Detectability of Future Earth

A cosmic perspective on the future of our world and the longevity of our civilization

A new special issue of the journal Futures is now available and features papers that examine the future of Earth and civilization from an astrobiological perspective, particularly focused on the extent to which human activities could be detectable across interstellar distances.

BMSIS Scientist Jacob Haqq-Misra edited this special issue and provides the introductory chapter. The issue also includes contributions from BMSIS Scientists Sanjoy Som, Brendan Mullan, and Julia DeMarines as well as from Gina Riggio, Editorial Manager for Blue Marble Space and Editor-in-Chief of Sciworthy.

This collection emphasizes the connection between the unfolding future of the Anthropocene with the search for extraterrestrial civilizations. Our rate of energy consumption will characterize the extent to which our energy-intensive society exerts direct influence on climate, which in turn may limit the ultimate lifetime of our civilization.

If the answer to Fermi’s question is that we are alone, so that our civilization represents the only form of intelligent life in the galaxy (or even the universe), then our responsibility to survive is even greater. If we do find evidence of another civilization on a distant exoplanet, then at least we will know that our trajectory can be managed. But as long as our searches turn up empty, we must stay vigilant to keep our future secure.

Earth’s future detectability depends upon the trajectory of our civilization over the coming centuries.

This new issue demonstrates an important connection between studies of the future of our species and our world and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The first issue is to examine possible future trajectories for human civilization: our growth in population and energy consumption will eventually face limits, even with advances in technology. This hybridization of the planet with technology is uncharted territory in Earth’s history, with an uncertain future or trajectory.

The second issue is whether or not any other civilizations in the galaxy have already passed through this trajectory by achieving a sustainable hybridization of technology with their own planet. Evidence of such civilizations would be good news for humanity, as this would mean that our own future includes viable options for longevity. But if the search for extraterrestrial life turns up nothing, then this may indicate that energy-intensive civilizations might not be sustainable at all on a galactic scale.

Our challenge as a species is to critically examine our possible futures and identify strategies for increasing the longevity of our civilization.

The collection of papers from this special issue on the Detectability of Future Earth is currently available on the Futures website. Below is a list of the available papers in this special issue, with a synopsis of each paper provided:

Jacob Haqq-Misra (2019) Introduction: Detectability of future EarthFutures 106: 1-3.
This special issue emphasizes the connection between the unfolding future of the Anthropocene with the search for extraterrestrial civilizations.

Brendan Mullan & Jacob Haqq-Misra (2019) Population growth, energy use, and the implications for the search for extraterrestrial intelligenceFutures 106: 4-17.
Limits to growth in population and energy consumption could occur within 2-3 centuries, which might imply that energy-intensive extraterrestrial civilizations are also rare.

Gina Riggio (2019) Earth in Human Hands, by David Grinspoon.Futures106: 18-19.
This book review highlights Grinspoon’s observation that we are entering a new epoch of planetary self-awareness.

Julia DeMarines (2019) Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth, by Adam Frank.Futures 106: 20.
This book review highlights the connections between the future of Earth and the possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations.

Carl L. DeVito (2019) On the Meaning of Fermi’s paradoxFutures 106: 21-23.
This mathematical treatment of the Fermi paradox suggests that civilizations in the galaxy may emerge very slowly.

S. Stoney Simons & Jacob Haqq-Misra (2019) A trip to the moon might constrain the Fermi ParadoxFutures 106: 24-32.
Building a lunar observatory at mid-infrared wavelengths could help to improve the search for biosignatures.

Jacob Haqq-Misra (2019) Policy options for the radio detectability of EarthFutures 106: 33-36.
Earth’s future radio detectability depends upon the risks we assume about the possibility of extraterrestrial contact.

Sanjoy M. Som (2019) Common identity as a step to civilization longevityFutures 106: 37-43.
Civilization can extend its longevity through early-childhood psychology education based upon the “overview effect” of observing Earth from space.