Terragouge highlights the significant contribution made by resource extraction, industrial farming, and urbanism to the human-induced transformation of Earth’s planetary environment. The Anthropocene—whether dated to the Neolithic origins of agriculture, the ongoing Holocene extinction (the sixth mass extinction event), James Watt’s plans for the steam engine (1784), or the widespread adoption of the steam engine in the early nineteenth century—denotes a geologic period inaugurated by new energy infrastructures that have enabled humankind to enact geological-scale transformations to Earth’s surface. The extraction of coal was fundamental to driving the expansion of this infrastructure, and thus the Anthropocene is founded on a systematic expansion of what we might call terragouging. This entry examines the significance of the term terragouge for current and future discussions of resource extraction, energy, agriculture, and space colonization, contextualized by the history of the concept in science fiction.
Terragouge allows environmentalists, scientists, ethicists, economists, writers, and artists to make logical, discursive, and practical distinctions at the levels of intention and consequence between different modes of planetary adaptation. Distinctions such as whether to transform the landscape for the purpose of human habitation, which is the goal of terraforming, or for the purpose of maximizing resource extraction, as in the case of terragouging, have become critical. The ability of humankind to alter the environment through technological means and at ever-increasing scales should encourage thought and planning for the best way to harness these abilities to ensure the continued integrity of Earth’s biosphere for the flourishing of its inhabitants. As humankind’s technological capacity and supporting infrastructures continue to grow, the prospect of irrevocably impairing living conditions on Earth for humans and nonhumans alike encourages environmental, ethical, scientific, and creative thought about how the Earth has historically been altered, how it continues to be transformed, and what the consequences of such modification might be. Whereas terragouging can be related to the concept (and violence) of the Anthropocene, the terms terraforming and geoengineering have a far broader reference.
The history of evolution on Earth involves multiple events that can be considered examples of terraforming (and not terragouging). The great oxygen event, in which the early colonization of the planet by cyanobacteria and the subsequent transformation of Earth’s atmosphere from a carbon dioxide–rich environment to one containing enough oxygen for other forms of life to evolve, is a prototypical example of naturogenic terraforming. Such instances of nonhuman organisms effecting dramatic changes to Earth undermines the notion that humankind is exceptional in its ability to alter planetary environments. Indeed, this long history of transformation informs James Lovelock’s Gaia hypoth-esis (1975) and undergirds other contemporary theories of planetary evolution. According to many thinkers, only terraforming can ensure our species’ survival in the face of the contemporary climate crisis.
The term terragouging was coined by literary scholar and ecocritic Patrick D. Murphy. Murphy defines the term as the adaptation of planetary environments “to facilitate extraction of raw materials for earthly consumption.” Terragouge is a portmanteau derived by analogy with the term terraforming, which can be defined as the adaptation of planetary landscapes to facilitate their habitation by earthbound life. Terragouge combines the Latin noun terra, “earth,” with the verb gouge, but it is as the gerund terragouging that the term most often appears. In this form, terragouging may refer to a broad range of activities that center on resource extraction.
The related term terraforming was invented by the science fiction writer Jack Williamson in his 1942 short story “Collision Orbit,” although the concept is older. H. G. Wells, for example, portrays Martians who transform Earth’s environments in an act of areoforming (the adaptation of other planets to facilitate habitation by Marsbound life) in his 1898 novel The War of the Worlds, and Han Ryner recounts in his 1909 short story, “A Biography of Victor Venturon” (first published in French and translated into English in 2011), the modifications that the eponymous scientist enacts on Earth’s planetary environment in response to an impending global natural disaster.
Terraforming and its counterpart on Earth, geoengineering, are subcategories of planetary engineering. Depending on its context, terragouging can likewise be considered a subcategory of planetary engineering at the same level as terraforming and geoengineering, or it can be considered a subset of terraforming. The discourse of planetary adaptation—a discourse which once seemed futuristic, but is primed to move to the center of the climate change discussion—does not restrict these terms to humankind’s contemporary abilities or contexts. Future endeavors, such as the mining of asteroids for raw materials—which is already being investigated by private companies such as Planetary Resources—would also constitute a form of terragouging. Likewise, should humankind establish interplanetary colonies or space stations—as Mars One and Elon Musk’s Space-X plan to do—the definition of terragouging should be extended to include the extraction of raw materials for human consumption from outer space, whether or not that consumption only benefits communities on Earth. By underscoring the underlying motive for terragouging as the satisfaction of consumption on Earth, Murphy’s definition draws attention to how humankind organizes and transforms matter around its needs and desires. Earth and human wishes are the touchstones around which the transformation of other planets is oriented.
Because the terms terraforming and geoengineering include a wide range of concepts and encompass many different types of planetary adaptation, the term terragouging allows further distinctions to be drawn between approaches to transforming nature. The utility of terragouging lies in its capacity to highlight how energy systems and the management of other natural resources are generally the primary motivation for transforming landscapes. Terragouging thus highlights the difference between the adaptation of planetary environments for the purpose of facilitating habitation by humankind and other terrestrial organisms, and the extraction of raw materials for consumption elsewhere. Naomi Klein identifies the operation of the Canadian tar sands as an example of terradeforming—that is, terragouging—because the landscape is not simply deformed but materially diminished. Any act of terraforming can be construed as a planetary deformation, which harbors the implicit negative value judgment implied by the term deforming. Terragouge, by contrast, emphasizes the distinction between resource extraction that will exacerbate climate change and other modes of planetary adaptation, such as a welcome global project of deurbanization. For example, Laurence Manning, in his 1933 science fiction serialization “The Man Who Awoke,” imagines a world that has deurbanized by depopulating urban centers and transforming the Earth into a pastoral landscape sparsely inhabited by a network of arboreal communities.
Terragouging encompasses activity such as resource extraction in support of humankind’s energy infrastructures, urbanism, and agroindustry. Given that carbon-based energy regimes are a significant cause of climate change, terragouging directly opposes terraforming insofar as the historical proliferation of wood, coal, oil, and gas as energy sources undermine Earth’s capacity to support habitation by multiple forms of life. Just as terragouging relies on political, social, and economic decisions that have the capacity to reshape each of those domains, historical energy infrastructures come about through choices that reshape labor and the land in exploitative ways. The United Kingdom’s Lancashire cotton industry is one example of such reconfigurations. It involved the application of steam-driven mechanized production for the spinning of wool and imports of cotton from plantations in North America. The transformation of the environment through agroindustry and factory farms is also a form of terragouging. These systems require resources such as nutrients, trace minerals and metals, water for food production, the manufacture of chemicals used in agricultural and factory farm processes, and resources for the genetic manipulation of plants and animals. Different modes of adaptation speak to different ways of valuing environments and their inhabitants.
In the case of terragouging, other organisms as well as nature at large are seen in instrumental terms as a means to an end: the maintenance of an economic system rooted in expanding consumption, primarily for a privileged subset of the human population. Historically, this mass consumption has not been restricted to capitalist economies but has also been a feature of other economic and political systems. Yet terraforming and terragouging are variations on one set of practices and are not radically separated or exclusive concepts. The character of any terraforming or terragouging program involves technical, social, and economic decisions that may be consistent with one another or significantly diverge in one or many respects. Indeed, terraforming and terragouging can in certain contexts be seen as identical if the transformation of another planet for the purpose of habitation is solely based on the extraction of raw materials for consumption by the agents of terraforming. Nevertheless, terraforming and terragouging often work at cross-purposes, as the narrator of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel 2312 (2012) concedes: “It was also true that metals and useful chemicals in lunar rock could be mined only by a deep strip-mining and processing of much of the lunar surface, which also made terraforming difficult. So large domed craters and tented areas alternated with cosmologically large mining pits, and each nation with a substantial lunar presence had an influx of raw materials.” Here terragouging as a form of “deep strip-mining” directly impedes efforts to transform Earth’s moon into a habitable environment. Nations that have staked a legal claim to portions of the lunar land own the extracted resources, which they transport to Earth to satisfy terrestrial demands for consumption. The overriding purpose of the terragouging of the moon is the maintenance of a capitalist economy on Earth, which directly impedes efforts to establish a viable ecologic and economic system on the moon that would enable its future habitation by currently earthbound life.
Environmentalism and Popular Culture
Contemporary environmental struggles over resource extraction can be framed as a struggle against the terragouging of Earth. Gouge refers to the notches or grooves made in wood, but it also refers to an extreme act of violence that deprives one of sight. Colloquially, gouge refers both to the act of overcharging and to the mining of ore. The incorporation of the negatively shaded gouge and the allusive onomatopoeic quality of this verb, suggestive of circularity and brutality, offer a memorable and expressive term to organize resistance against a range of interventions into various landscapes.
The emergence of popular forms of resistance in opposition to new extractive technologies—such as hydraulic fracking, the 2015 kayak-tivist protest against Arctic drilling by Shell, the NoDAPL campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline led by Native American water protectors in 2016 and 2017, and protests regarding the Canadian tar sands in Alberta—is an example of resistance to terragouging driven by alliances between multiple and heterogeneous groups. The term terragouging thus has the capacity to underscore the shared scientific, social, and economic bases of specific extractive events. However, it also has the capacity to connect resistance to extraction to resistance to other industrial processes that enact terragouging, such as agriculture, factory farms, fisheries, and mining. Agroindustrial interventions such as factory farming and the conjoining of biotechnology and agricultural monocultures pioneered by companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta illustrate how the extraction of raw organic materials from the Earth for consumption is conducted in terms of terragouging. For example, Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva exposes how the Green Revolution’s attempt to enhance agricultural yields in Asia also brought with it long-term environmental, economic, and public health problems for the populations inhabiting the areas directly affected by this shift in agricultural production processes.
The utility of terragouging will increase in relevance as geoengineering for climate mitigation and planning for the human colonization of the solar system gain traction. A term such as terragouging would allow ethicists, economists, environmental scholars, and potential colonists to factor the ethics of resource extraction into decisions to transform cosmological nature, which also bear implications for the management of resources on Earth. Public–private partnerships are an increasingly popular model for imagining the colonization of the solar system, and plans for the mining of planetary bodies and asteroids grow apace. Companies such as Moon Express, Planetary Resources, and Bradford Space are built on a terragouging ethic, while business models based on astrotourism by companies such as Space-X, Virgin Galactic, and Bigelow Aerospace are dependent on resource extraction from the solar system. Mars One plans to establish a self-sufficient colony on Mars—a goal that could conceivably be achieved with the aid of the terragouging of Mars and a supporting infrastructure for the mining and transportation of resources from nearby asteroids. Given the tragic record of the exploitation of natural resources on Earth, it is imperative to establish an ethics that would inform and constrain further efforts to extract wealth from the solar system.
Interrogations of terragouging have been an important element of science fiction since the 1930s, and the theme has gained increasing popularity in wider culture since 2000 as a way to think about contemporary environmental issues. James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar is based on the conflict between colonizing humans who wish to terragouge the alien moon Pandora and the indigenous Na’vi, whose culture and material existence are threatened by these plans to turn their home into a mine. Similar narratives appear in science fiction literature: Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1972 novel The Word for World Is Forest likewise examines the ethics and politics of colonization and terragouging by portraying an indigenous people whose culture is intimately connected with a verdant forest landscape. Duncan Jones’s 2009 film Moon portrays the terragouging of Earth’s moon for helium-3, a resource that allows Earth to meet its large demand for energy. Ian MacDonald, in his 2015 novel Luna: New Moon, portrays the corporate terragouging of Earth’s moon for helium-3 and other resources. MacDonald shows how terragouging is made possible through the exploitation of all but the most powerful of the moon’s population by corporations that exercise political and economic control on the moon.
Kim Stanley Robinson consistently explores issues of terragouging in his novels. His landmark Mars trilogy, comprising Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993), and Blue Mars (1996), portrays the colonization of Mars and the struggle between terragouging and terraforming models of planetary adaptation. Robinson extends his reflection on the variety of environmental and political issues implicated in terragouging in his collection of short stories, The Martians (1999), as well as in more recent novels such as 2312 and Aurora (2015). These novels offer complex visions of the competing ethical, political, and economic discourses that are a fundamental part of the decision to transform the landscape for anthropocentric ends and show how terragouging is a fundamental concept for thinking about anthropogenic climate change on Earth.
Terragouge—an invaluable concept for discussing and responding to anthropogenic climate change—incorporates ethical, political, economic, scientific, social, and cultural concerns that are fundamental to contemporary human and nonhuman ecologies. Although the term is new, the concept has a long pedigree, and it has been developing within scientific and popular discourses for over a century. By offering a greater degree of discrimination between forms of adapting the planetary biosphere, terragouging can help us to explore modes of habitation and adaptation that would allow us to appropriately respond to the urgency of climate change. Robert A. Heinlein underscores this urgency in his 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress when a character challenges the terragouging of the moon by linking extraction to future suffering: “Every load you ship to Terra condemns your grandchildren to slow death.”
Another Path: Total Liberation
1. Each of these groups has used terraforming in different ways to think about issues related to the environment. For example, ethicist and political philosopher Robert Sparrow has used terraforming as a thought experiment to explore an agent-based virtue ethics that is applicable to questions of environmental modification on Earth. Likewise, scientists and engineers such as James Oberg have considered environmental themes and issues as part of their theorization of terraforming. See Robert Sparrow, “The Ethics of Terraforming,” Environmental Ethics 21, no. 3 (1999): 227–45.
2. See James Lovelock and Sidney Epton, “The Quest for Gaia,” New Scientist 65, no. 935 (1975): 304–6. Additionally, for the role of plant–fungi symbioses in planetary adaptation, see Benjamin J. W. Mills, Sarah A. Batterman, and Katie J. Field, “Nutrient Acquisition by Symbiotic Fungi Governs Palaeozoic Climate Transition,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 373, no. 1739 (2018): 20160503; for algae’s role in supporting the development of animal life, see Jochen J. Brocks, Amber J. M. Jarrett, Eva Sirantoine, Christian Hallmann, Yosuke Hoshino, and Tharika Liyanage, “The Rise of Algae in Cryogenian Oceans and the Emergence of Animals,” Nature 548 (2017): 578–81; for the role of whales in reorganizing the structure and function of the world’s oceans, see Joe Roman, James A. Estes, and Lyne Morissette, et al., “Whales as Marine Ecosystem Engineers,” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12, no. 7 (2014): 377–85.
3. Patrick D. Murphy, “The Non-alibi of Alien Scapes: SF and Ecocriticism,” in Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism, ed. Karla Armbruster and Kathleen R. Wallace (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001), 270.
4. See Jack Williamson, “Collision Orbit” (1942), in Seventy-Five: The Diamond Anniversary of a Science Fiction Pioneer (Michigan: Haffner Press Oak, 2004), 216–77; H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898), Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/; and Han Ryner, “A Biography of Victor Venturon,” in The Superhumans and Other Stories, trans. Brian Stableford (Tarzana, Calif.: Black Coat Press, 2011).
5. Terraforming and geoengineering are becoming increasingly popular terms in climate science, news, politics, and culture. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2014 report mentions geoengineering as a potential response to climate change, while writers such as Naomi Klein, George Monbiot, and Oliver Morton all discuss terraforming and geoengineering. Geoengineering has also provided the basis for movies such as Snowpiercer (2013) and Man of Steel (2013). See Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate Change (London: Allen Lane, 2014); George Monbiot, Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014); and Oliver Morton, The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015).
6. Klein, This Changes Everything, 139.
7. Laurence Manning, The Man Who Awoke (1933; reprint, New York: Ballantine, 1979).
8. Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312 (London: Orbit, 2012), 370.
9. In this example, the way they strip-mine the moon would impede terraforming. It is conceivable that strip-mining, given another planet with different characteristics (or even different approaches to strip-mining), might also help the terraforming of a planet based on its planetary features. Different science fiction texts place terraforming and terragouging in different relationships, and some texts might contradict the assertions of others. The example of the Alberta tar sands is a good parallel. An example of the converse might be the moholes of the Mars trilogy, which use mining sites to create geological features that induce variations of heat in the atmosphere, which eventually aid in warming the planet (although this intervention is not unopposed in the narrative). Perhaps the clearest alternative would be the terragouging of an asteroid for water, which would be used in a terraforming project. Although the asteroid is terragouged into nonexistence, it provides a basis for the terraforming of planetary bodies in many narratives of terraforming.
10. Vandana Shiva, The Violence of the Green Revolution (London: Zed Books, 1993).
11. See Moon Express (http://www.moonexpress.com/), Planetary Resources (http://www.planetaryresources.com), Bradford Space (http://deepspaceindustries.com/), Space-X (https://www.spacex.com/), Virgin Galactic (https://www.virgingalactic.com/), and Bigelow Aerospace (http://www.bigelowaerospace.com/).
12. See Avatar, dir. James Cameron (20th Century Fox, 2009).
13. See Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World Is Forest (1972; New York: Berkley, 1976).
14. See Moon, dir. Duncan Jones (Stage 6 Films, Liberty Films, Xingu Films, and Limelight, 2009).
15. See Ian McDonald, Luna: New Moon (London: Gollancz, 2015).
16. See Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars (1992; reprint, London: Voyager, 1996), Green Mars (1993; reprint, London: Voyager, 1996), and Blue Mars (London: Voyager, 1996).
17. See also Kim Stanley Robinson, The Martians (London: Voyager, 2000) and Aurora (London: Orbit, 2015).
18. Space constraints prevent a comprehensive overview of the large number of terragouging narratives that abound. For further information on such narratives, see Ursula K. Heise, “Martian Ecologies and the Future of Nature,” Twentieth Century Literature 57 (2011): 447–62; and Heise, “Reduced Ecologies: Science Fiction and the Meanings of Biological Scarcity,” European Journal of English Studies 16 (2012): 99–112; Sylvia Kelso, “Tales of Earth: Terraforming in Recent Women’s SF,” Foundation 78 (2000): 34–43; and Chris Pak, Terraforming: Ecopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016).
19. Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966; reprint, London: Gollancz, 2001), 17.