Getting Off the Earth
are, trashing our planet without even a contingency plan. What
will happen to us if we render Earth uninhabitable? We’d better
start working on an alternative now, so we have someplace to go when we
can’t live here any more.
Which is more important, the earth or humankind?
A lot of the environmentalists vote for Earth; to them, we’re just
one of the animals in the outer, thin layer of life, which looks like
a scum on the planet from outer space. They seem to like animals (at least
fuzzy, cute ones) more than people, anyway.
What are the chances that our species will be around in
1,000 years? 10,000? 100,000? At first glance, not too bad; we have a
pretty good idea what our ancestors were doing that long ago. But there
are a lot of new existential risks. For example:
We seem to have relaxed and stopped worrying about nuclear
war since the fall of the Soviet Union, but the ascendancy of the U.S.
as the sole superpower is a short-term phenomenon. If we’re thinking
in terms of a millennium, we can look back that far and see that several
Soviet-Union equivalents have risen and fallen. Who’s the next top
dog? Maybe China. But the chance of the good ol’ U.S.A. being the
dominant power in 1,000 years is nil.
In the 1970’s a lively discussion took place in the scientific and engineering communities about the possibility of building cylindrical colonies a few miles long orbiting the earth, each big enough to hold a million people and to grow crops enough to sustain them. Our government should be funding further research on this idea, at a modest level. The biggest problems seem to be biological; we don’t understand what organisms are needed, to sustain human, animal and plant life, in a closed biosphere.
Those who are good with numbers know that the population
at large is irrational about risks. We worry about things that are statistically
unlikely to happen, such as dying in a plane crash or terrorist attack,
and don’t fear the likely risks, such as dying in an automobile
crash or having a heart attack.
We’re living in a house that’s falling into
rack and ruin. Why don’t we do some maintenance, so that it gets
better every year rather than worse? That should be our goal, especially
in a rich country like the U.S. The poorer countries have big problems
with poverty and disease, so it’s clear why maintaining the environment
isn’t their top priority. But we don’t have that excuse.
I like the idea of designing a world to live in. It
would feel like living in a house instead of the forest. It would mean
that humankind has come of age, able not only to live in the environment
that gave it birth, but also able to create its own environment. It would
make us self-sufficient, independent of Earth, superior to Earth. Is this
— written on Earth Day, 2003
Copyright © 2000 - 2007 by Dean Wallraff. All rights reserved.