Stephen Hawking: I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.
It's bad enough when futurological "geo-engineering" enthusiasts tell us to pretend the world we live on is really an alien world and we are really like colonists in some space opera. Whatever the implausibility of their pseudo-scientific scenarios, whatever the hastiness of their declarations of the defeat of democracy in the face of climate change, it is from the profoundly earth-alienated vantage of earth as alien world and earthlings as aliens on an alien world that these futurological escapists go on to propose their greenwashing mega-scale engineering wish-fulfillment fantasies of vast orbital space mirrors, miles of pipeline superstructures belching icy water from ocean depths into warming surfaces, fleets disgorging iron filings into the sea or salt crystals onto clouds, and on and on and on, as the only "solution" to environmental catastrophe.
And while it is easy to see why the corporate-militarist incumbent-elite interests who invite these futurologists to their boardrooms to spin their self-congratulatory whiz-kid scenarios and genuflect to exponentially-upward-rocketing arrows on graphs and so on like to be told that they can prosper just as much from the cleanup of a polluted world as they made in polluting it, it is less easy to understand why the rest of us should permit the distraction of our attention and the derangement of our conviction from the all too palpable costs, demands, and frustrations of collective this-worldly environmental politics of education, agitation, organization, regulation.
As I said, these earth-alienated futurologists retreating into their escapist fantasies of mega-engineering and profit-making their way through the end times are bad enough, but it should be pointed out that there are also futurologists whose escapism is more literal still, who declare that humanity must disperse from the earth to overcome our presumably hopeless and looming apocalyptic environmental crises. Stephen Hawking's advocacy of this position has attracted lots of attention, but it is important to grasp that in his version the conjuration of Stapledonian timescales of thousands of years means that his is not a recommendation equal to the urgency of economic and ecologic crises we actually face.
Even so, as a space enthusiast with my own measure of sensawunda in mind, I firmly expect that should we be so lucky to explore and inhabit worlds beyond our own it will be the wonder and the work that drives us, not some hankering after an insurance policy. And to the extent that exploration is contemplated through the futurological discourse of "existential risk mitigation" it functions as a distraction and derangement of our deliberation about shared problems, whatever their depth and term. Nevertheless, it is to those futurologists who start handwaving about space migration when talk turns to serious environmental and social problems here and now that I mean to devote my attention in what remains of this post.
It should go without saying that such "serious" futurologists seem to have failed to notice that our deeply distressed ecosystem is nonetheless in incomparably better shape to support the human organisms who evolved after all to thrive precisely in that ecosystem than other planets actually on offer have to offer.
Also, they seem to have failed to notice that the intelligence and effort required to overcome the manifold technical difficulties to facilitate such a quixotic exodus would be incomparably better applied to the many well-understood technical and political difficulties required to ameliorate the climate problems that presumably provoke the desire for the exodus in the first place at less cost and with a much more reasonable chance of success.
Also, they seem to have failed to notice that the physical and organizational migration of the human race into inhospitable space would itself ensure the total and permanent destruction of the ecosystem more surely than any current practices of extractive-petrochemical industry is managing. This is assuming, of course, that these futurologists really by the terms "humanity" and "us" the billions of humans suffering now and sure to suffer more from extractive-industrial climate catastrophe rather than just a handful of the worst richest racist assholes whose irresponsibility and selfishness caused the problem and now mean to rocket off the shit-pile cinder they made in search of someplace else to loot and plunder and desolate just because they can.
Also, they seem to have failed to notice that the sorts of brute-force one-size-fits-all separatist-hierarchical reductive-instrumental rationalities that brought us all to our current distress would be migrating with the lucky few of us in our fiery treasure-stuffed rocket ships into outer-space dedicating us thereby to the same destructive destiny again and again. This is so not just because the same mammalian tendencies to hierarchy and aggression would go with us into the final frontier, futurological self-declared sooper-geniuses being monkeys all the same, but especially so to the extent that it is hard to imagine a more perfect and even flabbergastingly over-amplified application of this sort of self-blinding death-dealing irrational rationality than the very escapist futurological proposal presently under discussion itself should it happen to prevail.