Friday, April 8, 2022

Global Warming and the Fermi Paradox

by Andrew Glikson

Enrico Fermi, Physicist, 1901-1953
According to Fermi’s Paradox, the failure to date to achieve radio communication between Earth and extraterrestrial civilizations can be attributed to their inevitable short-term self-destruction, a consequence of uncontrolled dispersion of toxic substances, contamination of air, water and land, and construction of deadly weapons. On Earth this includes saturation of the atmosphere by greenhouse gases and production of nuclear weapons. 

The most extensive mass extinction event in the history of Earth, represented by the Permian-Triassic boundary 251 million years-ago, involved warming, acidification and oxygen depletion of the oceans, with consequent emanations of toxic H₂S and CH₄, leading to a loss of some 57% of biological families, 83% of genera and 81% of marine species.

If the history of the 21st century is ever written it would report that, while large parts of the planet were becoming uninhabitable, the extreme rate and scale of global warming and the migration of climate zones (~100 km per decade), the extent of polar ice melting, ocean warming and acidification, and methane release from permafrost, threatened to develop into one of the most extensive mass extinction events in the geological history of planet Earth.

As concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases exceed 500 ppm CO₂-equivalents, consistent with global warming of more than >4°C (image above right), driving temperatures to well above 4°C (image below) and threatening to rise at a higher rate than those of the great mass extinctions. 

The accelerating destruction of the liveable Earth atmosphere and oceans (after Wil Steffen, 2012)

Climate scientists have been either silenced or replaced by an army of economists and politicians mostly ignorant of the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere, but quantifying the cost-benefit economies of mitigation like corner shop grocers.

James Hansen giving testimony
before the U.S. Congress (1988)
Proposed mitigation action were mostly focused on reduction of emissions, neglecting the amplifying feedbacks and tipping points projected by leading climate scientists such as James Hansen (image right).

But climate change was not the only threat hanging over the head of humanity and nature. As nations kept proliferating atomic weapons, with time the probability of a nuclear war increased exponentially. 

At the root of the MAD (mutual assured destruction) policy, or omnicide, resides the deep tribalism and herd mentality of the species, hinging on race, religion, ideology, territorial claims and the concept of an “enemy” perpetrated by demagogues and warmongers, leading to an Orwellian 1984 world where “Oceania has always been at war with East-Asia”, as in the current “forever wars“. Prior to World War I two social forces collided, fascism and socialism. While the former has changed appearances, the latter weakened. At the core of superpower conflict between the Anglo-Saxon world and the Slavic or Chinese worlds are claims of moral superiority, but in reality naked grabs for power.

At the centre of human conscience is its mythological nature, a mindset closely related to the mastery of fire where, for longer than one million years, Homo erectus, perched at campfire, watching the flickering flames, has grown its insights and imagination, developing a fear of death, dreaming of omniscience and omnipotence, aspiring for eternal life.

As civilization developed in the Neolithic these sentiments drove humans to construct pyramids to enshrine immortality, undertake human sacrifice, to perpetrate death to appease the gods, expressed in modern times through world wars, as stated by Albert Einstein: “The splitting of the atom has changed everything bar man’s way of thinking and thus we drift into unparalleled catastrophes”.

For an intelligent species to be able to explore the solar system planets but fail to protect its own home planet defies explanation. For a species to magnify its entropic effect on nature by orders of magnitude, developing cerebral powers which allow it to become the intelligent eyes through which the Universe explores itself, hints at yet unknown natural laws which underlie life, consciousness and complexity.

We have entered the age of consequences, masked by the 24 hours news cycle that can only portray transient events but rarely exposes the Orwellian misconceptions which underlie the complicity of the powers-that-be. For, just as individuals can be plagued by insanity, so can groups of people, as in the Jonestown massacre, or in Nazi Germany, where a nation or a species slide blindly into mass suicide, creating systems that saturate the atmosphere with carbon gases and proliferate nuclear weapons in a terrestrial confirmation of Fermi’s Paradox.

Andrew Glikson
A/Prof. Andrew Glikson

Earth and Paleo-climate scientist
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences
The University of New South Wales,
Kensington NSW 2052 Australia

The Asteroid Impact Connection of Planetary Evolution
The Archaean: Geological and Geochemical Windows into the Early Earth
Climate, Fire and Human Evolution: The Deep Time Dimensions of the Anthropocene
The Plutocene: Blueprints for a Post-Anthropocene Greenhouse Earth
Evolution of the Atmosphere, Fire and the Anthropocene Climate Event Horizon
From Stars to Brains: Milestones in the Planetary Evolution of Life and Intelligence
Asteroids Impacts, Crustal Evolution and Related Mineral Systems with Special Reference to Australia
The Event Horizon: Homo Prometheus and the Climate Catastrophe
The Fatal Species: From Warlike Primates to Planetary Mass Extinction