I’ve always respected Dave Winer, even — maybe particularly — when we’ve disagreed. He’s a Big Picture guy who generally exhibits clear thinking and crisp writing on a broad range of subjects. I’ve recently begun paying closer attention to what he’s saying.
In a post today on his blog, Scripting News, he makes the salient point that Elon Musk, one of the brightest inventors and futurists of our time, is wrong-headed when he argues forcefully for the establishment of a million-member society of Earthlings on Mars. Musk, founder and leader of SpaceX, a civilian space exploration company with an already impressive track record of accomplishments, sees a Mars colony as the best hope for mankind’s survival in the wake of the destruction of our home planet’s environment.
Winer quite properly points out that the fatal flaw in this notion is that, “if you think you have an escape hatch, what’s the incentive to make it work here on the only planet that humans inhabit, or can inhabit, that we know of?”
I’ve been making this point for years to my Evangelical Christian friends who pin their future hopes and dreams on a non-physical Heaven. If you believe Planet Earth is essentially a corrupt place filled with Original Sinners and you despair of it ever being redeemable, you are not incentivized to expend great effort to keep it from deteriorating.
Like Dave, I’m a huge booster and fan of interplanetary exploration and I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of creating Earth colonies on other planets we find that might be inhabitable. But to see those settlements as last desperate outposts of humanity in need of cosmic rescue is clearly a mistake.
(Winer also points out another aspect of the fallacy: what makes us think that if we establish a rescue outpost on Mars, or anywhere else, we won’t destroy that location just as we have this one?)