December 14, 2017:
The optimism of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke.
By 2001 humans would have permanent large-scale space stations orbiting the earth; permanent presence on the moon; the ability to construct spacecraft sophisticated enough to reach Jupiter.
We all shared that vision. Star Trek. Humanity would overcome its divisions, learn to live in peace, colonize the galaxy.
That was 1968.
By 2015 that optimism was long dead. Steven Hawking, perhaps the most renowned living scientist, declared that "we" had used up our planet — advocating that "we" find a new one so that our species could survive.
In his real-world naiveté he displayed no understanding of who exactly "we" might be. Because of course "we" haven't brought our world to brink of catastrophic runaway greenhouse effect. "They" did that. Capitalism. The ideology of short-term profit, the inability to use government to strategically coordinate. The economic and especially the political dominance of fossil fuel industries.
Hawking's naive abstraction, "we", hides the reality that only some of us are responsible. And only some of us would be chosen to leave for a new world, assuming the resources and the coordination could be mustered to build the kind of space ark implied.
You and I know who would go. Not us.
Hawking's pessimism hides the real necessity. To muster the resources and the coordination to eliminate fossil fuels urgently, now, without regard for profitability.
Or perhaps it doesn't. Perhaps he calculated that it would be impossible to politically defeat the entrenched dominance of the very economic actors who would have to be eliminated if the planet is to be saved. If so, it's hard to see how those same actors would allow the coordination and the investment implied by space arks. 'Cos Capitalism after all.