A brief history of Earth – part 2

Yesterday, I began a review of the recently-broadcast Australia: The Time Traveller’s Guide. However, this is such an information-rich programme, I went well over my 1000-word limit without even getting to the end of Episode 1. Also, it was clearly too much of a challenge to the unwarranted optimism of people like my (sadly-mistaken) fellow-hydrogeologist Oakwood who has, for the second time now, said “goodbye” (his first “goodbye” can be seen here). The story so far is that with over 25% of Earth history already in the past, oxygen has only just been “invented” but, when not being combined with iron or silica to form Banded Iron Formation (BIF), it is restricted to the oceans; and is only present at a fraction of the concentration our sea creatures currently enjoy (i.e. when they’re not being dissolved-alive by ocean acidification). I have never been to the Grand Canyon, although, yes, I intend to get there one day (and I will not be rowing across the Atlantic and walking across America to get there). If that makes me a hypocrite, so be it, but at least I am not denying the reality of the problem; or insisting that air travel should be cheap. However, I have been to Karijini National Park in the Hamersley Range of the Pilbara (WA). You would not want to visit the latter after visiting the former (it would be a major anti-climax): The gorges of the Hamersley Range may be small compared to others elsewhere in the world, and they may not be unique for being weathered to a rusty-red colour… However, they are unique for being formed of BIF that, when regularly washed clean by water, is composed of alternations of grey hematite and white silica. The juxtaposition of fresh and weathered rock alongside Spinifex grass and ghost gum trees is, it must be said, a very pretty one; and I feel very privileged to have seen it for myself (albeit 25 years ago now):

Oxer Lookout before the safety fences went up

Oxer Lookout before the safety fences went up

Although early photosynthesising bacteria like Stromatolites still exist today, and may dominate the foreshore of Shark Bay (WA), they could hardly be said to dominate the Earth. However, for almost half the time the Earth has existed, this would have been a legitimate description of their importance: For nearly two billion years they were the dominant life form on the planet and, as such, they slowly but surely pumped oxygen into the oceans. For the first few hundred years, the oxygen was fairly promptly removed again by being precipitated out in the form of iron or silicon oxide but, once these elements had been depleted, the Earth then had to find another use for it. Fortunately for us, it did just that. Since there were as yet no shell-fish to make use of this oxygen stuff by combining it with carbon and calcium, it began to build-up in the atmosphere because, like CO2 today, the Earth was unable to reprocess it fast enough to stop it accumulating. By the end of the Proterozoic Era, by which time two-thirds of Australia was already a well-established landmass, all of 1% of the atmosphere consisted of oxygen (compared to 20% today). Sub-oceanic volcanic vents (like the ‘bAltman smokers’ found on mid-ocean ridges today) were also busy pumping lots of other elements into the oceans; stuff we now find very useful – like lead and zinc. Meanwhile, it is generally assumed that the oxygenation of the atmosphere (i.e. going from 0 to 1%) was a major contributory factor to the so-called Snowball Earth (850 to 635 Ma BP) – a bit like the opposite of the enhanced Greenhouse Effect (also known as anthropogenic climate disruption [ACD])… In the Flinders Range of South Australia (SA), finely laminated sediments laid down in equatorial oceans provide evidence that the entire surface of the oceans was covered in sea-ice. Fortunately, the venting of volcanic gases continued and, eventually, the build-up of gases in the atmosphere was sufficient to bring about an end to Snowball Earth conditions… Now, at long last, oxygen levels in the oceans and temperatures were capable of supporting complex lifeforms. The oldest of these are remarkably well-preserved in the Ediacara Fauna, which can now also be found in the Flinders Range (but only if you have been given directions to it). Between 635 and 542 Ma BP, the convection of the Earth’s interior and continual creation and destruction of sea floor – thereby pushing early continental land masses around as well – resulted in the gradual development of the super-continent of Gondwanaland. The continental collisions involved resulted in mountain ranges as big as the Himalayas and a meandering coastline stretching from Cairns in Queensland to Kangaroo Island (SA). It is on Kangaroo Island that you will find evidence of flourishing sea life in the Cambrian Period (542 to 488 Ma BP) – a time that is associated with one species in particular – the Trilobites. However, these Cambrian rocks – and those of the same age all over the planet – also contain fossilised evidence of many other kinds of life that we would still recognise today; including arthropods, molluscs and insects. It was also in this shallow Cambrian sea that sand (the recycled product of the weathering and erosion of older rocks) was laid down. This sandstone would later become quite famous for giving rise to one of the Earth’s most readily-identifiable features – Uluru (the landmark formerly know as Ayers Rock). So there you have it, almost 90% of Earth’s history (4540 to 488 Ma BP) is now behind us; and all we have to show for it is an abundance of marine life and whole load of sand that will one day be big, red, and famous! In Episode 2 of Australia: The Time Traveller’s Guide, Richard Smith covers the remainder of the Palaeozoic Era (488 to 251 Ma BP); encompassing the development of fish, plants and animals – 90% of which were then wiped out by what has been called “the mother of all extinction events” at the end of the Permian Period. But that, as they say, is another story that will be covered in A brief history of Earth – part 3 next week. For now, we must just hope that humanity is not now re-writing geological history because, if we are, it would seem very clear it not going to end well (for the vast majority of the Earth’s inhabitants).

Advertisements

About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Environment, Mass Extinctions, Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to A brief history of Earth – part 2

  1. JZK says:

    Hey Rick, If you burn fossil fuels to go see the Grand Canyon, then yes, you are a hypocrite. If you really want to put your money where your mouth is, you can sail across the Atlantic (wind power), and then ride a bike or a horse to the Grand Canyon. There are boats leaving England all the time that would take on a hand just for expenses. Before the use of fossil fuels, that is pretty much how people traveled. But, for the most part, they don’t want to travel like that. What if 7 billion people had your carbon footprint? Where would the climate be then? You could even advertize it as “Rick’s ride across America to stop ACD.” Then, maybe people might start using your term “ACD.” Are you off the grid? For a small fortune you can erect wind towers and solar panels on your property and completely power your home. Have you done that? You, like James Hansen, oppose further building of coal power plants. Developing countries are not building coal power plants so that their citizens can go visit the Grand Canyon, or jet around the world to accept $500,000 awards for “environmental service,” they are building them so that they can have clean water, refrigeration and other very basic necessities of life. You keep blaming the fossil fuel lobby (whatever that is) for this planet’s use of fossil fuels. Don’t you realize that there is only a fossil fuel industry because of people like you that have computer blogs, electricity, drive cars, and want to fly to cool places around the earth? Without your demand, there is no industry.

    Like

    • Rick Altman says:

      Like I have said before, we need our politicians to get to the stage that they acknowledge the costs of widespread aviation outweigh the benefits. Unless or until that happens, the planes will keep flying whether or not I want them to and/or choose to fly in them myself. Whereas any or all of my supposedly hypocritical actions are currently hypothetical, your insistence that my concern over ACD is also hypothetical is not consistent with the bulk of available evidence.

      Like

      • JZK says:

        “we need our politicians to get to the stage that they acknowledge the costs of widespread aviation outweigh the benefits. Unless or until that happens, the planes will keep flying whether or not I want them to and/or choose to fly in them myself.” No… We need China and the developing world to get to the stage that they acknowledge the costs of coal power plants and other fossil fuel usage outweighs the benefits. Unless or until that happens, the CO2 will keep spewing whether or not the United States continues to use fossil fuels itself. Your second paragraph is simply a false statement. Your fossil fuel use for recreational purposes is not hypothetical. You have admitted it. The bulk of available evidence that your concern over ACD is hypothetical is your willingness to use fossil fuel for purely recreational purposes. James Cameron is concerned about ACD as well. But not enough to downsize from his 24,000 air conditioned square feet of living space in Malibu including three heated swimming pools. And not enough to prevent him from flying his JetRanger helicopter, drive his Ducati or his Humvee fire truck not to mention his submarines.

        Like

      • Rick Altman says:

        Have you no self-control or self-respect, John? I set you a very obvious psychological trap, and yet you fell straight into it! I gave you a choice – to address the issue of the fragility and contingency of our continued survival as a species, or to continue to attack me for being a hypocrite because of my supposed failure to modify my behaviour to help mitigate a problem you continue to deny we have – and you did the latter! As I have said to Oakwood, you are like a non-Muslim insisting that I should be stoned for adultery in accordance with Sharia Law. I gave up treating your questions as evidence of genuine curiosity and or truth-seeking a long time ago. However, as I did then – and still continue to do – I regularly include links on this blog to recent research validating concern over ACD; be that evidence for accelerating sea ice loss, melting permafrost, ocean acidification, or extreme weather. However, no doubt, when faced with the obliteration of an entire crop of grapes in the mid-west USA, like so many others in denial, you will blame the late frost rather than the early warmth that preceded it (or claim they grapes need more – not less – CO2 in order to thrive). I can only speculate as to why you do it but, quite clearly, when presented with evidence by the 9 in 10 climate scientists that say we have a problem, you will always go and find the 1 in 10 that say we do not. I do not think that is scientific open-mindedness; it is more akin to ideological selective blindness. Deep down, I think you know this but, unfortunately, like many others (Oakwood included), you appear to be in denial about being in denial. The Communist Party of China (CPC) is far more interested in sustainability than is the the government of the USA. The CPC accepts that ACD represents a threat to its own survival. The GOP – and even the Democrats – do not. If they did, they would not acquiesce in the face of overwhelming pressure from the fossil fuel lobby (FFL), which your selective blindness enables you to continue to claim you cannot see, to allow hydrocarbon exploration to trump wilderness preservation and endangered species protection in the Arctic: Obama Echoes Bush, Sets Plan for Polar Bear Extinction. If you want to be taken seriously, please stop accusing all those with whom you disagree of being hypocrites, and come up with some evidence that has not already been repeatedly debunked that can invalidate or undermine the reality that human activity has already created a significant radiative energy imbalance that, being a self-regulating system, the Earth is now rectifying by warming-up. As has been said before, if you can do this, your Nobel Prize for Physics is guaranteed. If you cannot do this, I think you should shut up; and start focusing instead on trying to make solutions to the problem implementable.

        Like

  2. Anyone who reads Learning from Dogs knows what I am trying to convey. As the ‘About this Blog’ page explains, “The underlying theme of Learning from Dogs is about truth, integrity, honesty and trust in every way. We use the life of dogs as a metaphor.” Ergo, while I support Rick’s efforts to get to the truth of “the politics & psychology underlying the denial of all environmental problems”, I am left with a degree of discomfort when I read the above exchange between JZK and Rick. Some of the points made by JZK are valid statements, in my opinion. It is possible for every person to cut back their use of carbon-based energy if that is something they feel strongly about. Jean and I agreed a couple of years ago not to use an aircraft to go anywhere unless it was a specific and critical family emergency (my mother, son, daughter and grandson live in the UK). We have installed solar panels to provide 99%+ of our yearly electricity usage. We are hoping to be able to afford an electric car within the next few years. We have reduced the mileage for our two conventional cars to below 10,000 miles in total over the last couple of years, Thus I agree with JZK when he writes, “If you burn fossil fuels to go see the Grand Canyon, then yes, you are a hypocrite” if one’s thrust is exposing those who deny ACD. I also feel very uncomfortable with the use of words such as, “Have you no self-control or self-respect, John? I set you a very obvious psychological trap, and yet you fell straight into it!” We, as in the worldwide community of mankind (not wishing to sound too grand), are not going to achieve anything close to ‘truth, integrity, honesty and trust’ by devaluing the views of people that we disagree with. The pettiness of the debate between you two gentlemen is very unfortunate – it leads me to wonder if continuing to subscribe to this blogsite is worthwhile.

    Like

    • Rick Altman says:

      As ever, Paul, you are nothing if not honest and you speak your mind. This is most commendable. However, I think you overlook John Kosowski’s disingenuous track record of hypocrisy (i.e. pretending to be friendly to me here and then willfully and repeatedly misrepresenting me to third parties [on Judith Curry’s blog et al]), which is the reason I refuse to be lectured to by him on the subject. You may well feel uncomfortable and conflicted reading my comments to him – as indeed you no doubt felt leaving your own comments to me – but none of that should be allowed to detract attention from the fact that JZK appears to be indulging in mind-games, blame-shifting, and distracting attention from the fact that he has no legitimate reason for rejecting the genuine scientific consensus that we should be concerned about ACD. Therefore, I do not see that I have devalued anything JZK has said; all I have done is highlight the hyporcitical and illogical nature of much of what he says: I did set him a trap and he did fall into it. Furthermore, there is nothing petty about anything I have said: I am just being blunt because I am so tired of the game I think JZK is playing. For the record, I think JZK’s idea of making (my life time goal of) a visit to the Grand Canyon into a means of raising awareness of ACD issue is excellent; but I cannot apologise for considering emigrating to Australia in order to get back into full-time employment. Neither am I going to apologise to a recruitment agent for refusing to work for Consultants that have clients that mine coal (who yet claim to believe in sustainablilty). If not hypocrisy that is willful blindness par excellence.

      Like

      • JZK says:

        Hey Rick, I think you are the only one that agrees with your logic. You brought up your hypocrisy in this article. Your response to me about the trap does not address your own hypocrisy. I have no problem with China’s massive move to get their population out of poverty. I don’t even have a problem with the CO2 you will cause to be emitted going to the grand canyon. You maintain that it is acceptable for you to burn fossil fuels for frivolous purposes, yet according to your own very strong beliefs, if everyone had your carbon footprint, life on this planet would end as we know it. (Mass extinction event, all water evaporating in four centuries or thereabouts). Your bitterness about getting spanked on Judith’s blog has nothing to do with your hypocrisy here. You are a bit of a bully on your own blog with skeptics, but on other blogs you do not have censorship privileges, so your attempt to push people around failed miserably. Anyone that followed the blog knows exactly what I am talking about. When you speak of crimes against biodiversity being worse than crimes against humanity, it makes you appear to be anti-human. When you refuse to accept that DDT was a great invention used to save huge amounts of children from a miserable death, you appear to be anti-human. Rachel Carson is no hero. She is a misguided environmentalist that caused millions of deaths and all sorts of pain and suffering. Not intentionally, of course, but those millions are real people nevertheless. My denial of my denialism or my refusal to be indoctrinated into the climate consensus Borg has nothing to do with your hypocrisy. Perhaps you are really just the smartest guy in the world (that won’t discuss the science), and you see what others don’t. That makes your hypocrisy all that more worse. You should tell your recruitment agent that you refuse to work for Consultants that have coal mine clients. Or at least that you won’t consult for those clients. That you considered otherwise saying things like “if I have a choice” was shocking. If you can’t be true to yourself, to whom can you be true? .

        Like

      • Rick Altman says:

        Thanks for sharing your opinions.

        Like

      • Rick Altman says:

        By your persistent focus on my supposed hypocrisy, it is clear that it is not me that is refusing to discuss the science. https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/ice-age-not-for-60-thousand-years-if-ever/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=VttL3ZYQpy4

        Like

  3. Patrice Ayme says:

    Even CO2 deniers should agree that energy taxes ought to go up, be it only for strategic reasons.

    Like

    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks Patrice. As I said to JP on The Green Word recently, rates of consumer and post-consumer recycling have increased dramatically in the UK since the introduction of a Landfill Tax. Thus, there can be no doubt that tax is an effective incentive for consumers and/or local government to reduce the rate at which they generate waste. There is therefore no reason why we cannot adopt the same strategy with regard to waste CO2. Now, at last, faced with fuel prices of £1.50 per litre in the UK (i.e. 6.80GBP/11.00USD/10.60AUD per gallon), people are beginning to question the sensibility of reliance on personal transport, having more than one car per family, and/or of having a large fuel-inefficient car (when “other options are available”). However, as has been demonstrated on this blog recently, when asked “Do you not agree that it makes sense to moderate our consumption of resources?”, many of those that deny we have a problem (such as Oakwood) refuse to answer… Nevertheless, as a species, we may be slow but we get the message in the end; I just hope the end is avoidable.

      Like

  4. Pingback: A brief history of Earth – part 3 « Anthropocene Reality

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s