One of the most pressing environmental and economic issues facing humanity is the crisis related to resource depletion and environmental exploitation. We have touched on this issue many times throughout the course so far. We considered our society’s current linear economic model, which is entirely dependent on the extraction of natural and social (labor) resources and results in waste disposal. Resource extraction, especially extraction of resources that cannot be replaced on a practical timescale, depletes the availability of resources for future generations. Similarly, waste and product disposal depletes the size of natural land or water sinks. It is simple math: if you think of Earth’s area and resources as a finite value, the more you take away from that value, the less you have, especially if you aren’t replacing at least as much as you extract. Our society has found itself on the cusp of a critical point; we physically cannot afford to continue our current rate of consumption and resource extraction to reasonably support the rising human population. Global health industries are already seeing the negative impacts of this resource exploitation, and environmental agencies are already cataloging the mass extinction event that resource and land area depletion is causing. Every human and every species on Earth is ultimately affected by this environmental and economic issue. I propose an outlandish solution: leave Earth.
This idea comes straight out of a sci-fi novel, but that doesn’t make it any less practical than other solutions. Afterall, landing on the Moon was once considered science fiction too. I propose that we invest our time and money and dedicate resources and education towards advancements in space flight. The problem of resource exploitation and land overuse is far from being unique to this generation. It is very similar to the economic and environmental struggle faced by Europeans in the late 15th century. Deforestation and irresponsible agricultural practices were depleting Europe of its natural capital, and its people (recently devastated by the Black Death) were becoming increasingly more desperate. I propose we make like Columbus and search for opportunity and resources in a New World, except I think we should refrain from murdering indigenous races (should we find any). We can use space as both a means of resource extraction and a waste sink, sending toxic pollutants and chemicals into the void to avoid environmental contamination. We can mine heavy metals and resources from asteroids and other planets that don’t harbor life, thereby satisfying our material need without disrupting the balance of natural ecosystems. There’s more fresh water on Jupiter’s small ice moon Europa than there is salt water on Earth. The radiation in the void is energetic enough to power space stations and vessels. The Europeans saw a tremendous economic boom in the 16th and 17th centuries because of the new found land area and resources of the Americas. I predict that by exploring and extracting resources from extraterrestrial bodies we would see a similar economic boom.
Clearly we are pretty far from having the technology necessary to bring this idea to fruition, but we may possess it in as little as 30-40 years. Humanity was able to go from inventing manned flight to landing a man on the moon in a matter of decades, so imagine the technological advances we could make in the coming years given our current advancements. The major thing we will require for this solution to even be possible is reusable space-faring vessels. We will need ships that are not based on expensive chemical propulsion methods and are capable of launching and landing without additional mechanical components. In recent weeks, we saw the successful launch/landing of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which was able to deliver its payload into space and land back on the surface for reuse. This is a critical first step in advancing towards more sustainable methods of space flight.
We can’t afford to keep reaping the world of resources at our current rate, but investing in space technology may not only increase our knowledge of the solar system, but it could provide us with a more sustainable way of gathering resources. Indeed we may find that Earth’s salvation lies amongst the stars.