Procrastination, Stupidity, or Species Suicide?

An asteroid appears likely to hit the planet Mars. Several years ago, a large comet impacted Jupiter, and its fragments created disturbances in the Jovian atmosphere that could have encompassed much of earth. Geologists have discovered the remnants of massive craters on earth itself, most of which totally restructured the environment and the atmosphere, not to mention life itself.

Another impact such as these could well threaten, if not destroy, life as we know it on earth. Does anyone care? Really care?

In 1968, the movie 2001:A Space Odyssey came out, and in it, Kubrick postulated space stations with tourists and space travel within the inner solar system, and an expedition to Jupiter. That was almost forty years ago, and despite all our advances in technology and computers, we haven’t even been back to the moon since 1972 — 35 years ago.

We have the basic technology to ensure the future of our species, and, with relatively minor improvements, to remove the threat to our planet from such asteroid or cometary impacts. And… what have we done? We’ve cut back on NASA and space research. And frankly, a number of the scientists haven’t helped much when they point out that unmanned missions are more cost-effective for gathering data. They doubtless are, but data isn’t likely to help us much if we need a large and powerful space drive to move an asteroid or plant a colony somewhere other than on an earth about to be devastated by some cosmic catastrophe.

That catastrophe will occur. The only question is when. The problem is that we’re a short-term culture facing an inevitable long-term problem, and our outlook is becoming more and more short-term year by year.

Look at the reaction to global climate change… or even to how many Americans continue to smoke, or drive while impaired, whether by cellphones or intoxicants. At the same time, we’ve glamorized making money and short-term fleeting fame to the point where fewer and fewer American students pursue advanced scientific studies and careers, and then we limit the access to foreign students who would do so, and who have consistently done so to our own benefit in the past.

As a society as a whole, the United States has become less and less interested in anything long-term, anything truly ethical [and I’m not talking about religion, which, unfortunately, ranges from a few deep and ethical believers to a mass of seekers of quick salvation], and far more interested in the quick acquisition of assets and things, the proliferation of entertainment options, interactive video or internet games, or who controls Iraq and Iran, or which theology should be dominant in what culture and society.

Long-term issues, like global catastrophe and environmental degradation, just don’t have much appeal. Admittedly, such issues have never appealed to most people, trying to survive day-to-day, but there were, from time to time, elites and educated individuals who did care. Where are they now, and what is the public reaction to them?

That reaction, it seems to me, is mostly along the lines of: I don’t believe you, and, besides, even if something does happen, it won’t be in my lifetime, and that means it’s not my problem.

And we’re supposed to be a sapient species?