It is alarming when the world’s leading astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking, makes the incredulous pronouncement that within the next hundred years humans will need to colonize another planet in order to survive.
On the BBC TV show “Tomorrow’s World” Professor Hawking, radically revising a timeline of a thousand years he issued about six months ago, now asserts that humans need to become a multi-planetary species in no more than a century if we are to survive climate change, the impact of asteroids, disease and overpopulation.
If there is any gravity to Hawking’s claim, that humanity will need to move to a yet unnamed and unreachable other planet, instead of buying into a fantasy and deciding what we should pack, we ought to ponder the futility of our present dilemma.
We should become alert to the absurdity of our incessant territorial and cultural conflicts on a planet, at least by Hawking’s estimation that we will soon have to leave.
We should acknowledge that in spite of our resourcefulness and ingenuity we are still vain creatures driven by petty obsessions, grasping at the last semblance of threadbare, cultural identities while remaining primitively territorial.
I am not a futurist and I respond with scepticism to sweeping futuristic pronouncements, even when they are made by someone as renowned as Professor Hawking.
If Hawking revised his earlier prediction that gave humanity a millennium to get its affairs in order before leaving for another planet, he may not be done revising yet and the future he envisages may not be in the future at all.
However, when Hawking presents our demise on Earth as a fait accompli, the danger is that inertia and fantasy will replace the will to correct our dilemma here.
The last 25 years or less have clearly illustrated that things that were fantasy and fiction a short time ago are now a reality, an overwhelming reality that has altered the way we live and the way we see ourselves as individuals and societies.
We have progressed so quickly that we have failed to put in place moral and ethical norms and a mechanism to agree on fair and respectful social restraints.
In less than a generation, we have seen that we can no longer take for granted what the future might hold.
To predict that in a hundred years the world will be relatively similar to what it is now is a prediction as wildly speculative as Mr. Hawking’s proposal.
On the other hand, it is almost fifty years since man first landed on the moon and while we have witnessed remarkable advancements in technology and exploration, a train of Conestoga space ships taking pilgrims to a colony in space is still very much the stuff of science fiction.
While Hawking may be right when he says that the continued exploration of space is pivotal to humanity’s survival, his assertion that we need to abandon our tenure on Earth is grandiose and possibly symptomatic of a messiah complex.
It is inevitable that we will continue to explore the cosmos. Space is still largely a mystery and therefore we are compelled to venture out and explore as we have always been compelled to go beyond existing frontiers into the unknown.
However, we should also feel compelled to explore our own behaviour here on Earth, as so much in that sphere also remains a mystery.