First-Ever Alien 'Exo-Civilization' Study Says Humans Have 3 Choices When It Comes to Climate Change
Whether aliens end up being squid-faced monstrosities or Wookiees, if they've got the intelligence and appropriate gripping appendages to create a civilization, they're probably going to run into the same problems as humans when it comes to climate change.
At least, that's what astrophysicist Adam Frank says. He and his team have published the "first study mapping out possible histories of alien planets, the civilizations they grow, and the climate change that follows."
All in all, it's not looking good for our hypothetical alien friends—or us.
Frank and his team relied on the field of population biology (a specialized type of ecology) and simulations of both a planet's climate and the types of fuels a civilization might use to drive its growth—one "high impact" fuel, similar to fossil fuels, and one "low impact fuel," similar to solar energy. According to Frank, this provides a neat little snowglobe that allows researchers to watch the effects of climate change on an entire "exo-civilization," the new name for an alien race:
"We used these tools to build a simple model for the evolution of a civilization with its planet. In our approach, the exo-civilization's population and the planetary environment are braided together by energy use and its consequences. The planet gives the civilization energy resources. The civilization consumes them to do the work of civilization building."
Though they're painting in broad strokes, the findings of the study are still disturbing.
Three general paths presented themselves, all of which assume that the exo-civilization in question realizes that its energy use is harming the planet and tries to switch from "high impact" fuel use to "low impact" fuel:
1) The civilization undergoes a massive population loss as the ecological blow-back creates hostile conditions for life before stabilizing.
" A sustainable planetary civilization was achieved, but at a high cost," says Frank.
"In many of the models, we saw as much as 70 percent of the population perish before a steady state was reached. In reality, it's not clear that a complex technological civilization like ours could survive such a catastrophe."
The "Soft Landing"
2) The civilization makes the change to lower-impact fuels in time and finds an equilibrium with the planet's ecosystem before they feel any significant detrimental effects
3) The civilization realizes that their actions have triggered a runaway climate change effect that can't be mitigated and subsequently goes extinct.
The conclusions are dramatic, but if we've learned anything about Earth, it's that even real-life climate science has trouble explaining what's happening to our planet.