If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I don’t spend a lot of time on anything do to with the world of UFOs, alien conspiracies, or other dubious propositions about how the world works. I have plenty of my own borderline outrageous scientific extrapolations and hypotheses, but these are all (I hope) grounded in some element of reality as the majority of humans understand it. That other stuff, little grey aliens and so on? Let’s just say I’d rather spend more time on deciding what to have for lunch. 

But that’s me: While a significant portion of humanity voiced demands this week for real changes in how we humans go about our lives – in order to try to avoid the absolute worst-case scenarios of near-future climate change – there was also a cohort whose attention was focused on a bit of arid terrain some eighty miles north of Las Vegas. Here, at the edge of the Groom Lake salt flats in Nevada, is a US Air Force facility known as either Groom Lake, Homey Airport, or Area 51, within the Nevada Test and Training Range.

Long a subject of just about every ‘theory’ about government conspiracies and extraterrestrial shenanigans since the 1940s, Area 51 still holds a powerful allure. So much so that some two million people responded to a (presumably satirical) proposal on Facebook in June 2019 to ‘storm’ Area 51 on September 20th 2019 and find out once and for all what it’s hiding. In the end about 40 people are reported to have shown up. Naturally the US military did not let anyone near the actual facility.

There’s plenty of readily available material to peruse on what probably takes place at Area 51 – mostly highly classified aeronautical research for military purposes, such as technologies for stealth aircraft. And, ironically, there are suggestions that people’s focus on wild alien conspiracies at this locale have been quite helpful in distracting from the real work at the base. 

That distraction is actually worth considering. As a species we’re all pretty good at getting distracted. It doesn’t have to be with intricate conspiracies about other life in the cosmos, it can be about celebrities, gossip, or online videos on how to make turnip desserts (I don’t know, but that probably exists somewhere). Almost anything but the inconvenient truths about the nature of our existence. We are born, some things are okay, we suffer a bit, and we drop dead. 

No wonder we have a hard time facing up to our complicity, no matter how modest, in a civilization-spanning set of behaviors that are unhealthy for us and the biosphere that supports us. Of course, we’re not all quite as bad as each other. The vast numbers of humans who still live moment-to-moment, struggling for food, clean water, and education, are hardly as culpable as someone like me, sitting here with my ridiculously environmentally unsound laptop and effectively limitless electrical power. But that doesn’t matter, to get out of this mess every person will end up having to behave differently, it’s simply a matter of degree.

The one thing genuinely interesting about Area 51 is how it reflects on our inability to snap out of a world of fanciful thinking and fanciful hopes. Maybe there’s a lesson somewhere in there; we don’t need to give up our love of the impossible, but we definitely need to do better at differentiating between fantasy and reality.

In fact, if you want to believe that Area 51 hides wonderous extraterrestrial technology secrets you should ask what another sentient species from across the galaxy did to get itself to such a point of sophistication. The answer, I suspect, would be to first figure out how to sustain its homeworld and itself in a way that enabled a glorious future of buzzing unsuspecting bipeds in the deserts of a distant planet.