Kate Howells’ Exit Strategies


Kate Howells is a public science advocate at The Planetary Society,
and author of Space Is Cool As Fuck.


You’re probably all a bit concerned about the climate at this point. I bet a lot of you read  articles, discuss climate change with your friends, recycle, and maybe even make an effort to vote green. But really, the concern is largely academic for a lot of us. When the climate shit hits the fan, the people reading this are probably going to be pretty safe. Massive heat waves, wildfires, tsunamis, droughts—all this is fairly easy to survive if your society is rich enough. Consider how few people die from natural disasters in the United States compared to disasters in the developing world. Chances are, you and I aren’t going to die or suffer because of climate change. But even so, maybe you’re forward-thinking enough to consider the potential plight of future generations. What will life on Earth look like when whole continents have become deserts? Will your great-great-great-grandchildren be fucked?

At this point in time, people only really have one choice: living on the planet we’re born on. But don’t expect that to be the case forever. We’re still very much at the dawn of the space age. Governments have gotten the hang of sending patriotic, athletic, military types into space for temporary stints on space stations. But the world’s billionaires want to go into space—and once they’ve had their personal joy-rides, they want to turn space into a profitable industry. And billionaires tend to get what they want. Plans for orbital space hotels are already in the works, and it might not be long before Elon Musk’s Mars colonies start populating the planet.

So if we totally fuck up the Earth, your offspring’s offspring’s offspring might be able to just bail. What might that look like? I’ll spell out a few of the most attractive options.

One potential plan would be for humanity to live in spaceships orbiting the Earth from a safe, hurricane-proof distance. Living in a perfectly sterile environment may not sound all that appealing—its inhabitants would never get to feel grass on their feet or wind in their hair, never swim in a lake, or climb a tree. They could basically never go outside. But in this digital age, who needs fresh air? Especially if that air is so polluted that you can’t breathe it anyway. What would your spaceship-dwelling great-great-grandchildren even be missing out on?

Another possibility, if Elon gets his way, is that your descendants might be able to pack up and move to a Mars colony. They’d spend all their time indoors or in a space suit, and would constantly be working to keep their habitat functioning. They would basically have no fun. Think of how hard the pilgrims of North America had to work to make it in the New World! But at least Mars colonists wouldn’t have to go to all the trouble of wiping out their new home’s original inhabitants. No massive genocide, no problem. Plus they’d be nice and far away from all the brutal violence that the depletion of Earth’s natural resources will be causing back home.

Lastly, in the dream scenario, humanity will find another Earth-like planet to sustain itself naturally, with water to drink and just the right combinations of gases in the atmosphere to breathe. It would probably take a few thousand years to get there, since every other solar system is trillions of miles away. So a ton of your descendants would wind up living the spaceship life on the way there—being born, growing up, getting some kind of space job, falling in love, having babies, dying, all on a soulless spaceship somewhere between Earth and Earth 2.0. But once your lineage finally arrives, oh boy! They’d be laughing. They’d get to start from scratch, taking all of the history of humanity’s best knowledge and wisdom and creating a utopian society free from all the mistakes and problems that caused us to fuck up our home planet. And surely we wouldn’t make the same mistakes again!

Where all of these options are good, one thing for sure is that if your descendants are going to get out of the hellscape that will be the Earth in a few hundred years, they’re going to need a lot of money. So if you want to pass your genes on to humans who’ll survive the climate disaster we’re creating for them, make sure to go out and make lots and lots of money, however you can, so that these wonderful avenues will be available to them, pending the imminent destruction of planet Earth.

For more from Kate Howells, try her deep sea creature quiz in Issue 18 :)