Friday, 18 August 2017

doomsday scenario

As a former student of geology, I’ve always known about the mass extinction events that have punctuated the Earth’s history, but I recently learned something completely new about the most devastating of these, the Permian–Triassic mass extinction. I was aware that around 96 percent of plant and animal species died out during this event, and I also knew that there were major volcanic eruptions in what is now Siberia but was then part of the supercontinent of Pangaea. These eruptions were of basalt, which is far more fluid than acidic lavas and therefore flows greater distances, and they had been considered the primary cause of the extinction event because the extra carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by these eruptions resulted in dramatic increases in global temperatures, the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’.

However—and this was probably not known when I graduated 50 years ago—some of the extruded basalt flowed far enough to reach what was at the time the planet’s largest coal basin, and the combination of hot lava and huge quantities of organic matter released vast amounts of methane, which rose to the surface, where it exploded. You might think that this is a highly speculative scenario, but a Norwegian geologist recently discovered evidence of these explosions, the existence of which he must have already suspected in order to look. And the result of the explosions would have been dramatic increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a massive spike in temperatures around the world.

There is a worrying parallel with the present day here. The basalt that flowed into the coal basin during the Permian–Triassic event burned through organic matter that had been accumulating for many tens of millions of years in a relatively short period of time. And although the Industrial Revolution is barely 300 years old, humans have already burned through a significant proportion of the organic material—coal, petroleum and natural gas—that has accumulated since.

Yet we continue to extract and burn more, egged on by idiots like the current occupant of the White House and former British chancellor of the exchequer Nigel Lawson, who has had the temerity to establish a think tank, the Global Warming Foundation, to promote his view that global warming is no big deal. In fact, Lawson’s argument is an economic one, that global warming—if it exists—is merely a by-product of raising developing countries to the level of developed countries. However, given that Trumplthinskin believes climate change to be some kind of hoax, and that Lawson is on record as saying that he ‘wouldn’t mind if the weather was a bit warmer’, we can deduce that neither man understands the science involved.

Unfortunately, neither do any of their supporters, which accounts for the frequency with which I have to respond to completely specious arguments about the subject. A classic example of such an argument concerns the recent levelling off of global air temperatures over a period of about a decade. This was seized on by climate change deniers as clear evidence that the planet wasn’t warming after all, but anyone who used this argument is clearly unaware that NASA has a network of satellites around the globe whose sole purpose is to monitor incoming and outgoing radiation. And, guess what! More energy is entering the Earth’s atmosphere than is being re-radiated back into space. So where did the surplus energy go if air temperatures remained static? We now know that it went into warming the oceans instead, an inconvenient fact that I expect will be ignored by those who deny the reality of global warming.

The problem is that the UN target of restricting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, which is essentially a compromise given the impossibility of stabilizing global temperatures at their present levels, is probably unattainable, especially now that the United States—one of the world’s biggest producers of carbon dioxide—has decided to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and is in the process of eviscerating its Environmental Protection Agency. Temperatures during the Permian–Triassic mass extinction must have been insufferable, but unless humans stop burning coal, use their cars less often and stop clearing forests, they will soon know the meaning of ‘insufferable’. The planet’s sixth mass extinction will soon be underway, if it hasn’t already started. And the human race will not necessarily be spared.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the "feel good" post Dennis! Yikes!
    Most of the states disagree with the idiot in the white house, and will continue to comply with the Paris Accords. Trump said NASA is going to stop using their satellites to track/prove global warming. If needed, the three west coast states have committed to putting up their own satellites, so the work NASA was doing will continue. Many of trump's crazy signed orders to the states have been flat out ignored.

    From everything that I read, and hear from Kentucky (my home state), "coal is dead." It's much too expensive. Apparently, much of the coal still being mined, is being exported.

    I cannot believe that even a moron would vote for trump. He hasn't done one single constructive thing. He also hasn't kept even a single promise, he made during his campaign. Despite these things, his idiot followers still love him. Why? Because "Make America Great Again" really means "Make America White Again." Rant over! Sorry about that.

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    1. Hi Pat. Not only has the bouffant buffoon not ‘made america great again’, he’s presiding over a precipitous decline in America’s prestige in the world, all of which is his doing. Ever since Trump first appeared, I’ve been amazed that scandals that would have sunk any other candidate had no effect on his campaign, but he obviously struck a chord with a lot of idiots, most of whom probably think he’s doing ‘a fine job’.

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