Our Place in Space: An Immature Technosphere

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, I is for…


In a previous post, I told you about the DART Mission, our first real experiment to see if we can defend our planet from incoming asteroids.  I believe humanity has a tremendous responsibility to protect our planet, not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of the entire Earthly biosphere.  Incoming asteroids can do serious harm to Earth’s biosphere (just ask the dinosaurs).  But, of course, there are other threats to the biosphere that should concern us—more immediate and urgent threats, too.

The term “immature technosphere” is mainly associated with SETI research.  Imagine, if you will, a planet that is home to alien life.  Over cosmic timescales, we might expect this hypothetical alien planet to go through several phases of development.

Phase One: The Immature Biosphere
Life has begun!  The first microorganisms are swimming around in the planet’s water (or whatever liquid this planet has instead of water).  But biological activity produces biological waste, in one form or another, so as these early organisms multiply and spread, they may end up poisoning their own environment with their own waste products.

Phase Two: The Mature Biosphere
Life has found a way.  A variety of organism have now evolved, and the waste produced by one organism serves as fertilizer, food, or fuel for others.  A natural balance has been achieved.  Natural cycles have emerged.  Life not only survives but thrives!

Phase Three: The Immature Technosphere
Intelligent life has emerged, by which I mean life capable of creating and using technology.  But as these intelligent life forms begin using technology on a grander and grander scale, they may inadvertently disrupt the natural cycles and the natural balance of their world.  Life is threatened once again, this time by technological waste.

Phase Four: The Mature Technosphere
If intelligent life is truly intelligent, it will recognize the harm it is doing to its own environment and start inventing ways to undo that damage, or at least to keep the damage in check.  In time, perhaps a new balance will be achieved, with nature and technology working together in harmony.

Turning our attention back to Earth, I think it’s fair to say our planet is in the “immature technosphere” phase of development.  But an immature technosphere today implies that a mature technosphere may develop later on, and that gives me hope.

I keep saying that this “Our Place in Space” series is a highly optimistic view of humanity’s future.  Part of what I mean by that is that we will not leave Earth behind.  We will not make a new home for ourselves on the Moon or Mars or elsewhere after destroying our first home here on Earth.  I doubt that that would work anyway; any off-world colony we might establish would still be dependent on Earth for a long, long time to come.

I know a lot of people who see the state of the world and despair.  Things are bad right now, and some of the damage we are doing to our planet and to each other cannot be undone.  But a better future is still possible.  Humanity just needs a bit more time to mature.

Want to Learn More?

Earth in Human Hands by David Grinspoon is one of my all time favorite books.  It’s certainly my #1 favorite non-fiction book.  As an astrobiologist, Grinspoon has more knowledge and authority on scientific matters than I do, but his view of the future is much like the view I’ve been presenting in these A to Z Challenge posts.

So if you’re worried about the state of the world and you want to believe that a better and brighter future is still possible, I highly recommend picking up Grinspoon’s book.