Humanity has spread through part of the galaxy, but population still grows and the need for new land is never sated. A consortium of transnational corporations has been contracted by a government to terraform a planet. Terrorists target the managers of those companies.



  • there is no sentient life on the planet; it may be barren or have non-sentient life
  • the motivation for the terrorists must not be religious
  • the readers (that is, you) must feel ambiguous about who they would support: the companies are doing a good thing in a bad way, and the terrorists are fighting for a good goal in a bad way

Extra points for:


Thank you everyone!

It was extremely difficult for me to decide which answer to award the bounty to, because there are so many inspiring answers. In fact I have upvoted every answer but two, because they all include some valuable ideas. In the end I have chosen the answer by Mike.C.Ford, because he was the first to answer that the terraforming company might own (part of) the planet they terraform and the influence this brings them.

Again, thank you. This has been extremely valuable to me. I hope you had fun and took away some inspiration of your own.

My personal solution to my question is this:

Terraforming is basically colonization. Similar to the Hudson's Bay Company, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, and other chartered companies, one transnational holding company with a multitude of assets prospects for and develops planets for governments. For this service, the company is granted extensive privileges. It owns a large part of the land on the newly settled planets; it monopolizes trade with these colonies; it has its own military fleet; during terraforming and settlement it governs the planets mostly independent of the nations it works for, including its own police force and jurisdiction. As an effect, the company is richer and more powerful than most of the comissioning states, effectively forming a state-like structure within, or rather, beyond those states.

Both the exploited settlers and workers and the increasingly fearful states might have a hand in terrorist activities targeting the mere handful of shareholders that directs the fate of the human race.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Sep 26, 2016 at 19:51

24 Answers 24


Possibly because having an entire planet, where suddenly people can live and crops can be grown, means that all of a sudden the potential of food production and land ownership of an entire planet is owned by a consortium of a handful of corporations.

These corporations, and their shareholders, who are likely already unreasonably wealthy, will now be preposterously wealthy.

In addition, having an influx of extra food production will likely cause food prices to drop dramatically as the supply far outstrips current demand, causing many more people to lose money and be forced into poverty.

If a great proportion of people now cannot provide for their families, there is nothing better to convince them of an ideological cause than in order to get a better life for them and their loved ones.

It will be very easy to distribute propaganda to recruit further people to the cause, as suddenly there has been a very quick, dramatic shift in inequality. The rich have gotten much richer and the poor have gotten poorer, right before everyone's eyes rather than gradually over time.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, Mike, this echoes very closely with where I want to go but, hmm, why would the corporations own the planet? They have been contracted by the government. I'm thinking of the companies and individuals that exploited the Americas for the European governments, but the heads of those enterprises were directly targeted by the governments that resented the power (and independence) they gained, rather than some terrorist third group. Well, maybe then the "terrorists" are in fact the government. Hmm hmm ... $\endgroup$
    – user8976
    Sep 23, 2016 at 13:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @what I suppose it depends on the government. I assumed the government would sell off the land to the corporations, which then would terraform on it, but they could also use public funds to pay the companies to terraform. In the first scenario there is more incentive to target the companies, but in the second scenario the government would be receiving the profits, and could likely distribute the new wealth to help those who have lost out, unless the government is corrupt and keeps the money. So my answer only works if the government has sold off the land to the corporations. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2016 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ Terrorists are greedy. It doesn't have to be owned by a corperation or a wealthy elite. It just has to be owned by someone else other than them. $\endgroup$
    – rghome
    Sep 24, 2016 at 9:18

If the planet is not inhabited by sentient beings but does have flora and/or fauna on it some people might want to protect the biosphere as it. That could cause them to become eco-terrorists who want to stop the terraforming process because it would destroy the original and, most likely unique ecosystem.

  • 9
    $\begingroup$ Relatedly, I read something by a self-professed eco-radical opposing the moon landings because humanity was despoiling the "pristine" lunar environment. Seems to indicate that even if the place is incapable of supporting life, at least some people will find a way to object to us polluting it. <shrug> $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2016 at 17:35
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @HopelessN00b At least he believes they happened. As far as loonies go, you could say he's ahead of the curve. $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Sep 23, 2016 at 19:48
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @HopelessN00b I object to polluting and mining Antarctica - is that especially different? $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Sep 23, 2016 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ @HopelessN00b So, just because there is no known life at some place, it's OK to pollute it? That's why I don't want humanity to colonize other planets. We have broken our planet probably beyond the point of no return, but luckily the human plague is confined for now. $\endgroup$
    – Oriol
    Sep 24, 2016 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Tim: strangely enough, now that I think about it, I do object to mining Antarctica, but not to mining the moon (not that we're even close to making this profitable, but still). $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Sep 26, 2016 at 11:51

Setting aside what "terrorism" actually means in our modern context, I'll answer assuming that you are asking for reasons why any group would violently oppose terraforming (the process of making other planets habitable for humans).

In a twist from dot_Sp0T's answer, what if it were an extremist arm of environmentalists who see terraforming as "giving up" on Earth? They may see the act as one of abandonment, forsaking the mother planet which has nurtured and raised us as a civilization, and just discarding her once we've drained her of all possible resources.

Their manifesto might run along the lines of how humanity should be devoting efforts towards making Earth livable once again instead of "wasting" those efforts on other planets.

Just thought of another scenario: the process of perfecting terraforming technologies is likely to worsen the situation on Earth (maybe the generation of pollutants, draining of precious resources, etc). Also, it is obvious to the public that only the rich/ powerful will get to go to the new planet once it is ready, essentially relegating a remainder of the population to eventual death on this planet. It would then be likely that this remainder gathers in anger to oppose the rich elite.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ They could also be a form of environmentalists who see tampering with any natural environment as beyond the right of man. To terraform a planet is to massively alter its chemistry and any existing biology. There could also be the feeling that interfering with a planet could alter whatever might evolve there if left to nature for another few billion years. Can you be sure you are not whipping out future life in any form? $\endgroup$
    – TafT
    Sep 23, 2016 at 12:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1 for your suggestion that terraforming could be tied to social status, and that those left behind would be resentful. In the context of movements like "occupy wallstreet," that really has a lot of credibility. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2016 at 17:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ThunderGuppy: thanks! I owe that idea to the movie Elysium, which was pretty much exactly that scenario played out. $\endgroup$
    – Xenocacia
    Sep 24, 2016 at 15:35

Protect the Rocks!
As far as I remember the books, in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars-Trilogy there actually is a group that wants to at least minimize terraforming, to protect the natural shape of Mars.
There may not be an eco-sphere, but there ARE rocks and mountains and craters formed by planetary evolution nonetheless. And terraforming WILL destroy those! Do we have the right to do that?

hides for shamelessly stealing from great books

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is exactly what I was thinking, Red Mars made me not want humans to terraform Mars. It's a permanent loss of natural beauty on a planetary scale. It's playing God on a cosmic level, simply for convenience. It's spreading the plague of life on a previously uninfected host. It's like cutting down the rainforests to make way for cows. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2016 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ also to limit the possibility for massive immigration. And they want to have the time to study Mars before we mess it up. There are plenty of things to learn about the formation of the planets of the solar system, and about the future of the Earth. $\endgroup$
    – njzk2
    Sep 23, 2016 at 17:29

An unlikely alliance of nationalists and left-wing radicals

You say that a trans-national conglomerate is doing the terraforming. A fringe nationalist group says - no! Our great nation deserves to stand alone as the conqueror of the heavens! The terraforming should be performed by our people for our people.

At the same time, anti-corporate types (Occupy NASA?) protest the use of corporations. The rich get richer, they say. Money is being funneled out of our country, they say. Why can't the government do this by themselves?

The most radical of these two groups, disenchanted by politicians' unwillingness to stop this outsourcing, join forces and decide to do something about it. Obviously, to drive these people to violence, the issue has to be a big one. You can illustrate that the conglomerate is, to some extent, corrupt, and to some extent incompetent. Not so corrupt and incompetent that they're obviously in the wrong, just enough that a reasonable person might have beef with them.

The company can also have bad PR (for which this group may be responsible). A single scandal, spun out of proportion by alt media, should be enough to raise a tide of suspicion and distrust. Again, you don't need something completely damning, just enough of a "you know, it does sound like there might be something going on" notion.

Of course, the corporation has its own interests at heart, and those of its shareholders, not the citizens. Cutting costs just to be the lowest bidder? Maybe the specific planet they picked was a bad choice - too close to the star (radiation issues), the star is too active (solar flares endanger the colony), the star is on the border with a hostile empire (warfare endangers the colony), and so on.

  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of wanting to create a new space race between the countries and opposing a centralized force doing all the work. My answer lower down the page goes in the same direction. (Yes that is a shameless plug for people browsing the comments) $\endgroup$
    – 3C273
    Sep 23, 2016 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ Corporate profiteering. Enough said. Because if it's not about money, then it is some loony-bin cult nonsense. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Sep 24, 2016 at 1:33

Here is a long list of possibilities. Some disagree, some are near subsets of each other, and some could be both true at the same time. For extra fun, take two that seem to disagree and make the both true.

  • It is uninhabited, but life exists there. Terraforming will destroy the life that lives there, and any life that could develop.

  • Taxes on orbital civilization (which has less population, but a large tax base) is being used to pay for building another waste of a gravity well to stick grounders on.

  • The Terraforming techniques are going to render the rest of the system uninhabitable during the bombardment phase. Orbital colonies are being forcibly resettled in other systems in order to proceed.

  • This project was chosen instead of building new colony fleets. It costs more than a new settlement, and will take longer, but it won't expand into new regions of space. Manifest destiny types see this as a surrender of their god-directed obligation to spread over the galaxy, and there is still lots to expand into.

  • New colonies are created by sending self assembling machines who build a base. This base then builds a huge antenna. Uploaded citizens are beamed over interstellar space to the new planet, assembled, and the colonization begins. This project was started by "continualists" who refuse to upload and be beamed. The system where it occurs has huge civil rights restrictions on uploaded people (whom it considers software, mere agents, not really people). The continualists are terraforming the planet rather than expanding. The terrorists fear this could lead to them being even less useful, and losing even more rights.

  • A war was fought using a particular weapon. It destroyed entire solar systems, including old Earth. A treaty against using that technology was enacted. The terraforming project uses that technology. The Terrorists consider this a small step towards proliferation and a galactic war noone will survive.

  • The last 3 attempts to harness strong AI have nearly resulted in human extinction, on a planetary, solar system and interstellar level. AI is now very highly restricted. The terraforming project is using AI beyond the normal restrictions in order to solve the biosphere construction issues in a reasonable amount of time. They must be stopped, they are messing with forces they cannot control.

  • Human civilization is a sequence of shells. The outer layer are fresh colonies. The next layer are young worlds, who are sending out new colonies. The middle layer are mature civilizations, out of range of producing new colonies for the most part. The next layer are the senile civilizations, then dead space on the inside. The terrorists have analyzed the history of previous civilization collapses, and believe that the terraforming of other in-system worlds is part of the path towards a dead civilization. They want to avoid it: staying still is death, the civilization should instead launch another probe outwards!

  • Some other project (upload, AI, dark matter computronium) is shelved for this project in a large political fight. The terrorists think the other project is crucial, and the terraforming project will be a disaster. So have it fail fast, before it is too late.

  • $\begingroup$ Holy cow. What did you eat for breakfast? I want that, too! :-) Great ideas, have to digest. The uploaded citizens made me laugh. $\endgroup$
    – user8976
    Sep 23, 2016 at 18:46

To prevent Earth from turning into one big industrial area

Imagine that you have a neighbour. Your neighbour is richer than you and he runs some sort of manufactiring that stinks a lot. You manage to bargain some limits on that pollution - since he lives in that house too, he agrees to limit the stink.

And then one day you discover that he's buying a new house. Guess what happens to pollution limits since he's not concerned about living in your house anymore?

  • $\begingroup$ Somewhat along the same line: Creating an "Earth 2" would render all the unsustainable environmental/social/climatic mismanagement of the imperialistic establishment capitalist or whatever powers that be as somewhat irrelevant - they could just try again in a better way, or (even worse) start over the same bad way cause they could always start afresh on Earth 3. So in order to force "them" to first clean up their mess, all terraforming projects are sabotaged. So maybe terraforming is somewhat analogous to rainforest deforestation on a different scale .. $\endgroup$ Sep 24, 2016 at 8:49

TL;DR: Corporate shenanigans (basically, any of the reasons Michael Moore movies give you a sad face).

The word terraforming conjurers but one (fictional) company name for me:

Weyland Yutani (from the Alien franchise)

Weyland-Yutani consistently exhibits the worst aspects of corporate profiteering, willing to sacrifice decency and human life in seemingly the pursuit of profit.

A real world analogy might be Exxon. That's a company I love/hate (there's your ambiguity) because I like cheap energy but I don't like destroying the Earth in the process. It depends on what mood I'm in, which is largely designated by the price of my gasoline on a weekly basis. Perhaps this endeavor is placing a strain on those less fortunate.

My point being is that the terrorists don't have to be against terraforming per se; just against The Company as a whole or in part. Either they don't like how the workers are treated, or perhaps they despise other aspects of the company (a big part of terraforming is mining the universe for its resources).

Or the company is misrepresenting aspects of what life is like there as a worker. Unbeknownst to the general populace, conditions there might be unacceptable. It might even be a one way trip (in more ways than one; logistically and health-wise).

You can bet that any company capable of terraforming another planet has its fingers in just about every cookie jar imaginable (again, Exxon). "You know, we manufacture those by the way." –Burke, in Aliens, talking about the giant atmospheric processors. So really, you can take your pick of anything that anyone has ever had a grievance with.

Stick to the classics: money and power; haves and have-nots. Those are about the only two things that cannot be misconstrued as cult non-sense. Anything else could or would be based on ideology, which is what you don't want.

When you can't afford lawyers like theirs, terrorism is your last resort to affect change.

Take away the word terraforming, and you're left with the plot from the TV show The Expanse. In it, there's three different factions throughout the solar system, who consider each of the others terrorists (you know, eye of the beholder and all that jazz).

The Company :

  • is willing to expend life, claiming "the greater good" ... for profit.
  • decides who goes, depending on the government's approval
  • says that we're doomed unless we do this

The Collation :

  • would be willing to expend life, but not to perpetuate the 'system' (their reason being that "only on the precipice do we change", and this merely moves the doomsday clock back a bit)

  • believes we should fix problems on Earth first; this endeavor is exacerbating the situation, is a farce, and will never reach completion. Even if it does, the common man will be left high and dry.

  • knows that "government approval" can be bought, or is otherwise susceptible to the corporations' whim (sound familiar? ;)

The Company admits that, yes most some of us will be left out in the rain, but to not do this would be worse. The Collation says that this is a get out of jail free card for the rich and the well-connected, serving nothing but corporate/government interests, now and in the future.

Scientists agree; one or the other, or both. We most certainly cannot do nothing. We still have a few billion years before we must leave this planet (when the Sun will expand into a red giant), but a head start wouldn't hurt. That is, assuming, that the world economy can sustain itself until fruition and avoid collapse into total anarchy (basically the plot of the PC game Freelancer).

Economists have offered optimistic views for either side, suggesting that it's better to go with the devil you know than the unknown. The question is, which ones are your demons? Do you value any and every human's life above all else, or do you believe that this is necessary and it is the next step in human evolution, and the only way our species as a whole will survive?

Personally, I'm part of group #3, the meh group. I just want cheap gasoline; don't care how.

To sum up, we have two different groups. There's those who would use the now to prepare for the future (thrown in the towel), and those who would use the now, to prepare us to be able to deal with what we did yesterday (all for one, and one for all). Sounds like Republicans and Democrats (respectively) if you ask me. If you don't like that analogy, just stick to 'the rich and the poor'.

This is at length already, but one more thing. ISIS. I recently watched a documentary about them which explained why they're so attractive to so many people. In a single word: brotherhood. No matter how nefarious the organization may be, no matter how evil or horrible their tactics are (just like being in a street gang) they offer companionship and a sense of belonging to those gullible enough to submit. My point is that you can pick any reason whatsoever, and it will still make perfect sense.


Religious reasons?

Some people may think that this (a) planet were made by a higher being and meant to be as it is in the moment. Or this special planet is a religious symbol of some kind (compare with Uluṟu in Australia)

  • $\begingroup$ It is called not religion, it's called science $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 23, 2016 at 14:34

Terrorism is about power and all power is relative.

If the terrorists think that a project will benefit someone else more than it will benefit them, they will attack it, hence destroying or reducing the benefit and reducing the relative loss of power to them.

So you just need to construct a scenario whereby some group or organisation controls or administers the terraforming (they don't have to be bad guys, and it can be a very large group) and the terrorists are some group whose benefit from it will be either be limited or will require some acceptance of authority and rules.

Then you make up "the cause" which is largely irrelevant. You don't need to make it internally consistent as it doesn't have to be. It just has to convince people who want to be convinced that they are not the terrorists.


Just like global warming

I'm going to focus on this part:

the readers (that is, you) must feel ambiguous about who they would support: the companies are doing a good thing in a bad way, and the terrorists are fighting for a good goal in a bad way

This point strikes me as the most interesting: to make it feel ambiguous both stances must "make sense". Enter capitalism.

There are few things that feel more morally ambiguous to us nowadays than capitalism: you could have those companies needing to justify their terraforming strategy in order to mantain the government grants and be able to keep terraforming, and the company might have to not do things in the "best" way to do so.

For example, the contract could stipulate some conditions necessary for the establishment of a government military base which would not truly be in the best interest for the planet and may be unsustainable in the long run, but the government might need this because of a fear of an opposing government wanting to take control of their operation by force.

There could also be some shady capitalism in a form of corruption: X company would really like to set up a base in the terraform planet, X company has invested a large amount of money in support of the government. Now, it could complicate matters for the terraforming company to not be doing things in a certain way which would benefit company X, wouldn't it?

And on the other side there are people worrying about the sustainability of that planet, perhaps because they see a future where humanity cannot remain on Earth alone and that planet would be a new home, and they see the management of the terraforming company as putting everybody's life at risk for, as they see it, greed.

So essentially just take everything that's currently going on with global warming, adapt to terraforming and escalate to terrorism.

At least that's what I would do :)


I'd put the emphasis not on the terraforming itself but on how these companies choose to do so.

Two ways of terraforming had been developed:

1. Artificial

This one is cheap (compared to the other one) and fast. It's the one used by the companies.

It requires creating huge industrial complexes in the planet, with machinery that changes the atmosphere. These complexes exploit the resources of the planet to function, especially those around it (therefore, where to build them is critical).

To make it work, first they send some pioneers to work in these complexes (while the process of terraforming is beginning, they need astrounaut-ish suits).

The issue here is that it requires, after the planet is habitable, to have a huge number of people working in these complexes, to mantain the planet habitable, since otherwise the planet would go back to its original state.

Two problems arise from this: There is a long-term cost (which the companies don't care about since when the planet is habitable, the cost is transferred to the plant inhabitants) to mantain the complexes.

People working and living in the complexes live in really bad conditions: Usually the conditions there are extremely opposite to what the plant had before (eg. a very cold planet, would become too hot on these complexes when temperature gets warmer on the rest of the planet); same for the air components.

This would make companies look for exploitable people (poor people) for the second part of the terraforming (when there's no real need of much technical knowledge).

2. Natural (to some extent)

This one is expensive and long. It's the only one the terrorist want.

It requires, through selective breeding and mutations, to create plant species that do the required job of terraforming.

Science would have evolved to make it possible to create plants that produce different kind of components that create the necessary atmosphere to make the planet habitable.

The problem with this is that requires a more extensive investigation, understanding the biology of the planet to make the new plants able to reproduce fast while not being too invading. Also, it requires a study of the different ecosystems found in the planet, not only the atmosphere composition (as opposed to the other one), since new plants specimens should be created for each ecosystem.

While way more expensive to use, when the planet is terraformed this way, no maintenance (or almost non) is needed.

To sum up

Companies look for the quick terraforming way, with some issues in the long term.

Terrorist look for the long terraforming way, that's clearly better on the long run. But that means that the current generation, and maybe the next one, won't be able to live in this new planet.


Economic Sabotage

So a country, or perhaps even the UN has given a shortlist of corporation the mandate to terraform Mars. Since every single member of the UN wants the head of the terrorist leaders (think about ISIS in our time), why would the terror group allow their enemy to gain the economic advantage? Countries may hesitate about ground invasion for now, but with easier mining & farming after the terraform, UN will have enough resource to build hundreds of these crawlers and literally run over the terrorist territory.

Malthusian catastrophe

The very fact that it's economically & politically viable to terraform a planet means even the Gobi Desert & Antarctic have been livable, and it's not even enough for the population. When people realize their startups are no saviors for their problem of overpopulation, they will tear each other apart.

  • $\begingroup$ There are some parts I don't understand. What does it mean that "every member of the UN wants the head of our leaders"? I thought the UN mandated the terraforming? Who are the two "they" in the last sentence of your first paragraph? What does it mean that "people realize that their startups are no saviors"? – I'm sure it's my problem, but could you elaborate on your examples a bit to make them more clear? $\endgroup$
    – user8976
    Sep 23, 2016 at 10:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Edited my answer to explain $\endgroup$
    – Martheen
    Sep 23, 2016 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, I guess I understand the first scenario: the terrorists have already been fighting the government before the terrarforming, for some cause unrelated to the terraforming, but they sabotage the terraforming because they are battling anything that would mean an advantage for their opponent. – I'm still unclear about the second scenario, though. It seems to imply general aimless violence, not terrorism by a limited group and aimed at a specific goal. $\endgroup$
    – user8976
    Sep 23, 2016 at 10:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It could still help their cause, much easier to invade Rome when Romans are eating each other $\endgroup$
    – Martheen
    Sep 23, 2016 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, now I understand (I think): The terrorists target the terraforming to cause unrest on the origin planet. $\endgroup$
    – user8976
    Sep 23, 2016 at 11:16

What if those people aren't against the terraforming of Planet, but have something against those corporations precisely?

(I will call the new earth Planet)

First explanation : how to make sure the population is only caucasian

What if the terrorists have reasonable reasons to believe the corporations are actually giving a poisonous gift to humanity? I will give a few forms this corporation can take, as well as how they are not all that evil.

The corporations are making us a new home, but one where they would basically be in control of Planet. Behind the scenes, they are selecting the original seed of the new world's population, and those people are carefully selected. They are also engineering the new world so that those of their race (or religion or affiliation) have better life condition and will be the dominant group on Planet. Their group has the best land to grow food, the rarest ressources, the easiest access to the outside. You can look at how Warhammer 40k's Tau force outsiders to adhere to their own culture that way.

How is this not evil?

The biggest corporations are clean, but the smaller ones not so much. And those smaller corporations are the ones actually managing the new world, the bigger ones lend the machinery, the technology, the transportation, the cash. Even then, the presidents and figurehead genuinely wants to help humanity. But the engineers, who actually make the choices, want to push for a united and cohesive society. You get a corporation where the corporation actually have good intentions, but whose actions on the grand scheme of things is a lot less white.

Second explanation : how to control the planet itself

Maybe they don't have control over the people, but the way they terraform essentially give them control over the new world's economy. This new world will be grown in such a way as only the crop from the corporation's group will grow. One where only the corporation's life stock will life long enough to be viable. One where the corporation's products against Planet's natural dangers are legitimately better.

All because they literally programmed the planet that way. Use the corporation's fertilizer once and it's the only one that will work for 20 years. Get modified pollen from your neighbor's field in yours and you now have to use the new modified crop. During that time, the corporation literally has monopoly on a complete world. There are such stories happening in the real world as I type this.

How is this not evil?

Doing some of that is the only way to actually terraform a planet in less than 2000 years. The corporations need to do it if they want the job done in a timely fashion. The only question is how much control will they have left once the terraforming is over. Can you blame them for using the only possible way to succeed? Can you trust them to relinquish that control once their job is done? Can you trust them when they say they need to do it?


Instead of approaching this from the direction of the terraforming being the root cause of terrorism, I would come at it from the direction of terraforming being the tipping point that drives a group of people to terrorism. If a society has grown to the point where it is literally running out places for people to live and to grow food for them, it isn't hard to imagine that the living situation for the average person is going to be pretty dismal. The simple fact the overcrowding has made a task as monumental as transforming an entire planet to alleviate it the most viable option means that the problem is really bad.

Your scenario actually reminded me of the poem Whitey on the Moon by Gil Scott-Heron. Take the sentiment from this excerpt (or listen to it on YouTube a couple of times) and multiply it by about a thousand:

          I can't pay no doctor bills
           But Whitey's on the moon
    Ten years from now I'll be paying still
          While Whitey's on the moon

You know, the man just upped my rent last night
          Cause Whitey's on the moon
      No hot water, no toilets, no lights
           But Whitey's on the moon

I'd let go of the idea that the terraforming itself is what your terrorists are attacking. It is much more plausible that it is simply the most visible target for them to lash out against after they have been pushed beyond the brink of endurance. The terrorists don't even have to share a common ideology or motivation - what they share is that they were all teetering on that breaking point and something made them personally snap. All it takes is one person who connects the terraforming project to their situation in any way, rational or not, planting a bomb and all of a sudden other people start making their own connections. Then you have a movement. They all have their own reasons for snapping, and their own ideologies, but the common theme is that they just can't take the consequences of overcrowding anymore. Stopping the terraforming project isn't really what they are fighting for - it's simply the most visible symbol that they can attack.

The tie-ins to anti-globalization and the sustainability movement don't have to come from the motivations of your terrorist group - make it more subtle than that. Your terrorist leader doesn't need to be an anti-globalist or a member of a sustainability movement to examine those themes - find some personal story (or stories) that relate to those movements instead. Not only will this allow you to develop your terrorists as characters, but it will allow the reader to make those connections instead. Neither tie-in should be difficult if the consequences of overcrowding have started pushing people to violence.


I'd think the reason for terrorism will most often be connected to percieved injustice. If some organization does something very unfair, and the state, which is supposed to protect it's people against that does nothing, it might lead to others standing up and saying: i'll do something against that.

While in some cases that's considered fine (a rebel trying to kill an evil dictator), other cases might be considered wrong (a rebel killing a dictator i think is not evil). In both cases it will probably labeled terrorism by the state, in one case the guy will later be considered a hero, in the other case not.

Terrorism is always about having different point of views.

So, let's create a scenario where this happens and leads someone to target our TerraFormCorp (TM).

TerraFormCorp is a nice, triple A, intergalactic company specialized in creating wonderful worlds for mankind to live in. They are the most advanced, skillful and creative company on the market. They employ literally millions of employees, and pay exceptionally well. From their marvelous R&D department, who constantly work on improving terraforming, and adapting earth organisms to other planets via DNA-modification, to their workers who travel to other worlds to take samples, prepare the soil, install the terraforming machines and move local species to special habitats, so they don't go extinct. Everyone is happy, well paid, has health plans and pension plans. TerraFormCorp is a happy company. A clean company. A good company.

TerraFormCorp is the embodyment of evil. Yes, they have nice flyers, a supercool webpage, and are very skillful at making themselves look good. But you know better than that. You know the truth. You worked for them. It's true, they pay well, and as long as you are a nice company trophy and do your job like they want you to do it, you are probably fine. If you have no conscience and no shame. All employees are required to live in special TerraFormCorp settlements, where you are brainwashed all day. You can only have TerraFormCorp friends, TerraFormCorp food, TerraFormCorp movies, TerraFormCorp everything. And if you don't follow that policy, you are out. Hell, if you take a non-TerraFormCorp-conformist shit, they send you a warning. The working conditions on the planets are shit. You get bombarded with strange bacteria, viruses, toxic gas, and all that shit that is on foreign planets. Yes, free health care in TerraFormCorp facilities is nice, but it doesn't help you if you die at 40 from all the shit they make you take during your work. And let's be honest: who gets all the riches? Well, yeah, they pay nice, but that's just a diminuitive piece of the cake. The sums they take from governments for terraforming are enough to BUY half of earth. TerraFormCorp ? Thanks, but no thanks.

We are sorry to hear you have problems with TerraFormCorp. We constantly work on new technologies to improve well-being and health of our workers. Sadly, terraforming is still one of the most dangerous fields of work in the universe (rank two after feeding pills to 6legged cats from planet sphinx). But TerraFormCorp is constantly working to make even this a safe field of work. Compared to our competitors, we suffer 60% less fatal accidents, and our workers have an average of 18 years longer lifespans. (compared to our competitors). It is true that we encourage our employees to engage in corporate-sponsored activities, as our scientists have carefully created health and leisure plans that are optimized for the stress and pressure our employees face. Of course we do not punish individuals that choose to engage in other activities, as long as they do not pose unnecessary risks to our workers health or productivity.

TerraFormCorp is pure evil. You think they be big players? They are bigger. The freaking company has their headquarters on their own planet, believe it or not, they do! Now what they do is, they wait for a government to go come at em, and then they make a deal with them. The government asks them to terraform the planet. You see, they are a contractor, yes, but they own more lawyers than the government does. And they are so freaking big, you can't mess with them. Their prices are sooo high, even the government can't really pay them. So what they do, they take billions of dollars from the government, you see, and then they terraform the planet, but they also have a contract that states that they OWN parts of the planet, to make up for the part the government couldn't pay. Yes, they have to sell it back to people from the planet of the government. And of course they make the land they own the most beautiful in the universe. No denying that, man, the gardens they build are just wow, man, but you see, they own that shit now. And then they sell if for a fortune back to the people of the government that already paid them for doing that. So they take OUR taxes, and make a planet nice and stuff, and then they sell it to the rich people up there so they can live nice. But do the rich people pay tax? No they don't. We poor people, we pay the taxes, and then they make a nice planet for the rich guys from it. Sure, a few of us may live in the areas where they couldn't built nothing nice, and that's mighty fine and all, or at least that what's they tell us all day long, but they never show the camps where us simple people need to live then, right? They only ever show the nice areas, but they are for the rich only. And even if you get a place in the poor slums, they even charge you for the flight there, taking every last dollar they can get from us.

That's what TerraFormCorp is. Evil, money-greedy bastards that only work for the rich.

TerraFormCorp? Those guys are awful. They terraform planets. While they do create small habitats for the local lifeforms, that's only an illusion. Like a zoo where the new colonists can go and see how the world once looked, before they just destroyed all wildlife. Billions and billions of unknown species, and they sent 10.000 collectors at maximum? For only one month? How many species do you think they recover? 4%! They only save only one out of 25 species! And then they force them into small habitats, efficiently ending and natural form of evolution and life on the planet. And all of that so some rich dudes can have some nice houses with outlook to some artifical mountain.

We are sorry to hear you do not agree with TerraFormCorp policy on handling native wildlife. Our collectors, all of them studied experts on wildlife, botany and microbiology, careful collect and sample the DNA of all species they come across. Sadly, the global changes to climate and atmosphere force us to move some less resilient species to local habitats. We create these to match the original environment to 99,99%. All species that can possibly relocate are placed there, while we preserve the DNA of all those who cannot be moved in a genetic library. Even though time restrictions on terraforming are tight, and we often work under enormous pressure, we take a whole month carefully collecting. Our collectors wear environmentally sealed suits, so we do not contaminate the natural wildlife with foreign organisms. TerraFormCorp works hard to protect mankind and the rest of the universe alike.

As a government official, i am happy to announce that we work together with TerraFormCorp for colonization of alpha draconis 4. In only a few years, the company will have created a wonderful new area to settle in for our population. Our planet struggles with overpopulation since 40 years now, and finally we can remove the restrictions on having chilren, and strict gender segregation for non-sterilized citizens. Sadly, terraforming a planet is incredibly expensive, and we had to pay the equivalent of 12 years's of global planetary production for them to do it. TerraFormCorp was as nice as to cut it down to 6, taking only 10% of the surface as private property, that they need to sell back to our citizens. This way, all our people profit, and the richer people contribute more by paying for the land they then own, while we can give out land to poorer citizens for free, allowing wealth and prosperity for everyone. TerraFormCorp really helped our planet end it's long-lasting struggle for more space and growth.

I think this paints a nice picture of a company that might seem evil or good, depending on the viewpoint, and gives some nice reasons for terrorism.


cracks fingers ok, let's do this.

Terrorist wants to stop a terraforming project that's a big deal because

  1. You need to get said terrorist scheme out to the planet
  2. The terraforming plant will be huge taking up a very large landmass - this trying to blow up a power plant, then double it, and again, and times ten and maybe a few more time
  3. The resources needed to terraform are ridiculous

So, your terrorists need motivation before they can find the means

  • Motivation point 1 - they have to really hate the company (called Terra Corp in this answer) doing this, as the amount of resources lost will cripple them. Maybe the company is a bio-engineering and has performed experiments on the terrorists to see how to make them suit a non-terraformed planet? This would be easier in terms of scale than changing a planet
  • Motivation point 2 - the economy of the world is going to be hit hard after the project fails, think of all the jobs that will be lost, all those people who are highly skilled and ready to be picked up by another company enter our backing partner who will be in a position to buy terra Corp after their stock fails (I will now call these chaps StabIntheBack Inc.)
  • Motivation Point 3 - StabIntheBack Inc. can promise after the acquisition of Terra Corp to undo the damage the company has done , fixing the babies etc
  • Motivation Point 4 - Earth needs those minerals! By stopping Terra Corp, all those resources can be brought back to a much used-up Earth and used to improve life here for everyone.

Here is my own answer:

Since the companies profit from terraforming, they want there to be a need for terraforming.

So they exert their immense political and economic influence to propagate values and effect living conditions on the inhabited worlds that cause overpopulation, an economy based on growth instead of sustainability (so that ressources will be depleted or, like air and water, poisoned within no more than a handful of generations), and politics based on ideology, nationalism, and power hunger, instead of scientific evidence, a global perspective, and cooperation. They have managed to induce global warming or cooling on quite a few worlds.

The terraforming conglomerate and their subsidiaries and shareholders own or otherwise direct most of the media production of he inhabited world and heavily lobby politics, mostly indirectly (e.g. through gun owners associations or tobacco and oil producing companies). They propagate backwards religious views such as Catholicism and its prohibition of contraceptives, its command to procreate, and its cultural mandate to dominate the earth. They support a politics that spends most of a government's budget on military infrastructure and foreign interventions (that cause the retaliation that in restrospect justifies these military investments and activities) instead of health care, housing, education, and measures of sustainability such as population control or renewable energy. They influence educational systems to focus on performance, instead of personal development, and make sure that a large enough number of the populace fails to form a lower class of discontent and poor that can be easily influenced to elect the political parties that most damage their basis of existence.

Terrorism then comes from those conspiracy theorist nutcases that actually believe any of the apparent nonsense I just made up.


Archaeological reasons? Perhaps the planet is the home of the ruins of a past, long-dead civilization, and the terrorists want to stop the terraforming to prevent the destruction of the ruins.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi, Kyle, this might apply to one planet. Terrorists need an ideology to drive their actions. You can improve your answer by giving some idea of what ideology is driving them. If this is your first answer, welcome to Worldbuilding, & lookin forward to more contributions from you. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Sep 24, 2016 at 2:27

Some forward-thinking cities have an "Urban growth boundary" that limits development outside the city. This creates a denser more usable inner city.

Some cities without this boundary have problems with the wealthy abandoning the city and commuting in, causing the city to become much less livable. (Just today I heard a similar argument against driverless cars on NPR)

Perhaps the terrorists are strong believers in this theory--Maybe they see the wealthy as fleeing the earth to the new planets.

Examples of the difference are Portland, OR (fairly strong Urban Growth Boundary) and Chicago IL (Significant movement of wealth to the suburbs)--although I admit there are so many other factors at play that this might not even be playing a role, it still makes for a good narrative.


Because the government or the corporations can't be trusted. One or both have plans for the planet that go against public welfare. Maybe the planet is going to be "reserved" for only the rich and powerful or for certain groups of people, be it based on race, beliefs, biological augmentations (whether they have them or don't, depends on the society), or gene status (a la Gattaca), etc. Or the reverse, they're planning on sending less desirable people there to get them off the "more civilized" planets; they'll start moving colonists when the planet is "almost" ready, cut corners, or cancel the terraforming, leaving people more or less stranded on a miserable planet, struggling to survive.

Maybe the location of the planet is a problem. They're ignoring/squelching independent studies done proving the planet is being flooded by radiation from its star. Or that its orbit is decaying, meaning the planet will soon/eventually become uninhabitable again, but they're trying to cut costs and that's the closest planet that works now.

Or it's too far from the central colonies to get help/supplies once it's up and running, especially if there's a war on; I'm picturing Firefly or Star Wars' outer rim type planets run by gangs or totally unpoliced and unaided. Mining planets, complete with slavery and other atrocities. These "terrorists" grew up on planets like that and wouldn't wish it on their enemies.

We should be using that funding to improve the current colonies; build up, not out. The terrorists have proven, with real studies, without a doubt, that we could increase living space on the planets already colonized while also increasing the quality of living, but then the corporations can't charge a literal fortune to set up a new planet and they've got a political figure on the payroll.

I'm trying to focus on not knowing which side your on. The terrorists casting doubt on the agenda and not knowing who to trust is the only broad scenario I can think of to cover it. Throw in some backstories for each side about why they're genuinely doing the right thing and the reader will at least start feeling conflicted now and then and maybe start coming up with their own, better solutions to the problem, having all the facts or knowing both sides.


OK, so you say there is no sentient life on the planet. I'd like to correct: There is no sentient life that we know of. Now the scientists give very good arguments about it, but who tells us that there is not a form of sentient life that evades our scientific knowledge? Maybe it is too slow for us to recognize. Or, if there is life on the planet, maybe some of the life forms are sentient in a way we don't recognize.

So the terrorists are convinced that this planet has some sentient life form which we don't recognize, or consider it at least as likely enough that they consider terraforming that planet as crime, as it will likely kill that presumed sentient life form (it doesn't matter whether there actually is a sentient life form on that planet, all that matters is that you cannot convince that that there isn't).

So the terrorists consider themselves justified because for them the terraforming is murder or at least negligent homicide (alienicide?) of those undiscovered sentient life forms. While the managers consider themselves free of guilt because, after all, the scientists say there's no sentient life on the planet.

Of course, also the usual conspiracy themes will come into play, like the anti-terraforming movement (which consists not only of the terrorist, but also of more peaceful protesters) accusing the scientists to be bought by the big companies, and therefore intentionally not looking too intensively for sentient life, as that would be eating the profits of the terraforming companies.

Note that which side the reader identifies with will depend on how it is presented (for example if the scientists are presented to be reliable or unreliable); if the presentation is sufficiently ambiguous (as would likely be what a non-expert would learn about it in that world), the desired effect of reader ambiguity can be achieved.


Because governments goal is to speculate on terraforming, if world is overly populated there may have been some birth restrictions:

  • In example no more than 1 child allowed
  • Heavy taxes for 1 or more children.

The governemnt could say "we remove these restrictions because we will have soon another planet". However in face of terrorist acts (fake or true), the new world becomes so expensive that every person that had children suddendly become heavily taxed and very poor, and there will be a race to the few available places on the new planet to reduce living expense. The speculation part is promising something that won't be avaialable thus creating a huge demand before the "product" is really available putting prices to stars.

The terrosim may be part of speculation and incidentally the terrorist want to fight that with terrorism.

  • $\begingroup$ Note that this is already happening, in example in italy there was a huge tax increase in homes, there was a race to sell homes to reduce expense, and now suddendly there's a law that allows towns to give public money to private home owners to pay rent for homeless immigrants. Of course people that were aware that this law was already a work in progress just bought all the homes at cheap prices. $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2016 at 10:22

Several thousand years ago humans were nearly wiped out by another sentient species. Eventually the war ended and a neutral zone of space was established. In the time since that war humanity has re-established itself as a galactic empire occupying nearly as many worlds as they had prior to the war but always keeping a safe distance from the neutral zone. This solar system is just on the edge of that neutral zone and based on orbit around the galactic center will encroach on it in 2,000 years.

Our terrorists are afraid that future inhabitants will become entrenched having lived their for generations and will bring the human race to an end. The company feels the colony has a shorter life span than that and even if it doesn't the neutral zone can be renegotiated at some point.

  • $\begingroup$ As historical flavor, dozens and dozens of generations ago. I was viewing the picture the OP was painting as there are currently hundreds of planets currently occupied by humans. $\endgroup$
    – Myles
    Sep 27, 2016 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Edited for clarification. $\endgroup$
    – Myles
    Sep 27, 2016 at 15:05

You must log in to answer this question.