Sorry Nerds, But Colonizing Other Planets Is Not A Good Plan

by Adam Ozimek, Contributor

In November, Stephen Hawking warned that humans needed to colonize another planet within 1,000 years. Now, six months later, he’s saying we have to do it within 100 years in order to avoid extinction. There’s a problem with this plan: under almost no circumstances does is colonizing another planet the best way to adapt to a problem on earth.


Let’s start with Mars, which is a favorite planet for colonization scenarios, including for Elon Musk who thinks we should colonize Mars because earth will eventually face a “doomsday scenario”. The problem with this is that there is almost nothing that could happen to earth that would make it less hospitable than Mars. Whether it’s nuclear war or massive global warming, post disaster earth would be way more habitable than Mars.

For example, we worry that the oceans on earth will get too polluted, or too acidified, or rise up too high. It’s true that could make life on earth very hard. But on Mars the only surface water is frozen in the polar ice caps. We would be hard pressed to ruin the water on earth so badly that it’s worse than what’s available on Mars.

We also worry about the level of carbon dioxide we humans are creating. But there’s nothing we could do to earth’s atmosphere to make it as bad as Mars, which is both extremely thin and also 96% carbon dioxide. Not to mention a significantly lower level of gravity. Whatever we’d have to do on Mars to make the atmosphere habitable would be more easily done on a very very ruined earth.

Even if an asteroid were to strike earth it would remain more habitable than mars. For example, consider the asteroid that struck the earth 66 million years ago creating the Chicxulub crater and wiping out 75% of plant and animal species on earth, including the dinosaurs. Well that disaster still left 25% of species that survived, all of whom would die instantly on the surface of Mars.

If an asteroid like this was heading for the earth here’s what we would do instead of abandoning the planet. First, we’d try to deflect it. If we didn’t know how to do that, everyone who lived on the part of the planet where it was going to land would move to safer parts of the planet. If need be we’d create biodomes and move into them, maybe even at the bottom of the ocean. “Impossible!” you say? “Technology and human behavior would never allow this!” you insist? It’s true it would be extremely hard and today’s technology wouldn’t allow it. And yet it would still be way, way easier than colonizing another planet. If you think getting humans to abandon a continent peacefully is hard, try getting them to abandon the planet.

Perhaps we could focus on colonizing another planet then. One with an atmosphere closer to ours than Mars. This may be possible, but the technology required to do this is a far smaller life than the technology required to build habitable ecosystems on the bottom of the ocean, deflect asteroids, reverse global warming, or cure pandemics. The closest star system to us is Alpha Centauri, which is 4.3 light years away. At a max speed of around 17,000 mph would take existing space shuttles 165,000 years to reach this. Even the faster New Horizon probe, the first to visit Pluto, would take 78,000 years.

The technology required to travel fast enough to get to other planets makes geoengineering to reverse climate change seem quaint.

It is hard to come up with a scenario where evacuating the earth makes the most sense. So why do so many smart people obsess about it? I think the issue is that nerds find space travel and colonizing other planets extremely appealing because they love science fiction and space exploration exciting. That’s fine, and if some billionaires want to colonize Mars for fun I say go for it. But unfortunately, their nerd desires are biasing their assessment of how humanity should prepare for doomsday threats. Sorry nerds, we won’t be evacuating earth. If we are underestimating the risks of doomsday threats, lets instead invest in the technologies that will help protect earth from them. Even though I am not an expert on space, physical sciences, or basically any relevant field, I can tell that this is obviously true. Maybe just it takes an economist to see through the nerd fantasies.

ADDENDUM: The goal of colonizing to preserve the species rather than evacuate doesn’t make sense either. If there are habitable planets within reach, then there must be many, many habitable planets that aren’t within reach. In this case the Drake Equation implies humans are not alone in the universe, and therefore our existence is far less special, lowering the benefit of preserving humanity. In a world of other habitable planets, saving the actual life on earth grows in importance compared to preserving the species somewhere in the universe.

Stephen Hawking says we have 100 years to colonize a new planet—or die. Could we do it?

Here’s what it would take to survive this particular doomsday prophecy

human on Mars

Living on Mars would arguably be harder than fixing up our own planet.


Stephen Hawking is making apocalyptic predictions again. The respected theoretical physicist warns that humanity needs to become a multi-planetary species within the next century if we don’t want to go extinct. Last year, he prophesied that we had maybe 1,000 years left on Earth, and the inspiration for this newly-urgent timeline is unclear—except for the fact that Hawking’s new documentary about colonizing Mars is coming out soon.

To be sure, Earth is facing some big problems, including climate change, overpopulation, epidemics, and asteroid strikes. But before we flee this planet like an action hero jumping out of an explosion, let’s think about this for a second. Sure, it’d be great to have a backup civilization somewhere in case asteroids wipe out all life on Earth. And it would be one of the most exciting things humankind has ever done. But what would it actually require.

Finding a second home for humanity

Mars is a somewhat obvious choice because it’s nearby, but it’s not exactly Earth 2.0. In fact, it’s arguably a lot worse off than Earth. It has toxic soil, it’s freezing cold, and the air is unbreathable. Any Martian colony would likely rely on regular care packages from home, which would not work well if Earth was done-zo.

If we really want to find the perfect home away from home, we could look to other star systems: with billions of planets in the Milky Way, there’s a good chance some will have water, land, and breathable air. But so far we haven’t found Earth’s twin, and our telescopes don’t have the kind of resolution that could tell us in detail what an exoplanet is like. Also, it would take hundreds of years to get there, and if those passengers don’t die along the way, they’d likely evolve into a new species before they even got to their new planet.

Bringing enough people

We would need to send significant numbers of people to other worlds in order to ensure the survival of the human species. Small colonies are subject to genetic anomalies from inbreeding, and vulnerable to getting wiped out in accidents.

NASA’s missions to Mars will likely only carry as many as six people at a time to the red planet. SpaceX wants to develop an Interplanetary Transport System to deliver 100 Martian settlers at a time, but at the moment it is nothing more than an imaginary behemoth.

The interstellar route is even more challenging, because we don’t even have an imaginary spacecraft capable of supporting thousands of people for hundreds of years on an interstellar journey.

And in either case, there’s always the politically charged question of: who goes and who stays? Do poor and disadvantaged people get left behind on a hellish world?


Could we make Mars look like Earth?

Making ourselves at home

If we really want to thrive on another planet, we’ll probably have to adapt the environment to suit our needs. Sure, we might be able to terraform Mars, but it would take about 100,000 years for its atmosphere to become breathable. Hope you’re not in a rush to go outdoors without a gas mask anytime soon.

Paying for it

NASA’s Journey to Mars is expected to cost up to $1.5 trillion. And that’s just for the first crews. Later on, launches bringing settlers and supplies to the colony would probably still cost hundreds of millions of dollars each.

And SpaceX’s plan to build the Interplanetary Transport System sounds great, but CEO Elon Musk has been very open about saying the company has no idea how it would pay for such a vessel.

And exactly who would pay to colonize Mars? Why would the U.S. government spend all that money to sustain a colony? What would we get out of it, besides better chances for the survival of our species? Will the Martian colony produce valuable exports, besides the (obviously awesome) scientific discoveries that would come out of it?

Surely there are a few wealthy Earthlings willing to pay millions of dollars each for a ride to and a habitat on an alien world, but the majority of folks who want to go to the red planet hope to come home afterwards.

Solving the problems that are killing Earth

History has a tendency to repeat itself. Even if we do successfully colonize another planet, we’ll still have to solve all the problems that Earth currently faces. Our technologies are just as likely to destroy the environment on other planets, and epidemics and asteroids could wipe out a Martian settlement much easier than they could obliterate the entire population of Earth.

The television show that Stephen Hawking is promoting is all about how human ingenuity is solving the challenges of colonizing Mars. Well, surely if we can figure out how to survive on a completely alien world, then we can figure out how to survive in our own home—possibly a lot more easily and cheaply than the alternative.

Hunter takes down massive elk in Idaho desert

Boise hunter Gavin Moody of Boise took down this elk in the Owyhee Desert. (Photo courtesy Gavin Moody via Idaho Fish and Game).

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) — Gavin Moody still can’t believe his eyes.

The Boise hunter was on a scouting trip in the Owyhee Desert when he noticed a juniper tree had been stripped of bark 10 feet up (with two branches broken off).

He quickly realized it was an elk rub, and he later spotted a bull elk that may have been responsible for abusing the tree.

“Oh my God, the biggest bull I’ve ever seen in Idaho steps out,” Moody told the Idaho Fish and Game. “He’s got tips on the tail, and I was speechless. He was just incredible, something you dream about.”

Moody scored a Super Hunt Tag from the state (only 34 hunters score one of the prized tags a year).

He waited three weeks to to see if the elk would stay in the same area, and, as it just so happened, the massive elk showed up to the tree on the first day of the hunt. But the elk went into timber and disappeared.

But his disappointment didn’t last long though. Moody and his wife were in a perfect spot to scout elk on a daily basis, and let him be more selective.

“In general hunts, you see a bull, you put him on the ground,” Moody said. “This hunt gave me the opportunity to look at elk and judge them.”

Soon, a bull that Moody wanted was within sight. He didn’t count points, the hunter said. Just the pure size.

“It was just a fantastic hunt,” Moody said. “The number of big bulls was incredible.”

Moody told Fish and Game that he hasn’t scored his elk.

“To me, the points don’t matter, it was the experience,” he said.

The human factors contributing to extinction

Thu Apr 27, 2017 9:11AM

The world is getting warmer and climate change has already had a serious influence on habitat loss. Scientists believe that as many as one billion people could lose their homes by 2050 because of the devastating impact of global warming.

But it’s not just human beings who are affected by Climate Change. Plants and animals across the globe are already facing extinction.

In this Episode we will discuss how humans can contribute to this global epidemic.

A teenager on a Gambell whaling crew scored the village’s second successful strike of the season

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Someone commented that they didn’t think whaling was even legal in today’s world. Unfortunately, for some it’s still legal and in places like Alaska and northern Canada it’s reported on as if it’s business as usual:

  • Author: Davis Hovey, KNOM
  • Updated: 2 days ago
  • Published 2 days ago
This 200-year-old female bowhead whale was caught off Gambell. Sixteen-year-old Chris Apassingok was credited with the strike. (Karen Trop / KNOM)

This 200-year-old female bowhead whale was caught off Gambell. Sixteen-year-old Chris Apassingok was credited with the strike. (Karen Trop / KNOM)

Families and community members on St. Lawrence Island are eating bowhead whale after a local hunter caught Gambell’s second whale of the season last week.

Chris Apassingok, a 16-year-old who would normally be spending his days in high school, was the “striker,” or hunter credited with catching the 57-foot-long female bowhead whale for the community.

Apassingok introduced himself by his Yupik name when recounting his successful hunt:

“My Yupik name is Agragiiq. The girls on top of the beach saw a whale, and they thought it was two of them, it was this bowhead whale. (We) went out and chased it for maybe an hour and a half; the other boats could have gotten it, but they never got close enough to strike. It came up right in front of us, and I struck it,” said Apassingok.

Apassingok’s mother expressed joy for her son, who, she says, was born to be a hunter.

“My name is Susan Aakapak (which means ‘big sister’ in our language) Apassingok. My son has been hunting since he was in diapers and drinking from the bottle, he’s been whaling. His life has been nothing but hunting,” Susan said.

The Alaska Eskimo Whaling commissioner for Gambell (and uncle to Chris, the striker) is Edmond Apassingok. He said the approximately 200-year-old whale was caught about 2 miles away from the village, but that further out there is significant open water around the island.

“In the past, we have pulled our boats on the ice and went through open water where there are whales, but now, we can’t do either. It’s either too thin or too thick to go through or on it. It’s changed,” Edmond said. “The winds move the ice more quickly, and it melts just as fast as soon as the wind picks up to 20 or 30 miles an hour.”

Edmond Apassingok believes ice conditions like these have made hunting for whale more challenging over the last five years or so.

According to the International Whaling Commission regulations, whalers in Gambell have six attempts or strikes for whales left in their catch limit, but Edmond Apassingok noted this whaling season is going by quickly, and the bowheads are already starting to migrate.

Six Paths to Near-term Human Extinction

Loss of habitat for human animals could result from at least six different factors rooted in civilization. Some are nearer than others. Half fall under the broad category of abrupt climate change. Two of the remaining three fall under the heading of ionizing radiation, hence lethal mutations.

I’m doubtless missing a few factors. In addition, I’m not mentioning the interactions between them, which surely will accelerate the process by which humans exit the planetary stage. But, as always, any number can play.

The usual initial response to the notion that Homo sapiens will become extinct is swift denial. As with every other species on the planet, lack of habitat will doom us, too. I welcome rational evidence to the contrary. In contrast, I expect irrational commentary free from the shackles of evidence (if not in this space, then certainly elsewhere). In general, denial-based commentary will exhibit ignorance of biology and ecology, despite the importance of these disciplines to understanding extinction.

If the following factors prove insufficient to convince you, I recommend visiting the nearest shopping mall. There, observe human behavior for an hour or two. If that’s not sufficiently convincing, you must have become part of the zombie hordes within industrial civilization. We have met the enemy, and … well, you know.

1. Abrupt climate change resulting from the loss of global dimming when civilization falls. I’ve spoken about this issue recently, and my presentations in the near future will continue to pound this drum.

2. Abrupt climate change resulting from firing the clathrate gun (item 1 on this list). I’ve written and spoken repeatedly about this topic.

3. Abrupt climate change resulting from moistening of the upper troposphere (item 39 on this list). As the planet warms, the most-abundant greenhouse gas becomes more abundant, thus further warming the planet.

4. Overt, rather than the ongoing covert version of World War leading to use of nuclear weapons. We can duck, but there’s no cover. So much for “duck and cover.”

5. Meltdown of the world’s nuclear power facilities. Fukushima was a harbinger. Many people, all of them more knowledgeable about the subject than me, believe Fukushima is an extinction-level event for our species.

6. Driving to extinction many other species. At some point, we become the species driven to extinction by industrial civilization. We will die without a living planet to sustain us.

Save the Earth: Pray for a Pandemic

August 14, 2014


by Jim Robertson from the blog Exposing the Big Game

I don’t mean to sound like some hateful misanthrope who wants to see humanity suffer for all its crimes against the environment. Rather, my misanthropy stems from a profound love of nature and a will to save non-humans from the cruelty and exploitation they’re routinely subjected to by the one species fully capable of causing a mass extinction.

Indeed, the species Homo sapiens is currently in the process of putting an end to the most biologically diverse period the Earth has ever known—the Age of Mammals, a class in which the human race must reluctantly find itself included.

Being nothing more than mere mammals themselves, humans are ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature’s self-preserving tactics. And what better way to reign in her errant child than with a major global pandemic that takes down only humans? Let’s face it, are humans ever going to effectively reverse the ill-effects of climate change, for example? Oh, world leaders sometimes give it lip service, but they never mention the parallel scourge of overpopulation any more. It seems it’s hard to be “green” and keep 7,185,322,300 (as of this writing) people fed, clothed, sheltered and transported in the manner they’re currently accustomed.

If people want to come out of this alive, they’re going to have to make some serious lifestyle changes. That means no more oil-dependent cars, trains, jet airplanes, no more Walmarts full of plastic trinkets built with coal power in Chinese factories, then sent overseas in gargantuan container ships. No offshore oil wells, no fracking, no tar sands pipelines; no freeways, no commuter traffic, no immensely-popular sporting events selling factory-farmed hot dogs by the billions. No people by the billions, for that matter. No more breeding period until humans have figured out how to live alongside the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants without wiping them out or making slaves of them.

No more! Starting right now! No false-starts or baby steps. Time to change or be changed!

It’s not just the politicians who lack the will to do what it would take to soften the blow of climate change. But while humans debate their role in causing relatively dependable weather systems to go topsy-turvy worldwide, Nature is poised to unleash a pandemic or two from her bag of tricks and take care of the human problem herself. I’m not talking about Ebola, that’s too slow and nasty.

When Nature gets serious, I’m hoping it’ll be quick and painless for all.  By the time humans know what hit ‘em, there’ll be no one left to test the experimental vaccine on the animals–who’ll be too busy inheriting the Earth anyway.