Famed physicist advocates new populations of humans be established to avoid our extinction-

What? At 7-billion “strong” we need to establish new populations? Yes! Stephen Hawking, the great astrophysicist, recently wrote that humans need to spread into outer space or else. (ABC News).

While he didn’t refer to endangered species act, or directly to projects such as assuring a species’ continuation by reestablishing populations where it has become extinct, examples being wolves in the lower 48 states, this is the strategy he advocates for human survival.

The idea behind multiple populations of a plant or animal is of course, that if one population is wiped out, others not subject to the same extinction forces will survive, perhaps even prosper. Later the area of extinction might be reseeded as with wolves, black footed ferrets, California condors, and similar restoration projects that have worked.

We, however, cover the entire planet and our numbers are great. Overpopulation is the problem, not a lack of new population centers. So wouldn’t humans be the most secure large animal out there? Perhaps, but every day the news brings information on threats to the health, and life of all of us.  Political, economic and scientific developments raise the likelihood that some policy, war, or technological catastrophe could kill us all, such as a new lethal virus spread all around the world by our efficient system of global transportation.

Discoveries of past great extinctions of many species at once (over 90%) shows that the Earth is not a safe place in the long run. Collisions with asteroids, relatively nearby gamma ray bursts from supernova, entry into a dense cold nebula, or a sudden outpouring of vast amounts of volcanic material as happened with the Deccan Traps perhaps with an asteroid collision put an end to the dinosaurs. Their problem was not a failure to adapt.

More likely death traps are the results of our continued abuse of the environment, which seem to be accelerating at a time when the quality of social and political leadership is declining, e.g., “Jesus will save us,” rather than development of programs that don’t rely on miraculous intervention.

Hawking wrote, ““Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.”  This policy is of course, now just an idea, but its eventual adoption may well determine whether we are a dead end, wiped out by environmental events like the Neanderthal, or a species that can spread from one “cosmic island” to others.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

24 Responses to Stephen Hawking suggests endangered species population distribution strategy for Homo sapiens

  1. avatar Daniel Berg says:

    Overpopulation is and will continue to result in environmental degredation, a decreasing level of personal freedom, and lower quality of life.

  2. The way we use and treat other life forms on this planet,I am not sure we should spread out into the rest of the universe.
    Humans (Killer Apes) are hard-wired to kill. We kill each other whenever we can get away with it and use most of the other life forms on earth as targets and call it recreation.

    • avatar Chris Harbin says:

      Well put Larry. I agree whole-heartedly.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Larry Thorngren,

      I expect the next 50 years will see great amounts of genetic manipulation of the human genome to modify behavioral characteristics and the ability to survive in habitats that are currently not fit to live in. This is assuming that civilization does not collapse first, an optimistic assumption.

    • avatar Dude, the bagman says:

      “Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.”

      -Kurt Vonnegut

  3. avatar Ken Cole says:

    I don’t believe that colonization of space is an option. It is too resource intensive and the distances are far too long for any kind of travel. If you look at the article Daniel Berg posted, the planet at issue is 600 light years away. Even the nearest star system is 4 light years away. There is no way that we could possibly travel those distances in any reasonable amount of time.

    The only way that humans and other species will survive over the long term is to reduce consumption and to reduce reproduction.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Removal of people from this planet to a safer place is not an option. Even an instantaneous, wide passageway to another planet or plants would not evacuate the Earth. There are too many people and too many births.

      Hawking is talking about new colonies, no doubt self sufficient ones inside asteroids or on the rocky moons and planets, e.g. Mars.

      • avatar CodyCoyote says:

        We don’t need to transport millions of Earthlings to another world. We only have to send a minimum of two , but preferably a few dozen more. Plus some unabridged copies of the Whole Earth Catalogs and Foxfire books. That whole ” Ark” thing.

        What about the assertion by Mitochondrial DNA researchers that as near as they can tell, every human alive on Earth today is a descendant from a single ” Eve” mother from East Africa about 230,000 years ago . It must have been imposing to leave their own cradle and traverse a continent or three. The voyages of Polynesian colonizers across the daunting South Pacific is inspiring.

        I’m with Prof. Hawking. The sooner we get some viable human DNA offworld and safely ensconced on a habitable world and replicating, the better. However many generations that born , live, and die in interstellar space that would require.

        I’m not convinced we even need to send biologic materiale or even live humans…just the genetic code and digital instructions for building more of us. Beam your consciousness and personality. Forget the corporeal body and all that baggage. I think that’s why we haven’t had visits by physical aliens in spaceships. They come and go –for lack of a better analogy—as digital packets, not as analog multicellular globular creatures. How crude.

        Travel by mind, leave the body behind.

        But we still need to hedge our bets and get to thinking about those colony ships anyway…pay the insurance premium forward. I give this planet about another 100 years at most the way we hominids are consuming it presently, and it will take a very long time to heal after we are gone. My heart goes out to the wildlife caught in our final folly , which may have already begun. Due to our Mayfly Syndrome, any one of us only has 75 years of experience to draw on, and the cultural myopia that comes with that Longterm Wisdom comes tough to us humans.

        • avatar Salle says:

          And what if the rest of the universe doesn’t want us? Look at how badly we behave on this planet… think another is going to welcome us with bouquets of flowers because we made it there and think so highly of ourselves?

          I see this as the desperate plea of a species who can think but refuses to understand. Humans are pretty silly when it comes to this kind of concept, in my opinion. Just like the Europeans who trashed the continent they were on and, finding another untrammeled, have proceeded to trash that and every other place they found. Now their descendants want to run away from their trashiness yet again… only now they have to find another planet as this one is about to shake them off like the biospheric vermin they are… myself included since I am here too. There are viable answers, besides trying to run away, but we don’t find them convenient so we’re not likely to do anything positive about it…

    • avatar WM says:

      ++The only way that humans … will survive over the long term is to reduce consumption and to reduce reproduction.++

      The largest population growth is anticipated to be in Africa. And yet here we are, with groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH (world health group) and other organizaions doing [morally right] things like improving health and sanitation conditions, as well as survival rates for newborns, as well as creating a whole new generation of “consumers” with expectations of a better standard of living.

      What is the practical and policially acceptable solution, in anticipation of a time these moral values and ultimately basic survival instincts collide?

      • avatar Immer Treue says:

        Guess we just thank our lucky stars we were born here, and not there.

        Not a challenge, but I often think about, even in relatively tough times, at least I was not born there.

      • avatar JB says:

        Raising life expectancy and reducing infant/child mortality ultimately lowers birth rates; people have more children when they are sure some will die.
        Similarly, raising standards of living, especially in countries with social safety nets (welfare) lowers birth rates, as people struggle to provide “a good” life for their children.

        Unfortunately, these effects lab a generation as people become accustomed to higher life expectancy and the increase in resources needed to accommodate their offspring. So some would–and have–argued that the faster we can get Africa out of third world status, the faster their populations (and the world population) will stabilize.

        • avatar WM says:

          JB,

          Notwithstanding the likely amelioration of the number of children per family stabilizing, which I presume world demographers considered in their forecasts, it still looks like Africa will be the HUGE source of new population through the 21st Century. This, at a time when populations in developed countries, India and China are predicted to drop (likely a resource issue and education).

          From the Economist, a very well respected news journal.

          http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/05/world_population_projections

          • avatar JB says:

            WM:

            I wasn’t questioning the accuracy of your claim; rather, your implication that the actions of NGOs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, while morally right, may be unwise. In fact, these actions could help bring about African population stabilization.

            P.S. Next to National Geographic, the Economist is my favorite news magazine.

          • avatar Alan says:

            For every couple who gets “fixed” we shall give forty acres and a mule…and healthcare, and a house and a flock of chickens etc. :-)

  4. avatar Dave says:

    Establish human populations on other worlds? Why? What’s the point? Besides, it’s a pipe dream that will never happen. The human species will become extinct some day. All species do, so we may as well get used to it. Nothing for us to worry about though, because it’s unlikely to happen in our lifetimes or that of our immediate descendants.

  5. avatar Sam Parks says:

    “The people who run this country assume that technology and science will rescue us each time from our foolishness…When we burn up the planet, I suppose we’ll try to export the human species into outer space…space colonies. Colonize the moon, venus, mars. That’s what I would call real crackpot thinking; scientific utopianism.”

    -Ed Abbey

  6. Any intelligent life on distant planets would panic if they knew we were about to land. The Earthlings Are Coming! The Earthlings Are Coming!

    • avatar WM says:

      I remember an episode of Twilight Zone or was it Outer Limits from many years ago. An alien race came to visit, representing to our leaders they came in peace. At least that is what they said, and they gave our leaders a book entitled, “How to Serve Man,” in their dialect which we had not yet been able to decipher, but puts linguist immediately to work on translation. They described how beautiful their planet was, and since earth was getting crowded people were offered relocation. There were so many people wanting to go that a lottery was held and people were stealing and even killing for winning lottery tickets. A young couple wanted to go. She gets on the very last space ship, eagerly waiting for her scientist husband to join her. He runs from the lab to see her as the door to the very last spaceship slowly closes. They have cracked the dialect in the book. He yells to her, the last words she will hear from him, “How to Serve Man – its a cook book.”

  7. avatar Wolfy says:

    Assuming that there is intelligent life in the universe…other than mice and dolphins, that is. “Thanks for all the fish”

  8. avatar Barb Rupers says:

    It reminds me of The Universe an episode on Dimension X, 1950 radio, about a space ship built to take humans to a distant planet. http://vimeo.com/33284986

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Quote

‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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