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The ice ages came and the ice ages went. For more than a half-million years Homo sapiens endured the changing climate by adapting. Then, deep in the frozen expanse of the last global big chill, something new happened. We woke up to ourselves in a new way.

We became self-conscious, creating art, culture and tools of far greater complexity than anything that had come before. When the ice pulled back yet again, we eventually took a step of even greater consequence. We domesticated ourselves and put the Earth to the plow.

With agriculture came surplus and with surplus came new social arrangements. Eventually, we built cities and far-ranging empires to support them. Human beings began building civilization. In doing so we set ourselves and the entire planet onto a new trajectory.

But did anyone ever stop to ask if it was a good idea?

Now before you give in to the easy snort and chortle that accompanies a seemingly absurd question like this, I am going to ask you to take the long view. In this case long means billions of years, and billions of planets.

We don't want to ask the question: Is civilization good for you (or me)? Instead we want to ask: Is civilization good — in the long term — for planets and their capacity to support life (or at least technologically adept civilizations)?

In other words, we want to frame the question of sustainability in an astrobiological setting.

To read more, click here.