A few days ago, Stephen Hawking declared that the only hope for future human survival is space colonies. Specifically, Hawking said:

It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species … Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.

Now, I’m glad to add Hawking to the list of geniuses (genii?) who are scared witless about global warming. But is this how desperate we are, that the only choice is a reverse-Battlestar Galactica?

Now, I’ve mentioned before my love of science fiction, and I happen to be a devotee of Gerard K. O’Neill, who advocated the colonization of space in the 1970s. However, I don’t know of anyone who seriously advocates space colonization as an escape for a tiny fraction of humanity. This view is usually mocked as the “disposable earth” idea.

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O’Neill’s original vision was to eventually (by a combination of settlement and natural population decrease) move the bulk of the human population off-Earth, and leave less than a billion humans on Earth. O’Neill explicitly put this in environmental terms, believing that the planet would be far better off with fewer people. He died in the early nineties, but I can’t imagine he’d support space colonization as an escape hatch.

Of course, the problem with either Hawking or O’Neill’s vision is that we have no way of getting from here to there yet. Meanwhile, the planet continues to bake. Maybe — and I say this as a devoted nerd — we could make saving the planet a priority, rather than building the lifepod?

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