by Rob English
The fireflies are out this month. Have you seen them, winking on and off on a warm, dark night, each male blinking his own personal flying, flash pattern; each female sitting at the top of a length of tall grass, watching for just the right male signal to respond to? If she sees what she likes she will call the male down by imitating his flash and later she will deposit her fertilized eggs on the ground. Days later new larvae will hatch and crawl under the earth where they will grow and feed and wait for another year and another spell of warm, wet weather to bring them out to flash.
In ancient times the female firefly’s’ watch was easier. There were no blinking satellites to distract her, no car or streetlights or street light-mounted blue-flashing police cameras, no Christmas lights strung on porches, and no fascinated children trying to catch them in jars.
If we shift our eyes upward from the back-yard grass at night, we see the twinkling stars and the blinking satellites, but even when we look with the strongest, cleverest instruments for looking that mankind has, we cannot see any life out there.
Scientists are baffled. They know that the Universe is unbelievably vast and filled with stars that have planets, and that millions, maybe billions, of those planets are amenable to life as we know it; yet we never find any sign of life. That paradox – the Fermi Paradox – insists that millions of civilizations must have formed on those planets, but where are they?
One possible answer arises from the “other” vastness of the Universe – its vast lifetime. It may be that civilizations rise up, develop intelligence, thrive for a million years, send signals to space, then ultimately decay, and go dark, never to be heard from again. It may happen quite often out there. But “quite often” on the clock of the Universe, a civilization’s beginning and end is but a blinking firefly to any godlike creature who could sit for billions of years and watch the night sky. By the theory, civilizations have been blinking on and off throughout the Universe for fifteen billion years. We don’t see them because we happen to be living during in a section of the cosmos where any “fireflies” near us all happen to be between blinks.
On Earth we have developed a civilization that sends out signals. Will we thrive for a million years or more? Or will we wink out relatively soon due to any of the reasons that an intelligent species winks itself out? In my opinion our future is really not about whether individuals use plastic straws or paper or plastic bags, although those questions are important. Instead it’s about the decisions our governmental leaders make. Only grassroots demands will cause them to do what is right and what will keep our civilization alive and make it healthy for our grandchildren and the flora and fauna now dependent on us.
Write, telephone, march in the streets, use paper straws. Don’t let other do it.
And if your kids catch fireflies in jars, please make holes in the tops so the bugs can breathe, and kindly let them go after a day or two.
This article was written and translated into Spanish by Rob English. Rob is a member of People for Animal Rights, a grassroots organization in Central New York,
Contact People for Animal Rights
P.O. Box 3333
Syracuse, NY 13220
Photo by Flash Dantz and Alexander Grigorian from Pexels