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Earth, Destination Coruscant (or another choice?).



I am rereading David Deutch's book 'The Beginning of Infinity', and he makes an interesting a thought-provoking point. He takes the 'Spaceship Earth' metaphor and turns it on its head, and it explains why technology is essential. The spaceship earth metaphor is that the planet sustains human life, and if we do not look after our spaceship and its life support systems, we will surely perish. This argument is an environmentalist meme and a central idea for climate-change activism. David argues exactly the opposite. I will paraphrase the argument. The Earth is extremely hostile to human life. If I were to leave my house, in Scotland on a chilly November night, unclothed, I would probably be dead by morning. Modern humans are entirely unsuited to survive the Earth without some form of 'technology'. In my case in Scotland, a duvet jacket, hat and gloves (and trousers, I do not want to surprise the neighbours).


There is also an argument that 'natural-selection' of humans has been outstripped by technology. Those of us that are weaker, less strong, survive because of technology. Or at least, unlike other species, technology plays a significant role in natural selection. I had childhood asthma, and it is likely that 100 years ago, I would not have survived childhood. A counter-point is that natural selection occurs in other species through technology, for example, chimps who have evolved to use tools.


We survive not because the Earth is a spaceship designed to support humans, but because we have adapted the world for our survival using technology. Where then does this leave sustainability? Recourse to a simpler life, without technology, would shorten human life.


Deutsch's idea reminds me of the StarWars city-planet Coruscant, which is a planet-wide city, adapted entirely to be the home of the Jedi. Before it became a city planet, presumably it had a diversity of landscape, environs, biozones and species. Is this where we are headed. It is remarkable to think that the modern desert city of Dubai is less than fifty years old.


Technology advances have led to a radical improvement in the quality of life for humans. No doubt there is inequality, but with few exceptions, all countries have seen a remarkable rise in productivity, wealth and longevity (see https://www.gapminder.org/videos/200-years-that-changed-the-world/).


These technological advances that have seen an unprecedented improvement in our health and longevity have been at the expense of the Earth's resources, including other species. Preservation of the Earth and its environs is a moral choice, not a choice necessary for our benefit. The challenge is to find new technologies that enable continual improvement for both humans and the rest of the inhabitants of the planet. Ironically we are only concerned with improving our health and lifespan while preserving nature in a status quo. The Earth has never been in status-quo; otherwise, humans would never have crawled out of the primordial swamp. The danger of extreme forms of environmentalism is that we preserve Earth as a museum piece, similar to the many palaces of Europe, that were once great working estates, now frozen in time as a historical pastiche solely for the enjoyment of tourists.


The great moral debate of our time is the appropriate use of technology, and an uncomfortable truth that other species are experiencing an unprecedented natural selection only because of the technological rise of the humans. We should not expect to preserve the Earth as a museum piece, but we are also not comfortable with the idea of creating a city world purely for the benefit of our health and wealth. The optimistic view is that our ability to accelerate technological advances exponentially, will, within a short time, benefit all that live on our planet. However, it remains a choice that is a moral choice and not a scientific or technological one. It may be that the next technological revolution consigns the exponential increase in consumption of natural resources to the historical dustbin, much in the same way as we no longer use coal-generated steam as our primary source of industrial power. We can only hope that the StarWars city planet Coruscant is not our final destination.

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