Biosphere and Ecological Feedback
In Light of the Stars, Adam Frank uses under reported and under appreciated discoveries of exo-planets (confirmed planets in solar systems other than our own) set against the paradigm setting Fermi’s Paradox and its resulting SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) to construct a rough and detached-but fresh and objective viewpoint-on our predicament here on Earth. In short, he invites us to view ourselves ‘from without.’
How Can We Be Alone?
As stated, Frank filled out the Drake equation, a chain of algorithmic variables posited to determine the number of technological civilizations in the universe aside from our own, with new exo-planet data from the Kepler planet hunting spacecraft. Basically, the Kepler discoveries point to a surprising high percentage of star systems with planets where life could originate. This new information only re-enforces Fermi’s simple but profound question, “If there are trillions of star and planets, and we live in a statistically rational universe, where is everyone?”
The ratio of technological civilizations that do not destroy their host planets and themselves is the final variable ration in Drake’s equation and, disturbingly, presents itself as the most likely key to the paradox. Frank works from this compelling presumption to construct a dispassionate but useful ‘self objective’ view of our own situation. The author suggests that we might view our situation as one that is unavoidable in light of Fermi’s Paradox: only cool-headed consciousness and brave agency can help us surmount what current astronomical data with the most vigorous analysis possible suggest is a unavoidable exigency for intelligent life.
Surviving Earth’s Destruction by Technology
Rather than pointing fingers and experiencing collective shame and concomitant denial, we might view our battle with our biosphere, and our task of coming into equilibrium with it, as analogous to personal/individual adolescence -i.e. ‘it is what it is’ and how do I /we continue my/our existence. Bluntly put, we most likely will not survive what has all but apparently done in countless other exo-civilizations, but, regardless, our ‘right path’ is to ‘get over our selves’ and soberly give it our best shot. Frank aptly characterizes this effort to apprehend our originating biosphere and its feedback from our activities (finally accepting ourselves as one with it), and to appropriately temper the irreversible inertia of technology, in the finite timeframe available to us, as “threading the needle.”
Reading this journalistically lucid book will fill in my synopsis here. Background given by Frank in support of his view is rewarding in itself and includes an excellent discussion of the history of the concept of ‘biosphere’ and ecological feedback, the brain child of relatively unknown Soviet scientist Verdansky. The metaphysical, and critical, concept of ‘noosphere’, the final form of energy and life that constitutes the shell of consciousness/agency sitting atop the biosphere, is also touched on in the book’s conclusion.
James Root is CT Chapter Sierra Club member who lives in Danbury, CT.