Enrico Fermi, leader of the team that created the world's first nuclear reactor, used to throw cold water on his colleagues' ET musings with this retort: Okay, then, where are they? Seriously, if the heavens are so dense with life, how come no one's stopped by for tea? Fermi, I think, was a bit of a nudge, but his question certainly focuses the mind. One of many responses to the Fermi Paradox is that outer-space aliens haven't visited because they simply couldn't develop far enough before meeting extinction from natural disasters or by their own collective hands. Again and again, promising civilizations failed to escape their "technological adolescence," in the words of the prophetic cosmologist Carl Sagan.
Maybe, maybe not. Either way, we keep looking up. We keep wondering about new worlds. As of December, 2019, planet-hunting telescopes on Earth and in orbit have discovered approximately 4,500 exoplanets -- planets beyond our insignificant little solar system at the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy. Kepler, recently decommissioned, found thousands of planets. TESS, launched in 2018, is scouring nearby solar systems for rocky, Earth-like orbs. The latest addition to this armada is CHEOPS, sent up by the European Space Agency just ten days ago. CHEOPS stands for CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite and is also the name of the 26th Century B.C.E. Egyptian pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid of Giza. He'd approve of this project, I suspect.
Time for a quick thought experiment, a twist on Dr. Fermi's question. Let's say a spaceship full of beings from one of those exoplanets wreathed in carbon emissions makes its way to Earth. It lands on The Mall in WDC and meets with President Buttigieg. They're the last of their kind, they tell us through their Translatron 9000s. They industrialized too quickly and lacked the maturity to get off fossil fuels in time. Climate change didn't directly cause the near extinction of their species, but it was a main trigger for the wars that did. So, they urge us, learn from our story. Stop what you're doing now. Don't be another intelligent species gone down this sad cosmic road.
Would their visit make a difference? Would we even believe it's real?