Attention, fellow earthlings! You may know that humanity’s time on Earth is limited. We’re all gonna die. The good news is that it’s not very soon. Estimates for Earth’s long-term ability to sustain human life vary from 300 million to 1 billion years. Wahoo! We* may of course expedite our own demise much sooner.
But someday, our vast supplies of water and air and dirt will be no more. And we are faced with a choice. To help clarify this choice, I’ve created a MULTIPLE CHOICE TEST TO DECIDE THE FATE OF HUMANKIND (KIND…KIND…KIND…KIND).
I’ve simplified the test into just TWO options because we all know how paralyzing the mustard aisle can be. Spicy brown, honey, Dijon, stone ground, yellow – how can I possibly decide???
We invest money and resources into human space exploration so that someday a very small group of rich and powerful people may venture off into a post-Earth universe and live in a space vessel forever, or strive to adapt to a waterless (ouch!), atmosphere-less (gasp!), microbe-free (yikes!) planet.
We cease investing in human space exploration and instead invest our money and resourcefulness at making life better for all 7 billion humans on the planet. And when our time is up, we all—rich** and poor alike—accept death with grace and dignity.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re so glad those Cheesy Nacho Fries are back from Taco Bell. Also, you’ve got to remember to complete your daily entry in the latest Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.
Our options are a matter of trajectory. Relatively small choices and investments today have large consequences over time. It’s kind of like choosing a football club to support. You can pick Manchester United today, but do you really want to turn into a complete jerk in your forties, rationalizing terrible managerial hires, and sorting through a closet full of slightly varying shades of red?
There may be one good argument for continuing human space exploration: It’s so cool! I mean, come on, it’s space!
Yes, space is cool. Space seems fun. But it’s also fun to throw TVs off bridges, laugh at cruel jokes, and light crap on fire. But none of those things are particularly helpful. And when we’re examining THE FATE OF HUMANKIND, well, we would be wise to employ a bit more humility and discipline than a teenage gen-Xer.
Look, let’s get real. Striving to outlive our Earth is like attempting to make whipped cream from skim milk. It won’t work, and the result will be just as joyless. Even if we could fully manufacture Earth-like environments on a space-travelling vessel, the resulting civilization would lack poor people to despise so there’s nothing to make the humans feel good about themselves. The sad, rich, alive humans would just sit around lamenting how un-cool and un-fun space actually is.
There are loads of other fun, cool challenges we can strive to overcome while we wait to die in hundreds of millions of years. Let’s visit the deepest ocean floors, create sustainable energy, or—most challenging of all—design an effective ad campaign for more public transportation in the Midwest.
Fellow earthlings, we are stardust, and to stardust we shall return. Let us choose Option B and accept our end and the end of the Earth. Let us embrace the ambiguity and angst of infinite human subjectivity in the face of absolute finitude. And let us learn to live and to die well.
*Using the collective “we” when referring to humankind is always a bit tricky and almost always unfair. Usually the “we” obscures the fact that a very small group of rich, powerful, white people create the systems that pretty much control everything.
**When asked to comment, Elon Musk tweeted, “Don’t tell me what to do. I’m the billionaire. And space is cool.”