Stephen Hawking may not be able to stop the world, but he literally wants us to get off it — at least within the next 600 years.
Living on a post-apocalyptic planet might not only be a reality on TV. While we haven’t hit the point of utter desolation (or a zombie virus) yet, Hawking believes that Earth will no longer be habitable if global warming remains on an incline and population growth continues to explode. Harmful emissions are already causing sea levels to rise faster and toxins to seep into ecosystems faster than even a sci-fi movie would predict, and while more and more humans multiplying on this already cramped planet may not give rise to zombification, anywhere people live in uncomfortably close proximity is a breeding ground for disease — and deadly pathogen mutations.
“If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before,” Hawking, channeling Star Trek, said at the Starmus Festival in Trondheim, Norway, earlier this year.
Hawking’s estimates of how long we have until Earth becomes a cesspool of sickness and pollution have varied from a hundred years to a thousand, but his latest conclusion is that we must take off sometime during the next 600 years if we want to survive as a species, according to recent news reports citing comments he made at the Tencent Web Summit in Beijing, China, on Nov. 5. He believes in a new Space Age in which we must venture out into the final frontier if we have any intention of surviving.
Mars is the most obvious candidate in the cards to find an alternate planet. In the race to the Red Planet, Elon Musk swears he’ll have boots on its dusty surface by 2025, while NASA’s more conservative estimate puts us on alien territory sometime during the 2040s. Potential Martian habitats continue to be designed and redesigned. Before Earthlings go Martian, NASA and other global space agencies, as well as private companies within the space industry, are first shooting for another moon landing and a lunar base as soon as possible. Hawking believes we should eventually rocket out even further to find a new solar system.
“We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds,” the professor added. “It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.”
If Hawking’s Breakthrough Starshot initiative is any indication, we might even figure out how to get to Alpha Centauri, though that lies much further in the future. We’ll start by sending tardigrades there.
In the meantime, wanting to get off of Earth is still not a legit excuse for missing work.