Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur Extinction
At several points in the history of our planet, increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have caused extreme global warming, prompting the majority of species on Earth to die out.
In the past, these events were triggered by a huge volcanic eruption or asteroid impact. Now, Earth is heading for another mass extinction — and human activity is to blame.
I am an Earth and Paleo-climate scientist and have researched the relationships between asteroid impacts, volcanism, climate changes and mass extinctions of species.
My research suggests the current growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions is faster than those which triggered two previous mass extinctions, including the event that wiped out the dinosaurs.
The world's gaze may be focused on COVID-19 right now. But the risks to nature from human-made global warming — and the imperative to act — remain clear.
Past Mass Extinctions
Many species can adapt to slow, or even moderate, environmental changes. But Earth's history shows that extreme shifts in the climate can cause many species to become extinct.
For example, about 66 million years ago an asteroid hit Earth. The subsequent smashed rocks and widespread fires released massive amounts of carbon dioxide over about 10,000 years. Global temperatures soared, sea levels rose and oceans became acidic. About 80% of species, including the dinosaurs, were wiped out.
And about 55 million years ago, global temperatures spiked again, over 100,000 years or so. The cause of this event, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, is not entirely clear. One theory, known as the "methane burp" hypothesis, posits that a massive volcanic eruption triggered the sudden release of methane from ocean sediments, making oceans more acidic and killing off many species.
So is life on Earth now headed for the same fate?
Comparing Greenhouse Gas Levels
Before industrial times began at the end of the 18th century, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere sat at around 300 parts per million. This means that for every one million molecules of gas in the atmosphere, 300 were carbon dioxide.
In February this year, atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 414.1 parts per million. Total greenhouse gas level — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide combined — reached almost 500 parts per million of carbon dioxide-equivalent
Author provided / The Conversation /CC BY-ND
Carbon dioxide is now pouring into the atmosphere at a rate of two to three parts per million each year.
Using carbon records stored in fossils and organic matter, I have determined that current carbon emissions constitute an extreme event in the recorded history of Earth.
My research has demonstrated that annual carbon dioxide emissions are now faster than after both the asteroid impact that eradicated the dinosaurs (about 0.18 parts per million CO2 per year), and the thermal maximum 55 million years ago (about 0.11 parts per million CO2 per year).
An asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Shutterstock
The Next Mass Extinction Has Begun
Current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are not yet at the levels seen 55 million and 65 million years ago. But the massive influx of carbon dioxide means the climate is changing faster than many plant and animal species can adapt.
A major United Nations report released last year warned around one million animal and plant species were threatened with extinction. Climate change was listed as one of five key drivers.
The report said the distributions of 47% of land-based flightless mammals, and almost 25% of threatened birds, may already have been negatively affected by climate change.
A diagram showing the weakening Arctic jet stream, and subsequent movements of warm and cold air. NASA
This allows north-moving warm air to cross the polar boundary, and cold fronts emanating from the poles to intrude south into Siberia, Europe and Canada.
A shift in climate zones is also causing the tropics to expand and migrate toward the poles, at a rate of about 56 to 111 kilometres per decade. The tracks of tropical and extra-tropical cyclones are likewise shifting toward the poles. Australia is highly vulnerable to this shift.
Uncharted Future Climate Territory
Research released in 2016 showed just what a massive impact humans are having on the planet. It said while the Earth might naturally have entered the next ice age in about 20,000 years' time, the heating produced by carbon dioxide would result in a period of super-tropical conditions, delaying the next ice age to about 50,000 years from now.
During this period, chaotic high-energy stormy conditions would prevail over much of the Earth. My research suggests humans are likely to survive best in sub-polar regions and sheltered mountain valleys, where cooler conditions would allow flora and fauna to persist.
Earth's next mass extinction is avoidable — if carbon dioxide emissions are dramatically curbed and we develop and deploy technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But on the current trajectory, human activity threatens to make large parts of the Earth uninhabitable - a planetary tragedy of our own making.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The 2020 hurricane season is now expected to be the most active since at least the early 1980s, meteorologists at Colorado State University, a standard bearer for seasonal hurricane predictions, announced Wednesday.
Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.
- Climate Explained: What the World Was Like the Last Time Carbon ... ›
- Polar Bears Could Be Nearly Gone by 2100, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Melting at Rate That Surpasses Scientists ... ›
By Katell Ané
The European Commission launched a new Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to reduce the social and environmental impact of the European food system. It is the newest strategy under the European Green Deal, setting sustainability targets for farmers, consumers, and policymakers.
Facebook and Twitter removed posts by President Donald Trump and his campaign Wednesday for violating their policies against spreading false information about COVID-19.
- Rare Inflammatory Disease Linked to More Than 100 Childhood ... ›
- COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools - EcoWatch ›
- Teens and Tweens Are Fastest COVID-19 Spreaders, New Study ... ›
- Researchers Are Creating a Drone to Study Wild Dolphins With Help ... ›
- These Whales Are Suffering a Slow-Motion Extinction - EcoWatch ›
By Alexander Freund
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.
What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
- 5 Ways to Keep Unhealthy Nitrates and Nitrites Out of Your Body ... ›
- The Price of Our Fertilizer Addiction - EcoWatch ›
- 8 Disturbing Facts About Monsanto's Evil Twin—The Chemical ... ›
By Michelle D. Holmes
Most Americans know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans primarily through their colorful representations: the original food pyramid, which a few years ago morphed into MyPlate. The guidelines represent the government mothering us to choose the healthiest vegetables, grains, sources of protein, and desserts, and to eat them in the healthiest portions.
As innocuous as the food pyramid and MyPlate seem, they are actually a matter of life and death.
- 6 Powerful Ways to Improve Mental Health - EcoWatch ›
- New, Improved Vegetarian and Vegan Food Pyramid - EcoWatch ›
- Dr. Mark Hyman: Here's How the Food Pyramid Should Look ... ›