Worlds & Time

Friday, January 12, 2007


Let’s say that suddenly we had both available worlds that support human life, and the ability to travel to them.

The UN would probably start accepting applications from groups to settle on these new planets. If there are enough planets, I’d guess more than three or four, you’d probably find that each petitioner would be applying for a whole planet to colonize.

If there are four to ten planets, you’re probably going to find that the petitioning groups are countries, and the ones that are going to get the planets are going to be the most powerful ones. Guessing, I’d say the seven permanent members of the U.N. security council in order of GNP plus India, a predominantly Islamic country (Indonesia, perhaps) and one planet that the U.N. will never be able to come to a decision on.

If you have more than ten, the U.N. will probably consider the requests of groups of people instead of nations. Instead of just an Islamic planet, you’d have separate Shiite and Sunni planets with co-op governments formed by smaller independent groups. You’d have different ethnic groups as well that would be vying for new land, and you’d probably see a couple of really bizarre choices in the first few decisions, like an Inuit planet or a Sub-Saharan African culture planet. Still, the U.N. would tend toward establishing constitutional democracies.

My universe postulates a dozen early terraformed planets, and then forty more planets that eventually support human life.

Even if nations controlled these planets, they’d treat them like America treats Puerto Rico. As a territory. They’d have some decent benefits at first, but eventually I think it will be inevitable that the planets are going to declare their sovereignty. Eventually.

Once they’re sovereign, all of these planets are also going to have singular planetary governments, which are going to be very different than what you see on Earth.

Here’s a momentary tangent. I belong to, and one of the things that they get the most disagreement about is what “Christian” means. After that, some of the most vicious arguments come from people that belong to the same denomination as each other. Catholics will bitterly attack each other over minor theological points, and so will Baptists and just about any other Christian group. Individual Christians are often less concerned with the fine points of theology, but look at the split within the Anglican Church. People are vicious even when the stakes are small.

That same effect is going to create problems as planets try to define exactly who they cater to. You’ll get many serious confrontations about minor things, but one thing I’ve noticed is that outsiders are more reviled the more strictly you define your group. With the necessity of groups applying for planets in larger groups, you’re going to end up with lots of infighting among some of the planets, even though they’ll claim to speak with one voice.

And, humorously, I still expect them to be more peaceful than Earth. Earth is going to be conflicted and having internal conflicts for thousands of years yet.

If I had to guess, I’d say that the planets that have the broadest possible diversity are going to do the best. If you have a singular cultural focus, you’re not going to make the most of your resources, at least at first. It takes some time for desert or temperate or cold cultures to adapt, but if you land with those cultures ready to fill their niches, you’ll have a broader base of support for a population that is going to be struggling to establish themselves.

One of the most interesting things to me about establishing new planets is about what kind of economy they’re going to produce. Industry is going to be important, so most of the planets are going to focus on metal and chemical processing. Today, many places (like where I live) depend on tourism, and with new alien landscapes you’ll have a new frontier for people to explore. Another huge industry is going to be media, and media production. I do agree with Time magazine that our culture is trending toward personal media content, and so I expect to see many “local” planetary channels, with the occasional interstellar hit.

I’ve always talked about one kind of industry, finding materials for building and simple objects, but the more high tech industry, such as computers and spaceships are going concentrate on certain planets that are willing to spend the billions required to create the specialized infrastructure that are required to produce them.

If a planet fails, it probably will be an economic failure and not a political failure. After all, our current situation has proven that political systems can be painfully forgiving in certain respects. Economies though, can be fragile, especially when they’re starting out. It’s going to take money to start up all these colonies, and so they’ll be in debt in the beginning.

Still, once a planet is settled, they’re not going to unsettle it. Unless some disaster happens to wipe out life there, people are still going to live there even if the government and the economy both collapse. You’ll see a lot more hermits on the frontier because it will take centuries to explore all those planets to their fullest.

There’s an interesting environmental point to having more worlds. Earth is going to be destroyed by people that no longer see any reason to preserve Earth. So are other planets, actually. Once something isn’t unique, people aren’t going to see the need to protect it. Environmentalism is still going to be an issue, but it’s going to be an uphill battle.

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