As a boy, I was often found in front of the TV watching sci-fi programmes like Star Trek. The idea that we, as a species, could launch into the great abyss of space with only the spirit of adventure to protect us was as amazing as it was unbelievable. But is it so unbelievable? The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, deliberately wrote the series as a message to humanity. He believed that people could become a united, diverse, and spectacularly adventurous group if only we could curb our undesirable tendencies. He specifically targeted issues like war in his depiction of Vulcans: the reformed alien race with a history of violence. Racism was dispensed with in the world of the starship Enterprise, and one of the first on-screen interracial kisses occurred between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Commander Uhura in 1968.
Even today, when people like Elon Musk are attempting to launch the human race further into space than ever before, the whole idea sounds ludicrously ambitious. The unfortunate truth is that these ambitions of a colony based in outer space may seem inappropriate now, but these projects are just the groundwork of what will eventually become a necessary and unavoidable venture into the unknown. The reason? Our world is edging its way closer to certain doom, and we are the cause.
To live in Roddenberry’s idyllic world, we must realise that our resources are finite, that a throwaway society is a one-way ticket to tragedy, and that we only have one environment to take care of. Our chance is but one throw of the dice – no do overs. Humanity has grown too big for its own boots. In the last half-century, the population of the Earth has grown by more than four billion people. Alongside this growth has come more waste, higher demand for food, a greater need for homes, a faster rate of fuel usage, more hydrocarbon extraction, more extensive fishing etc. We have thrown out, eaten, burned, mined, and fished to such an extent that we have now reached the point of no return.
It is easy to criticise people like Elon Musk for financing multi-million-dollar space projects when there are people in jeopardy every day around the globe – it is the criticism equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Nonetheless, those who criticise Mr. Musk for spending so much attention (and money) trying to get into orbit should be wary of dishing out criticism which could prove to be hypocritical. The reason that reaching sustainable space flight is so high on the agenda of tech moguls like Musk is that the possibility of reaching another planet is so endearing. The new world is a blank canvas.
On Earth, we are facing an ever-mounting human-based crisis. Last year, a BBC News report showed footage of British rubbish being burned on the sides of Turkish roads. In 2019, Western rubbish found its way to Malaysia, where toxic fumes affected the lives of local residents. Coral reefs have been swamped in plastic dumped by Indonesia as it attempts to dispose of its waste in the sea. These are the secondary problems produced by waste. In high waste producing nations like the UK, the throwaway mindset represents the most persistent and dangerous problem created by overpopulation. The British live in a country where you are never lacking for anything as long as you have enough money to pay for it. It is not the only country of this kind.
This type of society is the direct result of an ever-increasing demand for goods. A larger population results in more demand which means more availability. Consequently, people no longer feel the need to whip out the needle and thread when they rip their jeans. Instead, it is much less hassle to go to ASOS and order a replacement pair deliverable at short notice in a smart plastic bag. Voila.
In this light, the mission of people who are literally trying to leave the planet does not seem so untoward. After all, the options available to Mr. Musk are as follows:
1) Convince the population of the world that we must look after our environment, drive electric cars, stop using plastic, eat less, consume less and generally behave in an environmentally friendly way, or
2) Start afresh on a new planet, where living more sustainably will be a mandatory condition of preservation.
Who can blame anyone for suggesting that the latter option is more feasible? The sad truth of the matter is that it is easier to colonise Mars than it is to convince people that their own home matters. People do not see the necessity of only having one child, recycling or buying an electric car, and if they do, many only see their efforts as beneficial to future generations rather than their own.
The real way to convince the world, wannabe space explorers and ordinary citizens alike, that jetting off to another planet is a waste of time is to show that our own world is still our home. Before people criticize, they should evaluate. We must once again take out our repair kits rather than ordering anew. We must join the re-usable cup revolution rather than endlessly disposing of our Starbucks cups. We must consider the intricate impact that reproduction will have on the demand for goods in society. In short, we must be the reason that finding a new world is not the better option. Our planet is not dead, but it is singing its swan song. Generations of the past have consistently found a reason to do nothing. We must be the generation that runs out of reasons.
Written by Isaac Knowles
Isaac Knowles is a columnist at DecipherGrey.