My personal interest in interstellar travel was not aroused by an astrophysicist, but by a moral philosopher. A year ago, I drank with William MacAskill, a professor at Oxford University and one of the founders of the effective altruism movement. Conversations with MacAskill often turn to radical utilitarianism and bold plans to save the world. When I asked him what he thought was the most moral endeavor in the world, he said it was difficult to choose between short-term interventions and long-term projects. For example, the purchase of 1,000 mosquito nets in malaria affected areas is almost guaranteed to save lives. On the other hand, it could be a terrible waste to give money to an environmental lobbyist, but if this adviser induces key government officials to engage in an international effort to combat climate change, the donation could save millions of lives.
If you take that logic far enough away, MacAskill went on to say that one of the most moral projects could be to prepare for interstellar travel. When the earth finally becomes habitable ̵
I was inspired by this argument, but dizzy with its effects. In the final episode of Crazy / Genius I sought help: I asked Morisphilosopher, a Mars Futurist, and Ellen Stofan to lead me through the colonization of Mars. What would it take? What would life be like on the Red Planet? And do you divert billions of dollars into interplanetary travel, the most important project in human history, or an incomprehensible waste of money at a time when there are so many terrestrial crises on this side of the ozone layer?
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