We must leave to stay here
“Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring–not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive… If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds.”
Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
We tend to think of our planet as a pretty safe place, one where we’ve seen the worst the planet can offer in terms of dangers. In my lifetime I have seen some horrific things befall mankind, from famine and disease to tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides. Many many people have died in these events, and the scale of human loss is staggering beyond cognition in all these cases. There have been wars and civil disturbances which have killed even more people, and at this very moment, innumerable people are living below the poverty line in conditions which, those who are not living in it, fail to grasp the sheer despair and hopelessness these people feel.
Even worse than this, we sit in a moment of human history where our own actions are contributing to the possible demise of life on this planet as we know it, and this includes us also. Add to the problems which arise as a result of climate change and the associated phenomenon of global warming, there are countries who are at each other’s throats (Pakistan and India), and who have command over enough nuclear weapons to destroy us all and render the planet uninhabitable for all but the extremely hardy and the extremely small creatures on Earth. Add to this problem, our own concerns of illnesses such as cancer, malaria and the ever-mutating flu virus.
Despite all I have said above, Earth stays as the safest and most welcoming place we know. In fact it is the only place we know. None of these problems will go away (perhaps with the exception of the Pakistan/India tensions, and the wars). In fact as we become more globalised, some of these problems will seem to intensify, due to the instant nature of our communications today.
The thing is, though, that we need to think of a longer term strategy for the survival of our species. We are the only species on Earth who are capable of making and changing our own destinies. We should actively be doing so rather than squandering it all on this planet, as it seems we will inevitably do. This blog piece is not about humans destroying the viability of our planet for ourselves, rather it is about leaving this planet.
That’s right, I think it is only sensible that we extend ourselves beyond Earth.Think about it. Every human is here on Earth, and if some large Earth-shattering disaster should befall this planet, we are all gone, every single one of us! Not even a strand of DNA may be left behind. And it all comes down to a matter of chance.
Cosmic events are way beyond our control. We have the ability to see them occurring, and most of the big ones are very far away, but at the same time, there are events could befall us of which we could have no knowledge of until the few minutes before impact, our planet frying, or complete ant total annihilation. No I’m not making this up. Yes it could happen.
Don’t believe me? Quickly look up gamma ray bursts and black holes. It is very cool that we know about these, but there is very little if anything we could do about it if one of these were to threaten Earth. Neither of these could be detected until it was too late.
Not to say that these catastrophes will happen, but there is a chance the may, and if they do, the we are all dead, and so is any possibility of preserving our species into a new millennium. Think of it as the “all your eggs in one basket” scenario. If we truly want to continue our lineage, which by the way is about as close to a “prime directive” as any life form may have, then we need to spread out, colonise new worlds and set up genetic “seed banks” of our DNA elsewhere in this galaxy. It only makes sense to do so, and many scientists agree with this idea. This is the next step in our societal evolution. It is worth our while to persue it!
This does not mean, of course, that we should not at the same time be trying to preserve what’s left of this planet for future generations, but we also must think beyond that, to the distant future. What do we do once we stabilise our planet, and reach a Type One society, only to be destroyed by a wayward comet or asteroid, swallowed by a black hole or fried by a gamma ray burst? Of course this is all speculation, based on nothing but chance and possibilities, but these are real chances, and real possibilities.
Finally, apart from the fact that our precious DNA could be lost to the space-dust of time because of some unfortunate event, don’t you think that to travel and master space would be just about the pinnacle of any civilization? We owe it to ourselves, our children and all future generations to try and make the most of what we can be. On order to stay here in the universe, we must leave Earth, not all of us, not all at once, but some of us, gradually must leave and populate new worlds. If we fail, at least we tried. If we succeed, we can become so much greater because of this triumph.