I know that most of you are looking expectantly to the stars, and to our efforts to restart the geomagnetic field on Mars. I too have been hoping that by rebooting the electromagnetics of that planet we’ll be able to start melting the ice buried near the surface, and thereby create an atmosphere that won’t get blown off into space. But I believe that we need to put off that effort for the time being in order to save the planet we are sitting on this very moment.”
A disturbance from the direction of the esteemed armament makers on the fringe of the audience. “Dr. Togrimson, the young man is asking you a direct question. Could you please get to the point? It’s getting late for some of us, and students will be disappointed if we’re unable to pull ourselves out of bed in the morning to teach our seven o’clock classes.”
Snickers and light applause from many quarters.