Celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking has predicted that Earth’s ever-growing population will consume enough energy to make the planet a “ball of fire” in the next 600 years, thereby rendering it uninhabitable.
Hawking made the dire predictions during a video appearance at the 2017 Tencent WE Summit in Beijing on Nov. 5. He said that the only way mankind can survive extinction is to become an interplanetary species and “boldly go where no one has gone before.”
The answer to becoming an interplanetary species lies in the $100 million Breakthrough Starshot program, according to the physicist. The project, which was announced in 2016, is an initiative of Stephen Hawking and Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner, and also includes Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg among its board members.
The goal of the venture is to establish whether a gram-scale nanocraft on a light beam-pushed sail can travel over a thousand times faster to reach the three-star Alpha Centauri system, where there could be a chance an Earth-like planet exists.
The Alpha Centauri star system, located at a distance of 25 trillion miles, is the nearest star system to the Solar System. Traveling to the system would take around 30,000 years, even if humans were to fly on the fastest spacecraft known to man today.
Hawking, therefore, feels that the survival of humans as a multi-planet species depends on the success of the Breakthrough Starshot project. The physicist is backing the interstellar space travel programme to reach the Alpha Centauri system within the next twenty years, with the help of a tiny aircraft that could fly at the speed of light.
“The idea behind this innovation is to have the nanocraft ride on the light beam,” Hawking said. “Such a system could reach Mars in less than an hour, or reach Pluto in days, pass Voyager in under a week and reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years.”
The cosmologist also appealed to investors to back his plans to travel to the Alpha Centauri system, with the hope that a habitable planet might be orbiting it.
Prediction Faces Criticism
Hawking's predictions have been criticized by a report published in the American Council of Science and Health, which says that the physicist’s statements are not rooted in reality.
The report has also suggested that, among other things, electricity consumption will not burn up Earth, because in 600 years humans would have found a solution to make solar power more efficient and also understood the nuances of fusion power, both of which are energy sources free of carbon emission.