Humanity is facing a variety of threats to its survival, such as climate change and the threat of a nuclear war. Our planet can also be destroyed if an asteroid hits it. However, while an incoming asteroid is not in our control and wouldn’t be of our making either, the other threats that can result in our extinction are made by humans.
The country that is the most proud of its democratic norm has elected a man who boasted of having a “nuclear button” that was “much bigger and more powerful” after Kim Jung-un boasted of having his “nuclear button” on his “desk”. The Doomsday Clock, which figuratively reminds us of how close humanity is to instant annihilation, has been moved 100 seconds to midnight this year. Never has the clock, since its Cold War debut in 1947, come so close to the doomsday situation represented by the 12 AM hour. It has been moved so close because of the threat of nuclear war, climate change, and disinformation. The President of the United States is arguably the source of the biggest disinformation in the world. His rise is a man-made democratic wonder.
Elon Musk, the celebrity entrepreneur, advocates escaping to Mars in order to save humanity from extinction. Mars has shown some encouraging signs of life. It shows traces of water and the planet is extremely cold. The plan is to warm it up so that the water is released and life sustaining conditions can be created. I do not doubt humans’ ability to warm up a planet. Look what we have done to Earth.
Whether Mars or Earth, we are the threat. With the exception of an asteroid, the threats to our survival have resulted from what the world regards as scientific marvels. We are rapidly increasing carbon emissions thereby adding ever more carbon to our atmosphere. The result is an unforeseen amount of heat across the globe. Climate change is not just about heat. It means more loss of jobs, destruction of economies around the world, loss of billions of dollars worth of real estate in coastal cities, and so forth.
In 2011, close to a million Syrian refugees were unleashed on Europe by a civil war that was inflamed by climate change and drought. The UN projections for future climate refugees are even bleaker. By 2050, the world would have 200 million refugees. That is about the current population of Russia and Canada combined. The worst-case scenario of UN projections is “a billion or more vulnerable poor people with little choice but to fight or flee”. That is equal to the populations of the US, Europe, Canada, and Russia combined.
I was once driving from Texas to California. Upon entering California, I saw mountains on my right that were white, which reminded me of marble factories in Pakistan. But upon asking around, I found that the mountains were white because many years ago they used to be under water. Climate change has happened before too and it sure is happening again. Those mountains might go under water again.
Every aspiring entrepreneur nowadays is asked to internalise one undisputed fact: his/her startup should solve a problem, should right a wrong, and so forth. The nature of climate change is such that there cannot be a solution for it after it has become a problem. It has to be preemptively tackled just as the US likes to preemptively kill the bad guys who might someday harm America. The solution has to understand and foresee the problems climate change will cause and try to tackle the threat today.
Exploring Mars is great and should continue. However, focus should be given to keep Earth an inhabitable planet, especially for our posterity. Escaping to Mars might be an escape from the truth. It is sort of like the Neeli Jheel of Shafiqur Rehman.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2020.