“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, May 06, 2017

No One Gets Out Alive, However...

Sorry Nerds, But Colonizing Other Planets Is Not A Good Plan

In November, Stephen Hawking warned that humans needed to colonize another planet within 1,000 years. Now, six months later, he’s saying we have to do it within 100 years in order to avoid extinction. There’s a problem with this plan: under almost no circumstances is colonizing another planet the best way to adapt to a problem on earth.

Let’s start with Mars, which is a favorite planet for colonization scenarios, including for Elon Musk who thinks we should colonize Mars because earth will eventually face a “doomsday scenario”. The problem with this is that there is almost nothing that could happen to earth that would make it less hospitable than Mars. Whether it’s nuclear war or massive global warming, post disaster earth would be way more habitable than Mars.

For example, we worry that the oceans on earth will get too polluted, or too acidified, or rise up too high. It’s true that could make life on earth very hard. But on Mars the only surface water is frozen in the polar ice caps. We would be hard pressed to ruin the water on earth so badly that it’s worse than what’s available on Mars.

We also worry about the level of carbon dioxide we humans are creating. But there’s nothing we could do to earth’s atmosphere to make it as bad as Mars, which is both extremely thin and also 96% carbon dioxide. Not to mention a significantly lower level of gravity. Whatever we’d have to do on Mars to make the atmosphere habitable would be more easily done on a very very ruined earth.
Even if an asteroid were to strike earth it would very likely remain more habitable than mars. For example, consider the asteroid that struck the earth 66 million years ago creating the Chicxulub crater and wiping out 75% of plant and animal species on earth, including the dinosaurs. Well that disaster still left 25% of species that survived, all of whom would die instantly on the surface of Mars.
If an asteroid like this was heading for the earth here’s what we would do instead of abandoning the planet. First, we’d try to deflect it. If we didn't know how to do that, everyone who lived on the part of the planet where it was going to land would move to safer parts of the planet. If need be we'd create biodomes and move into them, maybe even at the bottom of the ocean. “Impossible!” you say? “Technology and human behavior would never allow this!” you insist? It’s true it would be extremely hard and today's technology wouldn’t allow it. And yet it would still be way, way easier than colonizing another planet. If you think getting humans to abandon a continent peacefully is hard, try getting them to abandon the planet.

Perhaps we could focus on colonizing another planet then. One with an atmosphere closer to ours than Mars. This may be possible, but the technology required to do this is a far bigger lift than the technology required to build habitable ecosystems on the bottom of the ocean, deflect asteroids, reverse global warming, or cure pandemics. The closest star system to us is Alpha Centauri, which is 4.3 light years away. At a max speed of around 17,000 mph would take existing space shuttles 165,000 years to reach this. Even the faster New Horizon probe, the first to visit Pluto, would take 78,000 years.

The technology required to travel fast enough to get to other planets makes geoengineering to reverse climate change seem quaint.

It is hard to come up with a scenario where evacuating the earth makes the most sense. So why do so many smart people obsess about it? I think the issue is that nerds find space travel and colonizing other planets extremely appealing because they love science fiction and find space exploration exciting. That’s fine, and if some nerd billionaires want to colonize Mars for fun I say go for it. But unfortunately, their nerd desires are biasing their assessment of how humanity should prepare for doomsday threats. Sorry nerds, we won’t be evacuating earth. If we are underestimating the risks of doomsday threats, lets instead invest in the technologies that will help protect earth from them or recover from them. Even though I am not an expert on space, physical sciences, or basically any relevant field, I can tell that this is obviously true. Maybe just it takes an economist to see through the nerd fantasies.

ADDENDUM: The goal of colonizing to preserve the human species rather than evacuate all humans doesn't make sense either. If there are habitable planets within reach, then there must be many, many habitable planets that aren't within reach. In this case the Drake Equation implies humans are not alone in the universe, and therefore our existence is far less special, lowering the benefit of preserving humanity. In a world of other habitable planets, saving the actual life on earth grows in importance compared to preserving the species somewhere in the universe.


  1. On the wettest muddiest track I've ever seen Always Dreaming took an early lead, and never looked back.

    All the other horses and jocks mud spattered head to foot, but not Always Dreaming, who looked like he'd just come out of the laundromat.

    If you don't like the Kentucky Derby there is something wrong with you.

    When we go to other planets we must take the horses with us.

    1. Patch had the far outside position, but it didn't help as he fell back, got lost in the crowd, and I don't know where he finished.

  2. Directive

    Back out of all this now too much for us,
    Back in a time made simple by the loss
    Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
    Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
    There is a house that is no more a house
    Upon a farm that is no more a farm
    And in a town that is no more a town.
    The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you
    Who only has at heart your getting lost,
    May seem as if it should have been a quarry –
    Great monolithic knees the former town
    Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
    And there's a story in a book about it:
    Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
    The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,
    The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
    That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
    You must not mind a certain coolness from him
    Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
    Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
    Of being watched from forty cellar holes
    As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
    As for the woods' excitement over you
    That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
    Charge that to upstart inexperience.
    Where were they all not twenty years ago?
    They think too much of having shaded out
    A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
    Make yourself up a cheering song of how
    Someone's road home from work this once was,
    Who may be just ahead of you on foot
    Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
    The height of the adventure is the height
    Of country where two village cultures faded
    Into each other. Both of them are lost.
    And if you're lost enough to find yourself
    By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
    And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
    Then make yourself at home. The only field
    Now left's no bigger than a harness gall.
    First there's the children's house of make-believe,
    Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
    The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
    Weep for what little things could make them glad.
    Then for the house that is no more a house,
    But only a belilaced cellar hole,
    Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
    This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
    Your destination and your destiny's
    A brook that was the water of the house,
    Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
    Too lofty and original to rage.
    (We know the valley streams that when aroused
    Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
    I have kept hidden in the instep arch
    Of an old cedar at the waterside
    A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
    Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,
    So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.
    (I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.)
    Here are your waters and your watering place.
    Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

  3. Days After Winning Berkeley Leadership Award, Illegal Immigrant Student Calls For Celebrating Cinco De Mayo By ‘Beating The S*** Out Of White People’
    By Pamela Geller - on May 6, 2017

    “The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to Prieto to ask about his tweet publicly encouraging race-based acts of violence. He was dismissive and insisted TheDCNF was just trying to get him bullied.” Of course. These savages know always to play the victim, even as they’re calling for violence against innocent people. Prieto will probably receive another reward from Berkeley for this.

    “Two Days After Winning Leadership Award, Illegal Immigrant Student Suggests Celebrating Cinco De Mayo By ‘Beating The S*** Out Of White People,’” by Rob Shimshock, Daily Caller, May 5, 2017:

    …Juan Prieto, an English student at UC Berkeley, made the remark on Twitter two days after receiving Berkeley’s Robert J. and Mary Catherine Birgeneau Recognition Award for Service to Undocumented Students.

    “Let’s celebrate 5 de Mayo by going to Dolores Park and beating the shit out of white people, in the spirit of La Batalla de Pueblo,” tweeted Prieto, who later locked his Twitter account. The illegal immigrant student referred to a battle in Mexico in which the Mexican army defeated French occupiers.

    (Photo Credit: Twitter: Juan Prieto)

    (Photo Credit: Twitter: Juan Prieto)
    The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to Prieto to ask about his tweet publicly encouraging race-based acts of violence. He was dismissive and insisted TheDCNF was just trying to get him bullied.

    1. White people ?

      SMIRK would qualify.

      Hey, Smirk, Juan Prieto wants to beat the shit out of you, even though you've never met him and even though you had nothing to do with the La Batalla de Pueblo.

    2. So would Quirk.

      I've often thought Smirk deserves a good non lethal non harmful mugging to knock a little sense into him, but I don't want anyone beating the shit out of him.

      Or out of Quirk either.

  4. May 7, 2017
    Stephen Hawking is a genius, when it comes to scamming people
    By Ed Straker

    You have to admire genius. The global warming crowd has been getting rich predicting that the world will end in the distant future in a dramatic fashion. We can never prove them wrong because their predictions are slated to occur far in the future.

    But before global warming hoaxes, there was Stephen Hawking. Hawking got rich initially not by predicting the future but laying out a story of the distant past. He wrote a best selling book, "A Brief History of Time," describing how the universe was created. Now, Stephen Hawking has absolutely no idea how the universe was created. He can't. He wasn't there. So he made up a story about it and everyone calls him a genius. He's a genius because his theory about the creation of the universe can never be disproved. Now that's smart--writing "scientifically" about a subject where your "research" can never, ever be crosschecked.

    Having milked the past for all its worth, Hawking wants to cash in on future predictions, which also can never be verified. At first he said that the world will end in 1,000 years, a nice, distant time-- and isn't it amazing how the end of the world will come in such a round number?

    That was November. But now Hawking is back saying that the world will end in 100 years. I think he realized that people were not paying attention to him because 1,000 years was too far into the future. 100 years, though distant, is more immediate and demands more attention!

    Naturally no one in the media is questioning how this "genius" thought the world would end in 1,000 years a few months ago and now thinks it's only 100 years--does that mean he was wildly wrong just six months ago? But like Trump supporters, his legion of followers are only focused on what he's saying today.

    “With climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth, our own planet is increasingly precarious.”

    Really? How many people have been killed by "asteroid strikes"? I think that number must be zero. Oh wait, it's not "asteroid strikes" but "overdue asteroid strikes." Hawking is impatient for a kind of disaster which hasn't even happened yet!

    As for population growth, why is that a problem? Is it a food issue? If we use one or two percent of the Earth for food production, and Earth's population doubles, we could simply double the number of farms or more likely increase productivity.

    During the hour-long speech, Hawking told the audience that Earth's cataclysmic end may be hastened by humankind, which will continue to devour the planet’s resources at unsustainable rates, the Express reported.

    What resources would those be? As mentioned above food is not a problem. Does he mean energy resources? We have enough oil, gas, and coal to last hundreds of years.

    Some of Hawking's most explicit warnings have revolved around the potential threat posed by artificial intelligence.

    So, if the asteroid doesn't get us, and we don't run out of gas, it's killer robots we have to worry about.

    Really, couldn't Hawking have come up with something better? It's obvious the man is desperate for attention. People aren't interested in fictional stories about the beginning of the universe; they are hungry for stories about its ending. The global warming people have stolen his thunder! The fact that Hawking can't come up with anything better than asteroids and killer robots shows us that even when it comes to writing fiction, this man isn't the "genius" we are told that he is. Unless he comes up with something better, I'm afraid he'll go down in history as little more than a pale white version of Neil Degrasse Tyson.

    Ed Straker is the senior writer at

  5. Yesterday Brazil, today Bolivia -

    <Video from Bolivia: Machete-wielding Muslims strike and threaten Bolivians, claiming to own their land

    MAY 6, 2017 6:42 PM BY ROBERT SPENCER

    “Residents of La Esperanza neighborhood, in the district of Remanzo, complain that they were struck and threatened by Muslims who claim to be the owners of their lands.”

    Spanish-language video from Bolivisión Al Día Santa Cruz, April 27, 2017: VIDEO

  6. Essential Knowledge


    The Physics of Poop
    Why it takes you and an elephant the same amount of time to defecate

    By David Hu, Patricia Yang, The Conversation on May 6, 2017