Why we will never be able to live on another planet

By | January 17, 2023

Arwen E Nicholson and Raphaëlle D Haywood write:

For decades, children have grown up with the daring movie adventures of intergalactic explorers and the untold habitable worlds they find. Many of the highest-grossing films are set on fictional planets, with paid advisors keeping the science ‘realistic’. At the same time, narratives of humans trying to survive on a post-apocalyptic Earth have also become mainstream.

Given all our technological advances, it’s tempting to believe we are approaching an age of interplanetary colonisation. But can we really leave Earth and all our worries behind? No. All these stories are missing what makes a planet habitable to us. What Earth-like means in astronomy textbooks and what it means to someone considering their survival prospects on a distant world are two vastly different things. We don’t just need a planet roughly the same size and temperature as Earth; we need a planet that spent billions of years evolving with us. We depend completely on the billions of other living organisms that make up Earth’s biosphere. Without them, we cannot survive. Astronomical observations and Earth’s geological record are clear: the only planet that can support us is the one we evolved with. There is no plan B. There is no planet B. Our future is here, and it doesn’t have to mean we’re doomed.

Deep down, we know this from instinct: we are happiest when immersed in our natural environment. There are countless examples of the healing power of spending time in nature. Numerous articles speak of the benefits of ‘forest bathing’; spending time in the woods has been scientifically shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and to improve sleep quality, thus nurturing both our physical and mental health. Our bodies instinctively know what we need: the thriving and unique biosphere that we have co-evolved with, that exists only here, on our home planet. [Continue reading…]

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