This is a fictionalized account of a deep space probe mission conducted from the planet Outlandia located 200 years away in our Milky Way Galaxy. Outlandia launched Xertox in Earth’s year 1950 after spectrographic analysis indicated Earth was located in what we call the Goldilocks zone (not too hot, not too cold . . .). Unfortunately, by the time it got here in 2152, we were toast.
The Xertox deep space probe (powered by ION rockets, enabling it to travel just short of the speed of light) from the planet Outlandia entered a polar Earth orbit and collected data from every surface area for a period of twelve months. These data included photos of the planet’s surface, along with atmospheric, oceanic, and continental compositions and temperatures (collected by deployed robotic labs).
Analysis (based on data received by Outlandia, another 200 years later) revealed that the planet’s atmosphere contained high levels of greenhouse gases contributing to an average surface temperature of 64.4° F. The oceans were highly acidic and appeared to have risen significantly over the past 150 years. The planet had no glaciers, with little ice at the southern pole. The northern pole had no ice.
There were no signs of higher lifeforms, only bacterial, algae, and fungi groups. Given soil analyses and the planet-wide remains of buildings and large structures, it appears the planet had intelligent beings and a wide array of higher plant and animal life forms. Further analysis shows a rapid release of methane from warming tundra and oceans over a hundred-year period, likely due to the extensive burning of fossil fuels. This conclusion is supported by the unique fossil fuel signature contained in many of the atmospheric CO2 molecules (fossil fuels have no carbon-14, and neither does the CO2 that comes from burning them).
Since this advanced civilization would have had decades warning of rising temperatures and their implications, we conclude this species rapidly developed technologically, well ahead of the time necessary to evolve to the stage of collectively focusing on their long-term needs and goals. Famine, disease, pollution, mass migrations, and conflict would have drastically reduced the populations of most species. Eventually, temperatures too high to support most life forms completed the extinction process.
Does our fate sound far-fetched? Maybe not. According to NOAA, the average global surface temperature in 2019 was 2.07° F higher than the pre-industrial period, 1880-1900 (the 21st century global average is 58.8º F). Scientists warn of a threshold effect if the average surface temperature rises to 3.6° F above the average 1880 temperature. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, stronger storms, and the current (sixth) extinction of species all attest to the implications of these rising temperatures related to burning fossil fuels. Right now, things don’t look too promising.
Perhaps it is time for us to evolve a lot faster.