To Reach Mars, Head North
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I've got a new column up at New Scientist about the possibility that privately run extraction outposts in the Canadian north might be useful prototypes—even political testing-grounds—for future offworld settlements.
"In a sense," I write, "we are already experimenting with off-world colonization—only we are doing it in the windswept villages and extraction sites of the Canadian north."
For example, when Elon Musk explained to Ross Anderson of Aeon Magazine last year that cities on Mars are "the next step" for human civilization—indeed, that we all "need to be laser-focused on becoming a multi-planet civilization"—he was not calling for a second Paris or a new Manhattan on the frigid, windswept plains of the Red Planet.
Rather, humans are far more likely to build variations of the pop-up, investor-funded, privately policed, weather-altering instant cities of the Canadian north.
The post references the work of Montréal-based architectural historian Alessandra Ponte, who spoke at a conference on Arctic futures held in Tromsø, Norway, back in January; there, Ponte explained that she had recently taken a busload of students on a long road trip north to visit a mix of functioning and abandoned mining towns, including the erased streets of Gagnon and the thriving company town of Fermont.
Fermont is particularly fascinating, as it includes what I describe over at New Scientist as a "weather-controlling super-wall," a 1.3km-long residential mega-complex specifically built to alter local wind patterns.
Could outposts like these serve as examples—or perhaps cautionary tales—for what humans will build on other worlds?
Modular buildings that can be erased without trace; obscure financial structures based in venture capital, not taxation; climate-controlling megastructures: these pop-up settlements, delivered by private corporations in extreme landscapes, are the cities Elon Musk has been describing.Go check out the article in full, if it sounds of interest; and consider picking up a copy of Alessandra Ponte's new book, The House of Light and Entropy, while you're at it, a fascinating study of landscape, photography, mapping, geographic emptiness, the American West, and the "North" as a newly empowered geopolitical terrain.
Finally, don't miss this interesting paper by McGill's Adrian Sheppard (saved here as a PDF) about the design and construction of Fermont, or this CBC audio documentary about life in the remote mining town.