July 9, 2006

Does the human race really have to survive?

Stephen Hawking announced recently that the survival of the human race depends on its ability to spread out into space and find a new home there. Life on Earth, he says, is at risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as nuclear war, global warming, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers we haven't even thought about.
I don't really see the problem. Does the human race really have to survive?

Maybe I just haven't been hanging out with the right people. I have yet to meet someone who reminds me how valuable and crucial our life form is. The other day I was walking along and I saw a man on the street in front of Jamba Juice, a new smoothie franchise, dressed as a giant banana. It was 100 degrees out and he must have been roasting. Pedestrians just passed him by - nobody paid much attention. At one point someone accidentally knocked into him, which prompted the banana man to call out: "Excuse me, asshole!" This is what humans have come to.

But Hawking doesn't care. He predicted that human beings could have a permanent base on the moon in 20 years and a colony on Mars in the next 40 years. "We won't find anywhere as nice as Earth unless we go to another star system," he said.

Anyone who's ever been stuck on the Tube in August will know that if Earth is as good as it gets, relocating isn't all that appealing. Life on Earth is hard enough. I'm not sure how well I'd do without the oxygen and gravity.

And finding a home elsewhere in the universe? Sounds like a lot of work. If I can't get someone to pick me up at the airport, what are the chances I'm going to find someone who's willing to help me move to another solar system?

I can see it now. It will feel just like the holidays, where everyone is making plans to go away and I'm left behind. Only instead of it being for two weeks, it will be for ever. The entire planet will be abuzz getting ready to colonise Mars, and I'll be home, alone, watching the exodus on TV. Feeling relieved that I don't have to shower and get dressed.

Eventually Liza will call, sounding really excited because the weather on Mars is great for her hair. I guess Mars has low humidity. All right, so there's water and a bit of atmosphere, but isn't it also incredibly dusty? My eyes itch just thinking about it.

She'll ask if I want to go shopping for biosphere suits, and I'll say: "Nah, I feel fat today. I'll go tomorrow." But then I'll put it off until eventually all the moon boots in my size are sold out. That will give me an excuse that people will accept: I can't go to Mars - I don't have the outfit.

The more I think about it, the more I realise how little it matters to me if the human race disappears. In fact, a meteor can't hit soon enough. Scientists have been predicting something catastrophic for a while now. Aren't we due? Geologists just discovered a crater in Antarctica that may have been caused by a meteor that eliminated more than 90% of the species on Earth 250m years ago. Obviously, some people made it.

So really, the worrying part would be if the entire species was wiped out - everybody except for me. Or worse: just me and a German supermodel. That would be fun.