A few days ago I came across a copy of the Resurgence & Ecologist magazine which was published late last year (September/October 2012, No. 274). In this magazine there was one article which I think completely misses the point. In 'The Great Space Myth' (pp. 54-5), John Naish attempts to convince the reader that "the empty promise of space colonies only encourages the continuing ruin of the one planet we can inhabit". Naish claims that:
"such lofty ambition [to establish human space colonies] has a shadow side because it gives us permission to act as bad tenants of the planet we already live on. It encourages our species' habit of rapaciously destroying those ecosystems that support us only to abandon that mess and find new virgin territory to despoil."
It is the claim that the human activities (past and present) that have resulted in the 'environmental crisis' of modernity have been "encouraged" and "given permission by" the following belief that I find to be highly implausible; well, not highly implausible, just plain wrong:
The Belief: If we change the Earth's biosphere to such an extent that it becomes uninhabitable then we can move to a space colony.
There is an 'environmental crisis' because this term is a concept created by humans to refer to a subset of human activities. The 'environmental crisis' has a cause or causes; this cause/s is the reason why humans have acted in the way that they have. What I find to be wrong is Naish's claim that one of the causes of the 'environmental crisis' is 'The Belief' (as detailed above). I believe that the causal roots of the 'environmental crisis' can be traced back to the formation of the Solar System, but many people simply trace the roots back to the Industrial Revolution; this was when the large-scale human modification of the Earth's biosphere was set in motion. I don't think anyone (except possibly Naish) believes that the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution were causally influenced in their activities by 'The Belief'. I don't believe that these pioneers thought something like: we could do this Industrial Revolution thing and if it all goes pear-shaped we will simply move to a space colony!
Similarly, I don't believe that any of the human actions that have caused the 'environmental crisis' have been causally influenced by 'The Belief'. Humans, past and present, simply act in accordance with their inner feelings/motivations/drives, they act in a way which they believe will make them happy. For many humans alive today this means acting in a way which they believe is sustainable/environmentally-friendly. For many humans alive today this means acting in a deeply unsustainable way (constant airplane fights, gas-guzzling cars, high all-round resource use). What seems wrong to me is the belief that those humans who are acting in an unsustainable way (individuals, corporations, governments) are causally influenced to act in this way by the belief that their actions are justifiable/permissible/acceptable because if everything goes wrong we can move to a space colony.
Clearly, if one wants to modify human activities across the planet in order to make them in accordance with what one personally believes to be desirable, then one needs to identify the actual causes of human activities. If one believes that human activities are caused by the belief that humans can escape to a space colony, then one is surely wrong. Furthermore, from the perspective of my philosophical worldview, current human activities across the planet are just as they should be. The force to environmental destruction is in the ascendancy which is a sign that the Earth is bringing forth the technological protection that life needs in order to survive; the force to environmental sustainability is weak but growing, which means that when the technological protection is in place we can look forward to a long-term sustainable future on this planet (although in the distant future space colonization seems to me to be inevitable; human technology will enable both humans and non-human life-forms to live in non-Earth locations when the Earth becomes uninhabitable because of non-human causal reasons).