By David L. Brown
Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s most celebrated scientists, has once again stated that “the long-term future of the human race must be in space.”
According to a report on CNN.com/europe, Hawking recently said:
“It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next 100 years, let alone next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.”
He added: “…I’m an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe, as we spread into space.”
He has gone on record before saying that humans should migrate to other solar systems and learn to “live in space.” More than two years ago on June 15, 2006, in an essay on this site titled “Man’s Natural Home Will Always Be Earth” (use the search field at upper left to find it) I challenged his ideas, pointing out:
[…]please note that I am not taking exception to Hawking’s warning that there are serious threats to us here on Earth. […] What I disagree with is the false hope that human beings can somehow become like the mythical gods and travel and live throughout the universe. Science and common sense alike offer a wealth of well-reasoned evidence why this cannot be.
[…]there is strong reason to believe that the Earth is the only true home than humankind can ever have. The idea that other alien planets could be converted into mirror images of our own planet — which is itself the product of billions of years of unique geologic and biologic evolution — is patently impossible for any mortal beings, whether humankind as we now exist or some future race of supermen that we can only imagine. Humans are not simple machines that could be transplanted into strange and generally hostile environments without ill effect.
Hawking’s statements indicate to me that he holds a very deep seated pessimism about the future of the Planet Earth. When faced with a dismal situation, it is a natural instinct to imagine a better future. However, as I pointed out over two years ago, and as my novel The Star Phoenix addresses as its main theme, the only natural home that humanity can ever have is right here on Earth. There are no real options for the human race other than to get back in balance with Nature, or to become extinct. Those are the choices facing the human race, at least in my opinion. Sadly, we are a long way down the road toward option two.
If I could believe in the promise of a Star Trek future, with friendly Earth-like planets circling distant suns just waiting for human pioneers to arrive and settle down in comfort, I would be glad to agree with Dr. Hawking’s advice. But logic tells me that the only way humans could ever live on another planet would be to sterilize whatever life it might have, since it would surely be inimical to Earth life forms, and create from scratch a new environment completely duplicating that of Earth.
Does that sound practical, or even possible? It took Nature more than four billion years of geological and evolutionary processes to create the vastly intricate and inter-connected thing that is life on Earth. How long would it take mere humans to do the same thing — should it be even remotely possible?
Unfortunately I must conclude that those who see a future in space for humans, and Dr. Hawking is only one of many, are clinging to an impossible promise that has its roots in faith, not reality. If there is a difference between such beliefs and those based on the Book of Genesis, it is only in a matter of degree.
The Earth will survive the on-going mass extinction event that is presently under way. But many species will not, and human beings might well be among those to disappear. As I wrote a few weeks ago on this weblog:
Like rebellious children, humankind has set itself against Mother Nature. If we are to survive at all, we must make peace and beg Her forgiveness. Only when we live once again in balance with the environment from which we sprang can we maintain a place on this, our very own Planet Earth.
I sometimes think I sound like a broken record, but this is a serious question. There are too many people, using too many resources for the Earth as we know it to survive. There must and will be change, and in the end the Earth will always win. We cannot defeat Nature, for she is our Mother, not our enemy. We can only survive in peaceful cooperation with Her.
To dream of flying to the stars, living on some asteroid, building pleasure palaces at L5 nodes, or joining some Galactic Federation where our descendants can rub elbows with bizarre alien creatures in some Star Wars cocktail lounge is nothing but fantasy and delusion.
Unless Stephen Hawking knows something that none of the rest of us know — and it would have to be a very BIG something along the lines of the literal existence of God — the future of humankind lies in only one place in the Universe, and that is right here on the Planet Earth.
Hawking does know that we are in trouble here, and that must be the reason he rambles on about a future somewhere else. I share his pessimism, but regretfully cannot share the hopeful optimism with which he attempts to offset it.