This week, we’re sharing stories from Ronan Farrow, Diana Nyad, Rachel Monroe, Ross Andersen, and Teresa Mathew.
Ross Andersen’s Atlantic profile of Nikita Zimov and his quest to re-create a Pleistocene ecosystem that will slow the thaw of Arctic permafrost, ultimately slowing global warming — it’s like Jurassic Park, but with a basis in science and no man-eating dinosaurs. Impressive and captivating, it’s a piece worth reading, not least for a fascinating explanation of how grasses went from being slimy ocean plants to covering huge swaths of the planet.
For the vast majority of the Earth’s 4.5 billion spins around the sun, its exposed, rocky surfaces lay barren. Plants changed that. Born in the seas like us, they knocked against the planet’s shores for eons. They army-crawled onto the continents, anchored themselves down, and began testing new body plans, performing, in the process, a series of vast experiments on the Earth’s surface. They pushed whole forests of woody stems into the sky to stretch their light-drinking leaves closer to the sun. They learned how to lure pollinators by unfurling perfumed blooms in every color of the rainbow. And nearly 70 million years ago, they began testing a new form that crept out from the shadowy edges of the forest and began spreading a green carpet of solar panel across the Earth.
For tens of millions of years, grasses waged a global land war against forests. According to some scientists, they succeeded by making themselves easy to eat. Unlike other plants, many grasses don’t expend energy on poisons, or thorns, or other herbivore-deterring technologies. By allowing themselves to be eaten, they partner with their own grazers to enhance their ecosystem’s nutrient flows.
This week, we’re sharing stories by Sarah Menkedick, Adam Davidson, Ross Andersen, Victor Luckerson, and Tara Murtha.
Cabin fever might set in quickly on Mars, and it might be contagious. Quarters would be tight. Governments would be fragile. Reinforcements would be seven months away. Colonies might descend into civil war, anarchy or even cannibalism, given the potential for scarcity. US colonies from Roanoke to Jamestown suffered similar social breakdowns, in environments that were Edenic by comparison. Some individuals might be able to endure these conditions for decades, or longer, but Musk told me he would need a million people to form a sustainable, genetically diverse civilisation.
‘Even at a million, you’re really assuming an incredible amount of productivity per person, because you would need to recreate the entire industrial base on Mars,’ he said. ‘You would need to mine and refine all of these different materials, in a much more difficult environment than Earth. There would be no trees growing. There would be no oxygen or nitrogen that are just there. No oil.’
I asked Musk how quickly a Mars colony could grow to a million people. ‘Excluding organic growth, if you could take 100 people at a time, you would need 10,000 trips to get to a million people,’ he said. ‘But you would also need a lot of cargo to support those people. In fact, your cargo to person ratio is going to be quite high. It would probably be 10 cargo trips for every human trip, so more like 100,000 trips. And we’re talking 100,000 trips of a giant spaceship.’
–Ross Andersen, in an Aeon magazine interview with Elon Musk, on the future of colonizing Mars.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
I had come back to AmByth to help hasten the vines’ resurrection by taking part in a ritual. I’d been invited the month before, while dining with Philip Hart and his wife, Mary. We’d talked for several hours that night, around their fireplace, wine glasses in hand. They asked me why I was so interested in biodynamic wine. I told them it was the relationship between wine and mysticism that really interested me. The conversation drifted to religion, and Mary told me she was a Christian, and considered herself born again. Philip didn’t come out and say what he believed, but it was clear he took Rudolf Steiner’s metaphysics quite seriously. A disagreement between them broke out at one point: Mary said, ‘as a Christian’, she was turned off by the pagan elements of biodynamics.
Philip mentioned they would be dispersing a preparation called ‘three kings’ shortly after the turning of the New Year. The ‘three kings’ preparation was devised decades after Steiner’s death, by Hugo Erbe, a disciple of his who also claimed to be in touch with nature’s ‘elemental beings’. Erbe said he’d seen these beings take flight from his farm after the atomic levelling of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In order to rescue them, and heal the Earth’s wounds, he developed a preparation made from the gifts given to the infant Christ by the three wise men: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The preparation is dispersed once a year, on 6 January, the date the wise men showed up in Bethlehem. ‘You’re welcome to join us, if you’re in town,’ Philip said to me.
–Ross Andersen, in Aeon magazine, on the mystical roots of biodynamic wine.