My research is broad. I study:

  • The physical origins of life anywhere in the universe
  • The origins and consequences of language
  • Human social psychology and decision making
  • Climate change

Occasionally I write poems too. Nothing fancy. Just doggerel.

I wrote this poem a while ago to make a point supported by an astrobiologist I know at Nasa. It’s just a speculation, an argument that chances are good we aren’t the first planet on which intelligent life—that is, creatures with language—discovered and consumed suddenly an enormous reserve of fossil fuels, while denying that it was causing disaster until long after it was too late.

The argument spans the range of my research interests and can be bulleted here.

  • All life forms sequester energy that at death becomes available as fuel.
  • Organisms capable of language if they emerge at all, would be late-comers in any biosphere, emerging after lots of available fuel was sequestered.
  • Like all creatures this intelligent life form would expand population, consume more or waste exploit whatever resources it could as fast as possible.
  • Quick consumption of long sequestered resources is likely to wreak havoc
  • As is evident in the difference between engineering and philosophy, science and religion, math and politics, logic and rhetoric, language allows for, but doesn’t impose precision. Thus the engineering language required for exploiting sequestered fuel would be available long before the language for cornering intelligent life with the inconvenient truth that they were being fuelish.

Here’s the poem:

Yeah. All right,
 so we’re stupid.
 Just look at the mess we have made.

We didn’t foresee just 
how treed we would be
 once our habits began to cascade.

The climate will get us,
 it’s now almost sure
. We’ve messed up this planet’s best chances

Our minds can’t keep pace,
 we can’t seem to face
 the costs of our high-tech advances.

We can’t keep our hands off
 the fuel we’ve found.
 We just can’t seem to conserve.

Interstellar-ly framed,
 we should all be ashamed 
that we wasted this precious preserve.

But it isn’t just us,
 I bet if we knew 
the havoc that aliens wreak

I mean, what are the odds 
that they’re gods, but we’re clods? I mean are we so awfully unique?

I mean what is the likelihood 
we are alone 
in evolving linguistical gifts,

the power to plot
 out our lots as they’re not
, to give our frail sprits their lifts.

Somewhere for sure 
in the heavens above 
we would find there are like-minded creatures

whose language enables 
a life lived by fables
 that obscure their world’s scariest features.

And like us they can’t 
have evolved all at once, 
this ain’t, after all God’s dominion.

Evolution shows homme
 wasn’t built in a day.
 That science is not just opinion.

Talking aliens evolved
 over millions of years,
 just like we did, and what gave them birth

would have died out before them
 like dinos and ferns, 
interred just like ours in their earth.

Chemistry’s laws
 would apply to them too.
Their dinos, like ours turned to fuels

Which aliens, like we
, would eventually free,
 up to run all their handiest tools

I mean which would come first, 
the wisdom we lack 
to admit there’s disaster impending,

or the skills that we’ve got 
to burn all that fuel hot 
like a windfall resource never-ending?

No, they just like us
 would be hooked on the sauce 
long before they foresaw where it led.

They’d waste years like it took us 
to say “This will cook us. 
Our lives now, they hang by a thread!”

No, an alien form 
that could also transform, 
buried fuel into usable joules

would have rhetoric vague 
by which questions they’d beg 
and pretend they could bend all the rules.

Our well-oiled minds 
can transport us along, as we build for our better  tomorrows.

But lacking in traction
 we glide toward distraction
 ignoring tomorrow’s new sorrows.

Realistically speaking 
we’re thousands of years 
from instilling in minds the right friction

To hold us to truths
 we shouldn’t ignore
 and keep us from drifting toward fictions.

Time we don’t have, 
but again, as I say,
 aliens wouldn’t do better.

We can’t be the first 
in the whole universe 
to have lived out this plot to the letter.

Must-read new article on the climate crisis:
 Global Warming’s New Math