I recently was tremendously disappointed to hear that the Netflix TV program Travelers was cancelled. The show was phenomenally well done, top flight science fiction, and the only reason I got a Netflix account. The premise, for those who don't know, is that a future Earth, sophisticated and technologically advanced, has still be reduced to living terrible lives of deprivation under the surface of their now-ruined planet. Whether it be asteroid strike, anti-matter explosion, hyper-viral plagues, black hole experiments gone wrong, or all of the above, the Earth wasn't just made unpleasant – it was all but destroyed, irrecoverably. The only chance they have is to use their mind-boggling technology to send the minds of people into the early 21st century (where the entire show takes place). The show centers around a team of travelers who are tasked with many small pieces of the unimaginably complex and evolving plan to avert catastrophe.
Perhaps the part that I enjoy the most is that the story begins with strong implications that thousands of people have already been sent back. Narratively speaking, it establishes stakes: this is not an easy task ahead of them. But also, it opens up one of the fundamental science-fiction questions of the show: is escalating power with limited wisdom and caution a stable attractor? You see the characters make many positive changes, and I don't think it spoils anything to say, it's not always obvious how saving lives would change the future.
The show is amazing, and you ought to watch it before reading the rest of this post, as I discuss spoilers, including spoilers for the final episode.
We slowly learn that heroically saving the planet over and over might actually be making the future worse. As we never directly see the future (excepting some no-dialogue memories in season 3), it's hard to know why. But the show's answer (a plausible one) is that 21st century humanity ought to save itself. The lack of wisdom, careening from one potential disaster to the next, is only accelerated by safety bumpers. You need to be hurt by the lesser perils if you have any chance at surviving the greater ones.
There's even "The Faction", which thinks it's better to trigger terrible disasters, to make humanity build the more careful world they think is needed, while reducing population to increase their margin for error (as resources will be less tapped in the meantime). They're played as villains – as most people attempting to kill billions of humans would be – but their point isn't reversed morality, like many poorly imagined villains. They have an actual noble goal, and are shown to be monstrous in pursuit of it, and ultimately, probably wrong about whether their actions would help (I appreciate the show being ambiguous about this – the whole point of morality is that there are some thing we shouldn't do regardless of how efficacious they would be, so learning that should be avoided).
My reaction, upon reaching the end of Season 3 (sadly, the final season), was that they actually had a great deal of new approaches to try. [Major spoiler alert: as the world crumbles into nightmare, they travel back to before the program started to call it off – no more Travelers program – and then we see that it was merely iteration 1, and the future would merely try something else.] There's no hint what they do, what they'd try differently next time. But obviously, if there were a Season 4, it would likely still involve sending people back, otherwise the name Travelers wouldn't make sense. I guess they could pull a Veep.
But what I'd do is, stop trying to send people back to avert disaster. Stop trying to minimally impact the past to help make more stable plans. Instead, send people back to essentially conquer the past. Buy stability through having your own government – I've heard about 1/3 of modern countries aren't really what we even imagine as countries – Afghanistan's presence on a map doesn't show the area of control of any organization, tax payments, law enforcement (even if it's just "pay taxes") etc. don't work like they do in normal countries. You probably could just find a spot no one cares about and set up shop, building humanity's bunker that can survive the coming storm.
I guess we'll never know what the show runners would have done, but, depending on your level of optimism, it's important to think about. Humanity ought to survive. How do we make sure that happens, in the terrible case that we're all sort of doomed?