Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pollution as space travel

I've read a series of articles recently that covered a lot of ground, but the basic message from all of them was that the planet is doomed. We've burnt too much fossil fuel, and we are on track to burn even more in the coming decades, with unknown consequences for the climate. Industrial pollution of our oceans and rivers is on the rise. Lets not over talk about our forests and jungles, which keep coming under pressure. More and more evidence is coming in that the Earth has reached the tipping point.

I don't lose hope because I've come to an interesting realization (which critics will call a rationalization) of our destructive course. I believe that as life on the planet gets worse, a variety of stop-gap technological solutions will emerge. These might be as simple as air filter masks or as complex as continent wide geographical sensor networks that alert us to future negative changes in the environment. These tech-solutions will not solve the problem of our damaged earth. Only using less stuff will do that, and I think humans are incapable of using less resources without a stick forcing them to do so.

But eventually, our planet will be so messed up that this repertoire of tech-solutions will form version 1.0 of the tools that are necessary to live on a dangerous planet. Essentially, life on earth will get uncomfortable enough for us to seriously consider living on other planets. If this happens, then it would be analogous to a womb - while it is warm and comfortable at first, eventually you come out and suffer the problems of the real world. Earth is a womb, and the universe is the real world. Maybe pollution is just the first step of space travel. If so, it would be the mother of all silver linings.