Cool: Species Nearly Destroyed All Life Before

Earth. The Dark Side. Homo. It has become standard to point out that the genus Homo may destroy life, or, our species, or, at least, civilization itself. This is related to the “Fermi Paradox” (“Where is everybody?” asked Enrico Fermi around 1950…) The idea was that civilizations self-destruct, hence no civilization is visible in the galaxy. To which I retorted that we overestimate the likelihood of advanced life in the galaxy, for a galactic sized number of reasons:

One argument I rolled out is that life was nearly extinguished on Earth by life itself: consider “Snowball Earth”. This weapon of mass life extinction was generated by the advancement of life itself. Let me quote myself:

“Primitive bacterial life is probably frequent. However advanced life (animals) is probably very rare, as many are the potential catastrophes. And one needs billions of years to go from primitive life to animals.

After life forms making oxygen on Earth appeared, the atmosphere went from reducing (full of strong greenhouse methane) to oxidizing (full of oxygen). As methane mostly disappeared, so did the greenhouse. Earth froze, all the way down to the equator:

When Snowball Earth Nearly Killed Life

Yet volcanoes kept on belching CO2 through the ice. That CO2 built up above the ice, caused a strong greenhouse, and the ice melted. Life had survived. Mighty volcanism has saved the Earth, just in time.

That “snowball Earth” catastrophe repeated a few times before the Earth oxygen based system became stable. Catastrophe had been engaged, several times, but the disappearance of oxygen creating life forms had been avoided, just barely.”

Intense chemical weathering by massive acid rain is the likely cause of the end of a period known as the Marinoan glaciation, which happened form 650 to 635 million years ago, according to a paper published in the journal PNAS. This was the last occurence when nearly all of the Earth’s land and seas were frozen over, known as snowball Earth, with glaciers as thick as 2km. Other times, on the right, Earth had no ice at the poles… Present day civilization can survive a warm Earth (right)… Not a Snowball. However, to get from what we have now to no ice, in a geological blink, means ultimate war…

What does this mean philosophically?

Most philosophical systems in the traditional sense don’t consider the truism that, to get creation, one needs destruction, and the more creation, the more destruction. Why? That sounds childish, thus unwise. But children encounter the primeval. Philosophy extended to religion revels in destruction. Actually the Deus/God/Allah destroys the entire universe to establish Heavens.

The universe is a brutal place: not only do planets get flung into space, stars explode, but even entire galaxies get destroyed. The universe is also a happening.

In the greater scheme of things, a war where, say, seven billion people got killed would be nothing special: that was the world population in 1803, when the imbecile Napoleon, having mightily endeavored to reestablish slavery, losing an army in the process, sold a third of the present day US to the USA for 11 million dollars.

In the movie Terminator, Artificial Intelligence takes over, causes a nuclear holocaust, and tries to extinguish humanity. It is more likely though that more and more formidable wars would accompany a Hot Earth scenario… which is what we are going towards, quickly. As I have argued in the past, 2C Is Too Much! Under 2C of global warming, a chain reaction of tipping point would unleash itself, and self-accelerate:

Now the idea is hitting the mainstream, nine years later. See: “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. There, scientists argue that there is a threshold temperature above which natural feedback systems that currently keep the Earth at a nice temperature (around 15 C, global) will unravel. At that point, a chain reaction of climate events will thrust the planet into a “hothouse” state. Though the scientists don’t know exactly what this threshold is, they said it could be as little as 2 degrees C (4 degrees F) of warming above preindustrial levels. We are above that half-way point…

As they put it in scientese: We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies. Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.”

People are deeply unaware, they believe that the planet’s climate is more stable than it really is. The episodes of Snowball Earth show that this is not the case. This erroneous feeling of ecological stability is the main source of the indifference which brings the destruction of the planetary climate.

The apocalypse, in the greater scheme of things, is not apocalyptic. After all, an apocalypse, etymologically speaking, is just an uncovering… And this is precisely this normalcy of the abnormal, which will make go so smooth…

Patrice Ayme


Tags: , , , ,

20 Responses to “Cool: Species Nearly Destroyed All Life Before”

  1. SDM Says:

    It is likely that most people are unaware of the snowball earth theory or much of the geological research on the earth’s past. Many disregard climate change as just part of the usual cycle – multiple past ice ages, warming periods, etc. if they even have some knowledge- and so discount the concerns of our current situation. Lack of legitimate information, confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance are used by fossil fuel industry to perpetuate confusion on the issue. Cheaper, or at least competitively priced, and convenient green alternatives in the market are needed to de-fund the fossil fuel industry. Plutocratic power will fight this desperately. Perhaps critical media coverage of the burning and flooding will help convince the population to push back.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Right: people are deeply unaware, they believe that the planet’s climate is more stable than it really is. I didn’t go into the technicals of the Snowball Earth in this particular essay. There were actually at least THREE episodes. I sort of mix matched them all together in their cause (and that maybe wrong, the latest one may have been caused by plate tectonic; earlier, more severe ones were caused by the disappearance of methane, though…)

      Another point you make, which is part of this unawareness is that fossil fuels are subsidized. Right now, photovoltaics are the cheapest unsubsidized energy source. Yes, the incoming disasters may affect the mood


  2. EugenR Says:

    The problem is that to start to solve the problem of ecological disbalance, people in most advanced countries have to adopt new way of life. Less material comfort, less travelling, less vacation, less meat eating, shortly all the waist of consumers societies have to be given up. As to the developing nations, they have to introduce strict birth control. I don’t see in the horizon political garniture ready to start to approach the issue. It seems almost inevitable that some kind of braking point will happen, the question is


    • EugenR Says:

      …the question is what kind and how severe.


      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        It’s call massive war, and holocaust. Israel (at last!) knows it now… WW2 was a joke relative to what could be coming…


        • EugenR Says:

          No one can imagine what it means hundreds of thousands or maybe even billion desperate impoverished people, ready to risk their life, for prospect of survival. At above 50 degrees Celsius human body just dissolves.


          • Patrice Ayme Says:

            I think many proteins coagulate at 58C… 51C under shelter means much higher under the Sun… All these people seeking shelter would mean mass death. Israel knows what to do (although not with the latest law…)


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Eugen: Yes and no. Right, tourism creates 13% of CO2 emissions. However, see SDM and my comment: power now is directed in favor of injurious activities…
      Birth control is a must in African nations with 8 children per woman, such as Niger (devoured by the desert and heat…) If Niger was administered by old fashion French colonialism, this wouldn’t happen… The irony of it all… How un-PC reality is!


  3. Paul Handover Says:

    You wrote earlier, in a response to ‘SDM’ that “people are deeply unaware, they believe that the planet’s climate is more stable than it really is..”.

    It’s only the most minute action of a deeply troubled Brit well into the autumn of his life but, nonetheless, I would like to republish this post over on Learning from Dogs. Because the time left for people to become really aware of the perils that are just ahead of us is limited! Very limited!


    • Paul Handover Says:

      Indeed, does science have any estimates, however crude, of how soon we might cross that threshold? Decades?


      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        I argued, as early as 2009, that the threshold was at hand. I could come back on the reasoning in detail some day, but nothing has changed… but for the direct proof of methane explosive release. Basically at some point, stored carbon is released through a chain reaction. If I had to guess, I would guess the same as I used to: within ten years. It will show up as an acceleration of the melting in the Arctic…


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hello dear Paul: Yes, please reproduce the essay. It is my pleasure and honor that you do so. My reaction time is a bit slow these days because I flew around the world to take care of my terminally ill mom…
      Yes, you are right, I should add that sentence/idea to the essay, it’s probably the most important notion (thanks to SDM and you, I notice…)


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The “well into the autumn of life” mood, I don’t like. Through my life, and early on, some of the people closest to me died. So, although there is definitively an event-horizon (death), it can happen any time. A 93 year old may be more attached to life than a 23 year old… And that’s important: the philosophy of the old is often more appropriate to the common good…


  4. Paul Handover Says:

    The following offers a scientific view of the probability of this planet returning to conditions from long ago. The document includes an easily comprehended Table S1 from which I take:

    Current condition (2017): Stability in current conditions not possible; further temperature, CO2 and sea level rises locked in.

    Eemian period (~125 ka years ago): State not accessible: CO2 now much higher and still rising; temperature likely to stabilize at higher than Eemian level, sea-level rise may well be this high or higher.

    Mid-Pliocene (~3-4 Ma years ago): Possibly accessible but only if Paris 2°C target is met (a best- case scenario)

    Read It!

    Better still, read this:


  5. G Max Says:

    Still another way we are not special! Our distant ancestors were terminators too 😉


  6. Benign Says:

    Speaking for l’humain rationnel moyen, I say: Says who? I was told to bundle up for an ice age thirty years ago; that massive famine was gonna happen shortly; that nuclear holocaust is imminent; and now that we’re all going to burn up; or maybe get frozen under Snowball Earth.

    The young in spirit cling to life; they have babies when other people are telling them there are already too many people; their descendants fill the earth. They rise up to defeat oppressors when oppression becomes too great, yet their numbers wilt like dry grass when they go to the dark side.

    Machines will not inherit the earth, nor will the uniquely-quantum-entangled human spirit ever be uploaded to a computer. The apocalypse will be partial, permitting Life to go on. In all probability, the meek will inherit the earth.

    cheers! your pensees are always stimulating!



    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The problem with man made warming is that it’s starting an exponential cascade: in the beginning nothing happens, Benign, but the Benign. Then things accelerate. Nuclear holocausts were barely avoided nearly half a dozen times.

      Snowball Earth seems impossible at this point (I don’t believe, never did, in “nuclear winter”). The point of the essay was the possibility of animal induced extinction, already realized… Quantum engineered bio computers generalizing us could be seen as already here: contemplate deep brain stimulations as launched in Grenoble, France, decades ago, to fight Parkinson (curious they didn’t get the Nobel yet…) That incorporates a in situ computers, and surgeons are guided by what they call the “chant des neurones“…
      Thanks for thanking me….


      • Gloucon X Says:

        (I don’t believe, never did, in “nuclear winter”)

        Even if you don’t believe that the upper atmospheric soot effect would produce cooling, doesn’t it seem likely that there would be some cooling effect due to the targeting and obliteration of co2 producing industrial output?


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Hmmmm… Reminds me vaguely of the Dinosaur Impactor theorists who now argue that the Impactor started the Massive Volcanism… That theory (Impactor -> Volcanism)is outright laughable. True full out nuclear exchange would disrupt the economy, thus the production of CO2. But the CO2 we already have is here to stay. And some more could be released from earth and ocean. In any case, the absence of supplementary “forcing” doesn’t imply cooling, just further supplementary “forcing”. The CO2 warming will keep on augmenting, that’s its beauty.
          Recent fires probably created more soot than burning all of New York City… Concrete doesn’t burn too well, especially if it collapses…


What do you think? Please join the debate! The simplest questions are often the deepest!

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

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: