Here's a truth many folks can't seem to grasp. We can't save the Earth. The Earth is going to die. It won't be for billions of years, but the end is indeed coming (yes, religious fanatics, your day will come). What really needs saving is not the planet, but, rather, ourselves. For while the Earth's demise is a very long way off, ours may be just around the corner. We don't need to save the planet. We need to save the human race. Earth Day? Shouldn't it be called Human Race Day?
It turns out that we humans are just a bit more fragile than the Earth. Though the Earth won't survive it's final day of reckoning with a dying Sun, it will survive global warming, a nuclear holocaust, and even an asteroid strike. But we might not. And while we can do our part to prevent self destruction, some things are currently out of our hands. Sooner or later, just like in the movies, we'll be hit by that giant meteor and Bruce Willis is unlikely to be able to help.
Sooner or later the Earth's magnetic fields will drastically change, possibly increasing our exposure to the dangers of solar radiation. Another new ice age is coming. You want climate change? You're going to get it. The continents and ocean floor are moving, so eventually New York might find itself bordering the Sahara Desert. And some of this will likely happen within tens of thousands of years, not billions. Which means we may be around to (gulp) watch. At least, for a while.
So, while zipping around in a hybrid car or using paper bags instead of plastic may be an earnest effort to forestall disaster, ultimately it's nowhere near enough. Don't get me wrong. Cutting emissions, recycling waste and a commitment to solar and wind power makes terrific sense. But, cosmically speaking, these are just short term solutions. What we really need is to commit beaucoup bucks to our space program. Because no matter how much we conserve, no matter how nice we are to it, eventually the Earth will swallow us up. Believe it or not George Bush was making sense when he declared that we need to go to Mars.
We landed on the Moon in 1969. It took us less than a decade to accomplish that amazing feat. In the four decades since we have all but abandoned manned space exploration. While those forty years haven't been completely wasted, we have clearly lost the urgency with which we first reached out into the cosmos. Ask the people dropping their uncleaned yogurt containers into the recycling bins on my trash room floor and most of them will probably tell you that spending money in outer space is foolish. You've heard the argument. Why are we wasting money up there when we have so many needs down here?
Ignoring the fact that an incredible list of modern advances came out of the space program and that the solutions to environmental change and potential cosmic disasters will only be found in a lab, there's a much simpler explanation for why we need to spend more on space science. Sooner or later we have to move off this planet or face annihilation. Which needs do we have that trump survival? Dinosaurs dominated the Earth for over 150 million years, but they're gone and the Earth is still here. Save the Earth? Heck, save us!