There was a time when Earth’s atmosphere was very hospitable to life. Then, a new organism appeared. And that organism’s waste products polluted the atmosphere.
At first, it wasn’t so bad. The oceans absorbed a fair bit of the pollution and so did chemical sinks. But soon, that organism was so widespread and produced so much pollution that all the available sinks were saturated. Then, the level of pollution began to rise in the atmosphere.
The sensitive organisms died first, then the stronger organisms. This continued until only a few pockets of living things remained… and the polluter. Over time, the global temperature of Earth was drastically changed and it stayed that way for millenia.
No one’s really sure how much of life on Earth died during this event, but it was massive.
The above story is true. But it wasn’t humans polluting the atmosphere. It was cyanobacteria and the waste product was oxygen.
For the first time, free oxygen was produced by a huge population of organisms. Iron bands in the ground rusted (for all practical purposes). That oxygen was toxic to all the anaerobic life forms. Some escaped by going deep into pockets of Earth where oxygen never reached in any great concentration. Some evolved a tolerance to the toxic chemical. Most went extinct.
The oxygenation didn’t result in the greenhouse effect. It actually resulted in a global snowball that lasted for about 400 million years.
We are doing the opposite, and unlike our bacterial cousins who did this 2.4 billion years ago, we are doing it by choice.
Some say there’s nothing cheaper than fossil fuels. Some say that our infrastructure can’t handle distributed energy or intermittent energy. Some say that humans aren’t causing this.
None of that matters. The first two are economic considerations. Chemistry doesn’t care about economics. Physics doesn’t care about economics. Only humans care about economics. Only humans put funny little colored piece of linen and paper and circular coins made out of cheap metal ahead of the survival of themselves.
The third statement doesn’t matter either. It doesn’t matter who’s causing it (we are), it’s happening. The Earth is changing at a rate that is unprecedented in the 4.5 billion year history of our planet. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a greenhouse gas and we put 7 billion tons of it in the atmosphere every year.
We very well may be the only species on the planet that is actively trying to destroy themselves. When I was a boy, it was the threat of a nuclear war with Russia. Now, our own greed and convenience is causing us to poison the Earth we live in.
I encourage everyone to visit this site (who says The White House can’t do webpages): http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/
It is time to convenience and economics to the side in order to reduce the damage we do to ourselves. We won’t destroy Earth. The planet will be here long after we are merely fossils for some enterprising new species to find. We won’t even kill all the life on the planet. No fewer than five times, the percent of species on the planet has been reduced to 30% or less.
But we can destroy the things we need to survive.
It’s time to stop. It’s time to change how we do things.