Mitigating Humanity’s Existential Risk

Elon Musk wants to preserve the species. The ONLY way, he thinks, to do this is to make humanity a multi-planet race.

Ignoring the fact that the Universe is Absurd, that ultimately everyone and everything will dissolve into the void, let’s examine the factors that support or refute his hypothesis and come up with an alternative.

Let’s say we want to plan humanity’s continued existence out a billion years, out to when the Sun begins to bloat and heat Earth’s surface to the point of boiling off the oceans and roasting the biosphere to a crisp. What will we need to prepare for?

  • Asteroid/comet impact
  • Super volcano eruption
  • Narrow beam gamma ray burst
  • Solar eruption
  • Nuclear war
  • Plague

There are other risks that don’t really rise, realistically, to the level of “end of days”: antagonistic AI, global warming, alien invasion, and those unknown unknowns. But I wager that humanity’s existence is not actually threatened by such things.

I’ll clarify here that we’re not talking about human civilization. Let’s start first with just persisting the species out into the future a few thousand to a few million years. Yes, we stated that a billion years is our target, but let’s start small and see how far we can get.

There are a few factors we’ll need to address. The first is timing, how quickly will humanity need this capability. Then there are resource requirements, sustainable independence, minimum viable population, and, if we want to retain or return to a technological civilization, the reemergence of industrial capability. We won’t get to all of these but we’ll skim over them for completeness.

Why are we bothering with this discussion?

Right. Here’s the gist: I posit that there’s an alternative means of human preservation that we should be pursuing right now, in lieu of and/or in addition to, spreading humanity’s legacy out among the planets.

What are we afraid of? We’re afraid of the surface of our planet becoming uninhabitable. Mitigating every one of the above listed risks involves sequestering an enclave of humanity *somewhere* safe, for years if not decades. We want to hide out in some protected, self-sufficient place until we can resume activities, hopefully Earth-top-side.

What if the surface of Earth never returns to a livable state? Bah! Five massive extinction events resulting in five returns from the brink of annihilation prove that, until the Sun swells to consume the inner planets, Earth will always return to a state of habitability.

Is space the only alternative? If not, then where, other than the surface of Mars or the Moon, can we squirrel away a self-sufficient, re-emergent pocket of humanity?

Queue the music…

Under the sea.
Under the sea.
Darlin’ it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me.

Who’s up for a little cocktail (sauce)?

A city on Mars?

Bullshit. Build a city at the bottom of the sea. Or deep within the Earth.

Such a metropolis would be protected from cosmic radiation, volcanic winter, nuclear fallout, a ravaging plague of zombies, and all the toxins and trauma, malcontents and mayhem. We wouldn’t need to spend $billions blasting resources into space. Or traversing billions of miles of a very nasty inter-planetary void. We could leverage all the benefits of cheap labor, cheap materials and exhaustive know-how right here where we need them.

Within a few years we could build a vast network of cities, all self-sustainable, all independent. Such preserves could be supported by tourism yet isolated at the first signs of trouble.

Every disaster movie ever made makes provisions for such failsafe protections of humanity. And there’s a reason why — it make sense. Even if (or when) the worst of the worst calamity takes place, the buried and submerged cities would weather the situation far more easily than some half-baked outpost on Mars could survive the decades alone without support from Earth.

Eventually, if humanity can survive its own self-made ills, it might construct the means to disperse its seed into the cosmos. (Why we, here and now, should give a shit about that, is beyond me.) But, even if Elon wants to immortalize himself as some savoir of Humanity 2.0, then building a city on Mars shouldn’t be the first step. Establish a subterranean city for the Morlocks and Mermaids and then shoot for the stars.

Comparing a Martian colony to Nemo’s Atlantis we have the following factors:

  • Timing: How long will it take to get a viable habitat built, stocked and operational? Do we have 10 years before the next apocalypse? 50? We don’t really know, but surely sooner is better. With Nemo City we could start tomorrow.
  • Resource requirements: Besides air, water, nutrients and nearly everything else, what does Mars need to establish itself as a potential sanctuary for, not just humanity, but all of humanity’s dependencies? Think biosphere/ecosystem here. Again, for a earthly solution, all the stuff required for existence is right outside our front door. For Barsoom City? Oy! Maybe you won’t have to bring dirt for farming (provided you can wash the peroxide salts from the Martian soil).
  • Sustainable independence: Will a Martian colony EVER actually become independent? With technology, industry,  agriculture and growth enough to blossom and return the favor back to Earth? Sure science fiction thinks so. But reality?
  • Minimum viable population: We know humanity prospers in the gravity well, with the oxygen levels and sunlight saturation of Earth. On Mars? What strange illnesses will reveal themselves, both on the red planet and along the months long trip to get there? Will human births suffer? Human fertility? What of restocking Earth with surplus Martians and surplus supporting biota (animals, plants, bacteria and fungi)?
  • A technological civilization and the reemergence of industrial capability: It took humanity thousands of years, and terrajoules of energy to lift itself up to a technological society. Will Mars be able to repeat this?

Elon, do you really want to preserve humanity? If so, maybe you could turn your sights down from the heavens to the ground beneath your feet. Use your Boring company to tunnel into the earth and there build an actual salvation city.

24 thoughts on “Mitigating Humanity’s Existential Risk

  1. There’s one more reason we shouldn’t ‘go to Mars’ and that’s kind of ethical – so far we’ve ruined everything we touch. We don’t have a right to expand into the stars until we’ve learned to live with /each other/. A few millennia under the sea will either lead to the final extinction of homo sapiens, or it will teach us to play nice. Either way, I’m all for it. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice to see you back steering up the minds of all of us who follow you. Everything has a beginning and an end, even the universe itself. Then the big bang starts all over again and just in a few billion years new life will again arise just as it has a least once before. Maybe it all has happened many times before. No way to know. I personally am not worried and enjoy the back and forth of such fine minds that poke us into thinking about something other than the local, regional, national and international new that makes humanity look pretty foolish and prone to self destruction in so many ways We are alive now let us enjoy that and wish everyone all the best in life to the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Throw off your moral restrictions and get laid. You’ll feel better about life. The one problem with undersea cities is building something to withstand the awesome pressure of tons of water. One crack, and you’re is dome is doomed. Humanity is already committing a species genocide by passively refusing to reproduce. Birth rates across the board (in developed countries like USA and Japan) are not replacing those who die. Our population is finally at a point of diminishing return (It’s never too late), and some say this is an unintended consequence of late stage Capitalism–(Babies? You kiddin’ me? Food, healthcare, housing, shelter, clothes, education–forget college–who can afford any of that shit now?”). So saving humanity amongst the stars may be the solution ’cause the solution we need is to get away from ourselves as far and as fast as we can. Undersea? There we are!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey George,
      Getting laid is off the table. Such is life.
      Undersea is just a strawman. It points out that building a hermetically sealed habitat where you must don a protective suit would be nearly the same for a Martian colony as it would for an Atlantis colony.
      The only difference is about a million % cost difference. And… returning to the Earth’s surface, once the danger has passed, is trivial for one, and practically impossible for the other.

      Yeah, this is all just a thought experiment. It’s all bullshit. I suspect when the apocalypse does arrive, those who can, will have already burrowed into their cubbyholes where they’ll starve it out waiting for the fires to quit raging on the surface. That lame movie Greenland says it all, but poorly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, yeah…the ease of returning to the earth’s surface from under the ocean is certainly an advantage. Everything is bullshit so keep these thought experiments coming. We wouldn’t have relativity or Schrodinger’s cat without great thought experiments, so keep pushing the envelope!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Gravity is a big problem in space. Or rather, the lack of it and its absence’s impact on human health. But, whales and dolphins and seals all have strong, fully calcified bones. Yet they float in a zero-gravity environment…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If we are the aliens then all of this is so much philosophical gum chewing. Right now there is wailing and gnashing of teeth over the redwood fires. Right down the road is a “park” where redwoods tat were over 2000 years old lie flattened into the earth by a 3.5 million year old volcanic blast. Maybe we’re a continuing experiment, or a living video game. Musk is egregiously vain to think we control our own longevity as a species via interplanetary re-potting. If that’s the scenario, he’s a little late in the game.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I use Musk as a scapegoat, primarily. If one constrains the context to “preserve humanity for x years” then there are better alternatives to a Martian colony.

      Of course, I don’t really give a fuck about any of it. I’m just sitting around shootin’ the shit until the void swallows my non-existent soul.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. These rich people make me sick, fantasizing about utopias for themselves and their friends which it is doubtful will exist in our lifetimes. Either use your money and schemes to improve life on this hellhole of suffering known as earth, or blow up this planet altogether.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It’s going to be a long time before there are Mars colonies, if ever. Before spending all the money to do that, we should colonize Antarctica first. It’s the Garden of Eden in comparison. In the medium term, the best we might have are research stations on Mars similar to what exists in Antarctica. And if preserving the human race is the goal, then underground colonies on Earth is the way to go. (Under the sea would be much more expensive, although far cheaper than anything in space.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The rumbling, twisting earth might be an unpleasant place to weather out a massive asteroid strike. That’s the primary impetus to have at least some habitat that’s divorced from earthquake damage.
      I wonder what the expected amount of time humanity would have to spend underground, Logan’s Run style, before the surface could be re-inhabited — for the various calamities mentioned.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point on earthquakes, although those happen under the sea as well, unless we’re talking about a floating submarine style habitat of some type.

        Logon’s Run style domed cities would probably be cheaper than either underground or undersea. But you’d be vulnerable to surface level conditions.

        Maybe the solution is to have a mix of all of them so at least someone survives.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi A.Mole,

    (Where have you been?) Some of us think small and others think big. This is a big one. Here is a thought: are we capable of saving ourselves? On the Beach answered, no. They all just bit the bullet and the human race died. A lot of people thought that was a terrible novel, because everybody in Australia gave up. In order for us to create an alternative world, we would need a lot of positive thinking, from a lot of people. Forget the costs, location, etc. The problem would be getting enough people to believe it could actually be done and wanting to live and work there, regardless of the location. I could see a massive collective depression setting in across the world. It would be along the lines of, hey, I have decided to commit suicide, because I don’t want to live without my family, without my old home, without my memories. Fear of the future is bad enough. Fear of a future underground or on the bottom of the ocean, might be totally debilitating for humans. But, hey, what the fuck do I know? I can’t get my dog to shit outside when it’s raining. Compared to what you’re talking about, that should be a piece of cake, but it’s not. Thanks. Duke P.S. I just posted something called “Last Chance Sea”. Coincidence, I don’t think so.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Duke,
      Been generally disillusioned on the entire ball of wax called life. Still am, if I think about it.
      I pose hypotheses like these within a narrowly scoped context. In general, I think all of this is bullshit and I know for a fact that I won’t be around to see any of it. But for a grey-paper thought experiment, my position is that Musk is a fool in this one regard.
      Your Last Chance Sea post feels like expose and still bleeding raw wounds. Your expertise is tearing off the bandages and letting the world witness them. Mine, if they exist at all, are scared over and unavailable. I’d rather consider impossible pointless situations in a future I’ll never experience.
      What are pain and misery? Evolutionary survival response mechanism? If so they seem extreme, don’t you think?


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