Let's Leave Earth 5: the doom-doom scenario

[Interior. The coffee bar again.]


Narrator The cake of the day is peanut butter sponge with chocolate icing. On trying it, Gneiss and Tourmaline have agreed that they’d have preferred chocolate sponge with peanut butter icing. Now, they are trying to agree on something that is more complex and simpler at the same time.


Peanut butter sponge with chocolate icing

Tourmaline I think we have to rule it out entirely. Leaving Earth on the brink of global disaster isn’t an option.

Gneiss Surely that would be the ultimate motivator though? Global disaster such that no one would be conflicted anymore as to whether leaving was the right thing to do?

Tourmaline Motivated maybe, but doomed.

Gneiss More than the doom of staying?

Tourmaline No, equally to.

Gneiss A doom-doom scenario?

Tourmaline Exactly.

Gneiss Why?

Tourmaline Because successfully leaving Earth will depend on there still being successful living and infrastructure here.

Gneiss So we can pop back for anything we’ve forgotten?

Tourmaline Actually, yes.



Gneiss We are planning to plan our departure, you know.

Tourmaline What is the likelihood we’ll think of everything? Zero. Whatever contingency, there is no chance that nothing will go wrong.

Gneiss Agreed, but we can pack back-up and spares and we’ll have to be resourceful. Things go wrong here all the time, we have to problem-solve. We’ll take problem-solving with us. I’ll make a note.

Tourmaline Living on Earth has made us so complacent, you know. It’s too forgiving. We’re not adapted to living in a more hostile environment. Here, we can make so many mistakes and yet, overall, everything’s fine.

Gneiss Apart from diseases and disasters and battles and things.

Tourmaline Including. In spite of all that, life goes on. I think that’s half why the climate crisis is such a crisis, you know, it’s just the shock of realising there actually is something we can do where everything won’t just grow back in a few years. It’s the ultimate parental-discipline boundary. The one we weren’t expecting.

Gneiss We’ve digressed.

Tourmaline Have we?

Gneiss No, but I still need to know why you think Earth-catastrophe destroys, rather than necessitates, the chance of leaving.



Tourmaline You remember in The Martian when he survives partly because of the help he can get from people who’re still on Earth? They’re able to devote the time and focus to problem solving because they’re own lives aren’t threatened. The work needed for one person to survive away from Earth was more than one person could do for themselves. Plus, all those helpers still had offices and labs and resources for experimentation and margins of error.

Gneiss That was fiction.

Tourmaline And our project is speculation.

Gneiss Don’t you think a space colony could become self-sufficient?

Tourmaline Yes, eventually.

Gneiss Oh! Oh, I see!

Tourmaline Exactly.

Gneiss When you put it like that.

Tourmaline The first serious attempt at leaving would need guaranteed support from relevant experts still on Earth.

Gneiss And that necessity could last some time, you think. If some error had been made and relaunch was needed. Or, like you say, they needed something after a decade or so that we hadn’t predicted. Something they couldn’t manufacture or synthesize in their new environment.


ratio of Earth-based experts needed per viable astronaut

Tourmaline Yes. I’d estimate that the first leaving party would need to happen with at least a century of viable life still certain on Earth.

Gneiss At least. Or the attempt to leave become exponentially more likely to fail.

Tourmaline Exactly.

Gneiss Leaving Earth is only possible in the window while staying is also possible.

Tourmaline That’s the win-win scenario.

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