In the book, “Starship Gardenena“, (warning: plot spoiler) author Michael Krispin describes a futuristic world that is confined to a spacecraft hurtling through space.
The Hopelexians having left their home planet long before due to resource depletion, outfitting a very large near-planet sized ship with a living biodome environment. Contributing to every conceivable need they could envision, this living ship was launched through space in a last ditch effort to save their species by locating a suitable planet for habitation.
The problems they faced were stupendous. Their home planet was located in a remote corner of the galaxy and no known inhabitable planets were known to exist, so effectively, they were “hoping against hope” for a planetary discovery that would enable their continued existence.
They were also faced with the knowledge that they had no idea how long their search would take, but were more then reasonably certain it would encompass many generations due to the great distances involved. Thus, their living ship was fully equipped with every conceivable requirement to sustain life in space. They stripped their immediate solar system bare of essential resources and materials and over generations, built their ship. What little still remained on their home planet they took with them and set off into space on a stupendous journey of hope and promise.
The ships biosphere contained everything from microorganisms to living animals. Entire cities and forests were built within, based upon their best known practices for sustainability and survival. Their atmosphere came from their own forests and fields within, which also provided them with their sustenance and even a ships ‘economy’ in time, to actively engage the inhabitants in productive fields of endeavor and to help ensure everyone’s survival.
The ship traveled thousands of light years over many generations of time, searching, searching for a new planetary home. But it was not long before they began their journey that the difficulties they faced made themselves clearly evident.
The ships inhabitants for one, did not get along as they once had. Turf wars and control of resources soon became acute enough that wars were more common then not. The ship’s internal government failed to rectify this situation which over time, and as generations progressed, worsened, creating factions and divisions throughout the entire ship. Micro-nation “states” were setup to help control the ship’s population, but even this proved to be unworkable over time, only serving to create artificial divisions and divisivenesses.
Internal trade and sharing of the ships resources became acute over time as a result, and some portions of the ship’s population actually starved, who were often viciously held in check by the better, more well-armed rest. Slave labor developed as the stronger states discovered that they could rule over the weaker ones. This was actually encouraged by the ships governing body, which had become increasingly corrupt as time drew on. Governing officials were replaced with new officials, but they were never better then the ones before them.
But even this didn’t address a growing problem of population and their continual consumption of the ships resources. Taking far longer then they had originally planned for, the ship’s resources became severely depleted due to the ever increasing population. Even the wars they fought among themselves did not abate this issue sufficiently. The ships systems for water, air, soil and even light were taxed to the maximum and life became increasingly perilous for the ship’s inhabitants.
Various measures were tried, including recycling which was very advanced, but even this approach did not resolve the issues of entropy. Populations continued to grow and finally, a ship’s decree was made to regulate and control population levels or else all aboard would perish.
But by this time, many of the inhabitants had actually forgotten that they were on a ship at all. Even though they were still hurtling through space, their world-view was very different from their forefathers long ago who had launched the ship.
To them, this was “all there was” and they had great difficulty imagining that there was really anything else. The ship was the only “planet” that they had ever known. Efforts to maintain education and awareness had gradually diminished over the long and many years the ship had been in space, oftentimes due to other areas of interest being advanced such as entertainment and the simple fact that the ships internal processes were still subject to budgetary constraints.
While this may seem strange, the author explains: labor was still the real measurement of wealth and effort, whether on a planet or on a ship. The inhabitants of the ship would still have to labor in order to stay alive, and labor was still measured in the same way as it always was before. An internal economy was developed including monetary exchange, and a division of labor for ’employment’ was setup to keep everyone busy. This was the only done to keep all the inhabitants actively engaged, since idleness represented to the ships government a unnecessary drain on resources.
Since the inhabitants required sustenance just like they did before, everyone had to work in some endeavor to ensure that even simple things like food and water were still grown and harvested. Other labors were also required, including some highly advanced skills such as weather and waste, recycling, soil scientists and animal husbandry.
As time advanced and generations came and went, other skills were developed too, including entertainment industries. When the fighting broke out, even defense industries were begun, employing thousands upon thousands of the inhabitants, you could be employed as a soldier or border guard just as easily as you could be a farmer, everything was needed.
No one wanted to labor at anything though unless they received some sort of personal benefit for their efforts, and due to the nature of ship’s survival for the inhabitants, everyone had tasks that they were required to do. Early on, payment for these tasks was in the form of cooperative agreements; some labored at food production, while others labored at air manufacturing and quality and such like, and all shared in the benefits of what the others did.
But as the generations of time wore on, many of the inhabitants began to disagree on the fairness of this division. Some perceived this as being unfair to them, having to work harder or longer, while others saw the discrepancies as an opportunity to exploit the situation for personal gain.
This led to a stratification of society within the ship. The farmers were looked down upon because although essential, it was considered “hard labor”. The technologists were looked up upon, mostly because they were paid more and worked less. However, most of the technology was fairly automatic, just needing routine maintenance most of the time, and quite a bit of it could simple be ignored.
But even these automatic systems didn’t always function right, especially after they had been in use for thousands of years. They began to break down as toxic elements emitted by the ship’s activities created corrosion and pollution in the air, water and atmosphere. They also broke down and stopped working when the supply of raw resources began to run out and nothing could be replaced to fix them. Even recycling didn’t always help here.
In time, much of the technology that they had come to fully rely upon became unusable. The trains and trams that they used to move goods throughout the ship stopped working. While not critically essential, this definitely caused problems, since the distribution of goods could not be easily shared to everyone else, especially in a planet-sized ship.
Some inhabitants simply went without as a result. Even their own labor and work was unsharable to every one else, and this was a primary reason why various factions and ‘states’ were created and expanded, it was no longer possible to share or benefit from the work of others like before.
More generations passed and each state took on distinctly unique personalities and characteristics. Depending upon their access to resources, some were “rich” and affluent, having a high living standards, and others weren’t. This wasn’t always the case however, as armies were developed to simply take resources from weaker parts of the ship. As long as they had better weapons, they managed to steal and oppress whoever they wanted. Many wars were fought as a result, but the victor was usually the ones with the most technology that could oppress or defeat the loser.
All this fighting however, rapidly depleted the ships resources and in time, all of the inhabitants were perilously close to extinction, hurtling through space, still never having found a suitable home to migrate to. Emergency measures were declared by the ship’s government, but were broadly ignored by most states. Population control was tried, but knowing nothing else, and not really beleiving in the fallibility of the ship they lived in, this too failed and the ships population threatened to consume everything.
The fate of Starship Gardena was not good. Failing to find a suitable planet entirely, the starship continued to hurtle through space generation after generation as their problems worsened. Internal problems became insurmountable as populations exploded in size and the ships resources became perilously depleted. Pollution, deforestation, food product and even clean water and sufficient air became acute. Millions died. By now, billions had come into existence, and they all began to suffer badly.
No answer was found, despite their advance technology and early understanding of their plight. Their governments having failed to address the root issues facing their ship-board civilization, devolved into fighting, bickering and stalling tactics as the situation deteriorated daily.
The ship eventually became a tomb, housing nothing left living, but only the fossilized remains of a starborn civilization that sowed the seeds of its own destruction through division and arrogance and indifference. Hurtling through space, it was nothing more then a burned-out and empty shell, all of its resources long since consumed and its inhabitants now forever extinct. Many died in the wars on board and the diseases that spread, others died from starvation or they choked to death on toxic fumes. But all died, none were left alive. Nor was anything else, including their vast forests, fields and once teeming streams full of life. It was all dead, killed by those who had once gardened it all.
Of course, this story has never been written and is purely fiction, I’ve made it all up, including the title and author. But it exemplifies our own planet-ship and what our fate will be if we do not finally begin to address root problems and conditions that are even now, threatening to wipe our entire species and everything else with it.
We do not have “multiple chances” to get this right. While very easy to overlook because of our short-sighted world view, it’s not true. Humankind was chosen by nature itself, brought into our present existence over millennia, it would be a tragic, horrible mistake to “blow it” now after the countless generations of ancient humans that have gone on before us.
But we might blow it. The is a very real possibility of this now. We stand upon the precipice of our own destruction, which can happen as swiftly and surely as a crumbling cliff with a rushing river eroding its base. We’re the river, the cliff is our planet, our only home. Our only logical, sensible and reasonable choice is to stop destroying this planet, quickly. We don’t have much time left. We’re still hurtling through space and we’ve got absolutely no place else to go to, and even if we did such as Mars or wherever, like the Hopelexians we would simply export our problems there too. Bad idea. Either we learn to live here or we cannot live anywhere.