What’s Worse Than Climate Denial?
While it’s very important that humans try to live sustainably, I am disgusted by how many people are less concerned about the existential crisis that nature itself poses.
It’s hard to go a day without hearing of the existential crisis of anthropogenic climate change. The future of humanity, and apparently the very planet, hangs in the balance of what we decide to do here and now. But to be perfectly blunt, this attitude is nothing more than humanity’s ego at work.
None of this is to say that sustainability isn’t important. Humans need to start thinking more sustainably, in general. Our diet, for instance, is not very sustainable. People in the US eat a lot of beef, and drink a lot of milk. And even when we’re not consuming, production continues, as dairy subsidies account for over 70% of the total revenue to the dairy industry. These subsidies have created large surpluses, which can amount to significant waste. But the US isn’t alone. And even in nations like Sweden, which has seen a substantial drop in beef consumption, the government still props up the industry with unending subsidies.
The True Existential Crisis
All this being said, even if we act in a highly sustainable way, humanity is still at great risk of extinction. There are numerous ways in which the human species can meet its end. A global pandemic is quite possible, given high speed transportation between continents and a highly connected population. This risk exists, even for naturally evolving pathogens. A biological weapon could spread through the population and devastate it almost entirely. A super-volcano erupting could also bring us to the brink of extinction, first wiping out whatever population is nearby, then choking out those further away, and finally starving those furthest away from the disaster itself. And then there are planet killing asteroids, which NASA still has a difficult time identifying until they nearly graze the planet.
As it stands, humans almost went extinct at least three times in our evolutionary history. The first time was about 1.5 million years ago, soon after the emergence of our genus. The second two near extinction events were both during our own species’ time. H. sapiens nearly went extinct 150,000 years ago, due to significant cooling of the environment, and again 70,000 years ago for some uncertain reason, perhaps relating to the eruption of the Toba supervolcano.
There is only one way to truly increase our odds: expand into space. This idea is not science fiction. It is something that we must do. Even a 1% chance of extinction per century is too high to risk not building colonies in space. In order to even reach out into our own solar system, we’ll need a lot of infrastructure on the moon. Luckily, the moon is packed full of useful materials that can be used to produce oxygen, water, solar panels, building materials, and more. Except for the initial production facilities, everything can be built on the moon itself rather than being shipped there.
The moon would serve two main functions. The first one is acting as a jumping point into the solar system. The second is providing resources back here on Earth. Both of these activities need to be implemented quickly in order to improve our odds of survival.
Regarding getting further into our solar system, entire ships could be built on the moon, and then launched deeper into the solar system to start colonizing Mars, which is the next big step, as it’s right next to the asteroid belt. From there, we can mine the asteroid belt for massive amounts of raw material. Indeed, the raw materials in the asteroid belt have an estimated worth $700 quintillion. That’s a lot of raw material that could be used back here on Earth.
But even as construction facilities for ships get set up, the moon can also be used to produce a large amount of energy for Earth. The moon has no atmosphere. While that’s a problem for humans, who would have to create artificial living conditions, it’s great for collecting solar power. The amount of sunlight that hits the surface of the moon is far greater than that which manages to reach the surface of the Earth. One proposal is to create a ring of solar panels around the moon. It would take many years, which is why we need to get started right away. However, it could totally fill our growing energy needs. The energy can be produced on the moon, and transmitted to the Earth via microwaves. Such a system would result in the complete elimination of the need to produce electricity here on Earth.
It will take many years to complete these projects. Unfortunately, we might not have that many years. While there is no indication of an imminent threat, we may only have a few decades of warning, or less, before things really go south. By then, it will be too late and all we would be able to do is wait and die. Therefore we need to start working on these projects immediately. While climate change is going to cause us problems, according to the information in the AR5, it is not a doomsday scenario. The real doomsday scenarios will likely come from nature, not us, because as much as we like to think that we’re gods on Earth, nature just doesn’t give a damn.
In a recent discussion on evolution and speciation, I suggested that there is only currently one identified species, the Earth species, which is the sum total of the biomass which has evolved from the first cell to form on Earth. There is no clear cut distinction between species. We are all just a progression of lineages. Therefore, while we should focus on sustainability for our own health, we should also do what we can to ensure our own survival first and foremost. It is our evolutionary imperative to survive and grow. And so long as we do so, the Earth species does so as well. Currently we are the greatest chance that the Earth species has for survival beyond this world.
Update (April 2020): This article certainly aged well, given the recent events of 2020. We actually lucked out. This pandemic could have been far worse, but it is a warning of threats to come. A connected world like ours is always at risk of being thrown into disarray, or worse, by such pandemics.