Two science stories from last week bring to mind a strange dichotomy: the fear that we will mistakenly author our own demise, and the faith that our technological capabilities will solve any problems we create.
It was reported in the journal Science last Friday, that new evidence of liquid water on Mars has been discovered by NASA's Mars Reconaissance Orbiter. The high-resolution photos showed thin lines, indicating cracks, running across sedimentary rock layers, surrounded by lighter-colored "halos" - features that, on Earth, indicate where water has cut channels deeply through rock. It is the best evidence yet of liquid water in Mars' past, if not its present. Added to other recent reports, it reinforces the likelihood that there is, or was, some form of life, however primitive, on Mars.
Meanwhile, it was reported the same day that a series of lakes lie beneath Antartica's glaciers. The lakes, according to NASA scientists, fill and empty rapidly, before emptying water into the ocean.
If the Western Antartic ice sheet, which sits above the lakes, were to collapse, it would raise global sea levels by 16 feet.
This discovery highlights our vulnerability to climate change, and the urgency of the need to do something about it. While no collapse of the ice sheet is imminent, the enormous amount of water stored in lakes, rather than moving streams as previously thought, means the potential for rapid change in sea levels is enormous.
The Mars story, on the other hand, is hopeful and full of the excitement of discovery. It raises the possibility anew that Mars may, and probably does, harbor conditions much friendlier to life than we previously thought. Even if nothing is living on Mars at present, there almost certainly was life there at some point. And the ingredients to support not just life, but industry, are most likely to be found on Mars, if we can just get there.
Given the rapidly-approaching catastrophe of climate-change here on Earth, the idea of colonizing Mars may be a less-absurd fantasy than it appears.