Stephen Hawking’s Ecological Warning [UPDATE]

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Update: Big mistake on my part here—I did not give proper credit to Andrew Dermont, the writer from Big Think who originally interviewed Hawking. You can access Dermont’s original post and story on the Hawking interview here, which contains Dermont’s own take on Hawking’s thoughts as well. Complete mistake on my part—the post I’d first seen the interview on just contained Hawking’s words, but I should have looked closer. All I can say is time pressures—wasn’t intentional. My apologies to Andrew Dermont.

My original post is still below.

Dr. Stephen Hawking—prominent theoretical physicist, science popularizer and Simpsons character—is worried about us. All of us. In an interview with Big Think, Hawking warns that mankind is essentially getting too big and too dangerous for planet Earth—and that our species’ only assured hope of salvation lies in spreading out to the stars:

I see great dangers for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when its survival has been a question of touch and go. The Cuban missile crisis in 1963 was one of these. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all successfully. But I’m an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe, as we spread into space.

Hawking’s warning is essentially an environmental one. As our species has grown in size and sophistication, we now have the ability not just to destroy each other through war, but to eventually render the world uninhabitable for human beings through climate change and other environmental destruction:

Population and the use of finite resources on planet Earth is growing exponentially, as is our technical ability to change the environment for good and ill. But our genetic code still carries selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next 100 years, let alone the next 1,000 or million.

Here’s Hawking’s entire statement:

It’s not the first time Hawking has publicly fretted about the fate of the species—in April, he warned that mankind should think twice before attempting to contact intelligent alien life: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” But his latest interview is a reminder that for all the talk about saving the planet, what we really need to do is save ourselves by keeping our world in good working order. Maybe one day we’ll voyage to space and have backup planets to spare—sort of a diversification strategy in case anything goes wrong—but right now we only have one. We’d better take care of it, so it can take care of us.

And as an added treat, a trailer for the upcoming sci-fi film Skyline, which shows what might happen if we ignore Hawking’s warnings—at least the ones about aliens: