The Mother Earth Metaphor: "The Earth isn't sick, she's pregnant!" 

by David Buth

One interesting way to look at space colonization is via the Mother Earth metaphor. With this metaphor we compare the biosphere to a pregnant woman. This implies that we think of the biosphere as a single organism, which is consistent with the Gaia hypothesis proposed by Dr. Lovelock. In the following discussion, remember that this is only a metaphor.

In the Mother Earth metaphor of space colonization:

  • space colonies are like children (a fetus right now)

  • the biosphere is like a pregnant woman

  • humanity is like the biosphere's reproductive system

Space colonies as children is a straightforward analogy. Space colonies look different than the Earth (since life is on the inside, not the outside), but a space colony's life support system must function much as the Earth's biosphere does and, ideally, might look much like a nice Earth ecosystem.

Consider the biosphere as a pregnant woman, with the twist that she doesn't know she's pregnant and doesn't know that pregnancy exists -- or that children exist. This is the condition most of us find ourselves in since space colonization is not a widely believed realistic concept. Consider:

  • A pregnant woman experiences unsustainable growth in her abdomen, specifically in the reproductive organs. Imagine how frightening this would be if you didn't know about pregnancy. Similarly, the Earth is experiencing unsustainable growth of the human population -- which in our metaphor is Mother Earth's reproductive system.

  • A pregnant woman experiences changes in her body chemistry. Similarly, the biosphere is experiencing changes in air and water chemistry as a result of man-made pollution.

  • Pregnancy and birth, particularly before the advent of modern medicine, can be a very dangerous time for a woman. Death of the mother and/or the child was once quite common. Similarly, nuclear weapons, pollution, and other problems threaten civilization (although the biosphere has survived much worse).

  • A wise woman treats her body with extra care during pregnancy -- eating well, getting plenty of sleep, avoiding drugs, and seeking appropriate medical attention. The implications for ourselves are obvious, especially since that there are no experienced doctors or midwives.

In the context of the Mother Earth metaphor, humanity's purpose is obvious. We are here to help Mother Earth give birth. We are the reproductive organs. The dinosaurs failed, after a long successful period, apparently because a comet or asteroid struck the Earth and wiped them out. Since then a space-faring species has developed which has the power to avoid this fate by expanding off the Earth. Expanding the range of a species is a often-used and successful survival strategy. Expanding throughout the solar system and, eventually, the galaxy should have substantial survival value.

It is easy to make too much of this metaphor, but it is interesting and, I believe, instructive. 

David Buth, dbuth@freemars.org

[004.DB.TDF.2005 - 16.01.2005]