It is commonly stated that if all the 7 billion people on our planet lived at the same standard of living as the average citizen in the USA or Europe, the environment would have to be plundered and polluted so much that the whole ecosystem would collapse to the point where humanity could not survive.
As a long time environmentalist I agree. This is a pity because the desire to create and expand is built into the human psyche.
But there is a way that humankind could expand in number, widen its horizons, satisfy its thirst for adventure and raise its standard of living while preserving the environment, even returning it to a pristine state free of global warming and with biodiversity increased.
How? Improved agriculture, recycling, repairing and updating products rather than scrapping them, eliminating planned obsolence, seeking a higher quality of life rather than raising consumption levels as well as improving efficiency of production, transport and energy generation, and voluntarily slowing down the rate of population growth (thanks to Ken for reminding me), would be part of the answer. Yet consumption per capita is still likely to grow enormously even with these measures fully in place, although physically there is quite enough land area to accommodate us all, with some 20,000 square metres of land per person.
The real solution, I maintain, lies in the rest of the universe.
Once we have found a cheap way of getting into orbit and have constructed space elevators (now close to becoming practicable) we can mine lifeless asteroids, comets, moons and planets for minerals instead of digging large quarries and mines into the Earth’s crust. Solar power can be harnessed in orbit and beamed down to supply pollution free and abundant energy to supplement wave, tidal and wind power. Alternatively, our energy could be obtained by clean nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission, which is the current form of nuclear power), using helium-3 mined on the moon.
Obnoxious waste could be packaged and sent crashing into the sun. The sun is a thousand times the volume of the earth and is fiercely hot: all the waste ever produced by mankind would be vaporised in a fraction of a second.
Protein-rich food could be grown in orbital farms and so reduce the pressure to use land and sea at the expense of biodiversity.
Those of us with a desire to explore have a whole universe waiting for them – there is no need to claustrophobically confine them to the Earth. Who knows what may be discovered as men venture onto the surfaces of Mars, the moon and the satellites of the outer planets? Some may even wish to live there in colonies but in all likelhood explorers would wish to come back to this planet, a heavenly haven compared to anywhere else known to us.
In the very far future it may be possible to terraform entire planets, convertng them into earth-like worlds. Meanwhile, it seems to me that humankind has the ingenuity and will to open up the universe while making the Earth a Garden of Eden for as many as choose to live here.
Author, 2077 AD