Monday, 15 June 2015

Our priority must be to defend the Earth not create an elitist enclave of narcissistic boffins on Mars.

I know it looks like I am hitting on Professor Hawking for which I am sorry, as this is the second article in a row in this blog to reference one of his media statements. But he does say interesting and sometimes controversial things which do seem intended to stimulate thought.

Some time ago, spurred by reports of Stephen Hawking's express desire to see humanity live in space I felt it appropriate to respond with a consideration of the correct ordering of priorities for humanity at this time. An interesting interaction ensued. As I explained I didn't mean it unkindly but I think it makes more sense to look at this from a different perspective.

flyingfox 5 years ago• Our priority must be to defend the Earth not create an elitist enclave of narcissistic boffins on Mars. 
finsburyparker • It's thanks to your so called 'Narcissistic boffins on Mars' that you have access to this medium you are using to berate them! G. P. 
flyingfox •The boffins who invented the internet did not live on Mars (to the best of my knowledge) ! The reports we are seeing of Prof Hawking's thoughts have been dumbed down, my reply was intended to match the level of the discussion. Sorry if it seemed a little terse, I was having trouble making myself heard due to obstructive interactions between Disqus and Twitter which erased my first attempt so I tried to keep it short and pithy. 
 Am I calling all boffins narcissistic? No, only those Zardozesque straw boffins who would hypocritically condemn and might wish to escape from their fellow humans, rather than face their own flawed humanity and defend the only place we can call home from the danger of asteroid impacts.
 This would be the primary justification for journeying further into space than Earth orbit of sufficient urgency it can be countenanced when there are people dying in squalor all over the world, when we have not learned to husband our resources or to cherish rather than defile our environment or balance our population at sustainable levels, let alone switch to renewables, so that we may continue to live in sustainable comfort, with a clear conscience, in the one place we can call home. 
 The more we understand about the universe and our own evolution, the more we recognise that this planet is priceless, irreplaceable and indispensable to the future of humanity. If we have learned anything surely it is that there really is no place like home. 
 Asteroid impact is the one thing we cannot afford to let happen while we sort these other things out and this justifies continued investment in astronomy and space exploration, but these other things must be sorted not run away from or they will follow us wherever we go and our self inflicted torment will never end.

To comment further : IMHO The escapist tendency within the culture of science finds a creative outlet in science fiction in which space exploration is a trope for leaving the woes of the human condition behind. Much of this woe springs from the battle for civility within our own societies, the battle between brain and brawn within the body politic of our governments and academic institutions is a recapitulation of the battle between individuals who specialise in developing either. I am talking about geeks versus jocks. The truth is we need them both, not just as a society but as individuals, we need both. Ideally jocks need to get smart and geeks need to stay fit and healthy, or to look at it another way we all need to strike a balance between the inner geek and jock.

As I see it, much as space colonisation may have been an inspiration for the Star Trek generation, myself included, there is no practical way to escape this Earth of ours on a permanent basis within the next century because of the vast infrastructure which would be needed to support a breeding population anywhere else.

We take for granted all the things which Earth does for us and its time we didn't. It is time we recognised that the Earth is priceless and I cannot agree that we should ever treat it like a disposable item, in any case its not that simple.

Our survival even in the case of an extinction event asteroid impact would depend not on running away to space, but in the worst case it would depend on sustainable subterranean civilisation which would be far easier for us to do as we simply do not have the muscle to launch 1000 people, plus maternity hospital, plus resource gathering infrastructure and refining and manufacturing plants into orbit. Even if we had the ability to construct gravitational environments on a sufficient scale that they would be sustainable, which as yet we don't, the cost of putting them in orbit let alone on Mars would be, well, astronomical.

We would get far more for our money by burying everything we need below the protective skin of the Earth's crust and get gravity for free. It just makes more economic sense, not that I don't like the idea of getting away from it all, it just wouldn't work, not yet awhile.

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