A very common trope of science fiction literature and film is that of the alien invasion. In books and on screen we have spanning epics in which human beings bravely do battle against these mysterious intruders with their wits and whatever weapons they have at hand. In the end, they send the alien invaders back to from whence they came or destroy them outright. Go humans, right? This is all good fun and very entertaining, but have you ever thought of whether aliens might actually invade for real, or what would happen to us if they did? Here we will delve into the possibility of a real alien invasion, why they would come, what they would do, and what it would mean for us all.
The first thing to consider is why aliens would even want to attack or invade us in the first place, and this can be a bit tricky, with numerous theories on why they would even bother, and different possible outcomes to an invasion based on what they are after. One idea that has been thrown around is that they would be after our water or other resources, and that seems to make sense on the surface, but looking into this possibility more deeply brings about some problems. First of all is that it is believed that there are vast amounts of water frozen and locked away within asteroids, comets, and uninhabited planets, moons, and planetoids, so it seems a bit odd that they would want to use so many resources to travel all of that way just to pry the water from our cold, dead hands. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to just mine nearby systems for all of that unused water floating about in space without any objection? And say they really do need us for our water, even if they did, there are numerous logistical problems involved with stealing it from us, and the same can be said of other resources as well. This is very well explained by astronomer Phil Plait, host of the Discovery Channel's science show Phil Plait's Bad Universe, who says of all of this:
In movie after movie, aliens come here for our precious resources, usually water. At first glance that makes sense; after all, 70 percent of Earth is covered in water. But on second glance that logic falls apart. For one thing, water is pretty inconvenient for packaging and shipping. It doesn't compress, it's heavy, and it's hard to pump quickly from one place to another.
Worse, it's sitting way down deep in our gravity well! Plunging into the inner solar system to Earth is hard enough, but then landing, grabbing all that water, and then taking off again? That's a huge amount of energy wasted just to wet your whistle (or whatever mouth parts aliens have). And it's worse when you look at the solar system as a whole. Orbiting the sun out past Neptune are gigantic repositories of water, essentially comets hundreds of kilometers across, in the convenient form of solid ice. Why would aliens blow right past all that prepackaged water to get to us way down here? The same is true for a lot of other natural resources; asteroids have minerals and metals that can be used for all manner of things, and you can mine them to your circulatory organ's delight, again with no pesky humans to rise up and kill you.
OK, well then maybe they want something else? Another idea is that they might want to use us as a food source or as slaves, which also doesn’t make sense considering that even evolving on the same planet we are actually pretty limited with what is edible for us or available for us to eat. With aliens with totally different evolutionary histories and physiologies it seems highly unlikely that they would find us edible are all that good-tasting, especially not enough to come all of that way, and we could actually even be poisonous for them. There is also the same problem with water and other resources. How would they ship and store us all, then drag us back to their home world? Is prime grade A human steak really worth all of that effort? The same thing goes for if they came here to use us as slave labor, and why would they need slave labor anyway? With all of that technology at their disposal couldn’t they just make machines to do the work for them? They came here from light years away in order to get cheap manual labor? Really? It just seems like it would be way more trouble than its worth.
There is also the idea that these aliens might want to colonize this planet because it is similar to their home world and they have exploited their own to the point where it has become uninhabitable. This might make a bit of sense, but the odds of this planet being similar or compatible enough for their particular physiologies in this universe of billions of planets seems infinitesimally small. It would likely require some sort of terraforming, and if they can do that then why Earth?
Getting into more sinister territory is that they just might want to wipe us out. That’s it. End of story. This could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe they were passing by and do it for kicks, just as a kid might check out a weird bug before squashing it. Maybe they have been monitoring us and our violent past, watching our rampant destruction of our environment and either want to put us out of our misery or see us as an actual threat in some capacity, a scourge to be ended. Whatever the reason is, in this scenario they don’t need anything from us and don’t even need our world in any capacity, they just want to destroy us. This is quite an ominous concept to ponder, but it is a distinct possibility, and would likely be the easiest option for them.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the aliens really are coming, and have decided to invade our world, for whatever reasons. If they merely wanted to destroy us, as in that last option, then let's face it there is very little we would realistically be likely be able to do against them. Indeed, if they really do want to just wipe us all out they would not even have to come down to us, they could just sit up in their spaceships and pull down asteroids to crash into our planet, causing tsunamis and mass destruction on a scale never before seen, or use some other type of weapon of mass destruction from orbit. Why would they have to come down and fight in the streets or even see us if they have all of that technology and their only desire is to obliterate us?
Well, maybe they do need something from our planet. If we assume that there is some resource they need or that they really do want to move in and evict us, then they would be more likely to need our planet at least somewhat intact. Maybe they do need to engage us in a military way, and let’s just put aside the fact that they could probably easily engineer a virus that would just kill all humans and assume that a fight is going to go down. But would it really be a fight in any appreciable sense? With their mind-boggling technology beyond the likes of anything we’ve ever seen, would it be a war between humans and aliens any more than a sadistic child with a magnifying glass burning anthills is a war between kids and ants? One very interesting comment left on the site Quora pretty well explains what would probably go down:
The late, great Iain M. Banks gave us the term in his book Excession. An Outside Context Problem works like this: You’re the king of the most powerful tribe in the history of your land, which, as far as you know, is the most important place in the world. Your people have a better standard of living than any before, your palaces and temples are bedecked in gold and precious gems, and your armies of warriors have destroyed any who stood up to you. You are worshiped as the physical incarnation of God on Earth, and it is well known that your people cannot be defeated.
Until a small group of large, completely unknown sea vessels appear on the horizon. They have what look like sheets suspended by tree trunks, and are so large that they can’t land on the beach but have to send small boats to the shore. The people on these boats are clad in drab metal chestplates and strange helmets, and speak a language unlike any ever encountered. They carry strange metal tubes and some of them are waving around a book with a cross on it that they seem to think is very important. Worst of all, they don’t seem to recognise your godhead.
A small scuffle ensues, and some of your warriors are killed as if by magic. You decide that you should make an example of these impertinent, outlandish savages, and you muster your army to crush them utterly. But it all goes wrong. Their dull metal clothing is impenetrable to even the finest obsidian blades, they carry tubes that contain the very fire and thunder of the gods, and, worst of all, from out of nowhere spring these half-man, half-beast creatures, that race through your lines, slashing with metal blades and blasting with smaller magic tubes.
This small group of heathens goes on to rout your army, capture you as king and plunder your cities. With the diseases that now ravage the land, they are unstoppable and your eternal kingdom is reduced to rubble and your people slaughtered or enslaved. This, more or less, is what happened when the Aztec Empire encountered Hernan Cortés and his relatively small group of conquistadores. It’s pretty much the textbook example of an Outside Context Problem.
The Aztecs simply had no conception of the Spanish, no idea how to deal with their massive technological advantage, no context with which to even consider these invaders. And they lost. Really, really badly. That’s what would happen, realistically, if Earth were invaded by hostile aliens. We wouldn’t stand a chance.
The simple fact is, if aliens don’t want us alive, the overwhelming possibility is that we won’t be. These would be beings far beyond us in terms of technology and intellect to have been able to come here in the first place, and if they came here for a fight, they’d be ready and would likely know far more about us than we do about them. The technology difference would be substantial, and would be akin to throwing rocks versus nuclear weapons. Nick Pope, who used to run the Ministry of Defense’s UFO project in the United Kingdom, has said of this:
In a universe nearly 14 billion years old, the chances of invading aliens happening to be only a hundred years or so more advanced than us is vanishingly small. The likelihood is that we'd be dealing with a civilization thousands or millions of years ahead of us, and as sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke once said: 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ If they are hostile, it would be like Bambi meeting Godzilla if we ever had to fight them…we would present no military challenge to such an advanced civilization…We would be a pushover for them. Forget all the Hollywood movies.
If we were to have any chance at all, we’d have to hope that the attack was not completely obliterating, with them wanting to keep us mostly alive for some reason. This would allow Earth governments to try to put aside their differences, gather intelligence, and assess the threat, find a weakness, and hopefully reverse engineer alien technology, although this would be akin to a medieval scientist trying to reverse engineer an iPad, probably impossible. We could try nukes, but this is a sloppy, poor strategy, and would cause almost as much damage to our own planet as anything the aliens would dish out.
With all of this talk of alien invasions, you might be thinking right about now that the government must have thought about this at some point. I mean, surely they have some sort of plan in effect if it ever comes down to this. Right? Guys? Well, yes and no. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has a plan in effect for what to do when alien signals are received, although these are more guidelines than anything else, and NASA has protocols in place for preventing the contamination of other worlds by us, but as to actual government contingency plans, especially against hostiles, not really. There have been sort of mental exercises and thought experiments drawn up for everything from alien invasions to zombie outbreaks drawn up by the government, but nothing really official or taken very seriously. Other countries are no different, as the The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and their Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (CUPUOS) is apparently not geared for such possibilities, with UNOOSA director Simonetta Di Pippo saying:
UNOOSA and COPUOS Member States consider a range of space science and space exploration topics, fields in which the topic of astrobiology sits. However, the Office for Outer Space Affairs has been given no mandate by Member States to consider the question of potential advanced or intelligent extraterrestrial life. For this reason there is no protocol or process for any contact by extraterrestrial life.
Even the set SETI guidelines for assessing and dealing with possible alien communications are flimsy at best, and not particularly official. As astronomer Seth Shostak has said:
There are some protocols, but I think that's an unfortunate name, and it makes them sound more important than they are. They say, 'If you pick up a signal, check it out ... tell everybody ... and don't broadcast any replies without international consultation,' whatever that means. But that's all that the protocols say, and they have no force of law. The United Nations took a copy of the early protocols and put them in a file drawer somewhere, and that's as official as they ever got. Some people asked me at a conference last week, 'What plan does the military have to deal with aliens should they land?' And I said, 'I don’t know … but to the best of my knowledge, they don't have a plan.'
So there seem to be very few official concrete plans in effect for meeting alien life, period, let alone if they come roaring down out of the sky with guns blazing and malicious intent. We’d probably be left in a state of complete chaos, on top of our woefully inadequate technological weaponry, although many are convinced that there actually are secret contingency plans kept by world governments that we simply don’t know about. As the founder of UFO and paranormal hunters Strange Phenomena Investigations, Malcolm Robinson, says:
They won’t publicly admit it but I believe that they have a program up their sleeves for the lukewarm possibility of an alien invasion - and I completely believe they have something planned for the event.
Does that make you feel any better about our chances in the event of an alien invasion? Yeah, me neither. The main problem is that it is a lot of money and effort to spend on something that the vast majority of people sees as a very faint possibility at best. Part of the problem also lies in the fact that we have no way at all to know what to even expect if aliens came, no way to know at all what context to perceive them within, and thus virtually limitless possibilities that can’t all possibly be planned for, and their capabilities would be far beyond what we can comprehend anyway, making it an impossible venture. As Shostek explains, “It would be like the Neanderthals having a plan in case the U.S. Air Force showed up.”
In the end, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that there are few rational reasons for why aliens would expend the resources necessary to come here en masse for the purpose of wiping us out, and if they are here already, as many suspect, then they probably would have done it by now. The bad news is that if they do come, and want us to be dead, then our chances don't look too good at all, and there isn't even any plan in effect for it if they do. It's basically see what happens and hope for the best. So while an alien invasion scenario on par with anything in the movies probably has a slim chance of happening, if it does it also will likely not play out like the films in that we won't have any chance at all. Let's hope that if they are out there, or are already here, then they are benevolent or indifferent. Sleep tight.