Hawking is too generous

Giga-brain Stephen Hawking gives the species a millennia to get our shit together and get off the planet, presumably with heavy industry to avoid Easter-islanding the entire planet and all of us. I’ll go with the Elysium trailer above as far as predicting the time and look of the looming disaster:

RT — Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking warns human beings won’t survive “without escaping” from the “fragile” planet. His gloomy forecast is people will become extinct on Earth within current the millennium.Speaking at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles the 71-year-old scientist called for further exploration of space to guarantee the future of mankind, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

“We must continue to go into space for humanity. If you understand how the universe operates, you control it in a way,” Professor Hawking said, adding that “we won’t survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.”


  1. jamessweet says

    These predictions are very hard to make. I will say I somewhat doubt humans will be extinct within 1000 years — but decimated and on an irrecoverable path to extinction within that time frame? That’s certainly possible.

    I don’t think escaping Earth in that time frame is a necessarily a realistic or effective answer. It would be easier to terraform the Gobi Desert than to terraform Mars, for instance, so let’s start at home, y’know? In any case, that massive public effort is necessary to change course, yes absolutely.

  2. haitied says

    Yeah, too generous indeed. . I doubt we will still be technologically advanced enough to escape earth in 200 years if we continue the way we are, never mind go to another planet with a plan to do anything. When humans finally die out society will likely look the way it was when we wore animal skins and threw spears at pigs for food. It’s really been a long time since I’ve had much hope for the human race though, I hope I’m wrong.

  3. says

    In the future history I’m writing for a science fiction project, we barely survive the next 125 years: by the close of 2138, the Earth’s population is down to just over 5 billion. The horrors of the previous “Century of Woe” (I really need to come up with a better name), with mega-tsunamis, bioengineered plagues, world wars, a meteor strike and sundry other natural and man-made disasters (along with a few advances in physics) pull the planet together in order to fund expansion to other planets in the solar system and eventually develop interstellar travel.

    And terraform? Even the Gobi Desert would take much longer than we have, and it is a tiny part of the human home world. Terraforming an entire alien planet… we may be able to take an almost perfect planet and fine tune it to be better, over many generations, but we will never be able to start with an unsuitable planet and remake it into a second Earth. Mars will always remain Mars.

  4. says

    You could speed up the terraforming by doing things like smacking a watery comet into the Gobi though right? That’s one decent point, I think anyway, is you can do things to planetary surfaces outside of earth you can’t do here for lots of really good reasons. Another is there’s stuff out there, raw materials, we may be running out of here, and there’s stuff out there to bootstrap the offworld production cycle to get that other stuff down here. Lastly, the serendipitious results are hard to discuss since we don’t know what they are. But Greg it aseems to me like one fruitful area to consider for a future sci-fi would be what we learn by managing thousands of little pocket-sized ecosystems, many of which no doubt fail and kill everyone. We might learn important things about hwo to manage our own, larger biosphere that could, for lack of a better word, influence the new class of space-based industry trillionaires and save all of us. Just some random thoughts though.

  5. Trebuchet says

    With sincere apologies, a nitpick because I can’t help myself:

    The singular of “millennia” is “millennium”.

    I agree that Hawking may be a bit on the optimistic side. And moving off the planet will be really, really, hard. We need The Doctor to come help us.

    As for me, I’ve got only 40 years tops so will not see the end. Nor will my non-existent children. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

  6. says

    @Stephen #4 – There is a lot of evidence that Mars had liquid water on its surface at one point. The question to ask is, What happened to it?

    The most likely reason is that Mars never had a “cold trap”, a layer of very cold atmosphere where volatiles like water vapor recondense and head back to the planet’s surface. As a result, the water vapor — along with much of the planet’s atmosphere — just drifted off into space. So even if we could get a sufficient volume of water onto the surface, it will just wander off unless we can FIRST terraform an atmosphere that will keep it in place. And how do we do that?

    A planetary atmosphere is a VAST amount of gas. Oxygen wouldn’t be too much of a problem — we could simply reduce the iron oxide on the surface — but O2 makes up just more than 20% of Terra’s atmosphere; nearly all of the rest is nitrogen (78%) and argon (0.93%.) Where do we get these, and in sufficient quantities to create an atmosphere with enough pressure to breath? And a significant amount of oxygen must be made into O3 and formed into an ozone layer to shield the planet from highly active solar radiation in the ultraviolet range. Without any of these, Terran life on the surface would be impossible. Mars’ high level of carbon dioxide will be a problem: we need to retain high levels to help warm the planet, but too much causes respiration problems even with high oxygen levels. We could purge the CO2 and import other greenhouse gasses — ammonia, hydrocarbons such as methane, and fluorine compounds such as CFCs — but we again run into the problem of needing huge volumes to make any noticeable difference on a planetary scale.

    Much, much more will need to be done than just throw comets at the surface.

  7. k_machine says

    Talk of colonizing space to survive seems bizarrely off point. It’s like your house is on fire and someone comes in and says, “we really need to move to a new house”. The first priority should be to put out the life-threatening fire. If we can’t survive on the planet we evolved on, we stand no chance in space. At most, remote mining of asteroids can become economically feasible as minerals become more rare and harder to mine. Hawking should stick to astrophysics and not make dumb statements about sci-fi daydreams

  8. says

    No analogy is perfect and this one is no exception. But if I may, we’ve never been very good at putting out the fire in our own house first. I can’t think of a single time we’ve done it on a mass scale.

  9. davidmc says

    We are all fucking doomed. The future trillionaires will save themselves , and thier billionaire mates.

  10. peterh says

    @ #6:

    And, with “with enough pressure to breathe,” we need to tinker with Mars’ mass to boost gravity, else the gasses will similarly just drift away till the present atmospheric density is “restored.”

  11. jacobfromlost says

    The problem with escaping the planet is in that old saying sometimes attributed to Yogi Berra, sometimes attributed to ancient wisdom: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

    It won’t matter if we get off the planet if the tendencies we have as humans tends to kill us off. The Earth won’t have been the thing that killed us off. We would have been.

    And we can’t escape ourselves.

  12. Eristae says

    I have never understood why some people think that terraform Mars would be easier than terraforming Earth, whatever shape Earth may be in.

    Mars: Lack of magnetosphere, lack of appreciable amount of water, lack of breathable atmosphere, lack of plants to eat or anything else, need to travel for prolonged periods to even get there (risk of muscle atrophy, etc), the problems just go on and on.

    We know we can survive on Earth because we’re doing it. I cannot think of a single thing* (including a nuclear holocaust) that would make Mars more habitable than Earth.

    Don’t get me wrong; I squeed like the silly little girl that I am when Curiosity landed on Mars. I can still get misty about it. But that’s because I was overwhelmed with awe at what we had accomplished and what we could learn, not because I had some inane idea that turning Mars into a green planet would be easier than greening our own deserts.

    *A single thing that we’re actually at risk of doing. Things like, “And we yanked the Moon down from the sky and smashed it into the Earth, shattering the Earth into many pieces” don’t count.

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