Get Off the Planet or Die!

"The story of the twentieth century was finding out just how big and powerful we were. And it turns out we're big and powerful as all get out. The story of the twenty-first century is going to be finding out if we can figure out ways to get smaller or not. To see if we can summon the will, and then the way, to make ourselves somewhat smaller, and try to fit back into this planet."
--Bill McKibben

On June 13, 2006, Stephen Hawking spoke in Hong Kong saying we could have a colony on the Moon in about 20 years and on Mars in about 40.

Read the 'brief' article on space.com

He says we are facing an increased threat of extinction due to "...sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."

All the threats he names are MAN MADE and the "other dangers we have not yet thought of", doesn't mean we haven't discovered them, we haven't CREATED them yet. By the sound of it (and the word "yet"), Mr. Hawking believes we WILL.

I wonder if this brilliant astro-physicist is just dreaming of a reality in which human society get's off this rock and into the realm of space, or if he has actually calculated the risk factor and established a real measure of the countdown to our extinction.

Hoping to answer that question for myself I've just dug up another story from Oct 2001. Apparently Hawking was making doomsday prophecies back then too. But being an "optimist" he's confident we'll "expand into space".

"Benny Peiser, an expert in apocalyptic movements and neocatastrophism at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, criticized Hawking for increasingly unfounded and erratic doomsday prophesies."

Peiser also goes on to say in this article, "like all the other major hazards, they need to be evaluated and weighed up against our increasing capabilities to control and influence life, nature and society."

Statements like that worry me a bit. It's usually when scientists believe they have all the ansers that something blows up in their face. I'm thinking Biosphere II just as one example. There's always something small, and insignificant to our egos that can turn around and bite us in the ass.

I think the idea of us controlling our environment rather than accepting our (supporting) roll in the vast complex balance, is a recipie for disaster. That's not to say I don't believe in scientific advancement but the attitude of superiority and domination is what is driving our advancement, rather than an attitude of balance and synergy. That crude and ancient attitued is being passed on from generation to generation in the scientific community and in society. It's like teaching each player of a foot ball team to only think about themselves and how they can personally get the ball and score. We think of that as a rediculous notion because we know it takes teamwork and cooperation to succeed. Why don't most of us make that connection with life?

For science, and society for that matter, to advance in a better direction it has to be driven by an attitude of teamwork, where everything from humans, to ants, to microbes, to the air we breathe, to quirks, quarks and beyond, are all team mates. Each has a role as important as the other, and none, not even humans are more important than the others. Without them, we can't exist. Without each other [people] we can't exist.

Yet, we are slowly smothering ourselves with old beliefs, and attitudes. We're slowly poisoning not only our planet but ourselves with needless consumption! And we're constantly coming up with new and improved ways to do it.

So I don't know what to think about this Stephen Hawking article. Should I be excited that I may actually walk the surface of the Moon or Mars in my life time, or should I be angry that my daughter and her generation will probably suffer dearly and potentially all die for our (and our ancestors), stupidity?

Maybe I'll just console myself and listen to Peiser who says our probability of survival for the next 1000 years is higher than ever. Though I find that hard to believe when I look around and see that almost everything that happens in society, since the dawn of civilization, is driven by the politics of power and greed rather than community and sharing.

If we ever have to get off the planet, I'd like it to be because of a thriving overpopulation rather than the threat of extinction due to the killing of our homeworld.