'Why We Should Focus on Fixing Our Own Ecology'

By Liu Di
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(From left) British film producer Emma Thommas, American actor Matthew McConaughey, actress Anne Hathaway and British film director Christopher Nolan pose during a press conference for their movie "Interstellar" in Shanghai, China, Nov. 10, 2014.

Recently, the US sci-fi blockbuster "Interstellar" went on general release, to rave reviews. I was also tempted into buying a ticket to see this film, but after watching it, I had an irrepressible desire to pick holes in it.

The movie tells a story that takes place in a near-future world of ecological collapse due to the decline of civilization. In this world, everyone is a farmer, and "don't need any more engineers," because there isn't enough surplus grain to feed anyone not engaged in agricultural production, which includes engineers.

But the lives described in the movie are indistinguishable from those of American farmers today: the people are grouped on a few large tracts of land, and farming is generally dependent on large-scale agricultural machinery, fertilizers and pesticides.

So the majority of people on this world, or those who want to come here, must be engaged in the design, manufacture and maintenance of large-scale agricultural machinery, fertilizers and pesticides. We haven't yet regressed to the point of self-sufficiency where all people have to rely on is their bare hands.

And the production of the above items will surely require a significant proportion of the world's population to be engaged in the mining, metallurgy, petroleum, biotechnology and other industries.

What's more, the characters in the film are still using laptops, so surely some sort of information technology industry must still exist.

So of course this world still needs engineers and scientists.

Even in a civilized world in decline, investment in research can still yield rewards. In this movie, most of the resources were put into finding a way of escaping the Earth through a wormhole, which probably isn't the most fruitful direction to take.

A more practical direction for scientific research would be saving the planet's ecology and increasing crop yield. No matter how bad the current ecological situation here on Earth, this planet is still probably a better bet than trying to find habitable planets elsewhere.

For humans who are capable of transforming extraterrestrial planets so they are fit for human habitation, surely dealing with a sandstorm would be a piece of cake?

I don't know why...the task of transforming one's own world isn't regarded as a much smaller problem. Perhaps they think you will get a prettier effect if you start over, as if on a blank sheet of paper.

The last issue [I had with this film] has to do with humanity's so-called "Plan B." This doesn't involve shipping living beings to alien worlds, but rather five thousand fertilized eggs, to breed new human beings from.

My main issue with this idea is this: Who will raise these newly hatched human beings? Who will teach them to speak, socialize them, not to mention the various technologies required for human civilization and survival?

A fertilized egg alone is unable to replicate human civilization. Don't tell me that such work can be done by computers and machines.

Children grow up to learn the rules and social norms of society via a great many interpersonal exchanges. Many techniques also require hands-on experience and a master-teacher; something machines aren't capable of.

Living human capital would be essential to any colonial aliens. Plan B is nothing but an impossible dream.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Beijing-based writer Liu Di, known by her former online nickname "Stainless Steel Mouse," rose to fame in 2002 after being sentenced to a year in jail for blogging about China's Internet restrictions as a university student. Since then, she has continued to write online about Chinese society.


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