The Silurian Hypothesis

Complex life has existed on Earth’s land surface for about 400 million years, and our civilization has been here for only a tiny fraction of that. If another industrial society had arisen millions of years ago, what traces could we still hope to find?

Astrobiologists Gavin Schmidt and Adam Frank point out that, while we might search the geologic record for evidence of plastics, synthetic pollutants, and increased metal concentrations, that expectation is based only on our own history, and a more enlightened civilization might leave a smaller footprint by using more sustainable practices (indeed, such a society is likely to survive longer).

Ironically, a poorly managed industrial civilization may deplete dissolved oxygen in the oceans, leading to an increase in organic material in the sediment, which can serve as a source of future fossil fuels. “Thus, the prior industrial activity would have actually given rise to the potential for future industry via their own demise.”

See the link below for the full paper.

(Gavin A. Schmidt and Adam Frank, “The Silurian Hypothesis: Would It Be Possible to Detect an Industrial Civilization in the Geological Record?”, International Journal of Astrobiology 18:2 [2019], 142-150.)