Science Scope

Climate change may incite aliens to destroy humanity, scientists warn

Climate change may incite aliens to destroy humanity, scientists warn

Posting in Environment

Not convinced we need to curb greenhouse gas emissions? Well, maybe you should do it to prevent the little green men from destroying us all.

This story has been updated with new information. See author's note at bottom.

Scientists propose that we curb our greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent aliens from blowing us up.

The researchers argue that if extraterrestrials detect the alarming rate at which our atmosphere is changing due to the incredible amounts of carbon dioxide we spew into it every year, they may decide to eliminate us in order to prevent the damage to Earth from worsening.

I wish I could call this a modest proposal, but it seems to be an earnest one.

I'm all for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to keep Earth's climate suitable for human habitation, but even I find their ideas far-fetched.

Let's take a look at their argument.

Potential types of alien contact

In Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis (pdf), two scientists at Pennsylvania State University and one scientist who is a post-doc in NASA's Planetary Science Division explore three potential types of contact with aliens: beneficial, neutral and harmful.

The 33-page paper depicts some scenarios of beneficial contact: One is that the aliens advance our knowledge and help us solve global afflictions like hunger, poverty and disease. Another is that interplanetary travelers help us fend off an attack from other space invaders.

The neutral scenarios involve situations in which aliens hide from or cannot communicate with us.

The harmful scenarios are a bit more dramatic: ET and his brethren could attack us, enslave us, eat us or spread alien diseases among us or among crucial food species. They could also conduct an apocalyptic physics experiment that makes part of the galaxy uninhabitable.

Protecting ourselves from 'green' aliens

To prevent these disasters from occurring, the scientists recommend that we refrain from sending signals into space, particularly broadcasts that contain information about our biological makeup. After all, Martian aggressors could use such info to create weapons of mass destruction.

The researchers also say that we should be careful not to get the aliens' environmental hackles up. The extraterrestrials could become especially suspicious of humanity because our rapid expansion is a threat to other species. They might annihilate us in order to save other life forms on Earth from going extinct.

The researchers write:

A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilization may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilizational expansion could be detected by an ETI [extraterrestrial intelligence] because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth's atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions.

The authors also suggest that environmentally minded little green men might decide to "save Earth" by killing humans and that we should stop climate change to prevent them from doing so -- which would make sense if it weren't for the high probability that climate change will wipe us out long before aliens make their way here.

The researchers conclude their paper saying that even if we never make contact with aliens, analyzing these scenarios is still useful for imagining the future of humanity. I, for one, wholeheartedly agree and am so glad scientists spend their time on this instead of -- oh, I don't know -- stopping the catastrophic effects of climate change.

via: The Guardian

photo: Crobard/Wikimedia, thumbnail: Mabifixem/Wikimedia

UPDATE, 3:30pm ET: The researcher affiliated with NASA released a sheepish statement saying that his work on this paper has nothing to do with his employer:

So here’s the deal, folks. Yes, I work at NASA. It’s also true that I work at NASA Headquarters. But I am not a civil servant… just a lowly postdoc. More importantly, this paper has nothing to do with my work there. I wasn’t funded for it, nor did I spend any of my time at work or any resources provided to me by NASA to participate in this effort.

There are at least a hundred more important and urgent things to be done on any given work day than speculate on the different scenarios for contact with alien civilizations… However, in my free time (what precious little I have), I didn’t mind working on stuff like this every once in a while. Why? Well, because I’m a geek and stuff like this is fun to think about.

Unfortunately, there is not enough time for fun. Indeed, I felt guilty at times because this has led to a lack of effort on my part in my interactions with Seth and Jacob. Beyond adding some comments here or there, I did very little for the paper.

But I do admit to making a horrible mistake. It was an honest one, and a naive one… but it was a mistake nonetheless. I should not have listed my affiliation as “NASA Headquarters.” I did so because that is my current academic affiliation. But when I did so I did not realize the full implications that has.

Whoops! For more on the backstory, check out this Houston Chronicle blog post.

Share this

Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure