Listen, people of Earth: Everything’s going to be fine. All we have to do is survive another century or two without self-destructing as a species. Then we’ll get off this rock, spread throughout space, and everything will be all right.
If this is not your idea of “optimism,” then you are not Stephen Hawking. The esteemed physicist garnered headlines, and some eye-rolls, after telling Big Think last week that humanity needs to leave the Earth in the future or face extinction.
He’s not knocking climate scientists’ attempts to figure things out on Earth–he’s just thinking long term. “There have been a number of times in the past when our survival has been touch-and-go,” explains Hawking at Big Think, mentioning the Cuban Missile Crisis, and “the frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future…. Our population and our use of the finite resources of the planet earth are growing exponentially along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill,” while “our genetic code still caries our selfish and aggressive instincts” [The Atlantic].
Combined with Hawking’s statement earlier this year that it might be dangerous to contact aliens because they could come and wipe us out, the physicist’s latest warning makes it feel like he’s increasingly a member of the gloom-and-doom crowd. But not so. He’s just the kind of person who thinks on the long, long term.
Let’s jump back to another publicly engaged scientist: Carl Sagan’s message in Cosmos that the stars await… if we don’t destroy ourselves.