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From the outset we congratulate Mr Hawkings for his recent 70th birthday along with his remarkable accomplishments over the years; the greatest of which may be his unyielding human spirit that has battled ALS for a reported four decades. That alone is worth a long standing ovation and should stand tall as an inspiration for the hearts and minds of generations to come. We wish him the very best.
Still, despite the great respect for this thoughtful, creative and courageous person; we take issue with his recent proposition to colonize other planets as a solution to the current and inevitable future planetary issues to be faced by our species due to the fragility and mismanagement of Earth. In short, belief in any sort of inter-galactic colonization is still a romantic pathway to be best offered as Hollywood and Comic Book story lines - not as a legitimate option to be considered for meeting the critical near and long-term goals of the human condition. The following comments outline the reasons for this view, as well as some possible alternative options or choices that may offer more sensible allocations of human activity and scarce resources.
Why colonize other planets in the first place?
The underlying goal of colonization is to extend and even populate the rest of the universe with our species. The goal itself has a number of inherent flaws. First it suggests that with science, we somehow could keep pace with infinity; a belief that is also a central goal for many theologies. Simple existential mathematics would conclude that such an idea aligns more with fiction than any possible reality. Plainly, the sneaking suspicion is infinity would win the race no matter what and in all likelihood our existence; no matter how long, is but a speck of dust in the massive hour glass of eternity.
Secondly ask, what makes us actually think that the Universe even wants to be populated by our species? Given our track record in managing Earth, the fear is that our inter-galactic report card amoung comparative planets would put us at the back of the class wearing a cone shaped hat. Would anyone entrust another planet to a species that destroyed such a beautiful treasured planet in a just few thousand years? Hmmmm…. on that for a moment.
Colonization of other planets could also be viewed as an extension of our species arrogance, ego and self-righteous attitude, derived largely from our ability to dominate the matter, energy and other species of this planet over a very short period. Such an unfounded assumption is premised only on the anecdotal experience of earth, and does not include other observed experiences in the universe. It may be a serious blow to our “godlike assumption” that are cognitive capacities could limit us to being just pets or captive residences for amusement of more dominant species on other planets. Indeed we may simply be just the monkeys (no offence intended) in the parks of their planets. This is truly a possibility that no one can either prove or disprove; yet perhaps should be in our general awareness of things that could be – this dose of humility may be useful too. .
Thesis: Integrate Science and Economic Principles
From the start, the general thesis of writings has been to encourage economic schools to embrace a deeper integration with object laws of mathematics and science – particularly physics – in its theories, models and beliefs in order to provide a more complete view of our existential reality. Over the past months issue was taken with many axioms of neo-classical economics including the invisible hand, limitless growth, monetary value, and over-abstractions to name a few. Ironically, we now take issue with physics and cosmetology for its failure to include economic theory in it recommended actions, ideas or proposals. This points to another issue pervasive to academics and other fields of endeavour, in that there is a general bias to operate within the models, assertions and theories of one’s own area of concern to the exclusion of others. Failing to integrate other areas of concern, increases possibilities for decisions that could be less than optimal with grave consequences.
Defining Planetary Currency
One of our primary metrics and tools for economic analysis, evaluation and insight is currency. So to economically examine the merits and costs related to colonization of planets - a planetary currency would be useful. Presently there is no such currency, neither gold nor a basket of international currencies provide a useful tool for this analysis as such abstractions are generally flawed in their measure of wealth or stores of value. The values of international currencies are generally based on the GDP of nations that are subject to host of arbitrary factors and rarely reflect future realizable utility. This topic requires much more coverage, but the limitations of such metrics should be apparent.
As the approach of macro-economic theory is generally concerned with the management and the wealth of nations, little attention is given to overall planetary economics and a general theory of planetary currency. For the purposes of this discussion a definition of planetary currency is however required in order to assess whether planetary colonization makes any sense.
A national currency is a contract issued by a nation state that provides the holder of the contractual paper with the right or claim on the resources of the state or its participating agents within the state to provide a value or utility equal to the stated value on the contractual paper. This translates into a generally accepted symbol of value that expedites the exchange of goods and services within the nation state amoung governed entities and agents, and also amoung other nation states where the contract is accepted to provide and symbolize a claim on national resources of the issuer state and hence utility. One problem with a planetary currency is that no nation state exists that may issue such a contract on behalf of the planet and offer a claim or right to its resources.
So is there a surrogate that could provide a useful metric or tool for purposes of analysis and evaluation of planetary colonization? As conventional forms of currency are ultimately traced back to the resources of a nation, that is in physical terms its usable mass and energy, then so to may a planetary currency be defined by the total usable mass and energy of Earth. The planet’s currency may thus be defined by its finite mass and unknown finite of energy, which continues to absorb additional supply from sources external to the planet.
The Analysis: Economic Cost and Benefit of Planetary Colonization
Remembering for a moment the troubles the planet currently faces as to overpopulation, economic turbulence, climate change and many other maladies such as pending scarcities of many key elements essential to industrial production which are destined for depletion within fifty years or less. It is therefore easy to understand why the idea of planetary expansion hits the radar screen of those with a vested interest in this production. It is a good idea because the planet is way beyond its carrying capacity. It is in overshoot .The possibility of a sudden and dramatic change in population and its state of affairs becomes more likely with each passing day. Meaning, constraints of time and resources are also factors that limit the “if and when” such a venture could occur. At the same time, what destinations could best lend itself to such an inhabitation are unknown – Mars? Our Moon? Others?
Any habitation to be created on such a destination must approximate the “fragility” of our home base – Earth. Our ability to manage this fragility of home base is in doubt, particularly if we have drained the resources of usable mass and energy to such an extent that human conditions; as we come to know it, are not likely to be feasible in fifty or one hundred years; unless immediate and effective actions and policies are prescribed on a global basis. History suggests that these are unlikely. It is reasonable to conclude that a similar, if not more difficult situation, could result when virtual Earth is constructed on a chosen destination. And it may be reasonably speculated that exponential complexities of this habitat would be much greater than the original home base - much greater.
Assuming that an appropriate destination is determined and that all the technology is developed to create a virtual Earth there, what investment of planetary currency is required? What are the expected on-going expenditures of planetary currency? Will the habitat generate and return to the home base, planetary currency that exceeds the initial investment and its on-going expenditures? Pre-dating the time of Columbus historical exploration of new lands was premised on these intuitive questions and responses. No doubt the Queen of Spain financed subsequent voyages by Columbus and others based on the bounties of gold to be returned for the relatively small investment and perceived risks of their undertakings.
For sake of discussion, say the initial investment of planetary currency is 5% and on-going costs are 1% of the planet’s total inventory of mass and energy. With simple arithmetic and dedicating all planetary resources to this venture; the habitation would only last 96 years. Of course, such hypothetical situations are not possible to know today nor are the planetary currency numbers presented verifiable. What the experiment does; however, highlight is that it makes no sense to use our scarce remaining planetary currency unless there is a greater return of planetary currency from such a venture, with some risk value included in its calculation; for say, unforeseen replacement events (asteroids). To do otherwise, is foolhardy as it would only serve to shorten the already “fragile existence” of the human condition on Earth itself. In this case, the analysis of planetary economics speaks louder than the dreams of physics and conquering the cosmos, particularly when the return of additional mass and energy - planetary currency - from the habitat appear romantic and highly unlikely. Considering our specie’s track record too, the cosmos may be better served left alone – at least for now.
What are some other choices? Is there any planetary currency to deploy?
Whether there is sufficient planetary capital for colonization or other choices depends on how our remaining resources are deployed and consumed by nations. Should we continue; for instance, to use them on non-essential activities and goods such as armaments, frivolities, gold mining and so on; then in so doing, we would more quickly erode whatever discretionary planetary currency is available for choices with greater future benefit? The trade off between consumption and capital is an age-old economic issue, but an even more important choice today considering what is now at stake.
As part of this process of allocating our scarce planetary currency, systems’ thinking suggests we should have in mind some general acceptance of the mission or goal that is most relevant to the human condition. An existential realist may suggest the longest possible and sustainable existence for the species is optimal regardless of population numbers. Theologians may not perceive such a mission as relevant as the planet is but a step to a higher place where all the constraints of the finite world cease to exist. Scientists may believe it does not matter that much as the finites of usable mass and energy will inter-sect with infinity – how or who then would be there at intersectionto measure the relatively of objects that work and worked to determine time and existence?
Even setting a goal for the human offers challenges that would affect how we work together and allocate scarce planetary currency.
What are some possible choices, outside of the planetary colonization proposed by Stephen Hawkings that may provide a greater return or preservation of planetary currency? Here are few choices that come to mind that could be considered alternatives to colonization; certainly there are others that could be mentioned. The purpose is not to define all definitive choices, but to highlight a way of seeing a process that moves us towards the best allocation and use of our scarce planetary currency that is aligned with the generally accepted mission of the human condition.
The first and favoured choice, in our view is to Right Size the Planet. In words, it means bringing the human population back into equilibrium and harmonization with our planetary realities and physical constraints. Such an undertaking may requires a deep, careful and painful overhaul of our conceptual and physical infrastructures; including but not limited to economics, media, culture, theology, politics, and jurisprudence.. From our current state we move through a transitional state that works to meet the generally accepted mission and better sustain the species condition. If successful, in time we could then again revisit the idea of expanding beyond the planet should the economic equation indicate that this is more than a dream, but a realistic and viable choice that increases our store of planetary currency.
What the right number is remains unknown. Some suggest as many as 75 million people as an optimal right-sizing, while others indicate a number nearing one billion. Regardless; the current population of seven billion and growing, places us at considerable risk by accelerating our path to complete resource exhaustion. For most of us the number is personally irrelevant as we generally cross paths with a few thousand folks, and perhaps know a handful in our select worlds.
In all likelihood if this is not dealt with in a systemic manner, then unsystemic forces may do what was not done under the systemic guidance of reason, science and concern. That’s not good…
A second choice that is a little more far-fetched, and beyond the realms of economic and financial expertise, are breakthroughs in the quantum or other physical laws of the universe by way of substantive research using discretionary planetary currency. These required expenditures may measure a thousand times greater than that of the Manhattan Project. Such breakouts could unfold laws relating to say the originations of matter or energy; both of which would be helpful in attaining the more sustainable state. There are, for some, obvious theological issues here, but there is a parallel logic at work in science and theology insofar as even supreme beings require an originating force or law to exist. Regardless, in short, a shifting of planetary resources away from non-essential activities, to sciences that are more relevant to sustaining our existence, is another desirable optional course.
Whether there are two choices, three choices or more; the choices we make should be based on a deep inter-disciplinary analysis that clearly defines the prominent facts, constraints and objectives that future and on-going decisions and actions will be made under. Economic metrics that are actually metrics relative to the use of the planet’s remaining store of mass and energy should be strongly encouraged, as other measures include much bias. There is a need to have fields of concern work more closely together and crossover to solve a conundrum that is comparable to a Rubik’s Cube with a thousand faces.
Mr Hawking’s we differ with your view regarding a proposed colonization of other destinations in the universe; as we see it, the planetary currency outlaysfor saving and preserving a handful of humans on another destination is too costly and risky for those remaining on home base – Earth.. In the end, the philosophical question may be the deciding factor - for what reason? For in all cases, we are still racing against an infinity that has the mathematical upper hand.
Nonetheless, we see the alternative options for deploying our scarce planetary currency as offering better uses and benefits for near and longer-term benefit. These too are hard and expensive actions with risks of success unknown. If we could concurrently succeed in Right Sizing the Planet and also achieving breakthroughs in physics and related sciences then our opportunity to sustain the species on this planet should be much improved. Habitation elsewhere is for many reasons a dream that is more fragile. Much more fragile.
In closing, the move towards a sustainable state for the planet may result in much more centralized control of human affairs. This is a very great danger and fear. As centralized and closed systems are easily corrupted, leading to the loss of liberties and freedoms as we have come to know them. Words cannot emphasize enough how dangerous these possible losses in human rights could be. This adds a dimension to the problems that should be anticipated in advance, or else the desired good could be lost to the whims of a corrupt central elite concerned purely with self-interest. Negotiating this trade-off between individual rights and the greater good is not unique to our history, still it is feared that it may be put to even greater tests in the coming years. It is utterly essential to keep our eyes on this ball at all costs.
.For existence without liberty should never, ever be negotiated away, as the consequences of related unknowns are too great and could certainly act to defeat the greater benefits desired.