Let's fly before the Earth fries

By Randall Hopkirk, a professor of applied thermodynamics at Kidder County University, North Dakota (THE GUARDIAN, 14/04/07):

I am based in London this semester and have been amazed at the breast-beating over global warming. Your cold, wet, windy little island is, it seems, being turned into a Mediterranean paradise, and everyone's bleating about it. Lighten up, get the car out of the garage and head for the beach: life is short; the universe will still be here long after you.There are so many misconceptions regarding global warming that it's hard to know where to begin. Clearly, the earth is warming up, and estimates that temperatures will rise by 3C this century may not be far wide of the mark. But the evidence for this change being man-made - the result of an increase in so-called greenhouse gases - is highly contentious. Sun spots, the prevalence of low-altitude clouds and star explosions across the Milky Way are much more likely suspects in the global whodunit.

The central problem is that all manner of grand statements - such as Sir Nicholas Stern's prediction that we face a catastrophe "on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars" - are being based on the flimsiest data. We have reliable weather statistics for only four centuries - far too short a period to make overarching judgments. We simply don't understand why the world is warming up, and should have the courage to admit it.

Geological evidence shows there have been violent shifts in the Earth's temperature in the distant past, so man can't be held solely responsible for dramatic changes in life. Scaremongers posit the ideal of a changeless world, but nothing stays the same. Eden cannot be sustained; we live in the moment. My website, feelfreetouseit.com, was founded to hammer home this point: sustainability is a myth; we have to use what we have, then move on. I have also tried to develop a counter-thesis to the miserablists in my recent book, The Gear Hypothesis: Making Consumption Count (Prodicus Press).

My argument is straightforward: trying to hold on to what we have would be fatal. Earth's resources are finite; the planet is doomed to die - either in the remote future, when the sun explodes, or unexpectedly after asteroid impact or contact with alien life. Add in the dangers of pandemics or natural global warming making human life on Earth unsustainable, and the solution is clear: we must seek other planets to colonise. Earth may be good for 10,000 years or so; then it will be time to find a new home, or homes - a literal New World.

You can either get depressed about that, Stern-style; having to say goodbye to languid afternoons on the Upper West Side and days out in Frinton, or you can see it as a challenge. Homo sapiens are the new kids on the block and that, in just 200,000 years, we should have got from the most primitive hunter-gatherers to the sophisticated beings who now control our destinies is remarkable.

"Civilisation" has existed for only 7,000 years, and if we can go from spears to smart bombs in so short a time we should have no fear for the future. We will have the ingenuity to counter the effects of global warming; and we will start to reach out into the rest of the universe. Man's story is at its beginning, not its end. We are just warming up.