What Is Humanity's Prize For Dealing With Climate Change? : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture The short film Wanderers is a beautifully realized vision of all the places waiting for us in our cosmic backyard, if we can just find a way to sustain humanity, says astrophysicist Adam Frank.
NPR logo What Is Humanity's Prize For Dealing With Climate Change?

What Is Humanity's Prize For Dealing With Climate Change?

Courtesy of Erik Wernquist
Image from the short film Wanderers.
Courtesy of Erik Wernquist

When discussing climate change, students often ask if I am pessimistic about the future. I tell them I am quite the opposite. I am an optimist about what is coming next.

Without doubt, the sustainability bottleneck we face is real and, quite possibly, an existential challenge for civilization. On the other hand, human beings are remarkably clever and inventive and, when at our best, compassionate. I'm sure that we are capable of dealing with the climate-related challenges we face.

But such success begs another powerful question: What happens if we do figure out how to create a sustainable, equitable, energy-intensive technological civilization?

To answer this question, I offer you Wanderers, a short film by Erik Wernquist that features narration by Carl Sagan. The film takes clips of Sagan reading from his book Pale Blue Dot. It's a beautifully realized vision of all the places waiting for us in our cosmic backyard called the solar system.

As I have argued before, we have now reached a pivot point in our history. Given what we can do now, and what we can imagine doing fairly soon, the next few centuries of a successful human civilization should include embracing our neighbor worlds.

Inhabiting the solar system is not the only prize for dealing with climate change — but it may be the one that's most interesting in the long run.

(And thanks to Phil Plait for turning me on to this film.)


Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described "evangelist of science." You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4.