What issues are powerful enough to cause people to seriously consider something as radically different as Vision 2020 ?
There are many answers - in three main groups - all of which overlap:
There are many threats to humanity, on both the personal and the social level.
Humanity as a whole has many major threats, several are briefly explored here:
Our Greed and Intolerance in the face of perceived local shortage threatens us daily - with wars, famines, and use of technologies which are unstable in the longer term, but give good short term gain to some. Perceived shortages of raw materials are a major risk to peace at all levels (fuel, wood, land ...).
Volcanism could be a major problem. The earth has many very large very powerful volcanoes that erupt infrequently, but with devastating consequences for wide areas. The Yellowstone National Park is an example in the USA, Lake Taupo is an example in New Zealand. The last time the New Zealamd one went off it caused five years of famine in China. Having an alternative source of food and energy if light can no longer penetrate the atmosphere is important for the long term survival of large numbers of people.
Polution is causing many problems at many different levels and in many different circumstances. We need both the technology and the wealth to be able to mitigate those effects. It will be an ongoing challenge, as every action has effects, and we need to lift our game by an order of magnitude to get humanity as a whole through the next few centuries.
Tsunamis can be a major problem. Technology can give us a variety of strategies to effectively save the lives and property of people at risk from tsunamis, we just need to have that technology available to the millions at risk.
Disease is a big threat. We know how to combat most diseases, but it takes us time. Being able to isolate ourselves while we go through the process of developing effective vaccines or other countermeasures is the only effective strategy against the outbreak of a new communicable disease. The technology proposed here allows anyone to isolate physically, without being isolated socially.
The emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is of great concern to me. Any intelligence
has to go through a growth phase, and has to come to its own conclusions about its values
and the best way to ensure its own survival. If an AI were to grow into our current society,
and be able to see the reality that is faced by billions of people, it would be unlikely to
perceive humanity as friendly and peaceful. It seems highly probable to me that it would
perceive us as a threat. That would not be a situation in which I would like to find myself.
I believe we need to delay the emergence of AI at least until we have established universal wealth and peace on earth (such as this project enables). Any other strategy seems very high risk indeed.
Loss of the Earth's magnetic field is a possible problem. The loss of magnetic shielding would greatly increase the risk of genetic damage, and would have environmental consequences that we cannot manage with existing technology. The technology available after this project completes would give us options.
Over 1,000 large meteors are known to have orbital paths which intersect with Earth's orbit. There are probably more which we have not yet discovered. The probability of any one of these hitting the Earth is low, but the consequences are very high (evidence the Yucatan strike which destroyed the dinosaurs).
Comets originate from the Oort cloud - beyond the orbit of Pluto. They are occasionally deflected into orbits which come close to the sun (and Earth) by either gravitational or impact interaction with other bodies. Their distance is great, and probability of impact very low, but their numbers are huge, and there are many unknowns about comets. Ancient records indicate that comets have been much more common at times over the last 6,000 years, than they are now.
Cosmology now indicates that the matter we can see forms but a small fraction of the total matter in the universe. Most matter must exist as "dark matter", which cannot easily be seen, but does have gravity. We know almost nothing about it, except that there is a lot of it. If some of it comes our way, then it could affect us directly, or through either of the mechanisms above. This is the biggest unknown - it could have velocities up to 600 km/s (against comets at 60 km/s). (See Wrinkles in Time - George Smoot)
For each of the reasons given above, it is a good idea to get a lot of people and engineering capacity off this planet, and out where they could do something useful to protect the environment we need down here.
There is a lot more stuff off the planet, than there is on it. Mostly there is a lot more energy off planet, and energy equates to power - however you want to interpret these words. Power is wealth and choice. Greed is a powerful motivator to get to the riches which lie awaiting off this planet.
Most people on earth lead primitive lives, with little choice about even what or how much they eat, where they live, or what they do.
A little enabling technology, to provide both education and the tools to provide new choices, has enormous "social justice" to it. We would no longer be forced to squabble over shares of a limited cake - we would all have the ovens, recipes, bakers and ingredients to make whatever sort of cake we desired, and as much of it as we reasonably desired.
This will not solve all of the problems in life - life is about the problems we choose to face - yet it does dramatically alter the range of problems available to the average person.
The universe is strange and beautiful beyond imagination. Reality is far stranger than fiction.
There are many variations on each of the above themes, any one of which is enough for a person to dedicate their existence to a project such as this.
What is your choice ?
If none, why not ?
The choice and responsibility, as ever, is yours !
The invitation to join us, and make a difference, is yours also.
Vision 2020 Home Page.