Stephen Hawking is at it again.
He said something like this last year, and I thought about writing a piece criticizing it then. But I decided not to. Mainly because I thought I was missing something. Being that he is Stephen Hawking . . . and I am me.
However, being that this has come up yet again, I feel a need to comment. To comment on this new trend of the wise and the wealthy claiming that the best future for us as a species, is off of this planet. To me, it seems not just an unlikely proposition (given the time frame), but also delusional.
Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has warned that humanity needs to become a multi-planetary species within the next century in order to avoid extinction.
I do not really doubt the assessment. These days, I increasingly wonder if 100 years is being generous. Things are getting interesting enough as to make me wonder if millennial’s investing in pensions is just a waste of money. I actually had to consider this myself very recently (when given a pension application from my workplace).
As for humans needing to become interplanetary . . . lets evaluate that assertion. Though inter (intra?) planetary travel may well be in our future, I don’t think it (let alone the possibility of life on another planet!) will occur within the next 100 years. Nor should it be the focus either.
Its easy for the Hawkings, Musks and Branson’s of the world to look to the skies (and Mars) for a new home away from home. Aside from money and status allowing for the exploration of this dream, that money and status also guarantees them a place in this new world. Though presumably they would CLAIM to be doing this research for altruistic reasons (has anyone pressed any of these people on this?), with the structure of our societies and the typically self serving nature of the species, I really doubt there will be much room for most of the plebs in this newfound Oasis.
If I see this Mars experiment as anything, its an experiment and project of (and for!) the rich. For one thing, I am unclear as to how one can be self sustaining on a planet without even an atmosphere to offer protection. Even if it is just a stepping stone to who knows what . . . its not a very good one. And we can be sure that even if the scientist’s pull this off, making the transition will not be easy. And likley not cheap either.
One could interpret this whole “humanity must find a new planet to avoid extinction” in a dark way. Saving even a small group of the most wise or well to do people on earth would in fact count as avoiding extinction. They would more than likely rebuild in the new world. Without an effort to at least REIN IN the coming problems and calamities of past scientific breakthroughs before focusing on this new venture, its hard to imagine a different ending.
One should also consider human nature when contemplating this big move. Looking around at what we humans typically call accomplishments, 3 traits come to mind.
2.) Self Serving
3.) Short Sighted
Take this little blue ball of life that spawned and nurtured us into existence. From the very beginning, rather than regarding it as something to be cherished and protected, it was typically viewed as a challenge. Something to be dominated, a beast to be tamed. Though this phenomenon is now more visible than even before (thanks to modern equipment and construction techniques), it has always been the case. Though the path of destruction left in our wake previous to the industrial revolution and petroleum was relatively small, it is now effectively all encompassing. Even places that we do not live (and have never lived!) are now chronically changed due to our reckless disregard. Even many previously unexplored areas of our planet (like many areas of the deep Ocean) have our fingerprints all over the place!
Be it the shrinking Arctic and Antarctic ice masses, or the ever growing plastic soup that is increasingly plaguing every single ocean (and even some fresh water bodies like the Great Lakes), our ability to trash is almost incomprehensible. Even outer space isn’t beyond our reach, with all manor of space junk becoming problematic for current equipment. Even the moon (and probably Mars) has some of our junk left behind (along with the various explorers fired off into the depths, never to return).
Fine, the last 2 may not exactly be fair. The knowledge factor holds a lot of weight for most. If it costs millions / billions to make these projects happen, then a little clutter certainly won’t matter a whole lot to most.
For me however, it is all part of the big picture.
To condense this all nicely, the quote is right. Humans are a virus. A cancer to virtually anything we touch. I doubt this will change even if our surroundings do. Be it the miserable hellhole that is Mars or some other distant planet, humans may move, but our internal workings won’t change.
We even completely saturate invisible radio spectrum! Other planets don’t stand a chance.
Given this, I really do find a need to ask a question that will be seen as unthinkable by many. That question being, is it all worth it? We have hundreds of years of history to look back upon for context. Generally, we don’t learn.
This is not to say that I am a red buttoner (a name for people that would eliminate the human race if given the chance at the red button). In fact, to be perfectly frank, I think that many of these so called red buttoners should take some SELF initiative towards that end goal, if they really think that is the best solution.
We should do what we can to reverse the mess that we have caused to the earth (even if results may not be ideal). But as for evicting when times get tough, I think it would be unethical. Not just due to those left behind (human and creature), but also for the other pristine worlds that will no doubt be forever altered by our presence.
Even if I step aside from the entire previous argument and just look at this from a naturalistic standpoint, I still come to a similar conclusion. The earth is a self resetting system. Life forms come and go. If we are destined to be just another evolutionary cul-de-sac (to reference George Carlin), that wouldn’t bother me. Entropy is a part of life.
I suspect that we will ultimately end up going this route anyway. Though our decisions now may well decide how rough that road will be.
As difficult as it may be for many to comprehend, there is nothing wrong with just letting nature take its course.
Existential risks include climate change, overpopulation, epidemics and asteroid strikes, according to Hawking.
Efforts to create a human colony on Mars are already underway, with billionaire Elon Musk hoping to establish a settlement within the next few decades through his aerospace firm SpaceX. “I don’t have a doomsday prophecy,” Musk said in 2016, “but history suggests some doomsday event will happen.”
I don’t doubt it. But I DO doubt that we will escape that fate on a planet that I can not see us as having any hope of making a self sufficient run. Post apocalyptic earth or post apocalyptic mars.
Would it really matter?
Hawking predicted last year that the chance of a species-ending event on Earth was a “near certainty” when all possibilities were taken into consideration.
“Although the chance of disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next 1,000 or 10,000 years,” Hawking told the Oxford University Union in November.
“By that time, we should have spread out into space and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race.”
I think I have addressed this in the previous paragraphs.
Despite the dire warning, Hawking did have some positive news for the assembled students. He pointed to how our fundamental understanding of the universe has advanced in his lifetime and said it is a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics.”
He added: “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution. The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.”
THAT is his positive news? That humans are better off and triumphant because of misdirected efforts at understanding our universe?
(as opposed to finding ways to reverse our slow suicide)
Again, that may be a bit harsh. But considering the supposedly wise mind that we are dealing with, the material comes across as far from it.
Mars can be a VERY long term goal. Something to occupy our time once more pressing circumstances have been dealt with to the best of our ability.
But Mars as a replacement for a planet that our carelessness is slowly sucking dry?
Frankly, that is delusional thinking that may well ENSURE the endgame that these people desperately want to avoid.