Brian May has rocked the world – but will he be able to save him? | Technical news

Dr. Brian May

Dr Brian May brings together science, music and the arts for the latest edition of his Starmus festival (photo: Paul Harmer)

Sir Brian May seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Yes, that Brian May, lush and even bigger brain, recently knighted, respected Queen guitarist, astrophysicist and animal rights advocate.

His concerns? Only the future of humanity and planet Earth.

It’s a restless May morning and he’s sitting in the storied surroundings of the Royal Society, a building steeped in history and frequented by some of the greatest minds of our time. Outside the window, flags on the Mall fly, keeping in mind the memory of His Majesty’s coronation.

But Dr May – she has a PhD in astrophysics and chooses Dr over Sir in her Twitter bio – is focused on the future. In London, on the occasion of the inauguration of the next Starmus, a festival combining science, music and art, co-founded by a rock star, he devoted the seventh installment to matters closer to his father.

“Previously, Starmus has always focused on looking into space,” says – For the joy of this and for the edification of all present.

With Starmus co-founder Dr. Garik Israelian at the Royal Society's inauguration

With Starmus co-founder Dr Garik Israelian at the Royal Society launch (Image: Max Alexander)

“But with this particular Starmus, because we’re very aware that everyone is more aware of the threat to the biosphere on planet Earth, instead of looking outside, we’re focusing on the issues we face.”

He lists only a few potential existential crises.

“Perhaps the end of our civilization will be the atomic bomb, famine, pollution, habitat loss, artificial intelligence, a pandemic,” says Dr. May cheerfully but seriously. “Maybe an asteroid strike or a catastrophic eruption of Earth’s magma.

He’s referring to the eruption of a supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park that would suffocate North America and cover the atmosphere with volcanic ash – although according to the US government, it’s a 1 in 730,000 chance. Phew.

When asked what he considers to be the greatest threat, he takes the time to think about his answer.

“It’s probably not what you’d expect,” says Dr. May. “I think probably the single biggest threat to life on the planet is over-proliferation, over-population of the human race.

At the launch of Starmus Earth

At the launch of Starmus Earth (Image: Max Alexander)

“It’s a difficult subject to talk about because if you start thinking about how to deal with it, it becomes very unpleasant, but yes, I think we are the cause of the greatest threat to the planet.”

But these are not the words of a 1970s rocker who, because of reckless disregard for his species, puts the dignity of humans below that of other creatures. He cares both for those less fortunate than himself and for the badgers for whom he fights so fervently.

“The fact that we don’t take seriously the issue of feeding every human being is a terrible way to go down,” he says, fully aware that many of the threats that humans pose affect them as well.

Is there life?

Despite the vastness of the universe, Dr. Brian May believes we may be alone

Despite the vastness of the universe, Dr Brian May believes we may be alone (Image: Getty)

“I was unpopular for a long time when I said I thought we might be alone in the universe,” says Dr Brian May of the astronomer conundrum.

“I am very familiar with the arguments against this point of view. The more we discover that we live not only in a universe that is visible to us, we live in a much larger universe that we cannot see – and possibly beyond, in a multiverse that we can see even less – so the probabilities add up.

“And as we discover more and more planets that look like they are habitable, and almost every star seems to have a few of these things, my point of view is becoming less and less popular.

“But I still think we might be alone and unfortunately I don’t think we’ll see any aliens.”

“I wish we could really, I would be very excited to meet you but I think the possibilities are diminishing especially when you look at the SETI results [the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence]. There are some very, very smart people at SETI with very powerful investigative tools and they haven’t found anything, so the bubble around us that seems to be empty keeps growing.

“And if there were life anywhere outside our galaxy, there is absolutely no way we would ever find it, see it, or be aware of it in any way.” We wouldn’t be able to reach them, they wouldn’t be able to reach us.

“I’m willing to spoil the fun by saying I don’t think we’ll ever see aliens.”

A lively figure on the stage, Dr May speaks softly as he ponders his concerns – ones that many in his position may never care about when they could so easily focus on making music for decades.

But as someone who has also spent a lifetime exploring the universe, it is no surprise that he has also developed a keen awareness of Earth’s unique place within it.

And while Dr May himself may express fears about the future, his festival, co-founded 15 years ago with Dr Garik Israelian, promises to be fueled by action, ideas, curiosity and constructive debate.

“We have seen conferences between political representatives looking for solutions, but of course they inevitably come up with strategies influenced by their own political biases about the interests of the countries they represent.

With Queen bandmates Roger Taylor, John Deacon and Freddie Mercury

With Queen bandmates Roger Taylor, John Deacon and Freddie Mercury in the 1970s (Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage)

“By bringing together many of the greatest and most free-thinking minds from all countries, we will try to find new answers to the questions we must ask now to save life on planet Earth.”

This may sound very 70s rock again, but just as many ideas that were once considered fanciful later blossomed.

And Dr. May is not exaggerating when he talks about the greatest minds.

Every Starmus has enjoyed an all-star lineup – pardon the pun – and this year is no exception. The 42 speakers announced this week include eight Nobel Prize winners, legendary conservationist Dr Jane Goodall, iPod inventor Tony Fadell, Apollo 16 lunar explorer Charlie Duke and astronomer royal Sir Martin Rees.

Dr. Jane Goodall

Dr Jane Goodall spoke remotely at the event (Image: Max Alexander)

That’s before considering musical acts yet to be revealed.

All in all, it promises to be a fascinating and thought-provoking few days – even if it’s the end of life as we know it to be discussed. But as Dr. Goodall says, entering the launch event via Zoom: “If we lose hope, we become apathetic – then we are lost.”

‘In addition to disaster resilience, we can look positively at how best to ensure life on Earth flourishes,’ says Dr May. “And perhaps we’ll prove that we, as a species, are worthy of colonizing our neighborhood in space.”

Dr Brian May brings science, music and art together for the latest edition of his Starmus festival

On stage at the O2 (Image: Jim Dyson/Getty)

Outer space is something Dr. May knows a bit about, having spent decades exploring the space around the sun for his PhD while also performing with Queen.

However, this also poses a bit of a mystery to the behavior of our planet as we know it. Should you spend so much time, energy and resources exploring new worlds before this one is safe?

“That is the question, my wife [the actress Anita Dobson] she often shoots me when I tell her how much the NASA missions, in which I participate a lot, cost,” she says.

With wife Anita Dobson after being knighted

With wife Anita Dobson after being knighted for services to music and charity by King Charles III in March (Image: Victoria Jones/WPA Pool/Getty)

“It is very difficult to answer this question. I think the pursuit of knowledge is valuable in itself, but yes, I believe we should allocate much more of our resources to feed those who cannot live with dignity.

“However, there are always spin-offs with all sorts of unexpected benefits for humanity – there are people looking at growing food in space, which could solve many of the world’s problems.”

There are many problems to solve, which Dr. May is all too aware of. This is not all his responsibility, even if he seems to have taken on this mantle.

As a person, an ordinary person, not an era-defining multi-millionaire, he is burdened with these concerns – as are many, especially the younger generation.

But far from collapsing under pressure, in Starmus he created a powerhouse of motivation, curiosity and hope.

Starmus Earth: The Future Of Our Home Planet in partnership with ESET will take place May 12-17, 2024 in Bratislava, Slovakia

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