Saturday, August 18, 2018

Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth, by Adam Frank

W.W. Norton & Company, June 2018

What practical use is research into possible extraterrestrial live and civilizations?

We need a new frame to think about our own planet and our relationship. It's just false to all the evidence that we don't affect the habitability of Earth. It's unhelpful, providing no useful path forward, to think of ourselves as a completely malign, destructive force.

We need a new story to tell ourselves, that correctly places us as an active force on Earth, currently doing a lot of damage out of our ignorance until now, but able to change direction and, through use of our growing knowledge, able to make different, more useful decisions.

Adam Frank looks at both the history of our thinking and investigation of the idea of alien life, up to and including the recent explosion of discovery of extrasolar planets and what that means for the likelihood that other technologically advanced civilizations at least have existed, and the history of our growing understanding of our real impact on the habitability of Earth for us and our technologically advanced civilization. It turns out that that history of growing understanding of the crucial factor of our contribution to global warming goes back not to the 1970s, but to the latter part of the 19th century.

He looks at how early life changed our planet to make in habitable for life like us, the crucial fact that it's not Earth we need to worry about protecting, but ourselves (Earth, and life, will go one almost regardless of what we do, but we might not), and how even the study of certainly lifeless Venus and so far not proven to harbor life Mars have enhanced our understanding of Earth and our relationship to it. Even understanding that planets, at all sizes and types, are fairly common in the universe, and that therefore it's wildly unlikely that we're the first technological civilization to exist, expands our understanding. We further need to understand whether it's common, possible, or wildly unlikely for civilizations to survive the technological and environmental bottleneck we are currently struggling through.

We want to be a civilization that survives.

It's a fascinating book, and well worth reading. Recommended.

I initially borrowed this book from my local library, and then bought it.