Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
The possibility of settling on other planets is an idea familiar to humankind. It has been the subject of many works of fiction, on print and screen. But that expansion of human society out into the cosmos would prove just (and only) that. Humanity writ large across our solar system, with all of our vices and virtues still very much in play.
It would, barring some scientific miracle, be just our solar system. The distance from earth to even our closest star is vast beyond the human mind’s ability to quantify – travelling at the speed of light, it would take us 4 years to reach Proxima Centauri. Without light-speed travel, it took the Voyager 1 probe almost 35 years merely to escape our solar system. Human interstellar travel is not a viable prospect, considering the complexity of the vital equipment required to support human life, which requires maintenance, and the need to have sufficient propulsion and working equipment to make orbit and land on the target planet.
So, our solar system it is. Not that the story is much better in our immediate neighbourhood. Colonies on Mars and the moons of Jupiter would be desperate for resources. Water is difficult to manufacture, and there is finite amount trapped in our solar system, whether on icy asteroids or Earth’s ocean. Electricity, vital for life on other planets, is somewhat easier to generate, but requires specific materials to generate it, whether from a fuel-powered generator or silicate-based solar panels. Attempts to colonise the solar system could well degenerate into vicious conflicts over the materials necessary for life.
Perhaps we might discover a planetary identity, one that allows us to ‘pull together’ in the face of these tensions.
Well. That would certainly be something. For a start, Earth itself, with its billions of people and centuries of what we might gently refer to as ‘baggage’, is perhaps the worst contender for a unified community going. If anyone has any alternative suggestions, I’m all ears.
Furthermore, the scenario of Earth having a singular identity associated with its population would also, presumably, involve other planets and colonies developing their own identities and communities. For a long-form demonstration of why this would Not End Well, please watch the TV show The Expanse (seasons 1 through 5). If you haven’t seen it (which you should), or you can’t be bothered, allow me to paraphrase. Political identities breed tribalism, tribalism breeds war. War, even with present technologies, would be devastating, and pose a threat to human life as we know it. Nor would this risk dissipate with a divided Earth, as varying factions vie for dominance in space, continuing their struggles earthside by other means.
There’s no telling what kind of societies colonisation would create. Living on other planets would require artificially maintained life support, which would need to be maintained at all times. How does a society function when someone has control of the air it breathes and the water it drinks? Such a society could easily turn autocratic, with the ultimate sanction for resistance only a few inches away, on the other side of the hab-dome wall.
A strong potential for autocratic rule, intense competition for resources, and the competition of nationalisms on a grand scale. Hardly a prepossessing combination. As a humble suggestion, we might want to focus on dealing with problems here at home on Earth, before we start spreading them all over our neighbourhood.