There’s a good post on Steven Barnes’ blog, Dar Kush, about Immigrating to the Stars. He goes off on a lot of tangents (or maybe the tangents are the real point; I’m not sure) but it’s all interesting. I’m just going to respond to one or two things.
But in no way, shape, or form, do I think it’s a good idea to think that this will ever relieve our population pressure. Why? Because moving billions of people off this planet into space would require technology that isn’t even on the drawing board, people. It would require Heinlein’s “Tunnel to the Sky” on a colossal scale, and even then it assumes so many things that I could barely even write a novel on the subject.
I absolutely agree. Anyone who thinks we could ever move a billion people to another planet does not have the slightest concept of how many a billion is. Maybe you could move that many people in several generations but then in that time a billion more would have been born to replace them.
I have a sense that the model many people use is the “Europeans immigrating to America” model. May I remind you that this was done with off-the-shelf technology? That apparently people had been traveling to the Americas for thousands of years, some on flimsy rafts? Yeah, most of their colonies didn’t “take,” but I think that that’s pretty different from getting a Shuttle to orbit, let alone building a self-sustaining colony, or Terraforming Mars or something.
That’s the first thing I think of but I also think about how different it would be. When people talk about colonizing space they always talk about sending “the best and brightest” but few of the people who came to the American colonies were what was considered at the time society’s best and brightest. They were outcasts, misfits, heretics, poor people wanting to escape debts they couldn’t pay and anyone looking for a better future because they had none in Europe.
Contrast this with the Best and Brightest Colonize the Stars scenario. And remember, this is “best and brightest” according to the Powers That Be. Potential colonists would be tested to make sure they were healthy, highly intelligent and psychologically well adjusted. Why would such a person want to go on a one way trip to an empty world? Such people have their choice of careers here on Earth. A few would want to go for the adventure. A few would like the idea of being a “founding father” and have their name go down in history. But would it be possible to find enough of that kind of people to fill a colony ship and would a colony made up entirely of that kind of people be viable? Certainly a colony would need leaders but it would need far more ditch diggers, farmers, plumbers, masons and all the sorts of people you typically see on Dirty Jobs.
I think we need to get to the point where space travel technology is off the shelf – where anyone with a few million dollars and a crazy dream can buy his own starship, load it up with anyone who can scrape together the money to buy a ticket and take off and find his own planet.
The greatest potential benefit of colonizing space would be the building of a new kind of society which the old society could then learn from. The new society can’t be predicted or planned, just like Europe didn’t predict or plan what happened in America. It would require people who don’t quite think like “normal people” – the kind of people least likely to be chosen as the “best and brightest.”
If you want the human race to survive, then part of what we have to do is keep the biosphere sufficiently intact, and the average level of human wellness high enough, and ourselves resource-rich enough, that when some critical break-through technology happens (cold fusion? Teleportation? Remember: even “Star Trek” level technology would be insufficient to ease world population at the current growth rates) we’ll be wealthy enough to take advantage of it.
In what might be my favorite science fiction novel ever, The World is Round by Tony Rothman, which is about an artificial planet something around the size of Jupiter with Earth-like gravity and atmosphere, there was a line to the effect that such technologies can only come after all the big problems such as overpopulation have been solved. I don’t agree with that entirely. Most new technologies come from attempts to find solutions to problems. If you don’t have any problems the best you will do is sit around thinking up new video games. But certain problems do have to be tackled first and gotten out of the way before we can do anything really spectacular like building starships to take us to other worlds.