Stephen Hawking Thinks The Earth Should Probably Start Packing

"I see great dangers for the human race," begins noted theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. As a human myself, that's exactly the sort of thing I don't like to hear.

Perhaps they are words I - or more accurately we - need to hear, however. As part of website Big Think's Dangerous Ideas series, Hawking suggests that humanity's best chances at avoiding extinction lay beyond the bounds of Mother Earth.

"I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space," Hawking tells Big Think. "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. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load."

Humanity hasn't done a stellar job of keeping itself alive in the past, with relatively regular incidents threatening to end life as we know it on the planet. Hawking notes the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963 as one such event.

While he calls himself an optimist, Hawking notes the frequency of such events is increasing and, as they do, the chances of humanity living to see the Sun die in roughly 7.6 billion years decrease.

Hawking suggests we start looking to the stars before it's too late. I think the man has a point. You know how we procrastinate. One minute we think we have all the time in the world, and the next minute the world is gone.

And worse, folks like University of Sussex astrophysicist Dr Robert Smith say that we don't even have the full 7.6 billion years.

"Life on Earth will have disappeared long before 7.6 billion years," says Smith, "Scientists have shown that the Sun's slow expansion will cause the temperature at the surface of the Earth to rise. Oceans will evaporate, and the atmosphere will become laden with water vapor, which (like carbon dioxide) is a very effective greenhouse gas. Eventually, the oceans will boil dry and the water vapor will escape into space. In a billion years from now the Earth will be a very hot, dry and uninhabitable ball."

A billion years? We'd better get moving, especially considering what scientists on the more pessimistic side of things have to say.

"The nearest star [to Earth]is Proxima Centauri which is 4.2 light years away," says University of Michigan astrophysicist Katherine Freese, "That means that, if you were travelling at the speed of light the whole time, it would take 4.2 years to get there."

That wouldn't be so bad, but we of course can't travel at the speed of light yet. The best we can do is ten thousandths of light speed, which would take about 50,000 years, give or take.

Me? As a man with no children who isn't particularly fond of his nieces and nephews, as long as the world outlasts me, I'll be just fine. Check back with me in a few years and we'll see if that outlook has changed.

Stephen Hawking's Warning: Abandon Earth-Or Face Extinction [Big Think]


    Cuban Missile Crisis - October 1962

    But I think we can forgive Stephen for being out a few months. :)

    I don't think Hawking said anything revolutionary there, I'm pretty sure anybody who's ever spent some time thinking about humankind's future would realise that we need to expand off of Earth if we're going to "survive".

    He's also not really saying that we need to start thinking about it *right now*. In particular, we can't exactly GO to Proxima Centauri - ignoring the fact that it'd take 50,000 years to get there, it's not even likely to be habitable. It's a red dwarf, prone to flaring and unlikely to even have any planets orbiting it at all... let alone ones that could support human life.

    We'd be better off starting with Mars or something like that. And if it's anything like what we got in "Red Faction", then I'm all for it! I can't wait to ram EDF buildings with my mining truck until they collapse :p~

    What a terrible thing to say about your neices and nephews!

    Ahh the good old days when all you had to worry about when it came to wiping out all life on the earth was a mass extinction event caused by a large Asteroid ramming into the planet after being pulled in from the belt by the sun.

    Or the solar system passing to close to a high energy star, or a super nova, or a black hole when we dip down into the denser clusters of stars lower down in the outer ring of the galaxy every 50 odd thousand years.

    Damn space, you scary. Its surprising life on Earth has been lucky enough to survive at all for the past few hundred million years. We have enough to worry about without blowing ourselves up :P

      Actually I think this belies the common belief. If a few chunks of rock the size of small moons hitting the earth and wiping out most of the dinosaurs can't wipe life off the planet, how do we think a few bombs created by us can?

        well when we nuke the world the issue is that we'll be poisoning food and water .life might not he wiped out as you say but there is a good chance that a large chunk of the planet would be uninhabitable to us. human race as we know it would be over tho the moral laws would go out the window and we would end up back in the dark ages plus theres bound to be a country that would have the view of if we're going down your county with us and attacking the planet as opposed to their enemy ps sry bout the spacing phone refuses to hit enter at those gaps

          That's right. In the aftermath of a nuclear (or zombie for that matter) holocaust, with the gene pool reduced, resources irradiated, polluted or gone... it becomes only a matter of time.

            It becomes worse if it's an apocalypse of nuclear zombies

    Stephen Hawking has said plenty of crazy stuff. It's best to take it all with a grain of salt, I'm beginning to wonder if he's not just using his condition and fame as a soapbox.

    It's quite obvious to anyone thinking long term (EXTREMELY long term) that shit is finite and sooner or later you either: reuse what you have, or move. This principle has existed since the earliest hunter gatherer societies to the scramble for the New World.

    Mr Hawking doesn't provide anything we don't already know. He should, however give us some practical pointers on what we should do to fulfil his pipedream.

    Hawking is by far the most overhyped scientist of the modern era. His new aliens last month? People have designed possible aliens before. This here is no different: everything he has just said has been said earlier, in greater detail and greater depth.

    Sure, he's good, there's no doubt. But he hasn't done anything amazing for years. Which, I guess, you can forgive him for.

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