The planet, however, will be fine.
Every day, I’m reading up on the calamity of the day, the month, the year, well, even the decade. It has a few names, like climate change and global warming. Whatever name you have for it, there is an article on it every single day. I’ve never seen anything in my face in the news like this for so much, for so long.
Some of us could see it coming. I found an article written in the 1900s that said that increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would warm the planet. Then I learned about how Exxon executives could see it coming in the late 70s. So the carbon snake oil salesmen were willing to sacrifice our ecological support system for money. Lots and lots of money.
Every article I have read though, says that we’re doing damage to the earth. That we’re destroying a fantastic ecosystem. The oceans are becoming more acidic. The glaciers at the poles are melting. The sea levels are rising. The coral reefs are dying. Our great forests are dying. We are entering The Sixth Great Extinction.
Huh. The sixth? There were five great extinctions before this one? Yes. Five big events have wiped out most of the life on this planet. You can find the last five big extinction events here, so I won’t bore you with the details. But the fact remains that we have had five events that wiped out 75–96% of all life on the planet. And yet, life continued to survive, even to the point of the enormous diversity we saw previous to the industrial era. Oh, yes. One of them was caused by a form of life dumber than we are.
There is something else, too. We’ve had a few ice ages, too. The one that caught my interest though, was The Great Oxidation Event. Below is an excerpt from an article I found on Science Daily that describes early life on this planet:
According to the scientists, multicellularity developed shortly before the rise in levels of free oxygen in the oceans and in the atmosphere. This accumulation of free oxygen is referred to as the Great Oxidation Event, and is seen as the most significant climate event in Earth’s history. (emphasis mine)
This event occurred around 2.3 billion years ago, and most life on the planet metabolized carbon dioxide, not oxygen. For them, oxygen was poisonous. Isn’t that interesting that so much of the life on the planet was wiped out by oxygen? The addition of oxygen to the atmosphere did something else.
The oxygen reacted with methane in the atmosphere reducing that to CO2 and water. Methane is a greenhouse gas and is estimated to be 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of capturing the suns energy and warming the planet. The reduction of methane in the atmosphere is described as follows on the Wikipedia page about The Great Oxidation Event:
Firstly, it oxidized atmospheric methane (a strong greenhouse gas) to carbon dioxide (a weaker one) and water. This decreased the greenhouse effect of the Earth’s atmosphere, causing planetary cooling, and triggered the Huronian glaciation. Starting around 2.4 billion years ago, this lasted 300–400 million years, and may have been the longest ever snowball Earth episode.
Huh. Snowball Earth? Wait, there was more than one Snowball Earth episode? Did you know that the organisms that gave rise to the Great Oxidation Event live, even to this today? You do now.
So I’d say that Earth will be fine despite the fine mess we’re making now. With a gigantic, worldwide, wartime like effort, we may be able to turn this thing around. Maybe not. Even if we don’t, everything else will be fine. Life on Earth will make it. We might not. We might survive, but we might survive the same way the reptiles did. Smaller, dumber and maybe happier.
Still, I’m hoping we can turn this thing around.