We may have found another Earth, but we may also damage that planet

NASA scientists have reported the discovery of an Earth-like planet in another solar system many light years away from us.

NASA/Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

NASA/Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

This is great news for mankind, assuming that by the time we ever reach this planet, or others which are more suitable for human life, we have radically changed our behaviour on and towards the Earth. Previously I’ve even suggested we move to Mars.

It seems that we are mainly concerned about our own inter-tribal issues, such as how much wealth we can accumulate, who speaks our language, why others don’t share our cultural values etc. If we can’t manage to move beyond this narrow scope then I fear all the scientific advances we may make will become redundant. Even now politicians are either deliberately ignoring or questioning the fairly secure proposition that humans have had a significant impact on the global climate over the last centuries of industrialisation, and that failure to adjust our course soon could have severe, long-term implications.

My background is as a historian of technology and as part of this I studied degrees looking at issues around the first industrial revolution, which took place in my home country, the United Kingdom (technically it started in England, within specific local hotspots). What lessons can I share with you from this?

Firstly, that however much you look at the past to inform future choices, decision makers will still decide to ignore the ‘bad’ bits and hang on tenaciously to the ‘good’ bits. This is the nature of policy.

Secondly, that the more we educate our children about what really happened during the Industrial Revolution, including a transparent picture of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the more chance we may have of them changing their habits collectively, assuming they aren’t overly distracted by media images of a utopian, consumer-oriented society.

Thirdly, that looking at the local scale, for example the reasons why woollen/cotton/silk textile manufacturing thrived or declined in specific areas of England in the 18th and 19th Centuries, gives us an insight into current patterns of (de)industrialisation and the economic, social and environmental impact this can have on our planet.

The last point is the most important one if we really want one day to discover those new Earths out there and leave them in the same condition that we find them.

Do we?