In a recent conversation with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) teaching colleague, who is also an avid reader of Outdoortopia, and a former engineer before turning his talents to teaching; his argument is that environmental education is now pointless as we're well beyond bringing Earth back from the brink of ecological disaster.
"...we could become a Star Trek species, speeding around the Milky Way Galaxy or beyond to our heart's content and inhabiting any "goldilocks" planet that we set our sights on (super cool right?)!"
Shall We Teach STEM Instead of Environmental Education?
Instead, he advocates teaching children STEM subjects in a quest to get us off our increasingly over-populated and polluted planet to explore our universe, and find a new home for humanity. I thought this was an interesting position to take and one that I hadn't heard before in that context. And that inspired me to write a blog post about it and think a little deeper.
His argument struck me as a curious one. In effect, he was saying "Let's forget about our planet and only home; it's hopeless to try and fix it. Instead, let's find other planets to inhabit - and presumably destroy - by developing the technology and engineering solutions to leave Earth behind and exploit other worlds instead."
What Are the Positives?
I must point out, there are some positives to this approach. For one, it could certainly alleviate the over-population and pollution problems on our planet, if we were to succeed. Plus we could become a Star Trek species, speeding around the Milky Way Galaxy or beyond to our heart's content and inhabiting any "goldilocks" planet that we set our sights on (super cool right?)! We could even extract all of the natural resources we desire (providing we don't meet intelligent extra-terrestrial lifeforms that have a problem with it) and life could be truly out of this world (literally!).
What Are the Negatives?
However, there are some striking problems with this logic on closer reflection. For one, this plan of action assumes that it is scientifically possible to zoom around our galaxy, inhabiting planets to our heart's content. Two, it requires us to abandon the planet we evolved on and call home. And last but not least, it requires us to take a massive gamble on our future, in the hope that we can still consume whatever we want, whenever we want forever and ever by exploiting other planets in a never-ending cycle of destruction, waste and selfish greed.
"Let's not destroy our only planet in the hope that we can simply move to another one - this would be akin to putting all our eggs in one (extra-terrestrial) basket - probably not a good idea."
However, I would argue that this is a huge risk to take; it's a high-stakes and make-or-break gamble for humanity. To put everything on one giant leap of faith that we are able to successfully inhabit other planets, in the available timeframes, seems both reckless and frankly, crazy.
Perhaps the sensible option would be to approach this from both angles. Let's do our best to create a sustainable world on Earth, while at the same time developing STEM in our education system that develops problem solving, creativity and innovation for a better future (whatever that may be).
A Risk Worth Taking?
Who knows, perhaps it's perfectly possible to leave Earth and explore our galaxy. Or perhaps the laws of physics prevent us from ever reaching new and inhabitable planets and calling them home. All I know is that betting the future of humanity on the belief that advanced space technology will solve all of our self-inflicted environmental problems, is a risk that I'm not prepared to take; at least not for the sake of my children or their children's children.
"To put everything on one giant leap of faith that we are able to successfully inhabit other planets, in the available timeframes, seems both reckless and frankly, crazy."
Surely it's better to protect what we know now rather than persuing a future that may or may not be possible in our lifetime, if at all. Let's not destroy our only planet in the hope that we can simply move to another one - this would be akin to putting all our eggs in one (extra-terrestrial) basket - probably not a good idea.
We have one Earth that we are familiar with; it's abundant and can provide for us all, but only if we do a far better job of taking care of it for ourselves, and for future generations to come.
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