We can also write off Africa and Asia. After all, the Americas and Australia were colonized by all those Old World people, so there’s hardly anybody left behind, and we in the New World are now the future of humanity.
That’s how it works, right? Human beings are like locusts: we strip our homes to bedrock, then take wing and flit off to the next environment to exploit. At least, that’s the impression I get from Stephen Hawking, all-around smart guy and obsolete resident of the dead old homelands.
Humans should go and live in space within the next 1,000 years, or it will die out, Stephen Hawking has warned.
"We must continue to go into space for the future of humanity," Mr Hawking said. "I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet."
Like the fragile old United Kingdom; my ancestors escaped from that hellhole just as it was collapsing into an unsurvivable wasteland, and they were sailing off to a rich, habitable continent with breathable air and drinkable water and rich soil and people already happily living there. I can’t imagine what an awful state the Earth must be in that we can talk about abandoning it for barren, cold rocks drifting in airless space. A bit more than 500 people have traveled at immense expense into space, to survive there precariously for a short time before returning to Earth, and they are the future of humanity, not the 7 billion people living their lives here.
Sure. Right. Sounds like a plan.
Now about that deadline…what’s going to kill us in the next thousand years? Why, I think it’s us — the greatest threat to our continued existence is unsustainable, short-term thinking, the selfishness of the human race greedily ripping apart our environment for temporary profit and long-term degradation and destruction. The planet isn’t fragile, we are.
And what part of the planet will you rescue in your Space Arks?
Oh. Us. The problem. The very thing that will destroy us.
Have you thought this thing through, Mr Hawking?
But let’s be optimistic. Let’s imagine you’ve found a way for human beings to live whole lifetimes off-planet. How many will you rescue? 10,000? 100,000? We can be wildly optimistic, and imagine 1,000,000 people lifting off and emigrating to Mars. Humanity is saved!
Except…7 billion, 125 million people live on Earth. You have, by some ridiculously expensive, improbable technological feat managed to loft a million to this imaginary extraterrestrial colony, leaving behind 7 billion, 124 million people. Who don’t, apparently, count. Who are all doomed to die within a thousand years, while the wealthy elite plan their escape.
This isn’t a plan for saving the future of humanity. It’s a plan for writing off almost everyone. I have dreams, too, but they tend not to involve dashing away from my responsibilities.
At the end of the lecture, Hawking encouraged his audience to “look at up at the stars and not down at your feet”.
Please do look up at the stars. Stretch your imagination and send probes to alien worlds. Learn more about the universe.
But do also look down at your feet, and at the soil they’re standing on, and the air that surrounds us, and the oceans that breathe for us, and the diverse non-human life that thrives here and nowhere else in the cosmos, and the people that share it, and learn to embrace and love it all, because you aren’t going anywhere. You are a small sentient fragment of this world, and if you do go anywhere else, you will have to bring a piece of it with you to live.
And if you can’t keep a piece of this little Earth alive here, you’re not going to succeed in a tin can in the sky, or a tin can on the hostile surface of a distant planet.