Ed. note: This piece was previously published on Political Animal here.
The Galactic Gardeners’ Forum
This may not be the best time to contact you, but waiting may only make things worse. Since we’re your first neighbors in the galaxy to make contact, we hope you’ll consider us a welcoming committee with a warning. We’ve hacked into all your major channels of communication to transmit our message in every human language. We do not want to go through “official channels” or speak only with your corrupt rulers. We want our words to reach everyone.
We come from a remote handful of living planets and moons scattered across this galaxy. We are a network of galactic gardeners who nurture life by sharing our stories, experiences, knowledge, and ideas. We offer each other encouragement, constructive criticism, advice, and hard-won wisdom. But unfortunately, the vast distance between our worlds deprives us of the joy of actually meeting face-to-face. We’ve decided to contact you because we cherish life everywhere we find it—and life on your planet is in grave danger.
You inhabit an astounding planet. It supports a living tapestry of great vibrancy and splendor. We’ve witnessed Earth-life evolve for eons. Because you are such a young, impetuous species, we’ve refrained from contacting you. We did not know how making contact would affect you, since your awareness remains fractured by conflicts between the powerful rich and the powerless poor; as well as between nations, races, and religions. But we felt compelled to act because your carbon-addicted way of life has made you a threat to yourself and the magnificent biosphere that made you.
Your consciousness has yet to reach the level of holistic awareness and life-preserving empathy so essential for you to become a vital part of your biosphere’s immune system. We hoped this was the path you were on since your ecological sciences and some of your spiritual beliefs extol the need for all humans to care for each other and your “Mother Earth.”
Unfortunately, your addiction to fossil fuels has thrown you way off course. It has transformed you from potential healers into malignant parasites. Earth is being ravaged by your self-destructive addiction to hydrocarbons. We fear that if you don’t recover soon, you may not recover at all.
The members of our galactic forum have been around much longer than human beings. Our common quest is to learn all we can about the life whose astounding variation is lightly sprinkled across our largely lifeless galaxy. Some of us have helped revive our biospheres after geophysical catastrophes devastated them. We see ourselves as gardeners, first responders, and trouble-shooters—an integral part of our biospheres’ immune system. The commonwealth of knowledge we’ve gathered to keep our homelands habitable and healthy has deepened our friendships over time.
We’ve watched Earth-life rebound slowly after five major extinction episodes. Asteroid collisions and abrupt geophysical fluctuations in Earth’s life-support systems caused those unavoidable calamities. But this time things are different. A sixth extinction episode now threatens Earth-life and this time we can speak with its cause—you. We have never tried to do this before. So we are not sure if contacting you can help avert ecocide and alter your self-destructive trajectory. But, after some debate, we’ve decided that it probably can’t hurt to try.
When your ancestors discovered how to make use of Earth’s subterranean hydrocarbon deposits we weren’t sure what to think. The optimists among us were not alarmed. They argued that, whether you realized it or not, your combustion of fossil fuels could benefit Earth’s biosphere. We knew Earth’s complex, uneven orbit was entering a cooling phase that would eventually bring about another ice age. Our optimists hoped that humans would unconsciously counteract this planetary temperature drop by burning fossil fuels; thus sending some of the carbon sequestered under the Earth back into the atmosphere. Some predicted that, as you used your scientific method and carbon-powered technologies to study Earth, your rudimentary biospheric awareness would improve dramatically.
However, the pessimists among us feared you were “playing with fire” because your consciousness was still so tribalized and consumed by conflicts over wealth and power. Also, you did not yet realize the vital role carbon-based greenhouse gases play in regulating Earth’s climate. Consequently, they worried you were unwittingly unleashing an enormous source of power that you weren’t prepared to use wisely. Some predicted you’d behave like “kids in a candy store” and the pace of fossil fuel combustion would become so fast and furious it would drive Earth’s temperature abruptly in the opposite direction.
Unfortunately, they were right. Even though you’ve gained enough knowledge to realize that fossil fuels can damage Earth’s biosphere and jeopardize your survival, you continue to burn more every year. You’ve become chronically dependent on doing something very harmful to yourself and other Earthlings—in short, you have become addicted. In the last 40 years, you’ve mainlined more fossil energy and resources than in your entire previous existence. Your reckless hydrocarbon addiction is causing climate chaos and collapsing biodiversity.
Abrupt greenhouse gas oscillations were instrumental in all of Earth’s previous extinction episodes, yet they never flooded the atmosphere at this pace. Earth’s atmosphere contains 32 percent more CO2 now than it did before you became industrial users. As carbon-fueled machines plunder the planet to feed your addiction, the rest of life is perishing at an alarming rate. You invade, poison, and decimate the habitats of other Earth dwellers to replace them with mega-cities, suburbs, highways, parking lots, industrial farms, feedlots, and factories. While your population soars, other creatures are driven to extinction. Ninety percent of all the remaining terrestrial vertebrates are the animals you breed in unnatural abundance to slaughter for food.
Your carbon addiction has left the Earth’s oceans in critical condition. Petro-chemical water pollution from industrial agriculture generates vast oceanic dead zones so anoxic no life can survive. Plastic wastes clog Earth’s oceans and soon will outweigh all marine life. Worse yet, hydrocarbon combustion is raising sea levels, temperatures, and acidity. Earth’s oceans have absorbed 90 percent of the excess heat and 30 percent of the extra CO2, which becomes carbonic acid in seawater. Rising acidity is killing your planet’s coral reefs and the tiny plankton at the base of the marine food chain that produce one-third of Earth’s oxygen. In the coming decades, ocean acidity may rise well beyond what most sea life can tolerate.
In sum, your addiction is pushing Earth toward the brink of a biological holocaust—an ecocide of planetary proportions.
We know you’ve heard these warnings from your scientists. But carbon addiction cripples your capacity to heed their warnings. Your rulers crave fossil energy to maintain their wealth and power; your media lives off the advertising profits of consumerized consumption; and your entire way of life would have to change drastically to avert disaster. We believe your failure to act, and the ecocide that will result if you don’t, will be the direct result of your debilitating addiction to hydrocarbons. We know our warning may fall on deaf ears. But perhaps it will make a difference.
Addiction is a curse that comes disguised as a blessing—a dangerous dependence masquerading as a beneficial bonanza. The more you rely on it, the more pernicious it becomes. By the time it reveals its destructive character, it has seized control of your life and warped your mind. So breaking its death grip seems nearly impossible.
Hydrocarbon addiction is extremely insidious because it afflicts your entire species. Recognizing it is much harder when everyone is addicted. When your entire society is built around a carbon-addicted lifestyle, it just seems normal. The oddballs are the few who try to live off the fossil energy grid.
We understand why fossil fuels are so addictive. Carbon-powered technologies allow you to do miraculous things. You can talk with people around the planet and fly anywhere on Earth in a matter of hours. You can eat food shipped from all over the world while machines do most of the farm work. You can cook your meals, light and heat your homes, do your laundry, and bathe yourselves without ever having to collect and chop wood, haul buckets of water, make soap, or even start a fire. With just a tank of gas, you can journey hundreds of miles in a few hours. Before fossil fuels, not even your greatest kings had the power to do such things. No wonder you call your addiction “progress.”
Carbon addiction has induced a state of delusional superiority and grandeur. You even claim to “produce” the fossil energy that sunlight, ancient plant life, and Earth’s geological forces created long before you came along. Instead of using this precious gift wisely, you’ve become seduced and enslaved by its powers. Addiction has transformed you into a self-absorbed species surrounded by an artificial world of push-button technology, cars, plastic, and cement.
In your isolated, grandiose state of mind, you believe you are far more important than the rest of Earth-life. You have lost all respect, empathy, or obligation to nurture the community of life that made you. Instead, like desperate addicts, you kill each other with carbon-powered weapons over a vanishing supply of fossil fuels. Then you use this energy to pillage the planet’s resources, turn them into commodities, consume them, and clog the planet with toxic waste.
You have lost your way.
Had your species been more mature and collectively conscious, perhaps you could have avoided carbon addiction. Fossil fuels could have been used in moderation—frugally, equitably, peacefully, and wisely. They could have improved everyone’s quality of life, making it easier and more rewarding for countless generations, with little damage to yourselves or the planet. By minimizing life’s drudgeries, fossil energy could have afforded you with more time to pursue the endeavors that make life more joyful, creative, and purposeful, while enhancing your ability to nurture, heal, and protect the living planet that raised you.
But unfortunately, you became hooked on hydrocarbons at a vulnerable, adolescent stage. Power-hungry nations and profit-driven corporations dominated your consciousness. They had no interest in equity or moderation. Fossil energy generated tremendous wealth and destructive power for them, made room for a growing middle class of comfortable consumers, but left most of you desperate and destitute…while trashing the planet and jeopardizing your survival for generations to come.
The heads of state and captains of industry who gained control over fossil energy—and all the weapons and technologies they devised to exploit them—behaved like clever, enterprising drug lords. These carbon pushers tried to turn everyone into their addicted minions of avid consumers, loyal employees, and patriotic soldiers. As fossil-fueled machinery replaced farmers, people were pushed off the land and onto the carbon grid where they spend their lives doing the mind-numbing, back-breaking jobs of tending and defending the bureaucratic-industrial machine.
So now your lives are utterly dependent on a life support system of fossil fuels for “national defense,” food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health care, communication, information, and entertainment. Your high-tech, urbanized carbon cocoons isolate you from one another and the planet. You’ve become so dazzled and captivated by the virtual worlds on your screens that you hardly notice your real world is dying. Thus, few of you realize the extreme danger you’re in.
As a young sentient species, you have come to a do-or-die threshold in your life. We would not bother to contact you now if we didn’t believe you may have the capacity to break your carbon chains, heal yourselves, and replenish the planet. We decided to make contact now because we see that some of you are finally trying to resist and reverse your death spiral of dependence. We applaud your courage.
Power will be decisive in the unfolding struggle over your future and the future of Earth-life. The carbon pushers who plunder the planet and profit from your addiction are ruthless and cunning. They will do everything in their power to crush your rebellion. To succeed you must transform your emerging resistance into a massive global mutiny.
Mutiny is daunting and dangerous. But even though the carbon-powered system you live in appears invincible, it is far more vulnerable than you think. Soon major ecological catastrophes, energy famines, economic contractions, political conflicts, and resource wars will hammer its crumbling foundations. Angry, desperate people will riot and rebel—but with what result?
As the system implodes and the carbon-induced delusion of endless growth reveals its lethal limitations, an addicted population will not automatically rise in mutiny. People are too consumed by the demands, conveniences, and distractions of a petroleum-powered, media-hyped lifestyle. Instead, many will zealously follow any populist pusher who promises to feed their addiction, restore growth and national greatness, and defeat their rivals for the Earth’s vanishing resources.
Those of you committed to preventing this carbon-addicted death spiral as soon as possible must become insurgent first responders. You must treat every crisis as an opportunity to expose the carbon pushers’ lies; awaken people from their addicted delusions; and encourage them to recover by building safe, thriving, carbon-free communities all over the planet. Wherever your mutinies take power, you must redirect the vast wealth and energy used to finance wasteful opulence, militarism, and ecocidal pillage into human recovery and planetary restoration.
Your species faces the greatest challenge of its life. You can live in a garden or die in a graveyard. You may succumb to your addiction, submit to the pushers, and spend your remaining years fighting over the ruins of a depleted planet. Or you may win the battle to heal yourselves and Mother Earth. If you remain addicted and divided your mutiny is doomed and your fate is sealed. But if you overcome your addiction; remove the pushers from power; and take up the challenge to become part of your planet’s immune system, we will welcome you with open arms. We will gladly share all we’ve learned about nurturing, protecting, and enjoying life on a healthy biosphere.
Postscript to readers: When I asked myself to imagine, “What would wiser, life-loving beings from distant biospheres say to us if they could?” I seriously underestimated how challenging it would be to grapple with this question. The more I thought about, it the harder it became. Give it a try.
Teaser photo credit: Artist’s Impression of Gliese 581 c, the first terrestrial extrasolar planet discovered within its star’s habitable zone. By Latitude0116 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2641049