How Do Aliens Solve Climate Change?
The universe does many things. It makes galaxies, comets, black holes, neutron stars, and a whole mess more.
We’ve lately discovered that it makes a great deal of planets, but it’s not clear whether it regularly makes energy-hungry civilizations, nor is it clear whether such civilizations inevitably drive their planets into climate change.
There’s lots of hope riding on our talk about building a sustainable civilization on Earth. But how do we know that’s even possible? Does anyone across the cosmos ever make it?
Remarkably, science has now advanced to point where we can take a first step at answering this question.
I know this because my colleagues and I have just published a first study mapping out possible histories of alien planets, the civilizations they grow, and the climate change that follows.
Our team was made up of astronomers, an earth scientist, and an urban ecologist.
It was only half-jokingly that we thought of our study as a “theoretical archaeology of exo-civilizations.” “Exo-civilizations” are what people really mean when they talk about aliens.
Astronomers refer to the new worlds they’ve discovered as “exoplanets.”
They’re now gearing up to use the James Webb Space Telescope and other instruments to search for life by looking for signs of “exo-biospheres” on those exoplanets.
So if we have exoplanets and exo-biospheres, it’s time to switch out the snicker-inducing word “aliens” for the real focus of our concerns: exo-civilizations.
Of course, we have no direct evidence relating to any exo-civilizations or their histories. What we do have, however, are the laws of planets. Our robot emissaries have already visited most of the worlds in the solar system.
We’ve set up weather stations on Mars, watched the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus, and seen rain cascade across methane lakes on Titan.
From these worlds we learned the generic physics and chemistry that make up what’s called climate.
We can use these laws to predict the global response of any planet to something like an asteroid impact or perhaps the emergence of an energy-hungry industrial civilization.
Science fiction has given us enduring images of alien races. Not surprisingly, most of them look a lot like us but with different kinds of foreheads or ears, or a different number of fingers on their hands.
In developing our first cut at a science of exo-civilizations, my collaborators and I weren’t interested in what aliens might look like or what kind of sex they have.
To do our job we had to avoid the specifics of both their individual biology and their sociology because science provides us little to work with on those fronts. There was, however, one place where biology was up to the task.
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