CFOs learn that in order to solve issues on Earth, we need to look off-world

During the 2021 CFO Awards, Dr Adriana Marais explained the importance of resource management.

On the evening of 17 November, the eighth annual CFO Awards took place at the Inanda Club, Sandton, Johannesburg. South Africa's top CFOs were nominated for recognition and the winners were announced at the “Oscars of the finance profession”.

In keeping with the theme “World class finance in action”, theoretical physicist, technologist and aspiring extra-terrestrial Dr Adriana Marais explained that, in order to solve the issues that we are facing on Earth, we need to explore off-world.

She explained that, while the Mars Project was known to many people in 2015, a lot has happened since then that people might be unaware of. “People are online every day and see all the news arounce space, like some people wishing Jeff Bezos would go to Mars and stay there. But not all of you are aware of the massive progress that has taken place in the space industry while many other industries have been brought to their knees over the past two years.”

For example, China successfully deployed an orbital mission around Mars, as well as a robot landing on the surface of the planet on its first attempt. The United Arab Emirates have also deployed an orbital mission around Mars – ten years after launching their first satellite.

“Over the last year, there have been three missions, travelling 200 million kilometers from Earth to Mars,” Adriana said. “We can actually say there has been traffic en route to Mars from planet Earth.”

The next steps, she explained, are not to send technology to Mars – which we have been doing for 30 years already – but to send crews to Mars. “If all goes well, we will see this happen in our lifetime.”

In 2019, Adriana founded Proudly Human, which is a series of off-grid habitation experiments on the most extreme environment on Earth, in preparation for life on the Moon, Mars and beyond, and to improve the standards of living on Earth. “During each experiment of several months, a carefully selected team will arrive at a selected location, build infrastructure from scratch, run projects, and live as a community,” she said. “We are looking for resilient people with diverse expertise, a passion for adventure, and a story to tell, to join us.”

Adriana added that, certainly, the type of skills that can be found in the finance sector can be applied to many Proudly Human endeavours. “I think it’s a very powerful tool to imagine what your contribution would be to a community in a completely extreme, isolated and unknown environment. It can be very similar to the uncertain future we face wherever we are.”

She explained that she doesn’t see things getting better on Earth going forward, so the extreme environments that Proudly Human is preparing for have really important lessons for resource efficiency and management that are crucial for people on Earth. “There are extremely important parallels between the endeavour to establish communities beyond Earth, and the endeavour not to go extinct here on Earth.”

What we will need to establish life beyond Earth
Adriana said that, in order to establish communities beyond Earth, they require shelter, reliable power, clean water, nutritious food and communication systems. “We want to make them as light as possible, as robust as possible, and as efficient as possible.”

However, she explains that in order to do that, we need to start thinking about how we manage our resources here on Earth. “I don’t need to talk more about the importance of these resources and how we are still grappling with these issues on Earth. Our rapidly growing population and resource requirements are having an impact on the planet. We have billions of people without access to clean water, reliable power, nutritious food or communication systems, and we’re causing a massive extinction event.”

She added that, whether or not we can solve these issues for Earth remains to be seen, but that she believes “expanding our minds, and perhaps physically, out of the system, we can get inspiration and insights that we would not have achieved on the timeline that is necessary if we were to stay here on Earth”.

Adriana explained that one of the real advantages of communities that exist beyond Earth is that they can keep an accurate ledger of resource transactions, which is something that’s never been achieved on Earth. “How much water does Joburg consume and lose in one day? How much do we need? These questions are very difficult to answer with many legacy systems on top of each other.”

She said that this kind of insight into resource management can result in a new way of thinking about economics, and added that, as we expand beyond Earth, we need to reflect on our economic system and the meaning of money.

Adriana explained that doing better boils down to resource management and that people have to make resource efficiency cool again. “We hope through space this kind of thinking will allow us to expand beyond Earth and to continue in a manner that we can be proud of here on Earth.”