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Adam Frank

Alien Anthropocene

My conversation this week is with Astrophysicist Adam Frank and today we’re discussing his book, Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth’.

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Adam Frank, Photo by J. Adam Fenster

There is a burden that comes with believing you’re unique. It’s not particularly overbearing when it’s an individual’s talent or an animal’s quirky behavior, celebrated for its differences. But somehow believing you’re unique in your destructive thoughts and behaviors is quite an alienating experience. 

Most of us deal with such shortcomings knowing others also deal with them. Seeing others work through these issues provides examples of a way forward. But what if they are planetary behaviors, larger than a single nation or culture? Perspective is a bit more difficult to come by for something like climate change for instance, thinking such actions have never been seen before. 

What if Climate change isn’t unique to Earth? What if our current experience is just an adolescent’ behavior that all planetary civilizations must struggle through? A form of adolescence that thousands, if not millions, of civilizations and planets in the universe have progressed through before. 

Astrophysicist Adam Frank asks if we have been telling the wrong stories about climate change. We know the story about climate change being a hoax the wrong one, but so might be the one that includes bashing humanity for its environmental evils. This story might need a little more nuance. Frank argues that it’s likely that all advanced civilizations in the universe went through this form of adolescence’. And much like a teenager we might be raising or have once been, we expect such digressions in behavior to eventually give way to growth and maturity. This is no way excuses the actions of the teenager or the corporations and individuals within the civilizations for the harm they might inflict, but seeing such behavior as anything but unique and instead an almost necessary progression into maturity provides perspective for a larger arc of one’s existence. According to Frank’s math, there is less than a 1 and 10 billion trillion chance that we’re alone in experiencing this planetary adolescence. 

This new perspective doesn’t mean there’s any guarantee that we will make it to a form of civilization adulthood. But it likely means that Anthropocene’s are a generic consequence of building global civilizations, all we need to do now is make it to adulthood’.

Thanks to Richard Devine for Sample permissions.

Adam Frank

Astrophysicist Adam Frank is a leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun, and his computational research group at the University of Rochester has developed advanced supercomputer tools for studying how stars form and how they die. A self-described evangelist of science,” he is also committed to showing others the beauty and power of science, and exploring the proper context of science in culture.

N Ws Episodes 3