Stephen Hawking: Escape to another planet before we go extinct

The only method of propulsion we have to escape the planet is, you guessed it, fossil fuels, and they don’t come anywhere near to getting us to the speed of light necessary to get to even the closest star. Nor will a space elevator do that — even if it could be built, it’s absolutely ridiculous to think we could survive on the Moon or Mars.  Even Biosphere II was a failure, and that was right here on Earth.   The idea of abandoning Earth is absurd, ridiculous, sad — pure science-fiction.  But you can’t talk about extinction, or get a book published if you don’t offer some hope.

Stephen Hawking believes we won’t survive another 1,000 years unless we escape Mother earth.  He believes people will become extinct by then if we don’t.  “I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space, since 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.  In the recent past, humankind’s survival has been nothing short of “a question of touch and go” (he cites the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963 as an example of how narrowly we escaped extinction).  There are about 22,600 stockpiled nuclear weapons world-wide, 7,770 of which are still operational (Federation of American Scientists). Since there’s no global nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the threat of a nuclear holocaust still exists.  In fact Hawking says, since “the frequency of such occasions [of nuclear warfare] is likely to increase in the future, we shall need great care and judgment to negotiate [all of these incidents] successfully.”

Annalee Newitz, author of “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction” says that “we’re going to have to use all our technological know-how to make dramatic changes to the planet we live on—and then to find ways of escaping it to build cities on the moon and on other planets. Ultimately, our future is among the stars.”

What is the actual situation we’re in?

We’re about to drastically cut our carbon emissions totally against our will, because we’re at peak oil, coal, and natural gas (without which the tarsands can’t be mined in Canada).

According to articles in nature, science, and the International Energy Agency (as well as many other peer-reviewed and government sources), we reached the peak of world oil production in 2005 and have been on a plateau ever since then.

We are at, or near peak coal according to Richard Heinberg and David Fridley in the 18 November 2010 issue of Nature: “The end of cheap coal” which I review at energyskeptic in “Peak Coal is already here or likely by 2020 — if true — IPCC 100 year projections too high?”

We’re also probably at or near peak natural gas due to how expensive it is to drill for it (a financial crash would end the current fracking in the USA), much of it is “stranded” (too far from cities to lay million-dollar-per-mile pipelines), and so on.

Nor are there any alternative solutions to fossil fuels given that we face a liquid fuel crisis since 97% of transportation runs on oil (tractors to plant and harvest crops, trucks to deliver crops, etc). There aren’t enough plants to make biofuels (see energyskeptic “Peak Soil: Why Cellulosic and other Biofuels are Not Sustainable and a Threat to America’s National Security”).

Electrical generation of any kind is not a “fix”. Wind, solar, and other “alternatives” depend on fossil fuels throughout their life cycle. See the energy section of energyskeptic for details.

What are the real “solutions” to our quandary?

At this point it’s time for people to get more realistic about what’s required to cope with the die-off ahead. To offer the false hope of escaping to another planet or harming our planet even more by geoengineering (there are real downsides that aren’t discussed in this book, let alone that these “fixes” aren’t feasible without lots of fossil fuels, which are starting to decline).

It’s probably too late to do anything, but governments could help a great deal by setting one-child per women incentives, and drastically lowering immigration levels so that countries that continue to grow their population and exacerbate the world-wide “Tragedy of the Commons” can’t solve their dilemma by exporting excess people.

Which at this point is a bit like war — the Roman Empire partly fell from excess immigration of the “Barbarians” who were fleeing the Huns, and sought out the much improved standard of living in the Roman Empire. 99% of them were not “invading” — they were immigrating there peacefully to live a better lifestle. Read more about this in The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization.

The carrying capacity of the USA without fossil fuels is 100 million people. It is considered racist to even mention lowering the number of immigrants, mainly because right-wing think tanks have made it politically incorrect, since the wealthy are the only ones who benefit from lower labor costs. Well, of course it’s a bit more complicated than that, if you’re interested in learning more, this very important article is free on the internet: Roy Beck and Leon Kolankiewicz. “The Environmental Movement’s Retreat from Advocating U.S. Population Stabilization”. The Journal of Policy History (Penn State University Press); Vol. 12, No. 1 January 1, 2000

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There are more and more books about the true nature of our situation, and in the required happy bit about the “solutions” the author says we can always move to another solar system.  But wait — it’s not so easy.  Aside from all rockets being driven now by fossil fuels, which we won’t have much of in the future, where would we go?

Red Dwarf stars are 75% of the stars in our galaxy, but they’re much smaller and cooler than our sun.

“The habitable zone around low-mass stars is considerably closer to the star than for sun-like stars, due to the lower temperature … Such proximity produces new hazards: susceptibility to stellar activity and coronal mass ejections, tidal forces, stronger magnetic forces, etc.”

So habitable planets would have to be much closer than Earth is to the Sun.

But a planet close enough to sustain life would have such extreme tides that the oceans would evaporate, because “stars with a mass less than a third of that of our sun have habitable zones so close in that this tidal heating would evaporate any planet’s water, the researchers found (arxiv.org/abs/1203.5104)”

Light from the planet’s star would then split the water vapor into hydrogen, which would escape into space, and oxygen, which could go on to form the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Planets blanketed in CO2 would heat up further, developing into uninhabitable hothouses like Venus, the team concludes.

Read more about it at:

Rory Barnes. Habitability of planets orbiting cool stars.

6 April 2012. Tides turn some habitable planets hellish. New Scientist.
Tides evoke the sea, but they may dry out what would otherwise be habitable planets around small stars, making them hostile to life.

Rory Barnes of the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues calculated what would happen to Earth-like planets orbiting the most common type of star in the galaxy: red dwarfs.

These stars are much cooler and fainter than the sun, meaning the habitable zones around them – in which planets can have liquid water on their surface – are much closer in. Any planets orbiting in those zones feel very strong gravitational tugs from the star.

Unless such a planet travels on a perfectly circular orbit, the strength of the star’s pull varies at different points along its path. This squeezes and stretches the planet, heating it up.

Stars with a mass less than a third of that of our sun have habitable zones so close in that this tidal heating would evaporate any planet’s water, the researchers found (arxiv.org/abs/1203.5104).

Light from the planet’s star would then split the water vapor into hydrogen, which would escape into space, and oxygen, which could go on to form the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Planets blanketed in CO2 would heat up further, developing into uninhabitable hothouses like Venus, the team concludes.

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