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That sounds OK, although I don't know how we'd survive on a planet too close or far from its sun to evolve life. A planet at the right distance from the sun that had no life on it yet, not even single-celled, would be fine too. Or if we could find a way to live in harmony with the life already on the planet, that would be OK, although very difficult I should think. I'm fine with responsible colonization, if such a thing can be achieved. Thanks for commenting.

I don't understand your point about utilitarianism. Would you agree that its principles can be applied to wild animals as well as humans?

If human activity is increasing wild animal suffering (which I believe to be true), it follows that humans have the capacity to make wild animals happier by changing our behaviour. Encouraging the human population to level off or even decline would help wild animals. We can do this by educating girls, ending child marriage, giving business loans to women, and just generally giving women more power to control their own lives. Women who have control over their lives and procreation will often choose to have fewer children. This would be good for women as well as wild animals.

I think in general, the things we can do to make wild animals happier will also result in happier people, though in fewer numbers. Empowering women is one example. Ending the use of fossil fuels might be another, at least in my country of Canada. Whole forests have been cut down to "make" the tar sands, forests that once provided habitat for birds and other wild animals. The tar sands provide jobs, but they're one of the most miserable jobs a person can do. The tar sands create greater unhappiness for both humans and wild animals.

Protecting wildlife areas and creating wildlife corridors would make wild animals happier. Since nature makes people happier, this again has the potential to make people happy as well.

"Is trying to change how wild animals go about their lives also steeped in colonialism?" you ask. We are already changing wild animals' lives, without trying. We are interfering in their habitats, or taking their habitats away completely, in order to feed our capitalist machine. That's colonialism: pushing residents off their land in order to use it for your own interests, without concern for their rights or welfare. Making amends for the damage done by colonialist activity is not in itself colonialism, it is reparation.

Thanks for commenting!

Good primer on the Fermi Paradox. Just what I needed. If you look at the human race (the only example we have) it appears that a species that has advanced to the point of space travel is also at the point of damaging its ecosystem to the point of threatening its own extinction. This was the premise of a great little story called The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model by Charlie Jane Anders.

Even if a species manages to safely navigate this point in its development, coming up with a stable society that includes space travel,  the distances in space are exceedingly vast. Perhaps when we look at space, we're seeing many planets teeming with life that we can never get to, while they can never get to us. It might be just as well. We don't get along well ourselves; how well can we be expected to get along with aliens?

Not that we see those planets as they are now. We see them as they were, millions of years ago.

I'm really put off by the "currently-empty galaxy" claim that comes right at the beginning of the piece. How would the author know? We've only sent two probes outside our own solar system, and they haven't even reached another star yet. I don't consider it a good sign that there's a massive unwarranted assumption sitting at the very beginning of the piece. That's why I can't be bothered to read further.

Excellent essay. Very moving.