Genius or Crazy? Pangaea Reborn

In order to bring conflicting countries closer together mentally, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats wants to bring them closer together physically. He proposes action that would speed up Earth's tectonic activity and lead to the rapid formation of a new supercontinent.

Genius or Crazy presents innovative and unorthodox solutions to complex problems. Current technological feasibility is irrelevant: This is a thought exercise. Is it genius? Is it crazy? You decide. 

Read on below, vote, and let us know what you think in the comments.

Jonathon Keats is at it again. 

Fresh off his latest scheme, in which he developed a means by which to be married by the laws of physics, the mad scientist of experimental philosophy is preparing to tackle another of life's major challenges: climate change. But instead of concocting a weather machine or teaching herons to recycle or any of the other plausible things he's likely to do, Keats' plan is to close the international divide that prevents meaningful diplomacy.

And by "close the international divide," he means literally.

Supercontinental Drift

According to Keats, we can't reasonably expect 190+ nations spread across the globe to suspend their squabbles long enough to reach agreement on climate action. That's why he's proposed the formation of a brand-new supercontinent, tentatively dubbed Novopangaea or Pangaea Optima. If all goes well, the newly shifted continental mass will offset historic rivalries and promote new global harmony.

"By closing the Pacific Ocean," Keats explains, "the United States can be brought into geopolitical alignment with China and Russia. The new common ground can provide a physical foundation for their shared global future."

"Keats' plan is to close the international divide that prevents meaningful diplomacy. And by 'close the international divide,' he means literally."

Keats and his newly established Political Tectonics Lab plan to tap into the Earth's internal heat in order to facilitate the continental shift:

"Earth's internal heat, which keeps continents afloat on a liquid mantle, is generated by the radioactivity of elements such as uranium. Mr. Keats proposes to make use of the energy by building nuclear reactors that plug into rifts on the sea floor. Extracting heat to turn large steam turbines, these nuclear reactors will locally cool the magma. Electricity generated by the turbines will be used [for] power. Since the flow rate of magma and mantle convection currents are the basic mechanisms of continental movement, making Pangaea Optima is merely a matter of intelligently managing subcrustal heat."

The Lab will present its proposal for "diplomatic geoengineering" in an exhibit at San Francisco's Modernism Gallery beginning October 22.

Dancing Between Art & Science

I'd be remiss not to point out that Keats is not entirely serious about Novopangaea, nor is he ignorant of the many new problems that would arise should his plot come to fruition. His work has always straddled a fun line between art and science. This is the guy, after all, who once sold interdimensional real estate and attempted to genetically engineer God

Keats' experiments are meant to challenge and shift perspectives. He begins by asking a naive question not unlike something a precocious child would propose. Keats develops a thought experiment around the question and then attempts to make that thought experiment incarnate no matter how zany or theoretical.

So, in this case, the question is something like, "Would addressing climate change be easier on a supercontinent?" The thought experiment is the creation of Novopangaea. The perspective here is that geopolitical cohesion is so important that if the nations, as they're arranged now, can't play nice, we're going to have to make it so that everyone shares the same stakes.

One of the Political Tectonics Lab's subterranean magnetrons, which will heat up magma in other rift areas with intensely focused microwaves.

Most geologists predict that Novopangaea will form on its own accord 250 million years from now. That's too long to wait for Keats, and maybe the world as well. He's designed this experiment and creating the museum exhibit in anticipation of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December. He and the Political Tectonics Lab have offered their services to the U.N. on a pro bono basis.

Genius or Crazy?

Be sure to cast your vote in the poll at the top of this piece. Let us know what you think of Keats' experiment(s) in the comments below as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Images courtesy of Jonathon Keats

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

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