Rather than colonizing space, humankind needs to commit itself to saving the planet | Space


“Pale blue dot” view of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it passed Pluto Feb. 14, 1990. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Every day seems to bring news of multiplying ecological disasters—fires, floods, drought, deforestation, overfishing and coral reef die-offs.

Meanwhile, space flight is becoming increasingly common, and plans are being seriously discussed to colonize space, including the establishment of bases on the moon and on Mars. Could humanity’s future lie beyond the pale blue dot that is Earth, as some tech billionaires, astronomers and scientists have theorized?

To Matt Harvey, who earned his Ph.D. in political science with a focus on environmental political theory from the University of Colorado Boulder in May, the idea of colonizing space isn’t simply ambitious or fanciful—it’s an escapist fantasy, or as he calls it, “a dangerous Promethean endeavor.”

Harvey dedicated a lengthy chapter in his dissertation, which challenges “anthropocentrism”—the idea that humanity is exceptional or central in the universe—on why looking to outer space for humankind’s future is an incredibly bad idea. That chapter was later adapted and published as a paper, titled “The Sublime and the Pale Blue Dot: Reclaiming the Cosmos for Earthly Nature” in the publication Environmental Values.

In his paper, Harvey details the potential pitfalls of believing that technology and human ingenuity can find humans a new home in the cosmos. For example, he highlights research showing that establishing a self-sustaining colony of 1 million people on Mars would take 100 years at best, “without considering the necessary technological advancements to craft capable vessels and the duration or number of outbound and return journeys.”

Larger-scale attempts to relocate humankind to a home in…

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