It wasn't a nuclear winter that made Earth uninhabitable, though, I suppose, there's still time for that.
It wasn't a meteor, the Rapture, or Yellowstone erupting.
And, despite rising sea levels and a thinning ozone layer, it wasn't climate change.
In the end, what made Earth such a toxic and hostile planet was a uniquely human phenomenon.
You can boil it down to tribalism or expansionism, a lack of empathy or an excess of impotence. Some call it "hubris"; others, "human nature".
To me, it seems like we told the wrong story. Let me tell you what I mean.
It really didn't take long.
The internet sped up the rate of change in human society far beyond what we were prepared for.
In 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, the already-connected world became increasingly dependent on social media as the public square of our respective societies.
What nobody realized, though, was that this level of exposure to the widest ranges of the human experience was unprecedented. The internet, nearly 30 years after its popularization, was still a new tool in the grand scheme of human development, and humans, though self-aware and sentient, are still relatively primitive animals. We were unprepared for that level of connectedness.
It snuck up on us. We embraced online life enthusiastically, relishing the convenience and efficiency. Subcultures formed across Twitter, Discord servers hosted digital villages. Humanity was learning a new way of life.
We were also seeing everyone else's way of life. What should have gone down in history as the Great Evolution of humans into a more empathetic and unified species instead quickly became insular.
Groups formed around common ideologies and common enemies. Conversation became debate, public discourse suffered. Fundamentalist religions, which had been seeing a consistend downward trend in interest until this time, picked up speed with renewed vigor.
What should have been a tool for widening horizons became a series of digital padded rooms in which people sought only one thing — The dopamine rush of groupthink.
The foundational story we seemed to believe was that things were getting worse. Divides were growing between us, economies worsening, and violence and riots became more common. People staged their lives for social media. Crypto, once full of idealists and revolutionaries, became a game of easy money. Easy to win, easy to lose. Opinions became identities, and as our connectivity grew, our connectedness shrank.
The truer story we missed, the one that could have saved us, was that we had, and were, enough. It was our fear of not having enough that kept us from sharing resources, our fear of not being enough that kept us from sharing ourselves.
Hardly any time passed before the effects of our failed evolutionary leap took hold. By 2028, civil discourse had grown increasingly unstable. News was no longer informative, but entertaining or inflammatory. Russian aggression in Ukraine without Chechen support led to a compartmentalized and ostracized Russia. Inflation across the globe forced an attempt at an economic reset, which failed (some speculate due to interference from certain actors in the billionaire class), and subsidized dormitories became the de facto living arrangements of the middle class.
Due to the immense economic pressure, countries that were too small or too poor to keep up collapsed. As a result, the global superpowers (China and the US) had stepped in to "save" as many failing countries as they could — which in practice meant absorbing them and capitalizing on their resources and labor. A weak and detested Russia dissolved, but reappeared as a "new" country. The Osvobozhdenniy Soyuz (Russian for liberation union), or Osvobod for short, began an expansionist crusade to keep up, under the guise of "bringing liberation to the world".
By 2036, only the three countries remained. They had each absorbed as many countries as possible, and rising sea levels took care of polynesia, the pacific islands, the Carribbean, and shrank much of the continents.
The only way to sustain such large countries that were in a triangle of constant competition was strict and broad governance. Authoritarianism was no longer the subject of disdain, but the default. To most, a necessary evil. To us, an unbearable reality.
We were a small group — six of us at first. I'll introduce you later, but suffice it to say we'd been fighting an underground resistance that started as naive idealism in 2017, but became an all-out war against oppression by the late 2020s.
Long story short, by some combination of luck and fate (some say the planets had aligned), I bumped into a certain wealthy engineer who'd spent some time perfecting the art of the rocket and who, I quickly learned, shared our mission.
To get the fuck off of Earth, and start a new society. To save humanity from itself.
Eventually, we were able to make it happen. There were many detours along the way, and some adventures which took us quite far off track — at the furthest point, to an alien civilization outside our star system (don't get excited, they're stuck up assholes that think they're better than everyone else in the galaxy).
But eventually, our path led back to Mars, the harsh red planet we now call home.
To build a new society, you need people who believe in that mission, and an absurd amount of resources and time.
We've got all that, which I can tell you more about another time. Eventually, we were able to send a ship back to Earth, and 21,000 people who were tired of the planet joined us.
They're here now, doing the hard work of building the Colony.
I have high hopes for this bunch. They're ready for something different, and not afraid to get dirty building it.
We'll see how they hold up when one of them reaches the poles and encounters one of those damn worms.