Since it is often proposed in the cadences of a throwaway line, it is difficult to tell just how glib technophiles are being when they offer up occasional asides to this effect, especially in the midst of discussions of catastrophic climate change, resource descent, overpopulation, and so on, but also commenting on other human dilemmas, abiding war-likeness in a world of WMD proliferation, stubbornly lingering ethnic hatreds, and the like.
But it is a sentiment that comes up surprisingly often, I find, whether in jest, in earnest, off-handedly, or as a provocation. The theme permeates science fiction, of course. It comes up fairly regularly in courses I teach on environmental problems and politics with undergraduates as well. And plenty of comparatively high-profile presumably serious-minded folks like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have been known to advance the notion formally.
I will cheerfully grant that I am a space exploration enthusiast myself, a real NASA fanboy, a booster for moonbases and research stations on Mars from way back. But I also consider it the height of pernicious frivolity to propose space diaspora as anything remotely like a solution to climate change catastrophe and other apparently intractable human problems. I see utterances to the contrary more or less as symptoms of capitulation and despair, disavowals of these problems rather than efforts at solutions, leaps into wish-fulfillment that resign us to defeat.
Does anybody seriously need reminding there is no planet within the actual reach of our grasp that is even a fraction as friendly to human flourishing as our friend the earth is, this planet we evolved to flourish in, even in its current state of debasement at our hands?
Does anybody seriously doubt that the scientific knowledge base, public investment, and infrastructural plant required to migrate any non-negligible population off-world would demand incomparably more of a material investment than actually cleaning up the mess we have made of earth would do, or that the very enterprise of migration itself would materially exacerbate the ruin of the planet itself, or that even "ideally" the operation would save a fractional minority of humans while requiring the highest payment from all earthlings?
But the definitive consideration for me is that even if we set aside all the insurmountable instrumental and political hurdles that beset such a notion of a human escape from the human catastrophe of fouling our nest beyond healing, even if we concede the abstract possibility of leaving that nest behind as we cannot concede it concretely, it remains devastatingly true that the human beings who left earth would still be the human being that committed these crimes, bringing our unresolved problems with us wherever we went next. We would bring the short sighted parochialism and greed that made our civilization unsustainable to our stewardship of the next planet, we would bring our warlikeness and the legacies of its violations with us into space.
Far from believing the universe a kind of safety valve relieving the pressure imposed by our stupidity in the confinement of a small world, I say the universe isn't safe from humans until first we overcome our stupidity through the work of civilization and solve the problems we would now disavow through such irresponsible fantasies of escape.