In BriefIn a recent interview, Elon Musk told Rolling Stone he believes humanity must become a multiplanetary species, calling it "insurance of life as we know it." If Earth could no longer sustain humanity, colonies on other planets would ensure the species continues to live on.
Musk Branching Out
The Earth as we know it is suffering. Climate change, pollution, urban sprawl, wildlife destruction, and so much more have already wreaked havoc on this rocky planet. Some, including Stephen Hawking, think human activity will eventually render the planet uninhabitable for humans. If it doesn’t, an unpredictable event, such as an asteroid impact, might do the trick.
Either way, Elon Musk thinks he knows the best way to ensure the human race lives on long after the Earth can no longer sustain us.
“If we were a multiplanetary species, that would reduce the possibility of some single event, man-made or natural, taking out civilization as we know it, as it did the dinosaurs,” Musk told Rolling Stone. “There have been five mass-extinction events in the fossil record. People have no comprehension of these things. Unless you’re a cockroach or a mushroom – or a sponge – you’re f****d.”
“It’s insurance of life as we know it,” said Musk, “It makes the future far more inspiring if we are out there among the stars and you could move to another planet if you wanted to.”
A Realistic Goal?
So, is Musk’s vision really the direction we are headed as a species? We first set foot on the Moon decades ago, and we haven’t even colonized it yet, so at first glance, the idea of colonizing other planets might seem unrealistic.
However, while Elon Musk’s hopeful vision for spreading the human species across the solar system and beyond may be ambitious, to put it lightly, he is not completely alone in his support for such efforts. NASA has released a 35-page plan outlining the potential for humankind to live on both Earth and Mars, and the UAE has plans to establish a Martian colony by 2117.
Rachel Armstrong, a sustainability innovator, told Futurism she does believe humans could one day become a multiplanetary species, but making it happen won’t be easy.
“The degree of difficulty is generally underestimated. We don’t have a city in Antartica, which is more hospitable than Mars,” said Armstrong, noting that until we can settle these extreme environments on Earth, we won’t be able to move forward with creating colonies in space. “We have to completely rethink what settlement, life, and ecology actually mean under extreme conditions. This is not trivial,” she told Futurism.
Armstrong sees two ways in which we could use current technologies and knowledge to live off-world. Either we must build a sealed environment on a host planet or moon, essentially creating artificial an ecosystem that isn’t really connected to its host, or we terraform that host, changing everything from its atmosphere to its ecology to match that of the Earth.
Adapt to Survive
Humanity may very well be heading toward extinction, but our fate is not yet sealed. If nothing else, humans have shown a knack for adapting, and that could serve us well in the future.
“We have already transformed our basic apelike existence massively – from life expectancy to intellectual achievement,” Steve Fuller, author and professor of sociology at Warwick University, told Futurism. “As we’ve remade the planet, we’ve also remade ourselves, and we are now in a position to do both more substantially.”
Whether it’s hostile artificial intelligences (AI) or climate change-caused environmental issues, humanity has no shortage of future threats to our existence on Earth. However, we also have no shortage of potential “outs.” We may need to become a multiplanetary species, we might need to merge with machines, or we might need to take a path that hasn’t even been considered yet.
With the greatest minds in the world dedicated to ensuring our species lives on indefinitely, we stand a pretty solid chance of not going the way of the dinosaurs.