Eavesdropping on ET
The Time: 3,000 years from now.
The Setting: A spacecraft cruising about 10,000 miles above the Earth.
Dramatis Personae: Two extraterrestrials shooting the breeze. We’ll call them “Jeff” and “Don”, after two of my favorite characters on the television show “People of Earth”.
Don: Interesting looking planet down there.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s called Earth. I studied about it back in school.
Don: Is it inhabited?
Jeff: Nah, completely barren now. Used to be though.
Don: What was it like?
Jeff: Actually, the place had relatively diverse flora and fauna. Some really interesting stuff.
Don: Anything intelligent?
Jeff: Sort of. Their most intelligent creatures built some reasonably advanced societies. Did some space travel, in fact. Well, made it to their moon and back, anyway.
Don: What happened to them?
Jeff: Kind of a long story, both sad and ridiculous. Believe it or not, they made their own planet uninhabitable.
Don: I thought you said they were intelligent.
Jeff: I said “sort of”. Anyway, hear me out. The most intelligent creatures on the planet were a carbon-based lifeform called “homo sapiens”. We called them “Sapes” back in school. At some point the Sapes figured out that there was carbon-based goo in the interior of their planet which could be burned for fuel. But they didn’t know that there were harmful ecological byproducts of burning this stuff, and so they kept doing it until it got to the point that the planet became uninhabitable and all life died out.
Don: Man, that’s sad. So they never figured out that the crap they were burning for fuel was killing them, huh?
Jeff: Actually, they did figure it out over time. I told you they were sort of intelligent.
Don: But by the time they figured it out, it must have been too late to save their planet and their species. That’s a shame; looks like it might have been a nice place once.
Jeff: In truth, they did figure it out in time, they just didn’t do anything about it. Just kept burning their carbon fuel until everything died out.
Don: You’re shitting me. Brother, you and I must have different definitions of the phrase “sort of intelligent”. How could they be so stupid?
Jeff: It was a cultural thing. At least that’s what they taught us in school. First of all, their culture allowed for individual and corporate (don’t ask) ownership of the planet’s resources. And the Sapes who owned the land that was on top of the burnable carbon got wealthy by selling the stuff to everyone else to use as fuel. The Sapes who figured out how much harm this was doing to the ecosystem tried to sound the alarm, but no one listened.
Don: Why not?
Jeff: Like I said, it was a cultural thing. The Sapes who owned and controlled the fuel got really wealthy, and they used their wealth in various ways to convince most everybody else to just keep digging and burning, digging and burning.
Don: But what’s the point of controlling all the wealth on a planet that’s fast on its way to becoming barren?
Jeff: Not much.
Don: Boy, you and I definitely have different definitions of the phrase “sort of intelligent”.
Jeff: Anyway, the rich fuel-owning Sapes were able to convince most of the rest of their misbegotten species to hate the people who were sounding the alarm about their ecosystem.
Don: They got them to hate the only people who could save them? Get outta here!
Jeff: No, it’s true. You see, the ones who figured out the problems they were having with their ecosystem were, not surprisingly, among the most intelligent and well-educated on the planet.
Don: Shouldn’t that have made them more likely to be respected, not less?
Jeff: You would think so, but on this planet wealth trumped intelligence and knowledge, and so people listened to the wealthy, and not the learned. The wealthy even got the average Sape to believe that the intelligent and educated among them were their enemies, and so the hoi polloi began to hate everything about the intelligent/educated, even the shoes they wore and the type of food they ate. A healthy vegetable called “kale” seemed to drive the average Sape particularly crazy, for some reason. And get this: the Sapes’ primary mode of transportation was a ground vehicle called a “car”, which burned the carbon fuel that was killing the planet. So when the more educated started using cars that that ran on less harmful fuel, the rich Sapes convinced everyone else to hate them for that too. You see, the well-educated figured out the problem with the ecosystem, and then got hated by the masses for trying to take steps, like driving different cars, that might have saved everyone, including the masses.You can’t make this stuff up.
Don: I still don’t get how the rich Sapes got everyone else to go along with their suicidal insanity.
Jeff: Various ways. They had the wealth, so they got to control a lot of what everyone else heard about the science, like saying that nobody really knew what was going wrong with their environment, when in fact experts really did know, but the rich fuel sellers just kept on lying and confusing things. But it was also, like I said, the culture. And part of that culture was that a huge proportion of Sapes believed in unseen but all-powerful deities which they thought controlled the entire universe. This sort of superstition is not unheard of in the galaxy, but these beings brought it to ridiculous lengths.
Don: But what did that have to do with burning the fuel that was destroying the planet?
Jeff: You’re gonna laugh when you hear this one. These bloody idiot Sapes actually thought that an unseen, all-powerful deity…
Don: Boogie, Boogie Boogie!
Jeff: Yeah, well, they thought this deity had for some unknown reason made this pathetic species and its planet “something special”. Therefore they didn’t have to worry about their ecosystem, because their deity would always save their sorry asses because it had made them and their planet something special among all the planets and inhabitants of the whole freaking universe.
Don: These beings? Special? What a joke. Anyway, when they saw that things were beginning to go bad, they changed their beliefs in a last ditch effort to save themselves with reason and science. Please tell me they did this.
Jeff: Nah, they just kept on believing what they had always believed, what they wanted to believe, until it was too late. They refused to listen to the voices of reason, whom they had learned to sneer at. Instead they woke up every day thinking “this is the day our deity saves us”, and when it didn’t happen, just went to sleep and woke up the next day saying the same thing, ad infinitum, until: Poof, they were gone.
Jeff: Read it and weep brother, but those are the facts. What say I bring us down a little closer so we can get a good look at that barren rock?
Don: You know what Jeff, let’s not. Let’s just get the hell out of here. This place is beginning to give me the creeps.