Stephen Hawking is no stranger to engaging with the notion that humanity is nearing extinction. Earlier this year, he ticked off the list of all things that could spell death and destruction for our species, and called it a “near certainty” that humans would experience something cataclysmic within 10,000 years.
Now, he’s shrunk that timeframe to just 1,000 years. Yikes.
In a talk at the Oxford Union, the world’s most famous theoretical physicist said bluntly: “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet,” and urges the public to “continue to go into space for the future of humanity.”
There you have it: Just a millennium’s worth of time for humans to find a new home outside of Earth.
It’s unclear exactly what spurred Hawking to start on with the doom and gloom speculation this time around — he’s always had a penchant for bringing his inner Debbie Downer out to an apocalyptic level. In the past, he’s expressed fears about what could bring about the end of humanity that included environmental catastrophe, nuclear war, intelligent robots, aliens, natural resource depletion, and probably other things the rest of us have trouble keeping track of.
In his newest talk, Hawking seems to allude to all of those things. But two new developments that went unmentioned may have spurred Hawking to double-down on these sentiments.
One was the big [orange] elephant in the room: the election of Donald Trump as president-elect of the United States. The president-elect hasn’t been shy about expressing desires to take the country out of its climate change commitments, and further deregulate carbon emissions and other safeguards in place to limit the rise of global temperatures. It’s entirely likely Hawking has been looking at the election as a sign that perhaps human beings haven’t yet developed the foresight and wisdom take care of the planet and ensure our long-term safety.
The other development is a more ongoing one: our fascination with getting to Mars. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed his company’s plans for developing an interplanetary transport system back in September — and that’s just the latest in a long line of recent news attesting to how SpaceX, NASA, and other companies intend to make a permanent Mars outpost possible.
Hawking, it’s worth emphasizing, is not a crackpot screeching on about the end of the world. He’s serious about his vision for humans leaving Earth in search of a new home. That’s precisely what has spurred him to get involved with projects like the Breakthrough Starshot initiative, which hopes to find evidence of potentially habitable worlds in Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth.
Still, while Hawking’s warnings ought to be heeded, his fear-mongering might be getting to be a bit too much. Chill out, Mr. Hawking — we’ve got time.