Climate change comes to the Fermi Paradox

Over the years I’ve seen climate change blamed for any number of things, particularly when sorting through some of the hottest of takes on social media. Global warming has been used to explain why it’s so hot out (naturally), why it’s so cold out, why there’s no rain, why there’s too much snow, the “increasing” strength of hurricanes, why there were so few hurricanes and a perceived uptick in earthquakes. (I only wish I was kidding about that last one.)

But now the climate change blame game has taken it to another level. And by that I mean, out to the stars and beyond. Global warming may be the reason that we can’t find the aliens. No… not the ones at the southern border. They’re pretty easy to spot. I mean the extraterrestrials who should, in theory, be buzzing all over the galaxy if not visiting us here on Earth. Some bold thinkers have come up with a theory as to why climate change can answer the long-standing mystery of the Fermi Paradox. In short, that’s the question of why aliens from other, older star systems haven’t already shown up here or at least been detectable because somebody should have started a galactic empire by now.

The answer, as explained at Business Insider, is that most of those alien civilizations probably screwed up their planets also and died off before they got a chance to come here and say hi. Oh, and it probably means that we’re already doomed.

One of the most important questions for the long-term survival of the human species is how civilizations handle the changes they make to their environments as they become more technologically advanced. That question could also help us evaluate the chances that other intelligent life exists in the universe.

A study recently published in the journal Astrobiology suggests there are four different scenarios a civilization can follow as it develops. One of those four pathways leads to sustainable existence. But in the other three, civilizations overuse resources and collapse or die off as a result.

The logical question, then, is: Which path are we on?

“The laws of physics demand that any young population, building an energy-intensive civilization like ours, is going to have feedback on its planet,” Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester and lead author of the new study, said in a statement.

This ends up being an analysis which concludes that any species which advances in technology to the degree required to achieve space flight would probably make the same mistakes we have, messed up their planet and died before they could perfect the warp drive. And that we’re likely to do the same thing because Chevron is evil or something.

I don’t know about that. And frankly, neither do they. This is all rampant speculation, but we’re all entitled to play at that game so I’ll offer a couple of contrarian thoughts.

First of all, one possibility is that we are the only intelligent life in the galaxy, if not the universe. I don’t believe it, but we can’t discount it entirely. Another thought is that there actually are some number of spacefaring races out there, but the galaxy is so unimaginably huge that they haven’t gotten around to visiting all of the roughly quarter trillion stars in the Milky Way. We’re out in one of those unfashionable ends of a minor spiral arm (as Douglas Adams liked to say) and perhaps nobody has bothered coming here yet. Or maybe they have and we can’t detect them.

But why don’t we at least “hear” them with their radar signals and whatnot? I’ve touched on this before, but it seems to me that there’s nothing going on to hear because we’re listening for radio waves. Unless you have a transmitter with the power a star, those signals dissipate so quickly that they’re not worth much out past a few light years. And they take forever to cross the gulf between the stars.

Chances are that any extraterrestrials who managed to make it to other worlds are communicating using some form of quantum entanglement scheme. We managed to figure that much out barely 150 years after we moved from smoke signals and flags to tapping out signals on an electrified wire. We haven’t mastered it yet, but we’ve proven the technology in the lab and the Chinese already managed to “teleport” a quantum entangled particle out to Low Earth orbit. If a species out there has lasted significantly longer I’m sure they figured it out.

The thing about that quantum “radio” idea is that you have to be holding one of the “receivers” with an entangled particle to get the message. There is no wave traveling between the two beings having the conversation. We could have aliens on either side of the Earth chatting up a storm and we’d never “hear” it.

But with all that said, it certainly does seem possible that mastering technology opens the door to all manner of self-inflicted disasters which could set back or wipe out a species. It doesn’t have to be global warming. They could nuke themselves, use up all of their resources or open up some sort of portal by accident that spawns a black hole and consumes them. The point is, we just don’t know. So we might as well keep on working on that warp drive.