Ahead of a big climate change conference, Brian Cox assesses the prospect of other habitable planets or their civilizations much more soberly than we often hear:
Ahead of the big climate change conference COP 26 (31 Oct – 12 Nov 2021), physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox offers an ominous warning which also raises some questions. Speaking in connection with his new series Universe, he presents a starkly different picture from much that we hear:News, “Physicist: If humans died out, the galaxy might lose all meaning” at Mind Matters News
Humans might be the only intelligent beings in our galaxy, so destroying our civilisation could be a galactic disaster, Prof Brian Cox has warned leaders in the run-up to Cop26.
Speaking at the launch of his new BBC Two series Universe, the physicist and presenter said that having spoken to the scientists around the world advising the show, he thought that humans and sentient life on Earth “might be a remarkable, naturally occurring phenomenon” and that was something that “world leaders might need to know”.Tara Conlan, “Earth’s demise could rid galaxy of meaning, warns Brian Cox ahead of Cop26” at The Guardian (October 19, 2021)
In any event, if all intelligent beings were wiped out of our galaxy, for whom, exactly, would it be a disaster (apart from ourselves)?
Cox ends up supporting the Privileged Planet Hypothesis (Earth is special):
“The more I learn about biology … the more astonished I am we exist at all”, adding that while astronomers said there were about 20bn Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy, “so we might expect life to be everywhere”, “almost every biologist I speak to says, ‘Yes, but all it will be is slime at best.’ We live in a violent universe and the idea you can have planets which are stable enough to have an unbroken chain of life might be quite restrictive.”Tara Conlan, “Earth’s demise could rid galaxy of meaning, warns Brian Cox ahead of Cop26” at The Guardian (October 19, 2021)
The opposite view, that Earth is a pale blue dot, a mediocre planet (the Copernican Principle) was championed by Carl Sagan (1934–1996), among others. While Sagan was concerned about environment issues, he strongly believed that there were other intelligent civilizations in the galaxy and that contacting them was an imminent possibility. Anything like the uniqueness of Earth would be a limiting factor.
Takehome: Brian Cox, host of The Universe, ended up becoming “more religious than I intended” when he reflected on why we care about the stars.
You may also wish to read: The UFOs Carl Sagan was convinced of but couldn’t talk about. Sagan had already been denied tenure at Harvard, a sci-fi screenwriter reflects, and he couldn’t afford to take more chances. Writer Bryce Zabel recalls a dispute with Sagan on the topic in a parking lot 40 years ago, during the Voyager 2 flyby — which changed Zabel’s career.