‘The Martian’ Has a Lot to Teach Earthlings

At a time when science often seems to be on the defensive – from the safety of vaccines and genetically modified organisms to the very existence of evolution and climate change – I have found a hopeful sign.

On Mars.

Well, not literally on Mars, but in the movie The Martian. Because the film starring Matt Damon as an American astronaut stranded alone on the Red Planet is perhaps the warmest, most heartening endorsement of the value of science and technology I have seen in popular culture in a long, long time.

And as a result, I think it could actually inspire many young people to pursue the kinds of scientific careers this world badly needs from them if we’re going to cope successfully with the 21st century. In addition, I think the movie holds within it some lessons for how we should cope with the decades ahead.

Without needing to issue a spoiler alert, I can tell you that the first challenge faced by the marooned character, known in the movie as Mark Watney, is his food supply. Somehow he has to figure out how to grow potatoes in a place where temperatures are extreme on both ends and where there is neither soil nor water. (The moviemakers obviously wrote their script, based on Andy Weir’s novel by the same name, long before the very recent discovery of water on Mars.)

Although Watney’s situation is extreme, it does evoke the increasingly challenging circumstances farmers on our own planet face as a result of climate change. Although at one time the jury was out as to whether climate change would be good or bad for agriculture overall, we now know that it’s having a net negative effect, and that effect will worsen —> Read More