Headlines were abuzz this week with the announcement of SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). Elon Musk’s rather obsessive push for Earthlings to colonize Mars appears to be becoming a reality (much to Mars’ chagrin). Although the idea of civilian space travel is pretty cool, I have to ask: outside of the sci-fi allure, is there another reason to get us onboard a 140 million mile trip to essentially start over? Is Earth so doomed that we’re at the point where vacating our own planet and hopping around within the solar system is actually necessary? Is there a hidden message in ITS that should be coming in loud(er) and clear(er)? Hasta la vista, Earth — it’s been real.
After many long distance flights over the years, I’ve become aware of how relatively small Earth is and the gift of perspective that awareness brings. When I looked out the window across Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and, finally, California, I felt inspired, I felt protective, but most urgently, I felt fear. I saw smoke in distant hills as we began our descent, a scene becoming all too familiar out west. I saw half-empty to near empty reservoirs all along the way, and, most commonly, I saw circuits of suburbs and highways, circuits that have bled across the country like parasitic veins. Guilt soon kicked in as I realized that at that moment I too was contributing to the very reason Earth is warming. We’re all stuck in this system together and it’s up to us to redesign our way out.
We’ve entered a dark period in environmental history, at least where humans are concerned, and it’s no wonder everyone is looking for the exit. From temperature extremes to increased storms to prolonged drought, we’ve created a new normal, and it’s a normal that’s quickly earning its namesake and has led to calls for a “War on Climate Change.” As for all of us living our daily lives on the ground, we’re left to pick up the pieces and look ourselves in the mirror, which can mean everything from continued denial (“Climate change? What climate change?”), head-on activism, or somewhere in the apathetic middle. Whatever your situation, we all have our way — conscious or subconscious — of coping with a shifting reality, whether we want to pay attention or not.
For some, it’s much more personal than others. For me, having just spent a week in Massachusetts visiting family where I got to experience firsthand one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, my mindset was on overload. It’s obvious things aren’t right, yet we remain paralyzed by politics, greed, and an archaic — and rapidly aging — infrastructure that has locked us into a way of life fueled by fossils. We are on a frightening trajectory if we don’t fundamentally shift what we’re doing. Right now. The good news? We absolutely can turn things around if we want to.
It won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap. In fact, according to a recent New York Times article, the United Nations reports that we’re going to have to raise “$90 trillion in public and private capital over the next 15 years” in order to stop the most dire effects of climate change. That’s a lot of money, but if there were one cause worthy of such an investment, I’d say it’s this one. After all, we have the brainpower, we have the technology, and we have the need. Most importantly, we only have one planet to call home and I personally don’t feel like moving.
Elon Musk types, wealthy dreamers who pull all the optimistic shots in the name of progress (and capital), may think otherwise, but a fully colonized Mars isn’t going to happen anytime soon — if at all. Still, it’s a possibility like never before. Musk says that if things go “well” a spaceship could be ready to depart in 10 years. Stop and think about it: there’s rational discussion about not when we should travel to Mars, but who should travel to Mars. Keep in mind the dream is fuzzier than real life and “the people who go will need to be extra resilient to loneliness” as you won’t have access to family or friends and the signal between Mars and Earth can take upwards of 40 minutes. But hell, who needs human contact when you’re a colonizer? You can leave all of that emotional, community, and memory stuff back on Earth.
It should be noted that Musk isn’t keen on being on that vanguard voyage.
Back on Earth, just as the record-breaking summer of 2016 comes to a close, the dream of blasting off into outer space to be greeted by your brand new red habitat hits the media waves with a bang. Imagine: the doom and gloom melts away and your conscience is clear on a planet free of human fingerprints or association. You can start over, and the (new) world is your oyster. If we can dump Earth for another planet of our choice, then why not burn the coal, slash the forests, and pollute our waterways all in the name of status quo. Who cares? We have a way out! (Or at least the rich and famous do).
I just hope Mars knows what it’s in for.
Is red the new blue? We shall see. In the meantime, I’ll stick with the blue marble I know and love. Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time as a species and I for one wouldn’t want to miss us turning that ship around for the world, or a trip to Mars.
This post originally appeared in Invironment, a Medium publication.