Shouldn’t We Fix the Earth First? So Many Problems Here, Why Go To Space?


I seem like a pretty calm and collected guy,
but if you want to see me go on an epic rant, all you have to do is ask me some variation
on the question: “why should we bother exploring space when we’ve got problems to fix here
on Earth.” I see this question all the time. All the time, in forums, comments on videos,
and from people in audiences. I think the question is ridiculous on many
levels, and I’ve got a bunch of reasons why, but allow me to explain them here. Before I do, however, I want you to understand
that I believe that we human beings are indeed messing up the environment. We’re wiping out species faster than any
natural disaster in the history of planet Earth. We’re performing a dangerous experiment
on the climate of the planet, increasing temperatures worldwide, with devastating consequences,
for both ecosystems and human civilization. Unless we get this under control, and there’s
no reason to believe we will, we’re going to raise temperatures to levels unseen in
millions of years. There are islands of plastic garbage in the
oceans, collected into huge toxic rafts by the currents. Colonies of bees are dying through pesticides
and habitat loss. We’re even polluting the space around the
Earth with debris that might tear apart future space missions. I believe the science, and the science says
we’re making a mess. The first thing is that this whole question
is a false dilemma fallacy. Why do we have to choose between space exploration
and saving the planet? Why can’t we do both? The world spent nearly $750 billion on cigarettes
in 2014. NASA’s total budget is less than $20 billion,
and Elon Musk thinks he can start sending colonists to Mars for less than $10 billion. How about the whole world stops smoking, and
we spend $20 billion on colonizing Mars and the other $730 billion on renewable fuels
and cleaning up our negative impact on the environment, reducing poverty and giving people
access to clean water? Americans spend $27 billion on takeout pizza. Don’t get me wrong, pizza’s great, but
I’d be willing to forego pizza if it meant a vibrant and healthy industry of space exploration. Gambling, lawn care, hood ornaments, weapons
of war. Humans spend a lot of money on a lot of things
that could be redirected towards both space exploration and reducing our environmental
impact. Number two, it might turn out that space exploration
is the best way to save the Earth. I totally agree with Blue Origin’s Jeff
Bezos when he says that we already know that Earth is the best place in the Solar System. Let’s keep it that way. Mars might be a fascinating place to visit
and an adventure to colonize, but I want to swim in rivers, climb mountains, walk in forests,
watch birds, sail in the ocean. But the way we’re using up the natural environment
will take away from all that. As Bezos says, we should move all the heavy
industry off Earth and up into space. Use solar collectors to gather power, mine
asteroids for their raw materials. Keep Earth as pristine as possible. We won’t know how to do that unless we actually
go into space and learn how to survive and run that industry, from space. Number three, it might be that we’ve already
crossed the point of no return. There’s a great science fiction story by
Spider Robinson called “In the Olden Days”. It’s about how modern society turned its
back on technology, and lost the ability to ever recover. Humanity used up the entire technology ladder
that nature put in front of us; the chunks of iron just sitting on the ground, the oil
bubbling out of the Earth, the coal that was easily accessible. Now it takes an offshore drilling rig to get
at the oil. These resources took the Earth millions and
even billions of years to accumulate for us to use, and transcend. When the cockroaches evolve intelligence and
opposable thumbs, they won’t have those easily accessible resources to jumpstart their
own space exploration program. Number four, as Elon Musk says, we have to
protect the cradle of consciousness. Until we find proof otherwise, we have to
assume that the Earth is the only place in the Universe that evolved intelligent life. And until the alien overlords show up and
say, “don’t worry humans, we’ve got this,” we have to assume that the responsibility
for seeding the life with intelligence rests on us. And we’re one asteroid strike or nuclear
apocalypse away from snuffing that out. I don’t entirely agree that Mars is the
best place to do it, but we should at least have another party going on somewhere. And number five, it’ll be fun. Humans need adventure. We need great challenges to push us to become
the best versions of ourselves. We climb mountains because they’re there. Ask anyone who’s built their own house or
tried their hand at homesteading. It’s a tremendous amount of work, but it’s
also rewarding in ways that buying stuff just isn’t. The next time someone uses that argument on
you, I hope this gives you some ammunition. Phew, now I’ll get off my soapbox. Next week, I’m sure we’ll return to poop
jokes, obscure science fiction references with a smattering of space science. Now you know how I respond when I get this
question, what do you say? I’d love to hear your arguments in the comments. In our next episode, we look for the biggest
nothings in the Universe: supervoids. Oh, and make sure you stick around for the
blooper. A big thanks to Frederick Kroh, AS, Margot
L. Robinson, and the rest of our 618 patrons for their generous support. If you love what we’re doing and want to
help out, head over to patreon.com/universetoday.

100 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *