The New Year is a chance to get off the path to self-destruction

At the start of the New Year, we find ourselves in a chaotic place on Earth. We, humans, face threats on multiple fronts, from climate change to the constant threats of war and social unrest across the planet. It seems as if the year ahead will be a pivotal one for the human race in general.

Will we be able to overcome the obstacles and transition to a more peaceful, advanced society? Will humans take action to address their collective impact on the planet, or will they bury their heads in the sand and follow the short-sighted path to temporary wealth and greed? Will they choose to do so knowing that they have made it that much harder for future generations to endure?

In America, it seems the Trump administration is intent on the short-sighted path, without acting responsibly on issues like climate change. Scientists and politicians seem unable or unwilling to convince the masses that immediate change is required while a teenage girl was thrust into the vacuum as a champion for saving the planet.

Nevertheless, the New Year is a clean slate, and as such, there is so much possibility ahead. Surely, global citizens can unite to push civilization toward a more sustainable, peaceful, lasting civilization. Armed with the latest advances in science and technology, we cannot fail. There is no excuse.

The bigger picture

As hopeful as we all are for a brighter future for ourselves and our irreplaceable ecosystem, consider the prospects from a wider lens. Looking out into the universe, consider the possibility that other civilizations may have faced the same problems that we face today. How would they have responded?

In Smithsonian Magazine, authors, James Trefil and Michael Summers answer that question, in “If Aliens Existed Elsewhere in the Universe, How Would They Behave?”

Today, scientists know that there are countless exoplanets in the habitable zone near the warmth and light of a star –the Goldilocks zone. Nevertheless, we are left to wonder why we haven’t yet seen the proof that civilizations like our own have arisen. The authors suggest an ominous logical reason and one that should serve as a wake-up call as we head into the New Year.

The Fermi paradox

After careful consideration, they suspect that life on other planets is much like our own, aggressive, competitive, and warlike thanks to the struggle for survival and natural selection process.

“Looking at the history of our species and the disappearance of over 20 species of hominids that have been discovered in the fossil record, we cannot entertain a hopeful attitude toward the possibility that we will encounter an advanced technological species that is more peaceful than we are. Anyone we find out there will most likely be no more moral or less warlike than we are. Scary!”

We haven’t seen proof of intelligent lifeforms out there. Instead, we’ve heard “the Great Silence.” Italian physicist Enrico Fermi famously asked, “Where is everybody?” now called the Fermi paradox.

Scientists and science fiction writers have come up with many possible explanations for the silence, but then the writers point out a more logical possibility that advanced civilizations simply aren’t out there even though habitable planets abound.

From Smithsonian:

  • The zoo hypothesis: Extraterrestrials have declared Earth to be something like a protected wilderness area.
  • The Star Trek hypothesis: Extraterrestrials have adopted a Prime Directive that prevents them from interfering with developing civilizations such as our own.
  • The paradise hypothesis: The extraterrestrials are fat and happy in an ideal environment and have no interest in exploration.
  • The replacement hypothesis: Organic life has been replaced by intelligent machines (a future often envisioned for the human race), and machines have no interest in contacting organic life.

A well-worn path to self-destruction

Since we now know, the prospects for life exist across the night sky, maybe the reason extraterrestrials haven’t contacted us is that the odds for such advanced beings to self-destruct are astronomically high.

“This leads us to a very dark possibility about the fate of life on Goldilocks worlds. Given the tendency of natural selection to produce aggressive species—species like Homo sapiens—it is possible that the entire history of the universe has been taken up by the process of evolution producing intelligent life forms on one Goldilocks planet after another, only for those life forms to wipe themselves out once they discover science. In other words, there may have been vast numbers of civilizations that reached our level out there, but they all destroyed themselves before they could colonize their nearby stars. This doomsday scenario is a common explanation for the Fermi paradox.”

As we enter a new year, consider if this dismal outlook for advanced higher lifeforms has a ring of truth. Have countless advanced civilizations such as our own existed, only to fail in the end? Did they all give in to the darker forces of greed, violence, and inaction, rather than take a path toward collective enlightenment, peace, sustainability, and progress?

Perhaps looking at the big picture can give us the sense of urgency required to overcome what comes next. Can human beings avoid a path to self-destruction, and thus prove ourselves one exception to a general rule in the universe? Working together, we will have a chance.

Have a look at some of the challenges likely to impact the globe in 2020:

Featured image: Image via Pixabay


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