The 2014 film Interstellar might have us thinking that if we deplete the Earth’s ability to support life, we’ll just find another planet to move to. The film depicts a heroic attempt to save humanity after the climate on Earth has become unfit to support growing crops. In this post we’ll take a high level view of this issue, figuratively speaking, from space.
I’ve noticed from both sides of the climate change argument, the idea that we’ll simply find a technology solution to the problem, if it is even a problem. Everything from Geo-Engineering that scientist now say might harm billions of people to Space Colonization is being considered. Geo-Engineering will very likely take the concept of “Unintended Consequences” to far greater depths than anyone can imagine. Space Colonization has the same chance as a virus spreading from someone stranded on a desert island.
The bottom line is that we have evolved as a species and matched for life on a unique and irreplaceable ship that travels through space. This ship revolves around its own virtually unlimited power source, which English speaking inhabitants call “Sun”. That power source delivers about 1000 watts of power on every square meter of the spaceship’s surface closest to the equator. There’s ample power and according to Sandia National Laboratories, we would need to use 4.4% of the ship’s surface to capture 15 terrawats of purely solar energy.
If it’s going places that we’re after as a species we should note that as the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Sun is itself moving through space around the Milky Way at 483,000 miles per hour (792,000 km/hr).
The ship Earth itself has its own Star Trek like shield that prevents some really nasty stuff from the fusion power source from reaching the surface.
The Earth has its own self regulating atmosphere, that of course given the size takes a long time to change. Food and water are provided on the ship for all occupants requiring only a reasonable amount of work to manage and distribute. While there are conflicts around how to resolve localized food shortages, living off the Earth has proven to be far more difficult. We’ve endeavoured at great expense to support life off Earth for just a few people, without trying to support life for hundreds. Besides, if we can’t figure out how to end famines on Earth, what makes us think we can do so in space where things are just a bit tougher.
We’re learning that human beings are not cut out for life in space. None of the things that we take for granted on Earth would be readily available in space. We fancy life on nearby planets such as Mars, or in spinning space stations, while not giving much thought to the sustainability of future generations in these environments. Just how would we expand a space ship heading to Proxima Centauri to handle population growth? Oh, I shouldn’t have asked, that would obviously not be an option and perhaps a touchy subject.
The film Interstellar compels us to examine our fate as a species. In the film we destroy our only home and go looking into a magically appearing wormhole for another. The film is excellent and I won’t give you any spoilers here, except to say that you should watch closely what Dr. Mann does to place his individual needs ahead of mankind’s. There’s just a little symbolism there.
However the film doesn’t examine whether we’ll treat any newfound planet better than Earth. It’s actually an important question, because if we simply deplete one planet of resources and life, then we are acting more like a deadly virus strain. Actually in this case a virus has better odds than mankind, since it has other nearby hosts to spread to. A virus species is not dependent on a « wormhole strategy », or Geo-Engineering for survival.
Ultimately if we are to continue to neglect our stewardship role on Earth, we should not delude ourselves with Science Fiction. Interstellar is awesome, but we need to keep an eye on the big picture, and that can only come while seeing our incredibly unique and awesome Earth-ship from a different perspective: As if it was in fact a ship carrying us on a journey through space, with perhaps no working life-boats.