Above : Elon Musk leads a tour of the new home for his lucky young victims winners of the Terrestrial Turncoat Lottery. From left, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregard, Musk, Augustus Gloop, Mike Teavee. Not pictured : Charlie Bucket, who died in a tragic zipper malfunction. His eyes imploded and skin melted as he simultaneously suffocated
and froze to death. We wish them all the best in making this horrifying martian hellscape their new home!
“I have learned to hate all traitors, and there is no disease I spit on more than treachery.”
“Fine, then go.” - Garth
“I’m gone.” - Wayne
“Go, then.” - Garth
“I am.” - Wayne
“Go.” - Garth
“Well, I’m gone.” - Wayne
“Then go, then” - Garth
“Well, I am.” - Wayne
- Wayne’s World, 1992
Some of the planet’s most influential minds are vocally promoting the pressing necessity for
humanity to colonize other worlds. Fantasizing about off-world human settlements is nothing
new, and an innocuously common fodder for sci-fi fantasizing. But the need to pack up and
leave? Stephen Hawking, arguably the species’ most influential living scientist, has recently
taken it upon himself to announce that humans must begin leaving earth within a generation,
and be well on our way within a century. Astrophysically, he’s convinced that we will inevitably
be picked off by an asteroid, but also — and evidently more pressingly — that our
overbreeding, rampant pandemic diseases and pathological profligacy will probably doom us
before then, even if the nukes don’t.
And, for his part, Elon Musk agrees. One of the most inspiring luminaries in recent blah blah
blah, Musk has been leading efforts to make the world more live-able, through cleaner energy,
smarter cities and imaginative infrastructure innovations. In a recent bravura performance of
Tesla engineers, they built a battery that an Australian state runs on. And they did it in three
months because Musk said he’d do it for free if they missed their deadline. Indeed, Musk has
emerged as a kind of savior-cum-prophet preaching simultaneously the inevitability and
profitability of sustainability. Yet he too believes homo sapien is an endangered species, at
least as long as earth qualifies as its environment.
Interestingly, both of these men have spoken — with a growing cadre of tech brahs — about
the dangers and inevitable costs of Artificial Intelligence. AI, the thinking goes, is too
ambitious, dangerous and difficult to calibrate to the norms, needs and expectations of its (at
the time of its writing) master : humankind. In other words, a hubristic drumbeat, driving toward
progress and futurism for its own sake, may eclipse the integrity required to manifest a mature,
moral and meaningful existence. Technological temptation and humanity’s apparently
congenital shiny object syndrome are the endogenous pitfalls of this hubris : we are supple
prey for our very ambition and avarice.
The problem is that so many the manboy fanboy Muskovites — brahs, businessman and legions
of wanna be’s that did too much MDMA at Burning Man in the thrall of his pseudo-Svengali tech
god status — don’t have the critical thinking skills or spinal rigidity necessary to actually play a
productive role in framing or understanding, much less solving, wicked problems. They like to buy
cool things, of course. They love to tweet about them and flaunt the status they convey. And they
positively live to like them on Facebook and Instagram.
But just as legions before who thought Steve Jobs was Jesus sporting a turtleneck and some
sociopathic tendencies, these folks are followers, and they create a frightening effect on our
civilization’s intellectual (and, in effect industrial) inertia and evolutionary arc. Jobs’ acolytes
didn’t want to deeply ponder that precious metals were being mined and soldered by dying
children in the corners of the globe eclipsed by his sleek design vision and considerable
shadow — and Musk’s ardent devotees are no different, though their indifference and willful
ignorance apparently operate on a stupefying scale : one that literally transcends the solar
A reality check, bummer though it may be, is sorely needed.
Let’s talk about the planet for a second. It’s called earth. It invented you! It invented everything
about you : the air you breath and use to smell and feel stuff, atmospheric pressure that allows
your organs to work; the light you can see; heat and cold extremes you tolerate. There are
other little critters crawling around on earth eat each other and these other things called plants.
They defecate and die and create more opportunities for other things to do the same — with
slight variations that create a stunning range of organisms. That’s called life. There are a ton of
other really little critters on earth, and your own body includes about 100 trillion of them — the
microbiota — whose cells may actually outnumber the human ones that compose your being.
Needless to say, finding, raising, preserving or farming other critters on another planet — for
nutrition, health, or even companionship — is a ridiculous proposition.
Human beings are inventions of the earth, but it is more than our inventor. As human
civilizations from every corner of this rock for millennia have understood, earth is our mother.
That is probably not a relationship you cast away, deny, destroy, ignore or recreate with
psychological ease. Along with the physical strains and stresses that await our future zero-G
brethren, a potentially horrific emotional and cognitive surreality may simply be the cost of
admission to the endless void and strangling oppressiveness of a “life” “lived” millions of miles
away, and one inextricably interwoven with and realized through technology alone. This isn’t
simply a gallows-humorous rant : ample evidence exists that the psychological strain of existing
in outer space is substantial. So while it is clearly insane to fundamentally attempt to leave the
planet for good, insanity may just be the fate of those who manage to.
And on a purely logistical level, the closest potentially inhabitable planet that isn’t Mars (which,
I assure you, wants nothing more than to murder you by way of some asinine technical glitch) is
only about a one billion hours-long (that’s 130,000 years) ride away. So bring a very full
If we contemplate the “conditions on the ground” (parlance that our planetary deserters won’t
have to worry about for awhile), we observe a number of important and addressable problems
right here on earth: a litany of landscape-scale ills. Massive ecosystem disruption and
biodiversity decimation is already unfolding as a function of a changing climate and the
resource extraction processes that both drive and exacerbate that change. Landscape mosaics
are morphing, shrinking and shifting, triggering droughts, famine and telegraphing waves of
human suffering and refugees. Overpopulation not only spreads resources more thinly, but
produces prodigious amounts of pollution and contributes to political instability.
That the human race has managed to politicize the climate of the earth is no mean feat — it’s
downright impressive : the air we breathe constitutes literally the only resource that has
respects no lithospheric, hydrologic or political boundaries or demarcations — and its use as
de-facto repository for GHGs represents an indictment of our civilization and age. In a era of
remarkable technological achievements and advancement, climate denialism tantamount to
flat-earth thinking of yore is, simply, winning out because delay and inaction are irrevocable.
Prioritizing the profits of extraction industries and fossil fuel burning over intergenerational
social and environmental justice. But that some of the leading thinkers on earth are actively
contemplating — much less prosthelytizing — planetary abandonment represents an alarming
inability of the human race to think through a relatively straightforward thought experiment.
Enter the terrestrial turncoat, to whom these challenges apparently seems an opportunity to
cut and run in the most consequential way imaginable. And consider the inevitable fallout of
this rationale. Where does this direction of discourse lead, one that takes for granted that earth
is damned and doomed but humanity is free to moonwalk away? On a human level, people like
Elon Musk are trendsetters and bright cultural constellations in addition to their functional roles
in the economic and industrial reality of today. Indeed, Musk is on the front edge of a
movement to preserve and promote much of what is good about humanity in the
Let’s be clear : leaving the planet and maintaining an existence worthy of the gift of human life
is pure, unadulterated fiction. So what does a discussion that precludes the long-term viability
of the biosphere by the very people who might be able to salvage it say about our civilization,
our time and the paradox of now? The inevitable effect of this kind of thinking is totally
obvious. And any analogy of a similar situation leads to the same logical next steps : just as a
person on a sinking ship will strip the thing of any and all resources they can carry or strap to
their lifeboat, the net effect of believing that abandoning the earth is necessary makes utterly
raping and pillaging it not only logical but justifiable. Now you’re talking about an arms race to
secure resources that will be needed to be shuttled, smuggled and stockpiled off-world.
Let’s spend disbelief about the logistics. Say we have the gear and gizmo and gazillions of
dollars necessary to export some of our race to the heavens. Who shall it be that we “blast
off?” I know : the rich! They have the best genes, you know. And besides, they are, by
definition, the source of the investment required to mount this attempt. Nations are imaginary
and meaningless without physical geographies, which will be castaways of the transition.
Without the jingo-tribalism that national identity imbues, the ultimate and only organizing
principle for class and caste hierarchies will simply be wealth. Thus dawns the age of planetary
Which should make you wonder : how about the folks whose status (or lack thereof) keeps
them stuck to this rock when all the well-heeled decide they need to turn tail, point it toward
the sky and skedaddle? They’ll be left to decline and die and maybe dine on each other, as the
rate of burning jet fuel to launch rockets guarantees the cataclysmic warming of the globe,
pollutes massively and feeds the nihilistic anarchy of hopelessness, betrayal and abandonment.
This is fallacious reasoning of galactic proportions and amounts to both a staggeringly blithe
acceptance of decidedly not-foregone conclusions about the fate of the biosphere, and a de-
facto countenance of the pillaging necessary to facilitate departing it.
Earth feels quaint, maybe even a bit anachronistic to people constantly being told that they
“are the future”. Futurists, for all of the innovations they shuttle into contemporary culture —
real, imagined or simply mused over — are a rather insufferable lot. Mostly (we should
acknowledge the steampunk genre as a notable exception), this is because they generally
refuse to acknowledge that certain modes of sustainably being or wisely living in the future
may strongly resemble ways of life from our past. Another way of thinking about this dynamic is
acknowledging that not everything about today is fundamentally “better” than yesterday. This
should seem obvious : there would be no such thing as regrets, focused hindsight or missed
opportunities if what is next necessarily is what is best.
The terrestrial turncoat is a particularly loathsome creature less because of their fantasies of
utopia beyond the gravitational embrace of the earth, which is no sin. Their unforgivable
transgression is declaring that our fate here on earth is both sealed and simply too humble and
homely. These people of vision and ambition, instead of directing their considerable
ingenuities and resources at solving the most important problems, realize that the complexity
of the real problems is simply too much. Thus they try to short-circuit the equation by wiping
clean the planetary slate and reframing the challenge to begin anew in a future of science
fictional and fantasy. They reduce a question about what we should do (an ethical dilemma) to
to one of what we could (a technical problem). Who dares to call their bluff, these titans of
Imagine we dump a few trillion dollars into terraforming Mars. The asteroid Hawking fears hits
it, not earth. Everyone dies. Everything’s wrecked. Mars is even more uninhabitable for eons.
“Well,” they’ll say, “that’s why we need to do this on all the planets and starting now! Eggs in a
basket, you know.” Stop it. Take another look at this : if this planet was the only real option
(which it is), how would you conserve, use and invest the considerable resources it offers
(including human ingenuity) to maximize its lifespan and the quality of life upon it — for all
On the other hand, perhaps there is no better gift to the biosphere and its long-term prospects
than the imminent and permanent departure of its most treasonous and cowardly ilk. More to
the point, if you aren’t interested in preserving the life of your earth-mother and the myriad
earthlings yet to exist, perhaps a self-imposed post-modern natural selection process is just the
ticket. Or, in Garth’s words, “Then go, then.”
Its not difficult to imagine why Musk is contemplating this course of action. SpaceX is regularly
performing miracles in voyaging to (and, maybe even more impressively, returning from) space.
He’s made the impossible a reality on any umber of occasions, and pushing his personal limits
and ambitions may be drowning that sad little voice in the back of his head that’s saying saving
the planet is the ultimate challenge. But Elon. Bro. Put down the telescope and iPhone 16. Tap
the brakes on your Tesla. We love you. The planet surely loves you, for crying out loud! But,
your myriad achievements notwithstanding, you have a very consequential question to ask
yourself : are you the captain of this ship, or just the alpha rat deciding to leave it? You can’t be