Know what the most precious commodity on this planet is? I’ll give you a hint-it’s not platinum or diamonds; nor is it gold or silver. The most precious resource on Earth is water, or at least the drinking kind. While 70 percent of our planet is covered by water, less than one percent of that is fit for human or animal consumption. It’s one of the reasons we have periodic famines throughout large chunks of Africa and parts of Asia. Lack of rains or periodic droughts seem to occur with increasing frequency in various parts of the world. Here in Las Vegas, which is one of the driest places on Earth, and where about 2 million people live in the LV Valley, we’ve been experiencing a severe drought for more than a dozen years. Las Vegas obtains its water from Lake Mead, which, in turn, receives its water from the Colorado River. Or to be more precise, the Colorado Streamlet, at this point in time. Our local newspaper recently ran an article about how Lake Mead is at its lowest level in history, and if drastic action isn’t taken by 2014, the area will simply run out of water. Although it didn’t specify what kind of drastic action options are available. Maybe the hotel/casino bosses can import kegs of drinking water into LV, the way they imported bootleg booze during the 1920s.

Here’s another fact you may want to consider. From the dawn of history through the year 1913, Earth’s population grew to a modest 1.8 billion people. That’s over a period of millions of years. In the last 100 years, however, our planet’s population has skyrocketed to over 7.1 billion. By 2025 it’s estimated to be around 9.5 billion. This, of course, not only adds huge amounts of stress and demand to available drinking water, but to all other precious resources such as coal, oil, gas, metals, etc.  Add to this, the fact that huge medical and technological  advances have considerably extended human life spans, which will put additional strains on food and water supplies as well as precious resources, and you have a situation where going to live on another planet looks more attractive by the day. Not that such an option is available at this point in time.

Perhaps the most brilliant mind in the world today, British astro-physicist Stephen Hawking, has recommended such a course of action. Single planet specious don’t survive, said Hawking in a recent interview. He further stated that the human race should not have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. He went on to say that should shrinking resources, nuclear proliferation, a growing population, or climate change threaten humankind on Earth, “a colony on Mars could serve as a lifeboat to keep the species going.” (Of course, one can debate whether our species deserves to be kept going, after the mess we’ve made on this planet.) He ended the interview by saying that technology being what it is today, he doesn’t foresee that kind of space travel in the next 100 years. (Where’s that “warp speed” technology they had on the Star Trek series, when you need it.)

Nevertheless, there is interest in a manned space trip to Mars. Since almost all large governments are broke these days, the technology would have to be developed by private industry. Mars is about 34 million miles from Earth, and astro-engineers estimate that with today’s technology, it would take a manned space craft about 8 months to make the trip. Provisions for the return trip back to Earth would have to sent to Mars on a second space craft, and be waiting there for the space travelers when they arrive. A Dutch organization called Mars One wants to start colonizing Mars within a decade. Its already received 78,000 applications from would-be colonizers willing to relocate. Which says a lot about how wonderful life has become on this planet.

Besides water, food and other resource shortages and overpopulation, you might want to consider certain other factors. Like ecological degradation.  Like the systematic erosion of our rain forests or ocean phytoplankton which capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide while emitting enormous quantities of oxygen. The final destruction of either will make life no longer sustainable on Earth. Or how about world-wide soil erosion which has caused the Earth to lose one-fifth of its arable land, just in the last decade. Perhaps global-warming ( whose existence is vehemently denied by all the Rush Limbaugh-types, and other assorted looney-tuners) is one of your hit-parade favorites. Let us also not leave out nuclear waste hazards as well as massive amounts of other toxic waste. As well as spreading holes in the ozone layer (which prevents from becoming as crispy as french fries) because of the existence of long-lasting chlorofluorocarbon gasses. And, to say nothing of the massive extinction of animal species due to all of the above, as well as man’s inherent greed and selfishness.  We are probably among the last generations to have the good fortune to co-inhabit this planet with large animals such as elephants, rhinos, hippos, the great apes, and major cat species-lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, etc. Within a hundred years it’s doubtful that they’ll exist even in zoos.

Old guys like me can probably make it through to the end of our lives without drastic global consequences. But young people might start to experience the effects of ecological degradation within their lifetimes. For example, global warming might finally result in the rise of ocean levels with the resulting flooding of word-wide coastal areas, which would displace hundreds of millions of people, and bury a large portion of the world’s primary agricultural lands. And none of what I’ve written takes into effect the craziness of many of the world’s leaders and governments. Anyone of whom could set off a nuclear holocaust at virtually any time.

So how about it. Anyone care to sign up to be one of the first voyagers to Mars?

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