Homo sapiens, human beings, have to be one of the least intelligent species on the planet. I realize that this statement flies in the face of most scientific evidence given the large brain capacity of homo sapiens, the use of tools by homo sapiens and the fact that homo sapiens can engage in abstract thought. However, all of these traits make it that much more unlikely and fantastic that homo sapiens as a species continue to largely ignore the colonization of Mars.
One simple fact screams out for human beings to colonize Mars with all due haste. That fact makes it crystal clear that the Earth has a deplorable track record when it comes to its ability to support life. Consider that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed on planet Earth are extinct.
Now, when you look at that fact, please also consider that this does not mean that .1% of species have survived since the dawn of time. The .1% figure simply represents species that have yet to go extinct. In other words, we happen to have some species alive and thriving on the Earth today. Those species by and large evolved relatively recently. Thus, the .1% figure is not really a survival rate but rather a percentage of all species that have ever existed on the Earth that currently happen to be alive.
Another way of viewing this is in terms of survival rate as a function of time instead of as a function of species. If we were to look at all species that have existed during the last 10 years, the survival rate would be close to or at 100%. In other words, of all the species that have existed on planet Earth for the last 10 years, no extinctions have occurred. If we were to look at species that have existed for the last 1,000 years that 100% figure would drop slightly due to extinctions such as the dodo and the passenger pigeon. Looking at the survival rate species that have existed for the last 10,000 years, that 100% figure would be even less and as we go further and further back in time, the survival rate would approach or become zero. Therefore, we can state as a certainty that the longer a species exists on the Earth, the more likely it becomes that that species will become extinct and this continues until that species’ extinction is a certainty.
What causes these extinctions? Irrelevant. I am not here to debate the cause of animal extinctions. There are many theories regarding why extinctions occur. The most popular today being that asteroids and/or comets randomly strike the Earth every millennia or so and serve as a first strike that initiates extinction. Asteroids and comets are currently blamed for many of Earth’s mass extinctions throughout its history. However, regardless of whether extinctions occur by asteroid, by comet or by some other as yet unknown device, the fact that 99.9% of species that have ever existed on the Earth are extinct remains the same.
Consider also that human beings are on the top of the food chain, quite similar to dinosaurs in their day. Why is this relevant? Well, for one simple fact. Land extinctions tend to kill off the large, dominate animals at the top of the food chain while some of the smaller animals near the bottom of the food chain survive. Oddly enough, mass extinctions seem to happen in reverse in the ocean, the smaller animals at the bottom of food chain become extinct and the ones at the top of food chain tend to survive. This may actually explain why intelligence evolved first on land instead of in the oceans, but that is the subject of a different essay.
Of course, one might argue that there has never been a species of animal on the Earth that was so intelligent, so diverse and so well adapted to its environment as are homo sapiens. Thus, the argument is that if there is going to be a species that survives a mass extinction, homo sapiens have the best chance. However, this argument is rather full of logical errors in reasoning. First, in terms of diversity and adaptation, homo sapiens rather pale in comparison to other successful organisms such as all of the species of dinosaurs. Second, there is absolutely no evidence that intelligence has anything to do with surviving a mass extinction.
Thus, we have a few simple scientific facts that human beings have been quite aware of for several decades that make it perfectly clear to any reasonable mind that human beings WILL become extinct if they remain solely on planet Earth. And yet, human beings by and large are doing very little to colonize Mars. And by very little, I do not mean to denigrate those individuals that have written on this subject or those at NASA and other agencies around the world that are working right now on all of the problems associated with colonizing Mars. However, what I am proposing is to make the colonization of Mars a priority of the United States and world governments second only to national defense.
This last argument is sure to spark protests and outrage from many different sectors I am sure. I can hear the arguments now. “We have enough problems to solve here on Earth first before we start trying to colonize other planets.” “Why not put resources into deflecting or destroying asteroids and comets instead of colonizing Mars?” “We do not have the technology to colonize Mars.” “Why not colonize the oceans?” Why not colonize the Moon?” “We have no evidence that colonizing Mars will avoid human extinction.” I will address each of the arguments in turn.
“We have enough problems to solve here on Earth first before we start trying to colonize other planets.” This statement is very true, human society is fraught with all kinds of problems. However, all other problems pale in comparison to the extinction of the species. The reason is simple. If homo sapiens as a species becomes extinct, all other problems are irrelevant.
“Why not put resources into deflecting or destroying asteroids and comets instead of colonizing Mars?” This one is quite simple. First, one should know that we probably only know of about 5% of the asteroids and/or comets that pose a severe threat to the Earth. If one of those asteroids within that 5% was going to hit the Earth, we would have some warning; maybe enough to come up with and successfully execute a plan to deflect it. However, for the other 95%, we would have little or no warning. Second, we do not know for a certainty that asteroids or comets cause mass extinctions. We have some pretty good evidence that points to this, but nothing certain. Mass extinctions might be caused by viruses or some as yet unknown device. The only certainty in preserving the human species is to expand beyond the bounds of planet Earth.
“We do not have the technology to colonize Mars”. Yes we do. We are 100 or perhaps a 1,000 times more prepared today to tackle the problem of Mars colonization than we were to tackle the problem of landing on the moon. Our society is perhaps the best prepared it has ever been throughout its entire history to tackle such an exploration and colonization. Quite simply, we have the technology today to begin terraforming and permanently colonizing Mars. In addition, it has already been proven that when nations make certain well-defined goals and objectives top priority, the problem is solved with surprising rapidity. This can be seen with the development of the atomic bomb as well as the Apollo program to land on the moon.
“Why not colonize the oceans?” This argument stems from the fact that ocean extinctions tend to occur in reverse of land extinctions. That is, the big, dominant animals at the top of the food chain tend to survive ocean mass extinctions. First, human beings are not native to the oceans and therefore, the normal “rules” would not apply. Second, big, dominant animals do go extinct in the oceans. Third, 99.9% of all species that have ever inhabited the earth, on land and on water have gone extinct. Expanding to an ocean environment does not change that fact.
“Why not colonize the Moon?” Indeed, this seems reasonable. It gets our species off of planet Earth and the Moon is a lot closer than Mars. However, the Moon lacks the ability to support a self-sustaining human colony. A Moon colony would be much too dependent on Earth for its very existence. This does not mean that we should not pursue a permanent Moon colony. Indeed, a permanent Moon colony may be a crucial step in colonizing Mars. However, a Moon colony cannot serve as a replacement for Mars colonization.
“We have no evidence that colonizing Mars will avoid human extinction.” This is absolutely true. However, we know for a fact that it is a certainty that if we remain solely on planet Earth we will go extinct. We also know that creating a self-sustaining colony on another planet is the best and perhaps only way to avoid extinction. And Mars is the most likely candidate within our solar system for colonization.
So on to what is sure to be the most insistent argument, why rank Mars colonization so high a priority? Simple, nothing else matters if the species goes extinct. Nothing. If the human species does not survive, it will never have an opportunity to address all of the other problems and ills facing human society. It will take hundreds or thousands of years to fully colonize Mars and make a Mars colony self-sustaining. Every year, every day and every minute that we delay in making Mars colonization a top priority increases the chances that the human race will go extinct.
Despite the fact that everything in this essay has been known for decades, our species continues to do little or nothing to colonize Mars. Despite the fact that homo sapiens have been gifted with such a magnificent organ as is the human brain that we are the first and only species within the entire history of the Earth that has been able to identify a pattern of mass extinctions, our species continues to do little or nothing to colonize Mars. Despite the fact that we know for a certainty that we will go extinct if we do not colonize Mars, our species continues to do little or nothing to colonize Mars. And that is why homo sapiens are one of the least intelligent species on Earth.
Originally published July 2003