The Times of Their Lives

There is a well-known story concerning the construction of a large new college hall at Oxford University many hundreds of years ago. Hopefully it is a true story, and if it isn't, it certainly deserves to be told anyway. The story goes something like this: the new building was framed with large oak timbers and was consequently a very sturdy structure, and indeed, it held up extremely well under the vagaries of the English climate. After several hundred years, however, it was realized that the oak beams were beginning to fail and that they would need replacing. The college dean at the time was apparently distraught at the news and became almost apoplectic at the thought of the incredibly high costs that would follow as a result of the needed renovations. ''We cannot afford to use new oak beams,'' the dean cried as he passed across the senior common room floor, ''and surely, even if we could afford it, there is no supplier capable of delivering the quantities of seasoned oak that we require?'' It was at this point that one of the college historians directed the dean's attention to the common room window, through which vista a magnificent stand of mature oak trees could be seen. The white-haired history professor then respectfully explained to the befuddled dean that when the hall was being constructed, the craftsmen planted a new stand of oak trees, ready for the day, which they knew would eventually come many years after their deaths, when their work would need replacing. In short, the moral of this story is that the craftsmen thought ahead, and put into action a plan for future renovations that they would not see in their lifetimes and from which they would not directly profit.

Well, as suggested earlier, this may or may not be a true story, but the forward-looking attitude of the craftsmen portrayed certainly exemplifies the sort of collective outlook that we must adopt before the terraforming of Mars commences. Indeed, on the timescale that a human generation turns over, say an interval of 30 years, the initial terraforming phase of Mars will be a multigenerational project. Estimates vary, but most researchers suggest that the Phase 1 stage of ecopoiesis might take several centuries to complete, which corresponds to a minimum of some six to seven human generations. The completion of Phase 2 will take at least an order of magnitude longer than Phase 1, requiring perhaps 1,000-2,000 years before the beginning of Phase 3, the stewardship stage, is realized.

We are now considering an interval of time that embraces some 60-70 human generations. In some sense, this timescale gives us great hope for the future if we reflect upon the incredible changes, both practical, technical, and philosophical that have taken place over the last 2,000 years of history. In another sense, it also provides

Figure 6.19. The Stonehenge monument was occupied, developed, and central to life for a time span in excess of a thousand years. This same mindset of building from the distant past, through the present to a distant future is something that will be required of humanity when the terraforming era finally begins.

Figure 6.19. The Stonehenge monument was occupied, developed, and central to life for a time span in excess of a thousand years. This same mindset of building from the distant past, through the present to a distant future is something that will be required of humanity when the terraforming era finally begins.

us with a real cause for concern, since during that same time interval not one universally binding project has ever been started, let alone completed, by humanity.

It is a sobering thought, for the modernists among us that ancient archaeological history provides us with a number of examples of dedicated, multigenerational, large-scale building projects. The great megalithic encampment of Stonehenge (see Figure 6.19) in Britain, for example, is a structure that was adapted and maintained over a time span of at least a thousand years starting from circa 3,000 B.C. Its true purpose is not readily known to us today, but it was clearly an extremely important object to our distant ancestors, who invested a tremendous amount of time, energy, and no doubt lives into its development. For the many extended family clans that lived upon the downs that surround the Stone-henge structure, it was an ancient object that bound them together. It was also a structure that they communally nurtured in order that it might pass into the ''now'' of their distant descendants. It is often said that if we don't remember our history, we are doomed to repeat its failures. It might also be said that we should remember our ancient history, since it tells us how to live and plan for the sake of future generations.

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