Mankind’s survival depends on it, but would you want humans in your back yard?


Paul G Abel, Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, University of Leicester:

Paul Abel with Patrick Moore's 15" reflector, filming for 'The Sky at Night'Tenancy agreements come in all sorts of timescales, and it may surprise you to learn that our tenancy on this planet will one day run out. Although it is a long way off, one day our benevolent sun – for which all life on the Earth is dependent – will cease its maternal behaviour and start on a course of destructive behaviour which will, more than likely, see the inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) reduced to little more than dead, smoldering rocks.

I speak of course of the Sun’s transition from middle age to retirement, whereby it stops being the familiar steady yellow star we all know and depend on, and becomes a red giant-  its outer surface swelling and expanding to encompass the Earth. If human beings haven’t found somewhere else to live by this time, then they will pass into extinction.

It is clear then that the survival of the human race depends upon it finding a new home, ideally on a new world out there among the millions of stars of our Milky Way galaxy. Migration of an entire species from one solar system to another is an enormous undertaking, and its first stages start today in the here and now with our efforts to understand how to make space travel quicker, cheaper and more reliable. The next step will be  learning how to live on worlds completely unsuited to human life. Such is the case for Mankind’s tentative first step towards the Red Planet.

Human security and longevity does not depend entirely on technological advancement – there is a psychological element too, one which currently governs our entire way of looking at the material Universe. If we were to take an objective look at Mankind’s stewardship of this world, the record is hardly a glittering one. The continual plundering of natural resources to feed an ever-increasing population has taken its toll on the surface and atmosphere. The human condition means that such resources are rarely distributed efficiently. In many ways, we are the archetypal bad neighbours, keeping our music loud and leaving rubbish out in the street.

Yet despite this, there is much about mankind which shows great promise. At the moment, the human race is like an adolescent child, but as it matures, it has the potential to be a great force for good. We shall need to realise that all those worlds out in the Universe are not a natural extension of Earth; they are not ours by right to plunder and do with as we please, and although Mankind is worth preserving, so are the worlds we intend to colonise.

So yes, we humans should indeed go to Mars, but we should also be acutely aware that Mars does not belong to us, and we should treat it in the same manner as we do our nature reserves and places of natural beauty. As the signs in such places often say, Please try to leave the place as you found it, and take your litter home with you!”

Paul Abel is a Teaching Assistant in the University of Leicester’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Science. He is a keen amateur astronomer, a contributor to numerous astronomy magazines and co-presenter of BBC One’s The Sky at Night.

8 Comments

  1. A. Pessimist
    Posted 01/04/2011 at 16:02 | Permalink

    Why is humankind worth preserving?
    I think not.
    How is mankind a force for “good”? We act in our own self interest. We cannot declare our own actions “good” because we have our own inherent self-bias.

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  2. Mick Cluley
    Posted 21/03/2011 at 19:21 | Permalink

    Mankind has made a mess of planet earth so what gives us the right to destroy yet another planet?

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    blazingstar322 Reply:

    The mistakes we made on this planet, even a child learns from his mistakes. You might argue that children are still human, well look at the animal world it starts with trial and error don’t judge humans on 100 years of evolution. We have just opened the doors of science. The creations of the 21st century have just started to show the side effects. If you never show a child the colour “RED” that child will grow not knowing what it is. Same here if we plan a green colony on Mars or anywhere, the generations raised there will not know what pollution is, same goes for diversity, political views. The human race is very important and must be preserved by the multitude. We have to make our mark in this vast universe, or do you think we are alone ? Those generations will talk about us, our mistakes and differences. They will say that we have destroyed everything in our way, but a handful of humans thought there might be hope.

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  3. Mr I Grumble (often & loudly)
    Posted 16/03/2011 at 09:33 | Permalink

    Onwards and upwards to Mars and beyond. I may be a ‘Trekkie’ fan, but I still firmly believe that Humankind will ‘Go out there’ sometime as long as Medical science can discover a way of nullifying low and zero gravity causing bone density to reduce/fail. Who knows, some form of artificial gravity on long deep space missions will be able to deal with this. The problem would be the low gravity of Mars or the Moon. that would have to be solved by some form of medication or similar.

    Humankind my be making huge engineering/technological strides in recent years. However we, as Sentient Being, are still Spiritual Fools in the Kindergarten of Life squabbling with each other in the Schoolyard of History. We need to grow up Spiritualy, else we will spread our poisonous little Selves across the Galaxy.

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  4. blazingstar322
    Posted 15/03/2011 at 01:07 | Permalink

    What an amazing concept, a bright future for humankind Mars or any habitual planet within or without our solar system a bright new world order beyond this planet. How amazing this thought would be ? To see beyond our historical mistakes, pioneers building the new world and shaping the future. In millenniums to come, they will look at Earth and say these were our ancestors, they were divided by religion, prejudice, politics. They destroyed and consumed their own planet but they managed to build this new brave world. Where no flag rises above the flag of one world, where nations are not divided by borders, all humans talk one language. Pollution does not exist because they built this world based on the earthly mistakes, money has no meaning. Science rules and the essence of religion is the universal love to all the living. I ask you fellow human, what is more wonderful than this ?What is more amazing than to build a world where the human race may explore the rest of the universe in search of other life ? Where the prime motivation is the advancement through the knowledge of new civilisations, this is far dream that I will not live.

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    stephen grady Reply:

    n1 m8 totally agree

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  5. Ken Lines
    Posted 13/03/2011 at 13:24 | Permalink

    Mankind is probably the most destructive organism on this Earth. It breeds irresponsibly, overpopulates, pollutes, fights its own kind and destroys everything it touches. I have a sneaking suspicion that, to some extent, the earth is self regulating (Gaia?) and that our tenancy of this overcrowded plaanet is reaching its ‘End of Lease’. I am in favour of going to Mars and beyond in search of other planets on which our kind might survive. The main point against space exploration, from my perspective, is that unless we visit other planets with a completely different mind set we will end up destroying the new paradises, once again, in our perpetual greed for more and more property, land, creature comforts, status symbols and excesses.

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  6. Posted 05/03/2011 at 11:02 | Permalink

    Let us be pragmatic about the issue. Universal natural selection has favoured our species and our ability to innovate and adapt to shifting environments – this does not excuse irresponsible behaviour but does give us the right to survival by any means necessary – this is the Sovereignty of Mankind. Rather that viewing a lack of human understanding as a failing, it is merely part of the instinct that drives our evolution.

    P.S. if you can ‘read between the lines’ the American government will tell you that Mars belongs to the Americans…

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  7. Patrick Crossfield
    Posted 04/03/2011 at 06:50 | Permalink

    Mmm, let me see – our concern for this world extends to plundering the oceans, driving the other inhabitants into extinction in our ever increasing search for room and space, burying huge amounts of nuclear waste under the soil with no idea of the consequences and so on….and you think we should go to Mars?

    “but we should also be acutely aware that Mars does not belong to us, and we should treat it in the same manner as we do our nature reserves and places of natural beauty. As the signs in such places often say, “Please try to leave the place as you found it, and take your litter home with you!”

    So thats why we continually strive to change the use of areas that are designated as SSSI’s, litter the streets and countryside, and generally continue to spoil and corrupt the planet. If we cannot be trusted to look after the world we live in, what chance we will behave differently elsewhere?

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    P.Mudhir Reply:

    While i do agree we can be a primarily destructive force generally changing and destroying our surroundings till they suit us, often with a “to hell with the consequences” attitude. I also consider that we are quite young race that has gotten into bad habits and often used chemicals and materials harmfull to our planet in the everyday life leading to alot of the damage we see today. We also as a race seem to have long learning curves, often learning things when its already to late. But i also think we can only prosper through educated trial and error, it often takes us longer to understand how things work than it does for us to try and achieve these things yet as with flying these “adventurous” attitudes have brought us far.

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  8. P.Mudhir
    Posted 04/03/2011 at 06:03 | Permalink

    Honestly i cannot imagine a more worthwhile pursuit than exploration, and more importantly the renewal of mans interest into space, space travel, and space colonizaion. In my opinion it is an area of exploration and adventure practically forgotten about by the civilizations of today, and if we arent striving to improve technology in this area it will take far longer than it could or should to advance. I strongly believe, as do many people that our future as a race is in space. Sooner we land on Mars and achieve this minor stepping stone, the better for future generations….

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