Humans are incredibly lucky due to ... trees!

These are the types of things I think of in the shower…

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Fermi’s Paradox. Let’s disregard some of the bigger aspects of the development of a galactic civilization we can interact with, like the location in the galaxy, the rarity of earth like planets in the habitual zone of a long lived star similar to our own or the fragility that humanity faced or the rarity of sentient life arising under all these circumstances. Let’s forget all the problems a civilization faces when it reaches our level (nuclear extinction, mass pandemics, asteroids, or just plain running out of resources and reverting to an earlier style of living, like if we run out of coal, oil, etc. before developing, say, fusion or whatever).

So we have our little civilization. There are certain rungs on the ladder towards a space fairing existence that must be met in a certain order. But people just assume that if a sentient race arose that they would be just like us and go up the ladder…but what if they couldn’t?

I’m thinking of trees in particular. Without trees, we would be stuck in a semi stone age existence forever as far as I can tell. Of course, without trees the path evolution took to arrive at us probably wouldn’t have been treaded and life on earth would be very different…but still. It’s possible that intelligence could be found on a planet without trees. I mean, we’re talking about an alien environment.

No trees mean a lack of fuel for the masses. No easily mass produced structures. No paper – no convenient communication. Without wood I don’t see how we could have advanced to bronze, copper, steel, etc. on a meaningful level. An alien world without wood may very well have a similar or different replacements…but maybe they wouldn’t. And they’d be stuck like that forever.

Or I’m wrong.

Aliens without wood would change a whole lot of the early SF pulp’s covers.

Without trees, breathing wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, either.

And people make fun of tree-huggers. shakes head

Errm, not the top shelf pulps, NCB!

As to the OP, I’m not convinced. I mean, there are other things that burn, like coal and oil, so it might just take longer to develop metallurgy& animal skins make an acceptable writing surface (have you seen the Kells bible?)

That, and I think a civilization that has to arise on say a gas giant has bigger problems than lack of wood… but SF writers manage to come up with some interesting ones.

Let’s not forget enzymes! I like enzymes.

What? I thought we were listing things that make life fun…

Dibble, you remind me of A. C. Clarke describing burning oxygen in a hydrocarbon atmosphere on some other planet. Imperial Earth is the title that comes to mind.

Even if we cut down all the trees we’d have plenty of oxygen. Algae does all the hard work.

But trees are cool and shady and fun to climb on!

You can have my tire swing when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

They also help prevent soil erosion so all our dirt doesn’t end up in the oceans, making the oceans a giant mud puddle and turning the earth into a big brown turd instead of the beautiful big blue marble that it is.

That’s a theory, and so is the one that says the Amazon Rainforest alone provides one-fifth of the oxygen we breathe, and the one that says that if the forests go, the rise in temperature will transform the oceans from heat sinks to net CO2 producers, and then a lot of bacteria will be laughing at us.

I’m not a scientist, and I’m not looking for an argument. I just learned about the difference in O2 production/consumption between old-growth and young forests, and, you know what, I think I believe it. And I’m cognizant of the fact that the world’s forests would have much less work to do if there were no IR with which to contend. Have a happy day and so forth, but I’ll burn as few trees as I can get by with, just until I know better. And with hundreds of competing studies, that may be a while.

Coal and oil are a lot less common than wood. Even including peat, you have a serious deficiency of fuel for the first few steps up the ladder to Space. Also, without wood, where are you getting all this coal?

Also, look around at what we use to build now, in the middle of the space age. (OK, the dawn of the Space Age) We use Wood. We use it because it works really well for construction, and is a lot cheaper than most of the substitutes. Cheaper as in, can be produced with much less effort in more places than, say plastic, aluminum, or steel. Or even bricks for that matter.

And without coal, where are you getting all this Steel?

Come to think of it, where did Og get that damn spear, if he didn’t sharpen a stick in the fire the first time? How the heck do you discover fire, if the only thing you have to keep one going is grass? Bone clubs are ok, provided you got a dead animal with a big bone, but how the heck do you kill that one?

What was the first wheel made of? Iron? I doubt it. How about the first axle?
Boat? Remember those natural rafts of logs that drifted across the ocean bearing the individual members of species that colonized all those islands all over the world? Looking kinda lonely out there now, huh?

Sure, it’s possible that other materials could be substituted that would suffice for each of these and other things that we used wood to accomplish. But it makes history a lot longer.

It’s all about the lignin, man.


The same place we got some of it from already - non-lignaceous vegetation such as mosses and ferns. Google “Psilopsids” or “Cooksonia”

see above


Reeds? Like Lake Titikaka or early Egyptian boats

No-one’s arguing that it’d be easier, I’m just arguing that it wouldn’t be impossible, and those sorts of substitutions are all possible.