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The world should not seek, in the next 75 years, to create colonies on planets in our solar system

Debate Information

Position: For March 2018 Tournament | Round 1 - Debate 4

Debra AI Prediction

Predicted To Win

Details +

Debate Type: Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Voting Format: Moderate Voting

Opponent: shadowCorbin

Time Per Round: 24 Hours Per Round

Voting Period: 24 Hours


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  • Affirmative Constructive | Position: For
    whiteflamewhiteflame 689 Pts   -  

    Congrats to @shadowCorbin on getting past the first round! Looking forward to debating this with you here in the semifinals!


    Briefly, a clarification. While the resolution states that “The world should not seek” this action, we understand that the Earth does not have sentience and therefore doesn’t “seek” anything. Instead, we are arguing over whether the leaders of countries worldwide should put resources towards these efforts. Presumably, most of that discussion will surround whether the US should do this, but the implications for other countries and their interactions are fair game.


    Onto some burdens analysis.

    1.       Note that the resolution bounds us in some important ways. When we’re talking about “establish[ing] colonies”, we’re talking about making a stable, long-term settlement of people, one in which people would perform all the basic tasks of life and, presumably, reproduce. Other activities, such as exploration of other planets, are on the table. Further, we are restricting this debate to planets inside our solar system. This excludes all non-planetary celestial bodies (i.e. no asteroids, moons or planetoids [sorry, Pluto]) and anything outside of this solar system.

    2.       This is an equal burdens debate, at least insofar as we have an equal burden to establish the net benefits of our respective sides in this debate. My goal in this debate is to show that we should not seek to establish colonies on other planets in our solar system in the next 75 years, whereas it is Con’s goal to explain why we should. As such, we both will aim to compare the benefits of countries seeking to establish colonies on other planets in our solar system to a world where such colonies are not sought.

    3.       Both my opponent and myself have aspects of the resolution that must be explored as part of our arguments. As this debate is taking place within a defined timeframe (75 years), we both must provide some clear idea of what is likely to happen within that period. As we are talking about the future, all such discussion is theoretical. However, we can both still support an increased likelihood of certain technological advances by analyzing current trends and progress in research. Also, since we are discussing whether to establish colonies on specific planets (presumably not all of them can be a host to humanity), Con will have to present individual planets as prospects for such an endeavor. He will have to support those selections, explaining why they are better possibilities. It will be part of my burden to show that each of Con’s examples are poor choices for colonization based on their characteristics.


    The following contentions all have applications for any possible planet choice, though I do specifically address two plausible selections (Venus and Mars) that Con is likely to choose (since most of the others are either gas giants or Mercury, which gets pretty toasty). Should Con select other planets, I will address those choices in the next round.


    Contention 1: Opportunity costs

    Regardless of where Con thinks we should have these colonies, they are going to be brutally expensive for every country that decides to pursue them. No country has the technology currently to make such a colony on any other planet, so research costs alone are going to be massive. The process of getting human beings to a point beyond the moon has never been done, and that generates its own expenses. And all of this ignores the costs of getting resources to this other planet, which would require materials for buildings of all sorts (e.g. living spaces, greenhouses) that all must maintain Earth-like atmospheres. As there is no obvious source of fresh water on either Venus or Mars, any water would have to come from Earth, as would any fuels, seeds for plants, any animals… The list of necessities would be tremendous, and none of them could be continuously replenished on the planets themselves. Anything that breaks will have to either be repaired or replaced, and the turnaround time will have to be rapid, as inconsistent access to water or air would quickly result in the death of everyone in these colonies. That means stockpiling a lot of back-ups and maintaining a rapid means of getting materials out to them should their systems fail.

    If we just take the cost of sending things into orbit around Earth, we’re talking $2,500 per pound into orbit.[1] And we’re talking about building materials, people, food, water, and all manner of other necessities, all of which would have to go up on multiple craft well beyond Earth’s orbit. Solely focusing on the mass estimate of possible colonies as derived by NASA-funded researchers in the 1970s, these colonies could be composed of tens of millions of tons of material,[2] meaning that we’re looking at approximately a trillion dollars just to fly the construction material into our orbit. This excludes the costs of the spacecraft themselves, the cost of failed launches and lost craft, the cost of research and development, and numerous other costs that we cannot possibly foresee. It’s impossible for us to estimate what these costs would be, but they would no doubt balloon the costs to ridiculous heights.

    These funds could be spent almost anywhere else and still be more net beneficial. The US could institute a system of universal health care for far less, solve homelessness and end world hunger for less.[3-5]

    Ignoring the larger issue of where else we could spend this money, it’s exceedingly unclear how the federal government of any nation would convince their people to pursue such a venture. We’re not talking about mining operations or exploration, we’re talking about sending people to live in a brand-new location over an extended period. They will undoubtedly be a drain on resources from Earth, at least for a time, and most people alive at the time these ventures are pursued will never see them in person. Yet governments need to get their people on board to justify this huge resource allocation.


    Contention 2: The harms of low gravity

    This is a key problem for most of the planets in our solar system: they simply have too little gravity. Looking at Mars as an example, it only has a surface gravity of about 38% of Earth's gravity. Even if humanity somehow manages to figure out how generate artificial gravity (something that we are nowhere near discovering), we would still be subject to that low gravity every time we wander outside or turn off this magical resource. And the effects would be daunting.

    “According to a NASA report, the effects of zero-gravity on the human body are quite profound, with a loss of up to 5% muscle mass a week and 1% of bone density a month.

    Naturally, these losses would be lower on the surface of Mars, where there is at least some gravity. But permanent settlers would still have to contend with the problems of muscle degeneration and osteoporosis in the long run.”

    While Wall-E made this process look comedic, it’s no laughing matter. These problems can shorten lifespans and dramatically reduce quality of life:

    “less gravity would cause humans to quickly lose muscle mass, shrinking our legs and causing our hearts to become deconditioned and weak.

    Our bones are not immune to the effects of less gravity and would soon develop osteoporosis as well. All the calcium lost from the bones would find its way into our bloodstream, causing constipation, kidney stones, and even psychotic depression.”[6]

    These kinds of medical problems are long-lasting and re-acclimating to Earth would be a difficult and painful process.


    Contention 3: Caustic environments

    There are numerous environmental hazards on other planets within our solar system. I do have to focus on specific examples here, so this will break with the rest of my case.

    Starting with temperature. The temperature ranges on other planets are pretty widely varying, and usually well out of the range that humans can survive. For those few that are close to what we can manage, there are still problems. “The average temperature on Mars wanes between 70 degrees Fahrenheit and minus 225 degrees. Although these temperatures aren’t exactly impossible for humans to survive in, they are difficult… the atmosphere of Venus is too hostile to support life, that even the most robust robots could survive only a few minutes in the intense heat (over 460 degrees Celsius or 860 degrees Fahrenheit), high pressure (about 100 times Earth's pressure), and extremely acidic atmosphere.”[6]

    There are also numerous other problems to face on these planets. Dust can be a major problem: “living on the surface of Mars would be like living in a giant salt flat. The dust would not only eat away at their equipment but also may affect their health. The Mars Phoenix landers proved that the Martian soil contains chemicals called perchlorates, or highly chlorinated salts. The chemical exists on Earth as well, and too much exposure can harm the human thyroid. On top of the perchlorates, the dust may also contain carcinogens and produce serious allergic reactions in humans. It’s suspected that it may even burn human skin in a similar way to lye or bleach, although this is not yet confirmed.” [6] This dust is “thought to be larger and rougher [than Earth], like the dust that covers the Moon. When Apollo astronauts landed there, they were covered in just a few minutes. Within hours, rough lunar dust had scratched up lenses and degraded seals… [long stays on Mars] would give potentially hazardous dust plenty of time to accumulate in equipment, cause airlock malfunctions, or even infiltrate astronauts’ lungs.”[7] Spacesuits will have to be designed to completely exclude the dust, which hasn’t even been possible in a system that lacks the significantly lower pressure of that environment.[8]



    Contention 4: The Technology

    Unless Con can show how all the above problems are solvable in status quo (spoiler: they aren’t), he’ll have to explain why the technological advancements of the next 75 years will be sufficient to resolve them. As this portion of our debate will be based chiefly on predicting the future, and it is functionally impossible to definitively prove that something will or will not happen over the next “X” years, we are fundamentally restricted in what either of us can provide as evidence. If “X” was infinity, we might be able to assume that all technologies may become available. 75 years is a whole lot less than infinity, so we must rein in our assumptions.

    This is a big problem for Con because all I must do is provide sufficient doubt that such technologies will be available within that 75-year timeframe. If I can do that, then I will have shown that pursuing this technology offers a significant chance of complete failure, i.e. we pursue it but can never actually achieve it. That means that the best-case scenario is that the technology is achieved at great cost (look at my Contention 1). Worst case scenario, this technology is never achieved, and you still incur all the same costs, but with no benefit. And that means Con has to take it a step further: he must show that the technology is likely to be created and be available at low enough cost that the opportunity costs are minimal.

    So, let’s analyze the likelihood of this technology coming to pass.

    Functionally, we live in what has been characterized as the “Age of Surprise”. It’s described as an era where “the exponential advancement of technology have reached a critical point where not even governments can project the direction humanity is headed.” It “makes determining what will be the next big thing more difficult than ever.”[9] This is the reason why neither my opponent nor I can provide definitive proof for what will happen in the next 75 years – at best, we can base it in technological trends.

    And therein lies the problem: the trends simply don’t support Con’s argument. The development of new spacesuits has mostly been at a stand-still since 2003 (there’s a prototype in development that should have been finished by 2017, but it’s still in the works and doesn’t resolve any of the problems I’ve mentioned), meaning that any advancements required for survival on other planets would be exceedingly slow.[10] That means dealing with widely ranging temperatures and caustic environments is going to be a slow process. There is no such thing as anti-gravity machines [11], nor is there anything in the works to create them, meaning that the harms that result from low gravity would be continuously applied to anyone on the planet. No technology exists or is in development that can generate water or food.

    Perhaps most importantly, the phase of manned spaceflight seems to be largely behind us. The US ended the shuttle program, and their budget is remaining flat, effectively shutting off manned space travel for the foreseeable future. There is reason to believe that the US will eventually pursue manned spaceflight again, but that will require the development of an entirely different kind of “large launch vehicle and a crew capsule.” That research is proceeding, but it’s extremely preliminary, meaning that the US won’t even be sending human beings to other planets for another “four or five decades.”[12] That’s really important because the US has, by far, the largest space budget of any country.[13] So Con is effectively banking on the US managing to reach other planets rapidly after spaceflight starts again, and then figuring out the entire process of establishing a colony on one of these planets within half the time.


    Contention 5: What it means to colonize space

    Much as humans have had access to space for several decades now, including space stations, when we’re talking about colonizing planets, we’re breezing past some important intermediary steps in the process of getting to that point. We have no clear international laws defining national ownership of resources in space (or, for that matter, private ownership). That’s going to make competing efforts at colonization rather difficult, particularly if they happen on the same planet. Even over the course of 75 years, Con is providing no clear means by which such laws could be derived. This is likely to lead to competition over resources, which generally is not so good for international relations on this planet. Anything that could potentially engender warfare, which resource competition is wont to do, is simply too strong a concern to warrant such an uncertain pursuit.















    Looking forward to the cross-examination!

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