Stephen Hawking: We’re still Earth’s greatest threat

Did you come into this article looking for some cheery, uplifting news to take away from all the Brexit gloom? Probably best to turn around now, because Stephen Hawking has given humanity a fairly damning report card for its performance of the past few years and suggests worse news is around the corner.

Speaking to veteran broadcaster Larry King, Hawking was immediately asked whether things had improved since their last meeting when Hawking criticised humanity’s greed and stupidity. Not so much: “We have certainly not become less greedy or less stupid.”  

“The population has grown by half a billion since our last interview, with no end in sight. At this rate, it will be 11 billion by 2100. Air pollution has increased over the past five years. More than 80% of inhabitants in urban areas are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution.”

This should probably come as no surprise, given Hawking has previously speculated that humans

might not even see the next century, but his pessimism was particularly stark this time around.

In fact, if you go back over time, you’ll see Hawking’s pessimism increases with each interview with Larry King. In a much earlier interview, you can see Hawking briefly touching about external threats (7:08), but he dismisses them pretty quickly: “I see great dangers for the future, but I’m an optimist. I expect we’ll find a way forward.”

Then in 2010, he was a little more concerned, telling King (3:23): “We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards on ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.”

Pressed by King about what our chances were, Hawking said: “If we can get through the next few hundred years, we should have spread out into space. Then an isolated disaster will not wipe out the entire human race.”

Six down, several hundred to go, and a planet that is heating up at an unprecedented rate. No wonder Hawking seems less optimistic, but at least Elon Musk is pressing on with that whole interplanetary species thing.

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