I'm especially interested in the future of life on this planet, and in particular what we can do to make that future as long and full as possible.
It's become clear that as a result of our improved technology, we humans are having significant influences on the entire planet. Cultural attributes that allowed us to flourish in what we experienced as an open system are proving to be destructive in what we now experience as a closed system. We are consuming resources at a prodigious rate (typically around two percent per year) while in the process sabotaging the natural infrastructure that we depend upon.
I've been studying the concept and implementation of sustainability, which is an approach to living within the boundaries dictated by Nature's processing of resources. Sustainable living demands that we learn to consume only those resources that Nature can regularly generate or recycle, and create waste that is also recyclable. This approach limits human population and standard of living to the natural carrying capacity of the planet, which a growing body of evidence indicates we have already exceeded. In the past, individual societies died out because they couldn't adapt to limits imposed by Nature. Now as an increasingly global society, we risk such a fate for our entire species.
We need to live more sustainably; but ultimately, the kind of sustainable living commonly envisioned is impossible if we want our species to survive in the long term. The reason is that Nature's limits are changing. With global warming, likely in progress for thousands of years, humans have only delayed the onset of what will likely be Earth's last great ice age. We will need technologies to deal with maintaining a large population during that period, then we will need technologies to deal with deadly effects of continental drift and ultimately an increasing warming Sun that is destined to cook all life on Earth. Such technologies will likely require materials that our planet doesn't recycle on the timescale of a human lifetime.
Establishing settlements and developing resources (such as asteroids and comets) in the rest of the Solar System can improve the chances of survival of people living on Earth before it must ultimately be evacuated, just as healthy civilizations have helped more marginal ones in history before disasters overcame them. As a bare minimum, developing the Solar System would allow us to deflect asteroids and comets that might cause great local or global damage by hitting the Earth. Beyond that, it would provide ways of collecting more energy, mining materials with safer disposal of waste, and relieving population pressure.
For related views, see the following:
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