In a recent article appearing in The Guardian on Dec. 1, 2016, physicist Stephen Hawking reminds us that “we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.” Agreed. Then he says:
“We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.”
But is he implying that if we could currently get off the planet we should just “take the money and run?”
In an earlier article in the same newspaper, Hawking describes the “brave new world” of space travel and argues that transporting the human population to other planets will save us from the problems we’ve caused here on Earth.
Not only is this notion wildly unrealistic as a panacea for our problems; it is dangerous.
Not only is this notion wildly unrealistic as a panacea for our problems; it is dangerous. The implicit message in Hawking’s articles is that the Earth is disposable and although our species has made a mess of it, we can just move on to some other place where perhaps we’ll get it right. (And if we don’t, do we just keep moving on?)
It is, of course, this very philosophy that has brought us to the brink. We’ve been using up the Earth and its nonhuman inhabitants for as long as we’ve had the technology to do so. And now, in 2017, we are faced with the sobering realization that we’ve run out of space, run out of water, run out of habitat, and have set in motion the Sixth Mass Extinction on Earth.
Thus, a growing number of scientists and space ship enthusiasts now view going “off planet” as a solution to the fact that the Earth is becoming increasing inhospitable to human (and nonhuman) life. But the idea that our species can survive by colonizing places like Mars is misguided.
Psychologically the notion that our species will be saved by moving to another planet depends upon the false notion that technology will get us out of this mess. Technology may indeed get us to another planet, but it will never do the one thing that needs to be done for our species to earn its keep: Change our psychology.
Perhaps if we were to succeed in surviving another few hundred years on the earth, as Hawking suggests, we might be well placed psychologically to think realistically about the colonization of other planets. But it doesn’t look likely that will happen.
When we get to Mars, or wherever else we go, unless we’ve been able to find a way to thrive on earth, we will still be the same species that trashed our home planet. And we will never escape ourselves.