Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Extraterrestrial Contact: Climate Change Response

Climate change is occurring on planet Earth. The only question is how we should respond. I suggested in a previous post that there is a need to balance our society. That includes creating a Steady State Economy that is bound by environmental necessities. Here are some steps that would need to be taken.

Move Military Budgets to Climate Change Response

The top 15 military nations in the world spend a combined $1,739 billion on defense. The defense budget of the United States is one third of that total: $610 million. The cost of climate change response will be staggering and every nation on the planet will be impacted. It makes no logical sense to spend money to defend ourselves against each other, when there is a much greater threat in climate change. Military budgets should be turned to carbon reductions, climate resiliency, and disaster response. Military service people could be moved to those areas of need. Their expertise would be valuable in many situations. Climate change should be declared a national emergency by every nation on Earth. Arms and technology companies can turn their business towards environmental response. There would be much money to be made. This would be disruptive to the economy at first, but quite simply we have no choice. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to implement. Instead of gradual change, waiting would create the need for immediate change, and that would be much more disruptive.

Manage the Movement of Humans

Climate change will render some geographical locations uninhabitable due to temperature, sea level rise, and famine. Humans will need to leave some areas and settle in new locations. That may sound like a negative for regions not suffering as much from climate change, as they would likely receive the refugees. But it doesn’t have to be a negative. There is concern over the decline in population growth in developed nations. Leaders are worried that there will not be a working population large enough to support the aging population in developed countries. Immigration is an obvious solution. That fuels fears because immigration is a mess in much of the world. However, it is not problematic by its very nature. It is problematic because we lack an effective system for immigration on a large scale. Denying entry to immigrants and creating huge refugee camps hurts everyone and it is not sustainable. Developed nations need a workforce and immigrants from high-impact climate change areas could provide that workforce. The key is to have a fair system for resettlement that doesn’t have negative consequences for the native population, and ensure that immigrants are treated equitably and not exploited.
Share the Response to Problems

People love to tout their country’s role in the global economy and yet if you mention a problem in a far-off nation it is someone else’s problem. National borders often can’t constrain issues in a country. The refugee crisis in Europe is a prime example. Syria and other nations experience violence and economic collapse. People flee. They have to go somewhere. That leads to illegal immigration and refugee camps.  If we don’t think of these conflicts in a broader context we hurt ourselves. It’s the same in the United States, where migrants are flooding the border as they escape troubled nations in South and Central America. A thoughtful and effective response would engage the cooperation of all countries involved. And yet we respond with unilateral patches to the border.

Control Waste
We are drowning in our own waste. It is floating in giant patches in our oceans. It contaminates our drinking water and food sources. Developing nations are the most responsible for wholesale dumping of waste in oceans, but developed countries are just to blame. The United States is the number one waste creator in the world. We have sent our so-called recycling overseas for years, not wanting to know what is done with it. Now China no longer will take the world's recycling. Humans have a huge waste issue. We must develop more biodegradable materials and advance recycling in terms of technology and infrastructure. There is no reason for the United States and other developed nations not to have a robust recycling system that actually works. It will take disruptive government action and a lot of effort.  

Support Education for All 
Education has become a necessity in the global workforce. The number of low-skill jobs is declining and the need for skilled workers is great. While this has been most studied in the United States, it seems likely to be an issue worldwide as technology grows in developing nations. The Brookings Institution examined the issue. The authors suggest educational solutions. They also point out the need for equal access to education. A more responsive educational system could train workers for future employment, but it needs to be affordable and easily accessed by most people.

These suggestions may sound like science fiction right now, but they won’t for long. Climate change problems are growing worse. Environmental circumstances will soon make these actions inevitable.

And once again, why discuss this on an extraterrestrial contact blog? We can’t have much of a relationship with aliens if our world is a mess. And while we may look to extraterrestrials as saviors who can fix all of our problems, that is both na├»ve and dangerous. We face these issues no matter what the reality of intelligent extraterrestrial life. If we are alone in the universe we need to solve our own problems. If there are alien civilizations inhabiting far-off planets we need to solve our own problems. If aliens are watching us we need to solve our own problems. If aliens visit our solar system someday we will still need to solve our own problems.
Photo by L.W. on Unsplash

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Dangers of a Growth Based Society

I live in Nashville, Tennessee. Cranes dot the horizon and construction is everywhere. We take pride in that growth. And yet we know what comes with it- increased traffic, higher rents, and congestion. Part of the joy in seeing a city grow is knowing that the growth is linked to the economy of the region and thus employment opportunities are abundant. We also like having a wide range of medical care; a choice of schools; skilled professionals in many fields; more restaurants and amusements. Inevitably we compare ourselves to other cities and decide that we are winning. But is that rational in the long-term?

The economic health of any region is currently judged by growth: growth of the workforce, growth of wages, growth of domestic product, and growth of trade. Countries need to keep growing to survive in the global economy. And it’s not just nations. Individuals want consumption growth to support a better lifestyle.  We live in a growth-based society. Sadly, there are indications that uncontrolled growth is killing the planet that supports us. Climate Change is a dire emergency as we deal with extreme weather and sea level rise. We are facing an ecological disaster as we lose species at an alarming rate. Growth and consumption are causing many severe problems. Exploiting fossil fuels without control may produce short-term monetary and employment growth for an economy, but what about the long-term impact of fossil fuel use to climate change? And that is just one example of growth causing damage.

A few economists are debating the value of uncontrolled growth. Michael Spence, the Nobel Prize winning economist at Stanford University, questions if measurements of growth can capture the thing humans most care about: well-being.

So, what do we do next? Over the years, environmentalists have suggested that we need moderation in consumption and increased control over waste. Not using straws at a restaurant and recycling are two small examples. The idea is that if we increase efficiencies and reduce waste we can have less of a negative impact on the environment. That makes sense, but does the traditional environmentalism go far enough? The world population continues to grow. That means more consumption and waste.

Given that we are a growth-based society, how can we achieve population control and not suffer economic collapse? We need more people working and consuming to fuel our economy. And besides, there is a matter of equity. People in Third World nations just want to participate in the lifestyle that many people in First World countries enjoy. They want better food, cars, electronics, and larger homes. They want to consume more. And who are we to deny them the benefits of growth?

The answer may be in balance. Humans need to find a way to live healthy and rewarding lives while preserving the environment to whatever degree is still possible. We need to make radical technological changes to respond to climate disruption and ecological issues. We must learn to live within our means.  We need a balanced society.

The term Steady State Economy is often used in connection with this idea of balance. It is a society where population and consumption are stabilized to be sustainable. Balance may sound like a passive response, but at the scale we are discussing, it would require a great deal of effort and ingenuity to achieve. Balance is currently discussed in many different ways, including sustainability and low-impact living, but it should include all facets of life including economic, social, and familial considerations. The balance comes from determining what we need, not what we want, and how to achieve that in a way that does not harm the Earth.

Economist Kate Raworth with Oxford University proposes Doughnut Economics. It is graphic representation that shows the reconfiguring of the world economy within the framework of our environment. Simply put: proper consideration of economic development means taking into account the consequences of those actions, both in terms of the environment and the impact to humans. The Raworth balance comes in the form of a circle or doughnut with an ecological ceiling that we should not go beyond and a social foundation that we don’t allow people to fall beneath. She shows the spikes that certain human activities entail, taking us beyond the ceiling of sustainability. One example she uses is the production of beef. There is a staggering amount of resources required to support cattle (land, feed, chemicals) and pollution (nitrogen primarily) that production creates. Cutting back on beef consumption could help to re-balance the situation. If you don’t think that’s a radical idea, just ask the cattle industry.

Laurie Kaye Nijaki at the University of Michigan also calls for a green economy.

“The green economy aims to widen the view of economic growth or progress through an integration of environmental considerations in the development process. It reframes growth as “green growth” and thus limits development by taking into account quality of life considerations that are hinged on environmental quality today and into the future. In this way, the metrics for evaluating development choices and their successes is changed to one that seeks to reference the long-run environmental effects of economic action and inaction.”

Big ideas always face hard realities. There is currently a world-wide recycling crisis. China stopped taking recycling and they were the primary market for the entire planet. More and more municipalities are dropping recycling because they can’t find anyone who will take it. Traditional economics won’t work. Recycling likely needs intrusive government action to make it profitable. And that would increase costs for consumers and irritate the large waste companies. Not an easy challenge. And that is one of many issues a green or Steady State economy would face.

What does all of this have to do with extraterrestrial First Contact? Our Earth-bound problems make us a much less attractive candidate for an extraterrestrial relationship. Why should aliens waste their time contacting a species that is driving itself to extinction? If we can’t manage our own planet, why would they want us out in the universe exploring and perhaps wrecking other planets? Solving these problems may be an essential milestone for civilizations to overcome and other beings may be waiting to see how we do. Or it could take extraterrestrials intervening to help us consider a new way of living here on planet Earth. The history of an extraterrestrial civilization could provide insight for moving forward here on Earth.

Photo by Shea Rouda on Unsplash

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Four Levels of an Extraterrestrial Relationship

This title may sound like a funny article about dating aliens, but please consider it in a different way. We hope to make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization someday for one primary reason: we, as the human civilization, want to communicate with them. That would be a relationship, albeit a really complex relationship. A relationship sounds cozy, but in reality it should not imply any positive or negative attributes. We would need to be careful at any level of contact with members of an extraterrestrial civilization.

That given, aliens may want nothing to do with us. Or they may not want to disturb our fragile human institutions by making contact. If they did decide to talk to us, communicating with them could be quite complicated. However, if we were able to communicate well, such interaction could be categorized in terms of how much information they are willing to share, and the impact that information could have on the human civilization.

Level One- This would be the most basic form of relationship. An extraterrestrial civilization would simply tell us their intent in contacting us, and whether they come in peace or with a threat. That intent could just be to say hello. Perhaps they would also inform us if there are any other extraterrestrial civilizations in the universe. In this level of interaction they may not share much beyond those basic points. This would be tough for humanity to handle. Speculation would run wild. The lack of information could fuel reactionary behavior. Some form of preparatory defense may make sense.

Level Two- In this scenario, the level of information flow increases as the extraterrestrials share their history. They could also have a more substantive reason for contacting us. This means they are trying to accomplish something in the relationship. They could be warning us about another civilization or giving us advice on how to handle our current environmental challenges. And with greater information we would need to use greater caution. We would always want to ask ourselves why extraterrestrials are doing something. That would involve a close examination of their stated reason and an investigation as to what might be a hidden agenda.  I am not suggesting full paranoia and a reactionary response After First Contact, but a little paranoia is quite practical in unknown situations. As in Level One, some form of preparatory defense may make sense.

Level Three- This would involve extraterrestrials actively sharing science and technology insights, perhaps at a rudimentary level at first. It would necessitate the gatekeeper framework for communication that I recently discussed in the Initial Working Groups posts. One would assume that at this level of information sharing there would be less of a direct threat from traveling extraterrestrials. However, the possibility of manipulation through cooperation would increase. We would also need to be careful about what information we receive and how we disseminate it to the world population. The impacts to our society, both positive and negative, would increase with each bit of information we receive, even if extraterrestrial intentions are benevolent.

Level Four- This level would be an expansion of Level Three. It would necessitate the need for a much more robust framework of gatekeepers. It could start with the Initial Working Groups, but eventually need to expand to include long-term solutions. This type of communication could have a significant impact on the human civilization, perhaps leading us in new directions as a species. Humanity would need to be aware of this dynamic and create safeguards for how that information sharing would progress. With a high degree of extraterrestrial involvement in our civilization, we could become very different beings in a few hundred years. We need to think about that now.  There would be a high risk of reliance on extraterrestrial intervention. We would need to decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing for the human civilization, and take measures. The possibility of extraterrestrial manipulation of humans would increase dramatically in a Level Four relationship. 

The use of words such as sharing and relationship may make this discussion seem warm and fuzzy. It is not. The decisions humans make in the very first days of alien First Contact could have a profound impact on humans for generations to come. Human beings would need to start an extraterrestrial relationship with eyes wide open, and that means applying critical thinking to each and every step we take.
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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Extraterrestrial Contact: Do It Ourselves

I think one reason people hope for alien contact is the possibility that humans could receive technological help, especially scientific ideas that would allow us to solve big challenges, such as climate change and the need for clean, high-power energy sources.  Such information sharing sounds great at first glance, but if you consider the possibilities, it becomes a more complex issue.

Why would we want alien information? If we discover a far-off signal, extraterrestrials could be of advanced technological development, at our level of technology or even lower. No matter what, they would likely have a unique take on the workings of the universe and that alone could prove interesting, if not helpful. If aliens come to our solar system then they would clearly be more technologically advanced. That is the scenario I am considering here.

There is no reason to think that visiting aliens would want to help at all. Giving us their technology could make us a threat. But let’s say the extraterrestrials were willing to share, would we want to take them up on the offer of technological help? I think there are two good reasons to turn down, or at least closely examine, such a proposal. Receiving alien technology could make us dependent on their technology. Unless they take a lot of time to explain their entire system of science from the ground up, we would simply be receiving devices and processes. We would have no foundation, which would provide the tools to fix or change such technology. We would be dependent on the aliens. I don’t think that would be a safe or practical position for humanity. Extraterrestrials could use such methods to keep us constricted in development and confined to our solar system. They could even use it as leverage to control our society.

The other reason to be wary of technological help from aliens I have discussed previously. The human system of science builds on itself. Our current level of scientific knowledge comes from the work of hundreds of thousands of humans throughout history. Observations have been made. Questions have been developed. Hypotheses have led to experiments. Results have been analyzed, communicated and refined. That scientific process, for any specific hypothesis, can involve many researchers and many institutions working for many years. Along the way, we use the data to discover new ideas and follow new paths. Science rarely travels on a direct route to success and it’s not easy or pretty in the making. Receiving spoon-fed knowledge from extraterrestrials could threaten to undermine our system of science and weaken the entire structure. Unless each and every piece of alien knowledge was deciphered and then carefully integrated into our scientific system, alien knowledge could create holes in our disciplines. A flood of alien scientific information could wash away our scientific foundations all together.

Receiving information about alien history, and the history of other civilizations in the universe, could be safer. We could even learn about the make-up of the universe from the extraterrestrial perspective in such a way that we could adapt their ideas into our scientific system. But we would want to be very intentional about that process and carefully evaluate each step. And we would have to judge whether the aliens were telling us the truth. Another possibility for rendering humans less of a threat would be sharing incorrect or confusing information.

This entire train of thought is based on the premise that aliens would be in a physical position to share a great deal of information with us. That type of communication would most likely require close proximity. In reality, if an extraterrestrial civilization is discovered in a far-off galaxy, communication could be difficult, taking many years to send even a single message. However, at this point the entire question of extraterrestrial intelligence is pure conjecture, so I do think it’s helpful to consider many different possibilities. If close-proximity, high-information alien First Contact does occur someday, humans will be quite excited, and we could make decisions before thinking them through. Not that we ever do such things. It would seem prudent to take a deep breath and ask ourselves some important questions before reacting. The welfare of future generations could depend on our caution.

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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Extraterrestrial Contact: Trust

“Trust is one of the most pervasive - and perhaps for that reason least noticed - aspects of social life. We need it in order to live at all. As the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann has remarked, 'A complete absence of trust would prevent [one] even getting up in the morning.” – GeoffreyHosking (2002).

“Trust is a big part of human interaction. It is perhaps so big a part of how we deal with each other that it may be taken for granted. Trust is seen to include both emotional and cognitive dimensions and to function as a deep assumption underwriting social order.” Lewis and Weigert (1985)

Trust is important to humans. And that begs the question: what role would human trust play in interactions with extraterrestrials, if we make alien First Contact someday? These authors argue that trust is a social reality. What happens when our human reality collides with an alien reality?

Perhaps the closest we have come to considering the matter of trust in a non-human scenario is a discussion of Artificial Intelligence. Researchers Cristiano Castelfranchi and Yao-Hua Tan (2001) pioneer that concept in “The Role of Trust and Deception in Virtual Societies.” This is from the abstract: “The authors argue that it is important to analyse the role of trust and deception in interactions between agents in virtual societies. In particular, in hybrid situations where artificial agents interact with human agents it is important that those artificial agents can reason about the trustworthiness and deceptive actions of the human counterpart.”

Developing a trust framework for AI to interact with humans can help us better understand trust from an alien perspective. There is the possibility that aliens would value trust. It is an integral part of the development of the human civilization. It would make sense that trust could be an important part of an alien civilization. Humans use trust for essential parts of our society: trade, communal living, and governance. Could aliens have developed a complex society without trust? The answer is yes. Just one Star Trek example: Aliens could have a hive mind, which unlike individuals resorting to trust would involve an implicit understanding of each creature as part of the whole hive. Trust may seem odd to such extraterrestrials. Even if aliens do value trust, the concept of trust may be quite different from ours. Trust expectations change from human culture to culture here on Earth. While both Chinese and Americans value trust, they act on it in different ways.

This goes to the issue of alien thinking. Many researchers argue that our biology helps to define our way of thinking and posit it would likely be the same for aliens. Very different biology could mean a very different way of thinking. That could have a big impact on the concept of trust. And even if the aliens we meet some day are of artificial intelligence they are likely to have been influenced by the biological creatures that created the AI. Humans are currently designing AI to imitate human thinking. It seems plausible that aliens would do the same.
I could sort out these various possibilities for some time, since we have no idea what intelligent aliens might be like or if they exist at all. But there are some key points we can glean from this discussion.
If aliens contact us first, hopefully they would take the opportunity to examine our psychology and sociology before doing so. Those insights regarding trust would be important. They could help aliens design communication to meet human needs.
That then leads to another issue: Humans need to be wary in any First Contact situation. Just because aliens understand how to build trust with us, doesn’t mean they are not deceiving us. We would have no history of extraterrestrial culture to consider and, in fact, no data at all. We would have to learn as we go. That means caution would be necessary at every step. Crafty aliens could find a myriad of ways to deceive us and control us. I prefer to stay optimistic in considering alien First Contact, but cautiously optimistic. That means moving forward slowly and with great deliberation. Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.
Ultimately, anything we do in an alien First Contact situation would require some level of trust on our part and on their part. We will have to do what humans have done for thousands of years: observe, learn, take action, evaluate results, and refine. We can only hope the aliens will be doing the same. Perhaps then we can develop a real trust together.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Extraterrestrial Contact: Astrosociology

I’ve lamented for some time that there are not enough social scientists involved in the consideration of First Contact and life After First Contact. There is an effort to change that with the Journal of Astrosociology, founded by Dr. Jim Pass in 2015. The late Dr. Albert Harrison, who I have mentioned many times in this blog as a pioneering scientist in this area, was instrumental in the effort to examine public reaction to extraterrestrial life. He wrote an article in the inaugural issue of the journal and explains Astrosociology as:

“…the psychology of worldviews as a conceptual tool to further our understanding of people’s reactions to astrobiological discoveries. Worldviews are the cognitive frameworks and psychological processes that shape perceptions of reality, influence the kinds of evidence that people accept, and makes it possible to cope with unpredictable and potentially dangerous conditions.”

This would likely be an important area of study in the wake of Direct First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Social scientists would need to track public reaction and provide insight. Some members of the public would be optimistically excited about First Contact and others would be scared. There would be a continuum of human response across that spectrum with potentially troubling reactions coming from groups at the fringes. The study of human response would likely involve Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Religion, Political Science, International Relations, and Economics, just to name a few.
Another pioneer in this area was the Canadian scientist, Dr. Allen Tough. Sadly, he too has passed on in recent years. I have read many of his articles. He established the online journal Contact in Context.
He also compiled what is perhaps the most comprehensive publication about social science and First Contact: “When SETI Succeeds: The Impact of High-InformationContact.”
I highlighted the publication in this blog back in 2011.

In one paper, titled “The Role of Social Science in SETI,” several authors suggest a simple scale showing, much in the same vein as hurricane warnings, the impact of First Contact.
Force One: Knowledge that we are not alone, primarily in discovery of some form of extraterrestrial communication.
Force Two: Humans gaining scientific or technical knowledge from communication with an extraterrestrial culture.
Force Three: Direct interaction with an extraterrestrial culture leading to a long-term dialog.
Perhaps the biggest insight that I gained from Dr. Tough is the idea that the human Internet would be an important tool for visiting extraterrestrials. He realized this in 1995, as the Internet was just coming into public perception. Many scientists propose that if extraterrestrial civilizations exist, they are far off, so far away that travel and communication would be quite difficult. Perhaps so, but given enough time and wherewithal, there is no doubt a probe could reach us from a far off civilization. Even with our limited technology we have already sent probes that are currently outside of our solar system. The best way to study human civilization would be through the Internet. Hopefully, aliens would spend some time doing that before they contacted humans. They could learn our languages and achieve a basic understanding of our biology, history and society. But even if visiting aliens did their homework, we humans would not want to rely on those aliens to develop a plan for a relationship with humanity. That would be our responsibility. We would need to consider the impact of such a relationship on our current society and for future generations. That will require the work of academics who are not afraid to explore other disciplines beyond their focus. This will be an important need After First Contact- people who can consider human challenges from a variety of viewpoints, using information from multiple disciplines. It is not how scientists commonly work.

Social scientists help us to better understand who we are as humans and as a society. They will be on the front lines of response if Direct First Contact occurs someday.

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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Extraterrestrial Contact: A Road Map for Humanity

If we are confronted with alien First Contact in our solar system someday we will have to confront more than just the unknown. We will have to confront our inner nature. Do we spasm in fear as a human civilization and seek to protect ourselves at all costs? Do we allow greed and fear to create international chaos through conflict between nations?

It may be tough to get people to take that internal exploration seriously. We will be excited and focused on learning as much as we can about the alien perspective. Dedicated anthropologists and futurists will need to do the internal work and then help to prepare a roadmap for humanity.

Luckily, there are already science-based groups doing this sort of thinking. The Future of Life Institute (FLI) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one such organization. It is led by M.I.T Physics professor Max Tegmark, Skype founder Jann Tallinn, and UC Santa Cruz Physics professor Anthony Aguirre. They focus on the human challenges in four major areas: Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, Nuclear Weapons and Climate.

The FLI scientific advisory board is an example of the range of expertise such think tanks enjoy. Advisors come from fields of study including business, genetics, brain science and artificial intelligence.

Oxford University professor Nick Bostrom is on the FLI board. His group, Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) at Oxford, focuses on many of the same topics with an emphasis on AI governance. They too consider existential risks such as climate change and nuclear proliferation, pointing out that such anthropogenic threats are immediate and wide-spread for humanity.

Other groups covering the same intellectual territory include the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute (GCRI) and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER).

It is interesting to note that these organizations don’t consider the impact of First Contact with extraterrestrials. While I understand that the man-made challenges of climate change, nuclear war and run-amok artificial intelligence are much bigger threats, it is concerning that very few people are considering First Contact risks.

Groups such as these would be our second responders in a First Contact event. They may not be involved in the initial study, but their expertise in looking forward would be critical After First Contact. It could be disastrous to stumble into the future without an assessment of risk and a plan for positive development. Let’s just hope that world leaders understand this need if First Contact does occur in the future.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Extraterrestrial Contact: Climate Change and Hard Decisions – We Need Help

If there are members of an extraterrestrial civilization studying planet Earth, we need their help. We have reached a crisis point with our environment and we are not taking the needed actions. Alien assistance doesn’t have to be technological. We need a massive kick in the collective human behind to take climate change seriously and take action. Communication and insight from extraterrestrials could change human priorities.

The UN International Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) issued a report this week that summarizes the effects of global climate change. We are currently experiencing a one degree Celsius global temperature increase since 1880. The UN report forecasts the potential effects of a 1.5 degree increase. The findings are alarming. At 1.5 degree increase, the report estimates 10 million more people will suffer from permanent flooding. Another several hundred million will experience climate related risk and poverty. That’s what we are facing in the next 22 years. It could be even worse. That temperature rise by 2040 could be higher.

While many nations are taking the threats posed by climate change seriously, few are taking action at the levels needed. It is a low priority in the budget considerations for countries across the globe, including the largest and wealthiest nations. The world appears to be waiting for the United States government to take significant action. That seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Humans need to take action on two fronts. The first is preparation. The second is mitigation.

Climate change preparation is most often thought of as flood control for coastal cities. While that would certainly be part of the needed action, it may not be the greatest need. We have the technology for flood control. The Dutch have been trying to prepare us for the inevitable by sharing their expertise (and paving the way for huge Dutch private industry contracts). Hoboken, New Jersey is one of the first American cities to put Netherlands technology into action. Dozens of other cities will need to follow. But let’s face it- the cost involved will be enormous. It is not feasible that all coastal cities and villages across the globe be saved. Some people will need to move and it shouldn’t just be the poor moving out of sea rise inundation zones. People in expensive homes will need to move. We will need to prioritize funding for the greatest impact to the largest number of people. That will take hard decisions. The primary United States disaster agency, FEMA, is currently in a cycle of disaster response and rebuilding. Many are questioning the wisdom of that process. The fact that we are just starting to consider these initial steps of change, and facing stiff opposition even then, is an indication of the enormity of the human dilemma.

Climate Change could force millions of people to move. A 2015 UN report shows that between 2008 and 2015 more than 26 million people were displaced by climate and weather-related disasters. Those numbers are expected to increase dramatically. Where will these people go? How will we take care of them? Those will be hard decisions and they need to be researched and planned for now. Nationalism, a trend in many nations, decreases international cooperation, and thus the ability of humans to combine resources to tackle climate change issues. Mass migration is likely to intensify those strains and lead to conflict. This is the warning for those who favor nationalism: it is in your best interest to tackle climate change now, before the masses are forming at your borders.

My point is that humans currently don’t have the collective will to get this done. It seems likely we will wait until the next crisis and respond singly to that event, and the next one, and the next, and so on, for many years to come. As those crises pile up, the overarching problems will only grow worse. We need to make hard decisions and we need to make them now.

Mitigation is similarly troubling. It involves decreasing the burning of fossil fuels and the human caused emissions of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The cutting down of trees is also a cause of global warming. Trees absorb carbon dioxide. Without mitigation, we could be facing a 2 degree global temperature rise. That doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but it would have a massive impact to our world, far beyond that of a 1.5 degree level.

So, why do we need aliens? The answer is simple: to encourage humans to take climate change seriously. We apparently don’t want to listen to human scientists and environmentalists. Perhaps an alien voice could help. I am not suggesting we hope for extraterrestrial intervention that will solve our problems. We will have to solve our own issues. We have lived on this planet for thousands of years. We have hundreds of years of scientific research and technological development- specifically designed for the conditions on planet Earth. Aliens would have none of that experience. Humans can’t prevent climate change. We are experiencing it now. However we can prepare for the impact and mitigate the severity of that change. We need a massive shift in perspective to get us moving.
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