If humanity overcomes it’s greatest challenges and reaches for the stars, then a new industrial age will dawn. The vast resources of the Solar System will open up to exploration, and assuming life is largely absent from our immediate neighbourhood, then an immeasurable expanse of minerals and energy sources will be available to humanity. Near limitless energy might be harvested from the sun, or perhaps using fusion energy of our own; genetically engineered crops might sustain colonies on distant worlds; immense automated manufacture might exploit to asteroids and moons to produce any product in any quantity we could desire. This massive industrial expansion will dwarf Earth’s limited capacity within a century of its beginning, pushing today’s greatest activities into historical obscurity in the context of a new industrial realm.
In such a context, for those able to understand it, the greatest use of Earth is not in its minerals, or energy, or as a site for scientific experimentation. Once we have truly reached other planets Earth will inevitably be looked upon as having a myriad of shortcomings in industrial terms. The maintenance of very particular environmental conditions creates massive barriers to commercial and industrial activity. Providing clean water and unpolluted air, allowing space for a large human population, preserving the natural diversity of species all means that unfettered industrialisation in neither possible nor desirable.
The great value for Earth, in a colonised and industrialised Solar System teeming with the technological creations of humanity, is in its status as the great sanctuary of life. In preservation of a massively complex and flourishing biosphere to which we are linked by blood and history, no planet comes close to Earth. It maintains and protects life without human effort or interference. Unlike other planets in the Solar System, perhaps unlike any planet in the galaxy, Earth requires no great industrial expenditure of energy, for clean water, for clean air, for temperature control, for protection against solar or cosmic radiation. It is the perfect lifeboat, the perfect vessel to sustain life.
The true visionary looks into the future and sees Planet Earth as the living sapphire, shining at the heart of human civilisation as it expands throughout the Solar System and beyond. It shelters our cousins in nature from extinction and preserves our understanding of who we are and where we come from. For those who understand humanity’s role as the guiding force of our biosphere, this is Earth’s noble future.
What folly it is then, for us to destroy that vision only moments before we step into this greater realm. If we can overcome the threat we currently pose to ourselves, then we have only a handful of decades ahead of us before we are able to step into an interplanetary existence and a new industrial age. This is an age in which Earth will be remarkable not for its resources, but as the origin and the harbour for life. To destroy something so unique, something so central to the meaning of our own existence, something we cannot reclaim, is surely utter madness.
For the future Solar generations, the riches and extravagant treasures which we desperately crave today will be thought of as primitive, insignificant trash. On uninhabited worlds, humanity will forge works of great significance and imagination. It’s factories will produce the most sophisticated products to meet our every need. But they will never recreate our birthplace; bring back the full diversity of organisms, and species, and ecosystems; unpick our genetic tampering with natural species; restore the physical manifestation of our biological history. Earth, natural Earth, an Earth untwisted by the cravings of excess, gives context to all of our petty struggles and desires, gives a meaning to all our technological creations. Earth is the heart of the human civilisation of tomorrow.
It is possible to reach for the stars without trampling our only home. The greatest service to humanity’s future in space is not industrial excess, but intelligent development, more considered action. It is living a modest existence so that we can fufil a greater and more majestic dream. Only a generation or two from now our descendants may look back in horror and wonder at how we decimated, tainted and manipulated the only known harbour of life, for the momentary gain of something we could have a thousand times over in the new age. Or they could wonder, instead, at the unique world, the first and last sanctuary of humanity’s natural cousins, of humanity’s heritage, of life itself. We choose this future.
Today we set in motion the exploration of the galaxy, today we build the strength to preserve life from any threat. This is our noblest vision, our majestic purpose, our greatest work – for Earth, for humanity, for life.