Climate change is an enormous problem and, seemingly, there are not enough solutions big enough to tackle it. However, two new organizations, Food for Mars and Two Planet Steel, have discovered solutions for tackling climate change on Earth by tackling practical problems for establishing and sustaining human settlement on Mars.
Food for Mars and Two Planet Steel are collaborating in a trans-Atlantic effort in a Kickstarter crowd-funding project to study sustainable iron ore separation and food growing in special sand and dust samples that are similar to the sand and dust samples studied on Mars by NASA rovers Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. The results will not only influence how we will live on Mars but also have spin-offs for Earth in both sustainable iron and food production to feed and shelter Earth’s billions of inhabitants.
After realizing that very small-scale steel-making could be started on Mars and carried out largely autonomously by robotic rovers (a point that may have consequences for how we settle Mars), Dr R.M. Olsen, the founder of Two Planet Steel, thought about using steel-making techniques that are needed on Mars on our Earth. Important points are that the iron ore smelting/reduction step can be done with zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and at a cost competitive to the ore reduction done in traditional blast furnaces. Ore smelting blast furnaces emitted 2.0 billion tonnes of CO2 worldwide in 2015, that was 6% of all fossil fuel CO2 emissions generated by all human activity everywhere.
“Transitioning from blast furnaces to clean iron ore reduction will really help climate change,” said Dr Olsen. “Fortunately, there is a way to implement this transition that will put money and jobs into the US iron and steel industry around the Great Lakes and this US phase can set off a worldwide transition from blast furnaces to clean ore reduction.”
Dr Wieger Wamelink, a Senior Ecologist at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands and founder of Food for Mars, has realized that explaining food growing on Mars offers a learning opportunity for kids. Firstly, it is exciting to kids (some teachers have already found this out). Secondly, growing food on Mars will rely on mutually beneficial symbioses between humans, bacteria, plants and probably also insects, yeasts and fungi. Results will teach us how to grow plants on Mars as well as in now infertile areas on Earth such as semi-desserts.
“The survive together aspects of long-term living on Mars can be vividly taught to kids,” said Dr Wamelink, “and be a starting point for them to learn about the more complex ecology of Earth and its huge effect on climate.”
Off-the-planet thinking can help Earth.