A recent blog about a 2008 news story reminded me of a topic I’ve been interested in long before I became obsessed by climate change. The story was in the Telegraph and was about an increase in reported UFO sightings across Britain that year; there’s a quote from Malcolm Robinson, founder of an organisation called Strange Phenomena Investigations:
There has been an unusual number of sightings recently. Some experts believe it could be linked to global warming and craft from outer space are appearing because they are concerned about what man is doing to this planet.
There does actually seem to be a curious connection between aliens and environmentalism. Before I go there, however, it might be a good thing if I set out what my own thoughts are, on the subject of UFOs. As a science fiction-reading teenager I remember being fascinated by the idea of Earth being visited by aliens, and was very open to the possibility that ETs were flitting about our skies in their exotic, metal-hulled spacecraft.
However, scepticism crept in, as always. Although some who report UFO encounters appear to be solid enough witnesses – pilots, police officers, and so forth – there are others who definitely are not, and I find it wholly understandable that the more dramatic, not to say lurid, accounts tend to be written off by sceptics as delusional episodes, for instance, or outright fabrications.
One argument often used to dismiss UFO sightings is that true aliens would be wise and peaceful – having long since overcome problems such as war and the nuclear arms race – so they wouldn’t be skulking around, kidnapping people and being mysterious. I’m not sure that’s actually such a sound argument, however, as it assumes that civilisation elsewhere in the Universe would follow a path almost identical to civilisation on Earth – with warring nation-states, “the Bomb” and everything else – when we can really make no such assumption. True aliens might be far more unfathomably bizarre than we have been able to imagine, hitherto.
No, what did most to turn me into a sceptic (along with the often suspiciously Earth-centric names and imagery) was the timing of it all. Space visitors arriving precisely at the dawn of the Space Age was, for me, a coincidence too far.
I would add, however, that I’m still open to the possibility that somewhere within the deeply baffling parallel universe of Ufology is a central kernel of accurately reported high strangeness pointing to something, some truth – I know not what – that science has yet to embrace. To all investigators (such as the late John Mack) brave or foolhardy enough to navigate through all the quirkiness and confusion in search of that something, I wish you the best of luck.
Anyway, aliens and environmentalism.
What becomes readily apparent if you start to read accounts of alleged alien contact is that there’s sometimes a message about the environment, often delivered as some kind of graphic warning. Wikipedia mentions this in its entry on alien abduction. Those people who claim to have been snatched from their beds by ETs sometimes report being subjected to frightening movies that show environmental catastrophes – devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and burning forests – which are somehow humanity’s fault, or at least exacerbated by human greed and ignorance. Does this sound oddly familiar to you?
Here’s a good example. One purported abductee, Jim Sparks (aka former real-estate developer Vincent Sparacino) became obsessed with saving the rain forests in 1995, after having been kidnapped by aliens. He believes that the human race is being “farmed” by extraterrestrials but that their investment is now in danger, because humans have chosen an environmentally destructive path.
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Sparks in a book by researcher Linda Moulton Howe, and is about his recollections of an encounter and conversation with reptilian aliens:
‘We contacted your leaders because your planet is in grave trouble. Your leaders said the vast majority of your population wasn’t ready for anything like us yet, so we made time agreements with your leaders as to when your people would be made aware of our presence. This part of the agreement has not at all been kept.
‘It was also agreed that, in the meantime, steps would be taken to correct the environmental condition of your planet with our advice and technology. We say advice, because we respect the fact that this is your planet, not ours. Your government also broke this agreement.’
“I felt an awful emotion of abandonment from these aliens. They are different. I never sensed true emotion from the other aliens before. But the feeling wasn’t at all good. It felt like great loss. I couldn’t help asking, ‘You aren’t giving up on us, are you?’
“There was a long pause of silence and I had a strong feeling of tremendous loss. So I asked again, ‘Well, are you?’ There was another long pause. “Then finally:
‘No. We are now concentrating our energy on the average person. Your air and your water are contaminated. Your forests, jungles, trees and plant life are dying. There are several breaks in your food chain. You have an amount of nuclear and biological weapons which include nuclear and biological contamination. Your planet is overpopulated. Warning: It is almost to the point of being too late unless your people act now. There are better ways of deriving your energy and food needs without causing your planet any damage. Those in power are aware of this and have the capability to put these methods into worldwide use.’
“I asked, ‘Why aren’t we doing it now?’ There was silence, and the whole thing was so strange because I could see that the whole group was thinking and speaking its mind at one time. It felt good because I was a participant in an honest-to-goodness meeting! The best part was that for the first time I was getting direct answers to my questions. ‘Why aren’t we putting these new methods into use now?’
‘Those in power view it [technology for clean energy and abundant food] as a military and security threat.’
“Then I got angry as hell and said, ‘You mean to tell me our people in power have the ability to save and better this planet and they aren’t doing it?!’ The thought that technology was being held back from the public because of paranoia and greed outraged me, and the aliens saw my anger.
References to contaminated air and water, dying forests, overpopulation… The urge to “act now” so as not to damage the planet further… A feeling of rage towards the “paranoia and greed” of those in power. To me, these elements bear a striking and obvious resemblance to the sort of sentiments expressed by those Guardian or Huffington Post commentators with “deep green” sympathies.
One of the most well-known alleged UFO contactees is of course the writer Whitley Strieber, author of Communion (also, incidentally, co-author of 1999 book The Coming Global Superstorm which was the basis for 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow). Communion and its sequels purport to be about the writer’s own experiences with aliens.
In Communion, published in 1987, following multiple episodes of abduction and contact with the grey alien “visitors”, Strieber describes being the recipient of information about “the danger of impending atmospheric deterioration”, which he later connects to news of the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer.
In Transformation, the 1988 sequel to Communion, he describes a number of alarming dreams, which are possibly linked to his reported experiences with the aliens. These include the destruction of a power station and a vision of giant boulders flying past the Moon. He writes:
Contact with the visitors is almost universally associated with catastrophic predictions. People are told of impending wars, of earthquakes, of meteors directed towards the earth, of polar shifts and the coming of new ages of ice or heat. I myself had been shown graphic depictions of the death of the atmosphere, not to mention the entire planet simply exploding.
Later in the chapter, he speculates that much of this imagery might relate to personal and social upheavals brought on by alien contact, rather than physical disasters. However, he does not rule out the possibility that his premonitions about catastrophic global warming are actually about something real and imminent.
A 2012 article in New Dawn Magazine describes Strieber’s reporting of an episode during which he communicated with, not an alien this time, but a rather weird shamanic sort of individual he calls “the Master of the Key”:
Among other things, the ‘Master of the Key’ spoke about sudden environmental change, and the ending of this current age. There is, he said, a great cycle of climate change, involving “sudden shifts back and forth from ice ages to temperate periods.” Although this cycle is natural, it has been sped up by human activity, and we are about to enter a new ice age, “that will lead to the extinction of mankind, or to a massive reduction in population.” To avoid this, he said, we must find a way to expand off the planet.
Which came first, though, in Strieber’s case – fears of environmental disaster or contact with aliens? In an intriguing passage in Communion, he explains that the environmentalism came first, and that:
… there is always the possibility that I was unconsciously eager to comply with an outcome that I might secretly have longed for. I might want powerful visitors to appear, to save a world that I’m pretty sure is in serious trouble. I’d spent the past three years working on books about nuclear war and environmental collapse. I knew full well that we are going to have a really rough time in the next fifty years. Maybe the idea of visitors coming along and saving our necks was more appealing to me than I might consciously have wished to admit.
There are a number of additional quotes I could have included, by investigators such as David Jacobs and John Mack, which also suggest a connection between alien abduction reports and visions of ecological collapse, but they would threaten to make this post even longer than it already is.
However, I’d like to bring in a final example. It’s a presentation by soft-spoken Oxford University academic Dr Young-hae Chi which was made at a conference held in the UK in 2012 by AMMACH (Anomalous Mind Management Abductee Contactee Helpline) and which you can now see on YouTube. Dr Young-hae comes across as sincere – he clearly believes that aliens are actually abducting and/or communicating with people, and that there is a connection with anthropogenic global warming (he quotes James Hansen during his slideshow and shows graphs from IPCC’s 2007 AR4 report.) One video segment during his presentation shows an interview with a woman who reports standing with hundreds of people in a vast spaceship and watching a movie in which beautiful scenes of mountains and oceans were replaced by scenes in which a virulent black gunge oozes up from the Earth and destroys the biosphere – a representation perhaps, Dr Young-hae speculates, of devastation caused by methane released from melting permafrost.
So – whether or not aliens really exist – there does seem to be a strange connection between extra-terrestrials and environmental doom.
Last year a paper called NASA faked the moon landing — Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax was submitted to the journal Psychological Science, purporting to demonstrate a connection between scepticism about catastrophic man-made global warming and belief in conspiracy theories. In a nutshell, what the authors (Lewandowsky, Oberauer and Gignac) tried to show was that people who are wacky enough to be sceptical about the idea that man-made CO2 is about to bring about the mother of all environmental catastrophes are also wacky enough to believe that NASA faked the Moon landings or that George W. Bush blew up the Twin Towers.
To say that this study was badly conceived and executed would be a gross understatement, and to pronounce it “flawed” would be stretching politeness to its limits. The paper is little more than a smear job. There is not enough space here to list its shortcomings; instead, I will point you to Climate Audit and Geoff Chambers’s blog, where in numerous posts you will find the NASA faked the moon landing study taken apart with forensic precision. Fortuitously, there is also a brand new article in Climate Resistance which will give you an excellent overview.
There is remarkably little evidence, as far as I’m concerned, that CAGW sceptics are particularly prone to “conspiracy theory ideation”. However, I think there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that people who report being contacted or even abducted by aliens are prone to worrying or fantasising about ecological catastrophe (one might call it “eco crisis ideation”, perhaps.)
There are some interesting questions that could be asked. Are a greater proportion of people extremely worried about the environment to be found among abductees than among the population at large? Does it work the other way, as well? Is there a correlation between belief in alien abductions and belief in imminent ecological collapse? Is there a negative correlation, perhaps, between belief in alien abductions and climate scepticism?
On the subjects of both environmental disaster and alien visitations, I’m highly sceptical. However, I think this curious connection between the two is a very real one – although what it actually means is still a matter for speculation – and could eventually become the foundation for a hypothesis about the world, or at least about the human mind.
All I need now is for a friendly academic (maybe not Lewandowsky, Oberauer or Gignac) to devise a competent study which will put it to the test. I can’t guarantee that it will end up being promoted in the New York Times or Scientific American (as was the Moon landings paper) but it would at least have the merit of investigating a connection which has been observed in the real world.
The truth – as somebody once said – is out there.