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Ecological Collapse by ART5EC Ecological Collapse by ART5EC
I started watching a series called Terra Nova recently and it's vision of the future got me interested in the idea of global ecological collapse. I think their vision of it was a bit silly and unrealistic (no amount of "rebreather" technology is going to help you if the ecosystem collapses so much that there are no longer plants visible from orbit), but it got me wondering if a sufficiently advanced civilization could survive the total collapse of its homeworld's biosphere. This is the result.

This planet is home to a species known as the Uluqiq (a human interpretation of their word for their species in their dominant, guttural language), which suffered (geologically) rapid global environmental collapse due to over-pollution and industrial-caused climate change. The extinction of several keystone species caused a sudden collapse of the food chain to the point that a global super-critical ecological collapse occurred within mere generations. One species would go extinct, depriving several others of a source of food or habitation and a domino effect of extinction took hold before anybody could devise a solution. This kind of thing is not uncommon as a species enters a post-industrial level of technology: on many worlds (particularly a species homeworld) as the actions of the native sapient species begins to affect the planet on a global scale (atmospheric changes caused by large scale industry, ecological upheaval caused by mass conversions of wilderness into agricultural land, oceanic changes due to pollution, etc) the planetary biosphere almost always undergoes what is known as "sophiamorphic respeciation." This is a process by which a mass extinction caused by the actions of a civilization cause a shift in the global ecosystem to one that is more resistant to the existence of advanced civilization on the planet, such as the one that occurred during the beginning of the Anthropocene on Earth during the 21st and 22nd Centuries. During sophiamorphic respeciation those species that are incapable of either adapting to coexistence with civilization or adapting to new territory and lifestyles to avoid civilization die off and new species either evolve or are in some way artificially introduced by the sapient species in question. An example of this from Earth history would be the extinction of the wolf, which could not adapt to the encroachment of human civilization, and its replacement by coyotes or coyote hybrids, which readily adapted to coexistence with human activity. In most cases sophiamorphic respeciation teaches valuable lessons to civilizations that survive long enough to become space faring and allows them to avoid repeating the same catastrophe on other planets with native biospheres that they may colonize in much the same way that industrial-caused climate changes give civilizations scientific and technological knowledge that later benefits them if they begin tinkering with terraforming planets.

Sometimes, however, a civilization will ignore or deny the changes they cause to their planet long enough that they cause sophiamorphic biosphere collapse, as is the case with the aforementioned uluqiq. By the time they began efforts to limit their global impact nearly 40% of the life on their planet had gone extinct and their technology was no where near advanced enough to prevent the process from spiraling out of control. They instead decided to focus on saving their own civilization and building a database of genetic material from as much of their planetary biosphere as they could in the hopes that one day they could fix their mistake. In the end 99% of all life on their planet, including all macroscopic life that the uluqiq did not save along with themselves, perished in less than two centuries along with more than half of their own population. As vegetation began to die off it caused an increasingly intense global dustbowl. So much dust ended up in the atmosphere that a sort of dustbowl winter occurred as less sunlight was able to reach the planet's surface, further devastating what little life remained and ultimately killing off the rest of the vegetation in the short ice age following the loss of the planet's topsoil. Once the dust settled into the oceans the global warming that had already been occurring due to the uluqiq's industry went into overdrive without vegetation to offset the increased level of carbon in the atmosphere. Weather patterns became increasingly erratic and the high level of atmospheric carbon caused acid rain to pour down onto the planet's surface and into it's oceans. The increasing acidification of the oceans and the collapse of its major thermal currents put an end to any marine life that had managed to avoid the devastation on the land, including most species living deep in the ocean's depths that relied on the marine snow and other organic matter that sank into the depths from above. With the exception of the uluqiq, the domestic and tame species they saved, and microscopic extremophiles the planet is now effectively sterile. Even now more catastrophe looms as the lack of photosynthesis on the planet means that the oxygen levels in the atmosphere are rapidly dropping, and once it's gone the ozone layer will eventually collapse exposing the surface to large amounts of deadly radiation.

The uluqiq have survived by building massive, self-sufficient complexes deep underground. They do establish and maintain resource-gathering operations on the surface, though most of these are autonomous and the uluqiq homeworld is no longer habitable by their standards. They have launched some probes into their star system and towards neighboring systems at considerable expense in the hopes of finding someplace easier to live on, but this is propaganda to give the common people a sense of hope: they already know they lack the capability to launch even a manned mission into space, let alone a colonization effort. The probes sent towards other stars won't reach them for centuries, but that's irrelevant as they don't even function in the first place aside from their purpose as propaganda. Everybody, regardless of social rank, lives in standardized, communal quarters and order is strictly enforced (though the authorities go to great lengths to avoid being perceived as tyrannical as any kind of social upheaval or revolution could easily spell certain doom for a complex, and possibly their species if it spread to other complexes). Air is circulated through oxygen factories that use photosynthetic microorganisms not unlike algae which double as food production centers and distributed evenly throughout the complex, which is entirely closed off from the planetary atmosphere on the surface. Bacteria and weakened pathogens are also added to the air supply to avoid living in an entirely sterile environment, which might cause a degradation of their collective immune systems and make them susceptible to infection and disease in the future (something the Quarians in Mass Effect should have thought about). Water is recycled, filtered, rationed, and assigned particular uses as clean water is considered a commodity even if the complex in question has access to subterranean sources such as an aquifer. Power is provided by geothermal and nuclear power plants which are kept in separate, sealed complexes in case of disaster. Electricity is also rationed, but less strictly so than water as it is considered vital for recreation, which in turn is considered vital for maintaining order and the psychological well being of the populace. Public spaces such as plazas are commonplace and free enterprise is encouraged, though food and water are rather strictly controlled and it is unusual to see something like a restaurant or bath house (though there are always enterprising individuals who find ways to grow their own food or synthesize their own water and provide such services). Public gardens are also popular and large ones can be found in the center of every complex complete with projections of a natural sky on the ceiling. Population control is also a problem that has had to be tackled as there are limits to the space and resources available to support the uluqiq population. Reproduction requires a license and unlicensed reproduction unfortunately results in parents given the choice of having either their child or one of them terminated for the good of the complex (almost all unlicensed parents choose to sacrifice one of their own lives). Luckily the horror of this choice is a good deterrent to unlicensed breeding and it's an incredibly rare occurrence. Another related issue is the disposal of the dead. For those with religious or cultural beliefs that demand burial rights the only acceptable option is cremation, though most choose to have their bodies "recycled:" a process in which the corpse is broken down by detrivores (fungus-like organisms that feed on decaying organic matter) which are used as a source of food.

Uluqiq culture has changed much in the centuries following their exodus from the surface. Where they were once very individualist with an overall laissez-faire attitude towards private business they are now much more communal and supportive of state-controlled production/distribution of goods. One interesting development is that the maintenance demands of their isolated, subterranean complexes has created a situation in which more than two-thirds of their populace are now engineers and their government has shifted from their original democratic oligarchy to more of a bureaucratic technocracy. While one would expect their current situation to lead to a stagnation of scientific/technological and cultural/artistic development the opposite has in fact happened as uluqiq society has had to find progressively more innovative ways to solve problems and express themselves. Synthetics and virtual reality in particular have seen great leaps forward as limited access to natural resources and lack of environmental change drive them to find new ways of providing for their needs both materialistically and psychologically. Recreational use of mind-altering substances (mostly synthetic) has become so common that it is part of the daily ritual for most uluqiqs, which is regarded as part of a wider trend of the incorporation of escapism as a pillar of uluqiq society at large. Fiction, particularly science fiction, has become the most popular genre of storytelling for the various entertainment mediums the uluqiq have available to them. The idea of privacy and personal space is rapidly changing if not outright disappearing as generation after generation lives out their lives in a confined, isolated community. For many the very idea of physical existence is starting to seem undesirable and there is a growing movement of establishing communities in virtual reality worlds where they are not bound to their current dismal lifestyle. Some are beginning to even tinker with the idea of abandoning physical existence altogether by finding a way to transfer consciousness directly into a virtual world. These Virtualists argue that their current situation is hopeless: it will take millions of years, perhaps even a billion, for their planet to stabilize enough that it can once again support life assuming that such a thing even occurs. Afterwards it will take thousands of years to establish a new biosphere strong enough for the uluqiq to recolonize the surface and there's no guarantee that within a few generations they won't just go back to their old ways and start the cycle all over again. Virtualists believe that the best hope for their species, and indeed the preferable option in either case, is to become transbiological beings of pure data existing in digital worlds of their own creation. People could live in their own private utopias and interact in community-developed worlds at their leisure. They would be free from the constraints of flesh and live as gods. Mundanists counter that such a system would inevitably lead to some of them being left behind to maintain the physical servers that would be required for the Virtualists to exist in and that becoming transbiological would leave the uluqiq more vulnerable to extinction as a species than biological existence. Both sides make good points and this division has for the most part been amicable for the moment but there is a growing concern in ruling bodies that if these opinions continue to expand into the general populace it may create a loss of social order and possibly even violence, but suppressing these views could likely result in the same. For the moment the government has not taken an official stance on either argument, though there are already divisions within the ruling bodies beginning to appear and many worry that uluqiq society is on a course leading to revolution.
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:icongrisador:
grisador Featured By Owner Edited Aug 25, 2016
Epic !

So they survived by fallout Vault style; if something huge happens could humans intervene ?
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:iconleggurm:
Leggurm Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Great work here.
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:iconart5ec:
ART5EC Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks, but I'm a little unhappy with the background. The nebula does not look like that in photoshop, it looks much better. The color isn't as intense and the red areas aren't nearly as sharp. I'm not entirely sure what happened. JPEG gonna JPEG I guess.
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:iconleggurm:
Leggurm Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
To be honest, I'm more impressed with the backstory.
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:iconart5ec:
ART5EC Featured By Owner May 13, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm quite proud of this backstory. I usually flesh them out pretty well but I took this one to new heights, in my opinion. Originally it was just going to end at them being rescued by another race (likely humans) and settled on a new planet, but then I started wondering how a society might change under these circumstances. The Virtualist/Mundanist development was based on a conversation I had with a friend. Personally I'm a big fan of the idea of existing purely in a Tron-like virtual world, but he says that such a thing would be a nightmare because it isn't "real." I fail to see how a virtual existence indistinguishable from a physical one is any more or less real than being bound to my fleshy mortal coil, but I can understand where he is coming from and don't dismiss his opinion out of hand. It all depends on whether or not you see reality as being an objective truth (like he does) or a subjective experience (as I do). Either way I look forward to spending my retirement sitting on my porch and waving my +10 strength cane at kids while yelling at them to get out of my lobby XD
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:iconleggurm:
Leggurm Featured By Owner May 15, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
I think if I knew I was in a simulation, I'd be fine.
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