Alien Civilizations Might Suffer Similar Fate as Easter Island
Climate change and unrestrained population growth may be two of humanity’s greatest threats. But according to a recent paper published by astrophysicist Adam Frank, it’s probably a pretty common problem experienced by other civilizations throughout the universe.
Depending on who you talk to, there may or may not be evidence for the existence of extraterrestials, but even if we haven’t directly located them, chances are pretty high they’re out there. And if they’re anything like us, they’ve probably faced negative environmental feedback from the intensive energy use burgeoning civilizations put on their planet.
Using a more terrestrial example, Frank and his colleagues looked at the ancient civilization that once inhabited Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island – a society often examined as a lesson in sustainability.
There’s evidence that the inhabitants of Easter Island, once a thriving civilization, eventually depleted their resources, having not planned for the strain of a growing population. Using their fate as example, Frank outlined four trajectories an alien civilization might face under similar circumstances, considering our fate has yet to be determined.
Frank calls the first scenario the “die-off” model, where the planet’s population shoots up to an unsustainable point, while temperature slowly increases. Over a short time period, the civilization experiences a massive die-off as the planet’s resources can’t sustain the population, while climate disasters increasingly occur from the byproducts of massive energy consumption.
In this scenario, a small percentage of the population survives, leveling off with temperature as energy use decreases, though this is only a fraction of the previous population – something like 30 percent.
The second scenario is the “sustainability” model, a.k.a. the “soft-landing model,” in which the population rises, but realizes it must do something to curtail rising temperatures. This civilization finds a viable solution to climate change, simultaneously leveling off population growth and rising temperatures – an ideal outcome.
The third and fourth scenarios, known as the “collapse” and “collapse with resource change” models, imagine a civilization that significantly over-leverages its resources, creating temperature rise that greatly outpaces population growth. This massive flux in temperature creates catastrophic climate disasters that kill off the entire population. In the collapse with resource change model, the civilization makes an attempt to stop the increase in temperature, but not soon enough, as the die-off occurs anyway – an equally depressing scenario.
So, what’s the biggest takeaway from Frank’s paper? While it’s interesting to postulate about alien civilizations and their struggle to overcome the same issues with energy and sustainability, the paper may be considering the fact that this could be an answer to Fermi’s Paradox; if we haven’t found life out in the cosmos, maybe it’s because others fell victim to climate change or a similar sustainability issue we’re currently tasked with.
Will we have the foresight to achieve that soft-landing model, or will we collapse and die-off?
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