The biosphere that surrounds us will almost certainly be destroyed at some point. It is an uncomfortable fact that we often prefer to ignore, but our world faces a substantial set of threats, both anthropogenic (human-caused) and natural.
These threats to life on Earth are known as existential risks.
Some examples of anthropogenic existential risks include:
– Biotechnology and bio-weaponry
– Artificial Intelligence (and in particular, strong AI or Artificial General Intelligence)
– Anthropogenic Climate change
– Nuclear war
– Runaway nanotechnology
Some natural existential risks include:
– Asteroid impacts
– Gamma-ray bursts
– Powerful solar flares
– Major volcanic events
– Global pandemics
These risks might sound like the basis for Hollywood fiction but unfortunately, the probability of one or more of these catastrophes occurring – given sufficient time – is very high. Further, it is very difficult to assess the probability of some of these risks occurring in the short-term, and there are likely existential risks we are not yet aware of.
At present (January 2021), the world is suffering through a challenging pandemic that could very easily have plunged us back into the dark ages, if the mortality rate of COVID-19 had been higher. We have teetered on the brink of all-out nuclear war more than once, including one such occasion where nuclear annihilation was avoided only because of the good judgment of a single individual. Solar events that would devastate our modern power grids have occurred as recently as the 1800s, with similar solar activity missing Earth narrowly only 8 years ago.
Almost all species that ever lived on Earth have since gone extinct. It is extremely dangerous to live on one planet alone. If we are to hope for the long-term survival of humanity, then that future must be a multi-planetary one.
Further, it is important to note that a multi-planetary future for humanity would also mean a secure future for all life from Earth. A permanent human presence on Mars will not be sustainable unless we are to bring our fellow Earthlings with us.
For the earliest settlements, importing plant and animal life from home will be crucial to establishing an agricultural base on the red planet. As our settlements turn into thriving cities, we will populate pressurized green spaces with flora and fauna. We will grow small forests to stroll in and fill aquariums with ocean life.
As the centuries pass and our technological abilities grow with our increasing presence on the red planet, we will eventually begin to terraform. Ultimately, all manner of life from Earth will join us under the new Martian atmosphere, and will therefore share in the long-term security of a multi-planetary existence.
Lastly, it should be remembered that by learning to live on Mars we will become adept at living in deep-space more generally. We will have developed the means to travel to and live on other celestial bodies as well, and perhaps one day even travel to other stars.
If we are to remain here on Earth, then we will commit ourselves and all life on this planet to eventual destruction. If we are to go to Mars, we will learn to live on other worlds and to bring life from Earth with us. By becoming multi-planetary, we can carry life and the light of consciousness with us to new beginnings.
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Written by MSC Chief Communications Officer Evan Plant-Weir, 2021