Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Human Expansion

Interaction with members of an alien race could cause us to view human civilization from a different perspective. That could, in turn, cause us to question some of the underpinnings of our human society. Expansion is one of those underpinnings. We have been expanding in population and geography for thousands of years. Expansion isn’t just one aspect of who we are. I would argue that it is one of the defining aspects of human civilization.

It’s more than just population expansion that is built into our collective psyche. The human infrastructure has grown to the point where it can be seen from space. In mainstream human society economic growth isn’t considered just a positive thing, it is considered absolutely necessary for economic health. Zero growth is viewed as a dangerous situation. The push for continuous economic growth is not always sustainable. In past recessions the U.S. Government has urged consumers to spend money. The fact that many Americans were in intractable debt wasn’t considered.
You can go further: Businesses are told they must grow or risk decline and death. Humans often base their personal well-being on how much food and material goods they have. That means an expansion in personal consumption. Consider the worry in Italy as the birth rate has plunged. It’s leading to an economic imbalance - not enough young people to pay the taxes necessary to take care of a larger elderly population. No one is saying that there may need to be changes in the ways pensions are funded. Instead, the focus is on encouraging Italians to have more babies and encouraging immigration.

There are some in human society who question the expansion based civilization. They argue that such expansion is tough to support at current population levels. The increase in the human population on Earth requires more resources to be used and that will eventually lead to the depletion of non-renewable resources. It’s also causing major issues for the environment. The dangerous increase in greenhouse gases is one example. Another is the fact that human expansion is killing off species at a rate not seen since the last great extinction. Meat consumption is rising world-wide. Developing nations are demanding meat as a bigger part of the diet of citizens. But meat production requires massive amounts of water and space. Humans may soon find themselves unable to afford the true cost of meat.
Every nation wants to get bigger, stronger and richer. Developing nations want the same quality of life for their citizens as those in developed nations. That inevitably leads to the consumption of more resources.

Technology can help us obviate some of the need for resources. We can make more efficient cars, appliances and heating and cooling systems. The U.S. oil industry is a textbook example of technology getting more and more out of limited resources. They are squeezing every last drop of oil out of the ground. But the growth in population and demand means that these technological developments may not be able to keep up for long.
Something will have to change. The big question is when. Do we wait until there is a crisis? That seems to be the current human plan. Or do we make proactive changes based on projections for population growth and consumer demand?

I realize that this is a blog about extraterrestrial contact, so let’s view this issue from an extraterrestrial exploration perspective. If crisis does spur the search for technological developments, then crisis could lead to the colonization of space. I know that sounds like a leap in logic. But consider Earth hundreds of years in the future. The need to find more resources and new homes for humans could push technology forward and make such colonization economically and technologically feasible. Aliens might tell us that the expansion of civilizations into space is dependent on the crises caused by home planet population expansion.
So, do we embrace expansion or attempt to live in a population stabilized world?

The big question seems to be how miserable it will get on Earth before technology can save us. And then there is another major issue: who gets saved?  Will it be just the rich or will it be all humans? Are there to be huge numbers of people left out of technological revolutions and thus subject to poverty, famine and disease, while a select few enjoy the technological benefits? One could argue that is currently the case.
Back to the extraterrestrial angle: Would alien contact provide us with new ideas on how to overcome these challenges? Or would reliance on alien technological ideas make us lazy and less able to overcome the challenges on our own? Some of the greatest technological developments in human history have come during crisis. Atomic power is one example. How long would it have taken for humans to harness the power of splitting an atom if there wasn’t the race with Germany to develop atomic technology in World War II? Is the loss of 80 million lives worth buying us 20-30 years in the development of nuclear energy? I think most of us would say no.

We need to be prepared for the idea that interaction with an extraterrestrial civilization won’t just be an interesting lesson in their history and science. It may raise questions about human society that we need to answer on our own. Do we need interaction with space aliens to make us truly face these challenges and come up with solutions? Certainly not. But we humans often enjoy biding our time until we are forced to make difficult decisions. Alien interaction could be used as a catalyst to speed-up that timeline. That might save us a lot of heartache in the future.

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