Curious Cat

A sense of abandonment, or tea monks and lizard people

I read a couple of books recently that might not seem related, but they both got me thinking of a post-human world. Or at least a world where parts of it are without us.

The first is A Psalm for the Wild-Built* by Becky Chambers. I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying this takes places on a world where, because of past events, half of the world is intentionally left without people. There were so many lovely things about this story that dovetail into my awakening sense of where the world needs to go — living within our means, not always having the newest things, a nearly circular economy.

But the Wild connects with the other book.

Islands of Abandonment visits places that had a huge impact by humans but are now largely abandoned because of human-caused events — Chernobyl, the no-man’s land in Cyprus, Detroit. It looks at them with an eye to how nature can reclaim these catastrophic places … if they’re left alone.

A not so wild park near me

If you’ve read my blog, you might not be surprised to find I believe in the scientific method. And I believe the scientists. I believe we’re facing a global catastrophe. It’s not one that will play out over the course of days, like Chernobyl, or years, like the Salton Sea. It comes slowly but still astonishingly quickly when you consider the global scale.

What might come as a surprise to you is that I believe in aliens. NOT that they’re here. This is not so much based on science, but rather that in all the planets in all the solar systems in all the galaxies in the universe, it seems mathematical that life evolved elsewhere but some of it has probably gotten to the stage we’re at: being able to ponder their place in the universe … and their possible extinction from it.

Which brings me to the lizard people

Well, the Silurian hypothesis. This hypothesis takes its name from a prehistoric, sentient reptilian species introduce in Dr. Who. But the fundamental question of the hypothesis is how would we know if there had been another advanced civilization on earth — what clues could we find? It DOES NOT postulate that there actual was such a civilization. It’s a thought experiment to figure out what we could look for on other planets to see if they’d had an advanced civilization at some point, perhaps long after the artefacts of any such civilization have been ground to dust.

Which brings me to the Drake equation

When I listened to the Stuff to Blow Your Mind episode on the Silurian hypothesis, it struck me how the hypothesis impacts the equation.

If you’re unfamiliar with the equation, it’s an attempt to calculate how many civilizations exist in our galaxy that we might be able to communicate with.

Simplified slightly (see the full equation), it’s based on:

  • the rate of star formation times
  • the fraction of stars that have planets times
  • the portion of those planets that could support life at some point times
  • the fraction of those where life actually develops times
  • the fraction of those planets where intelligent life arises and forms a civilization times
  • the portion of those civilizations that develop technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space times
  • the length of time which those civilizations release detectable signals into space.

I think the average person, when we hear about it, we think we’ve “survived” the Drake equation. But we’ve only been releasing detectable signals for 200ish years (unless there were Silurians 😄). We haven’t reached our fingers that far into the universe. And not to put too grimly, but we’re at a place right now where we change our civilization in ways that we leave less of a trace on planet (and possibly send fewer signals into space) or our civilization doesn’t survive long enough to be very detectable.

Which leads me to … I’m not sure

Back to Islands of Abandonment, it was interesting to see the ways nature can — not exactly recover, because none of the places are what they were before humans remade them or even before the disasters that allowed them to be abandoned — the ways nature can reclaim the earth and make it wild again.

Rewilding is one of the few ways I see of moderating the climate upheaval we’re just starting to see. It gives me hope. But, for nature to reclaim these abandoned places, we need to abandon them. We need to leave them alone, without our impact or our tinkering. That’s not something we do willingly.

To sum up, I want to be a tea monk in a Becky Chambers book.

*As with many links on the website, book links in this post may lead to affiliate links but also include libraries.

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