by Whit Gibbons

May 22, 2005

“Star Trek,” that long-running series about the adventures of the Starship Enterprise, is over, but people’s fascination with the possibility of extraterrestrial life continues. Learning how alien creatures survive in heretofore unheard of environments would be the ultimate instructive experience. Beyond Earth’s shroud of oxygen and hydrogen, yet-unimagined adventures and discoveries unquestionably await us, but what if we are already being watched by extraterrestrials? Imagine a conversation between two beings who are scientists and belong to a culture that is technologically eons ahead of us.

"How is your research going? We have plenty of time left for your study of this planet."

"I fear the study is nearly over, although I have been observing for only 100 million of their years, which equals only a few hours of ours. My study species may terminate the experiment. I have observed its social behavior, ecology, and genetics. Because of its uncontrolled population growth rate and environmentally destructive nature, the end seems near. Watch the space-time display panel.

"As you see, these are the strangest creatures we have observed on any planet. They destroy all life around them, despite their considerable intellectual abilities. They seem oblivious that their behavior is self-destructive."

"Curious behavior indeed. What is their origin?"

"Watch these short segments of their history on the video-data screen using their time scale. They arose as an identifiable species in a region they call Africa. They became prominent in what they now call the Middle East and Asia, whereupon they began destroying the forests and the animals that lived in them."

"And in every time frame they fight among themselves."

"True. Observe that, like all organisms, they colonize new areas. Here they are moving into a region called Europe. The particular invasion you see here in 1066 of this small island called England is meaningful politically. But major changes began after the 1400s as they moved to the continent across the large body of water known as the Atlantic."

"But your data show that the continent had already been colonized several centuries earlier."

"Yes, but the first colonists lived mostly in small isolated bands, and they had no technology.”

"What are those large animals, and why are the bipeds killing them? Oh, I see, the screen says the large animals are `buffalo.' But why are most of those doing the killing not eating the meat or using their pelts?"

"That is one of the mysteries about this species. No other creatures on this planet engage in such widespread destruction. Notice that during the next 500 years the invaders completely conquered the new land and eliminated most of the early inhabitants. Watch also how they continue to cut down forests although they have already cleared all the land they need for agricultural crops or towns. Sometimes the reason for destroying forests seems pointless."

"Oh, yes. Look at those big trees in North America and in this region displayed as `the tropics.' Why do they not preserve some of those areas? This could well be the last generation of their species to see a jungle or forest with giant trees."

"Some of them see the importance of preserving their native wildlife and vegetation, but others seem much more shortsighted."

"This is the most peculiar behavior we have observed in this galaxy. I see why you think the experiment is almost over."

"I have some hope. Notice the last few frames in which the species came close to annihilating itself with nuclear bombs. They managed to overcome that threat, and the global danger has lessened, although paranoia runs high about attempts to reinstate this form of destruction. They are able to overcome major challenges and accomplish whatever they set out to do, but they often rely too heavily on technology.

"In fact, before lunch we had to reposition our observation post because they were flying to the satellite they call `the moon.' To survive they must overcome the threats they impose on their own environment, the very planet they live on. I like this species, and they are capable of reversing the current trend toward self-destruction. We'll know before our dinnertime if they can do it."

If you have an environmental question or comment, email

(Back to Ecoviews)