What are we gonna do about it, then?
Well, you’d be hard pressed to ask a more qualified person than the late, all-around genius Professor Stephen Hawking. The physicist, who died in March at the age of 76 after living with motor neuron disease for decades, tackled the question of climate change – and how humanity might overcome it – in some of his final writings, to be published in an upcoming book Brief Answers to the Big Questions.
The excerpts, teased in the Sunday Times, paint a fascinatingly bleak picture about the future of humanity.
What are the biggest threats to Earth, according to Stephen Hawking?
After a devastating asteroid collision, like the one that killed the dinosaurs and would be almost impossible to prevent, Hawking thinks climate change is our biggest problem.
“A rise in ocean temperature would melt the ice caps and cause the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide,” Hawking writes. “Both effects could make our climate like that of Venus with a temperature of 250C.” Here’s a degree-by-degree breakdown of what would happen as the world’s temperature rises.
And how does he think humans will survive?
Hawking believes that in the next 1,000 years, nuclear war or environmental destruction will “cripple Earth” but that, by then, “our ingenious race will have found a way to slip the surly bonds of Earth and will therefore survive the disaster.”
He thinks certain people will essentially become “superhumans” thanks to gene editing tech like CRISPR, which will improve memory, reduce disease and boost life expectancy, and that they’ll probably populate other planets.
“There is no time to wait for Darwinian evolution to make us more intelligent and better natured,” Hawking says.
What exactly is CRISPR and should we be worried?
CRISPR - or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats - is a way of editing genes by exploiting the immune systems of bacteria. CRISPR lets scientists edit genes in plants, animals and humans quickly and cheaply, giving them the power to remove undesirable traits and, perhaps, add in desirable ones, according to Vox.
But it’s also quite controversial. In Hawking’s prediction, for example, what will happen to those who aren’t included in the new superhuman, space-faring future? Will us regular schmucks just carry on living in our underground hovels as the world around us burns?
Basically, do we need to be worried about things going all Blade Runner on us?
Some scientists say yes, we should be worried about the implications of gene editing technology.
“Hijacked by the free market, human gene editing will lead to greater social inequality,” Dr David King, a former molecular biologist and founder of Human Genetics Alert, has written in The Guardian.
Others have wondered whether it could open the floodgates to a modern form of eugenics.
Either way, it’s pretty darn bleak and doesn’t exactly fill you with hope about the future of humanity. On a slightly positive note, it will at least be pretty cool for a few weeks when we can all have wings and eyeballs that shoot lasers.
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