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Our Last Hope: Inter-Stellar Migration

24/02/2017 17:26 | Updated 24 February 2017
Handout . / Reuters

Somewhere on one of the newly-discovered planets orbiting the star known as Trappist-1, there are life forms that have worked out how to live sensibly. (Please note: this is not fake news. It is conjecture. Bear with me ...)

Just imagine: these life forms conserve as much as they destroy.

They protect the environment on which they depend for their survival.

And they have drawn up a system of rules that protect the most vulnerable and respect universally accepted rights. They call this rules system the Pan-Galactic Convention of Universal Life Rights.

Their leaders always tell the truth and are chosen by mass assemblies of all life forms on the planet. Political debate is conducted in accordance with legally-defined parameters: all statements made must be capable of scientific proof, and any insults aimed at those holding differing views render the insulting individual ineligible for public office.

There's just one problem: I don't know where to buy a ticket to go and live there. (I'm assuming they have immigration rules that allow all well-intentioned aliens to settle on their planet. After all, why wouldn't they?)

These planets are, in astronomical terms, our next door neighbours, a mere 39 light years away, which translates -- I think -- into just 234,000,000,000,000 miles (I've rounded up to the nearest trillion). If I jumped on a rocket tomorrow, I could be there in, oh, something like 700,000 years. So, at least, I'm assured by the BBC's estimable science editor David Shukman.

The star around which the planets orbit is known as an ultra-cool dwarf, which means they are bathed in life-giving warmth and the light of a perpetual sunset. Three of them are in the so-called 'Goldilocks zone', neither too hot nor too cold, where liquid water, and therefore life, could exist.

I think planets 1e, 1f, and 1g all sound quite delightful, but if I were allowed to choose, I'd head for 1f, on the basis that I always try to avoid extremes. And if I indulge my inner fantasist, it is because the planet on which we currently exist is in such a God-awful mess that hopping on an inter-stellar bus to relocate a couple of hundred trillion miles down the road seems a supremely sensible course of action.

To take just one, miserable example: according to the United Nations, more than 20 million people on our planet -- specifically in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen -- are now facing famine or risk of famine over the coming six months. If you're one of my most faithful readers, this won't come as a surprise to you.

After all, last November, I reported from north-east Nigeria: 'The UN has warned that up to 75,000 children could die within the next 12 months unless more help arrives urgently ... As many as 14 million people could soon be in need of help.'

And nearly three years ago, I reported from South Sudan: 'It is happening again. Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda, 30 years after the famine in Ethiopia, Africa's twin scourges are back. This time it is a single country facing a double disaster. South Sudan, the world's newest nation, not yet three years old, is on the brink of catastrophe.'

Other reporters, responding to ever more desperate appeals from relief agencies, also sounded the alarm. We might as well have been reporting from one of those newly-discovered planets. Conferences were convened and pledges were made, but some of them, like the UK government's promise this week of £100 million of 'new support' for South Sudan, were simply repeats of earlier pledges. Playing with numbers while people die. Nice.

For much of my adult life, life on Planet Earth has appeared to be getting steadily more agreeable. The shadow of nuclear armageddon in the 1950s and 60s slowly gave way to arms reduction agreements in the 1970s and 80s, and then the Cold War ended in 1989, democracy took hold all across Europe, and we seemed destined for a future of stability and freedom.

But then came the wars in the Balkans, the genocide in Rwanda, the 9/11 attacks and everything that followed. Now, with Donald Trump in the White House, and Britain trying to find a way to extricate itself from the European Union, we face a future of deep uncertainty and great danger.

So will you join me on my rocket trip to the constellation Aquarius? Or should we stay put and hope the current political spasm will pass?

After all, Ukip didn't win the Stoke by-election, so maybe that spasm has already passed. On the other hand, Labour lost in Copeland, so its long slide into oblivion continues.

Conclusion? I'm on my way to the inter-stellar ticket office. See you there.

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