Climate change killed the aliens, and it will probably kill us, too, a new simulation suggests

With the help of mathematical models, astrophysicists have simulated how the different alien civilizations could rise and fall as they used their planet of natural resources. Credit: University of Rochester illustration/Michael Osadciw

Has the climate change already kill all of the aliens we’ve been searching for?

According to astrophysicist Frank Adam, it is certainly a possibility and whether man are doomed to the same fate might already be out of our hands.

Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester in New York, is the lead author of a new paper published May 1 in the journal Astrobiology that aims to take what Frank calls a “10,000 light years” view of anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change. With the help of mathematical models based on the disappearance of a real-life lost civilization here on Earth (the ancient inhabitants of easter island), Frank and his colleagues simulated how the different alien civilizations would rise and fall as they were to increasingly convert their planet of limited natural resources in energy. [12 Possible Reasons why We Haven’t Found Aliens]

“The laws of physics require that all of the young population, the building of an energy-intensive civilization, such as ours, goes to feedback on his planet,” Frank said in a statement. “Seeing the climate change in this cosmic context can give us better insight into what’s happening to us now and how to deal with it.”

The results, as you might expect, were generally pretty grim. Of the four common “pathways” for energy-intensive civilizations, three ended in an apocalypse. The fourth scenario — a path that involved converting the whole alien society to a sustainable sources of energy works only when civilizations recognized the damage they were doing on the planet, and acted the right way.

“The last scenario is the most frightening,” Frank said. “Even if you did the right thing, if you waited too long, you can still get your population to collapse.”

Three paths to apocalypse

For Frank, the path to the modeling of an apocalypse begins with easter island.

“Easter Island presents a particularly useful example for our own purposes, since it is often taken as a lesson for global sustainability,” Frank and his colleagues wrote in the newspaper. “Numerous studies show that Easter Island’s inhabitants exhausted their resources, leading to hunger and the termination of the island of civilization.”

Work from the previous equations that modeled the fall of easter island’s population in addition to the depletion of the resources, the team found one of the four endpoints for a hypothetical alien civilization is also limited by the limited natural resources.

“The first route we have found is, what we call, the die-off,” Frank said.

In this scenario, the civilization of the population skyrockets in a short period of time, and if the aliens suck energy and belching out greenhouse gases, the temperature of the earth spikes, as well. (In this study, the temperature was used for the display of human-made effects on the planet’s habitability through greenhouse gas emissions.) The population peaks, then suddenly plummets as the rising temperatures make survival harder and harder. The population eventually levels off, but with a fraction of the people that were in the area before. [Doomsday: 9 Real Ways the World Would End]

“Imagine that, seven of the 10 people that you knew died quickly,” Frank said. “It is not clear a complex technological civilization could survive that kind of change.”

The second scenario is sustainability. Here, both of the world’s population and the global temperature climb quickly, but then level off as a civilization recognize how resource management affects the nature. In order to achieve a balanced budget, Frank said, the population would have to switch resources that have a high toll on the planet (such as oil) to more sustainable energy sources (like solar energy). Civilization is saved!

The third and fourth scenarios are the so-called “collapse.” Here, as in the “die-off” scenario, both of the world’s population, and the temperature of the earth rise dramatically in the short term. But this time, when people begin to die from a lack of basic resources, there are no survivors. Or a civilization just dies off or completely collapses, depending on how sensitive the environment is and how fast he reacts to the rising population.

Even if civilization, realizes that it is harmful for the environment and attempts to switch to renewable sources — a scenario called “collapse with resource change” — it is too late. The civilization may see a temporary slowdown in the decline of the population, but eventually drops to zero anyway. The damage is done; the civilization is doomed.

Act now, while civilization lasts

The difference between a sustainable future and a deadly collapse was largely dependent on a population foresight — how quickly they realized that they and their planet were destroying, and how quickly they took action. According to Frank, this difference should motivate people to address climate change seriously.

“About the cosmic space and time, you will go to the winners who managed to see what was going on and figure out a path through the in — and losers, who just couldn’t get their act together and their civilization fell out of the boat,” Frank said.

“The question is, which category do we want to be?”

Originally published on Live Science.

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