Boobyprize Event Log, Stardate 3F753.7. Captain Richard Kirkland is in his quarters, slumped in a chair. He has posted a “Do Not Disturb” connectivity beacon. There is a subtle, old-fashioned knock at the door. Kirkland raises his head; the caller is expected.
Kirkland: “Come on in, Mr Srock.”
Srock (entering): “Thank you. You are distressed.”
K: “You can say that again!”
S: “[…] I choose to not do so. I choose instead to ask what the matter is, and if there is anything I can do that will remediate.”
K: “Can you restore planet 3 Thermokipio?”
S: “The planet is fine, Captain. Its civilization is beyond recovery. I presume you were referring to the latter circumstance.”
K: “I was. Are we on a mission from Hell, Mr Srock?”
S: “Neither Hell nor any other supernatural agency was involved, Captain. The mission was assigned through the usual procedures, originating in the Mission Coordinator’s office, Admiral Westeaster, on Stardate …”
K: (bangs hand on desk; Srock stops speaking, raises eyebrow) Admiral Westeaster can go to the Devil, if he’s not there already!”
S: “I don’t think he, or any other carbon- or silicon-based lifeform in Starfleet, can be held responsible for the difficulties that we have experienced.”
K: “Too bad, it would be nice if we could blame something!”
S: “That has indeed been the function of personifications of evil throughout the history of your species and many others, including ours before we embraced the principles of logic. I do think, though, that the aphorism ‘The one who smiles has identified someone to blame’ originated with humans – well known throughout the galaxy for their mastery of techniques that shift responsibility for things away from where it truly belongs, namely themselves.”
K: “Happy happy joy joy. Can we at least make a guess at what happened down there? At last contact, 3 Thermokipio had a thriving society with a high level of industrialization and the beginnings of a space program. We were expecting their application to join the Federation in due course, and we were assigned to monitor their progress towards that goal. Instead, we beam down to a desert. The few humanoid inhabitants see us and run off screaming, except for the ones who climb trees or ruined buildings and throw rocks at us! This after Gamma Jakobi, the horse and buggy planet, and the utter chaos of Tpus 4, and the planetary suicide of Friedan 5. What is going on here? I suppose you’re going to tell me it’s all stochastic?”
S: “I do not have to now, do I?”
S: “As for what happened on 3 Thermokipio, the “guess” you desire is not hard to make, despite the facts that the collapse occurred some time ago, perhaps a century or more local time, and the infrastructure of the former civilization, not to mention the records of that civilization, are, today, in an advanced state of degradation. Moreover, not only do the locals retain no knowledge of their technology, they fear and abhor its remnants. This has worked in our favor, as we have been able to recover and interpret several databases and other archives that have been allowed to lie undisturbed. A more active antipathy might have forced their destruction, in which case our historical research would be harder.
“The story is a common one. The very industrialization that attracted our attention was their downfall. It came at the cost of massive use of fossil fuels, which pumped terraforming quantities of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases into the atmosphere, and caused a lush green planet to become, in the space of a few decades, a hot globe that is inhabitable only near the poles.
“Science had developed the ability to detect the coming climate disaster and pronounce the needed mitigation steps, but no one was willing to heed it, especially as the necessary actions became more and more draconian. The populace, of course, worshiped the technology that had created the crisis in the first place, and were awash in questionable technological ‘fixes’, but they funded only entertainment tools that obfuscated the problem and, ultimately, rendered them incapable of conceptualizing it without tech help – which they had failed to program accordingly.
“Finally, scientists had to admit that forcible removal of nine-tenths of the humanoid population, and denial of industrialization to the survivors, was the only option remaining to prevent the otherwise-inevitable. This message, naturally, was unwelcome, and no one, including the scientists, could work out a way to profit from it. The scientists were ignored, and those who persisted in their message were hounded in every possible way, by those who did profit, financially and in terms of social prestige including election to high office, by doing so. By the time society at large realized its error, the planetary tipping point had long since passed, and the anoxification of the oceans started the cascade that led, quickly, to the humanoid population losing everything that it had gained through industrialization, and more besides.
“Thus, the few surviving humanoids throw rocks at anything that smacks of technology, including us. It will take many millennia for the planet to recover from the carbon dioxide spike and regain Class M status, and much longer still for the redevelopment of a native civilization. Colonization of the planet could hasten these things, but, since there is an indigenous population, the Prime Directive prevents us from committing any more interstellar colonialism crimes than are already on our collective consciousnesses.”
K: “Sigh. And so on and so forth. Every time we turn around, another planet, another civilization, has disappeared or taken a turn for the worse. Makes me wonder for how much longer we will actually have a Federation of Planets.”
S: “It is a valid concern.”
K: “And it makes me wonder how we ourselves managed to dodge this bullet.”
S: “We did so by transforming ourselves into a streaming hologram.”
K: “[…] say what?”
S: “You are aware that much if not most of what we do here violates several laws of physics and is therefore impossible? We exist only in the human imagination. Which means that our ability to build a civilization that overcame the global warming calamity on Terra during the 21st and early 22nd centuries also exists only in the human imagination. Since the forces at work on Earth are identical to those that led to the destruction of civilization on 3 Thermokipio … well, when you ask how we on Earth managed to dodge the climate catastrophe bullet, the only acceptable answer is, we didn’t.”
K: “[…] Mr Srock?”
K: “You’re not helping!!“