March 17, 2019

Two Atmospheric Transformations

Filed under: Climate Crisis, Dance of Death — Tags: , , , , — Russell Bangs @ 9:25 am


Sometime over 2 billion years ago photosynthethic purple and green bacteria whose energy was based on extracting hydrogen from hydrogen sulfide and other gases were proliferating to the point that they faced a shortage of these hydrogen sources. Much free hydrogen also was being lost to space. Although water (H2O) was abundant, these primordial photosynthesizers lacked the ability to break the powerful bonds of water molecules. Under this evolutionary pressure some blue-green cyanobacterial ancestors developed a more complex mode of photosynthesis which was powerful enough to crack open water molecules and use their hydrogen.
This new source of abundant energy drove a population boom and generated great amounts of oxygen as waste. Before this, oxygen had never been a significant constituent of the atmosphere. Almost all free oxygen quickly recombined with environmental carbon, hydrogen, sulfur, or iron. Although the organic process of burying carbon began at some point, this always has been only a slow, gradual opportunity for oxygen to build up.
For a long time the newly generated excess oxygen continued to be assimilated by reducing gases, organic bodies, and exposed minerals. But as radioactivity and volcanism decreased, the amount of available sulfur and iron decreased. Free hydrogen continued to float away to space, while the proliferating water-cracking bacteria were incorporating more carbon into their biomass and releasing more oxygen to the atmosphere.
This led to Earth’s first pollution crisis. Free oxygen is poisonous to life which hasn’t adapted to it. Combined with light it instantly kills unadapted cells. In the bodies of respiratory creatures it creates free radicals which can cause mutations and cancer. Aerobic photosynthesizers and oxygen-breathers had to evolve chemical defenses against these effects.
Initially this was a great organic crisis and probably caused a mass extinction. But some cyanobacteria developed a way to use free oxygen for energy and evolved respiration and the necessary defenses against aerobic toxicity. Thus the crisis drove the greatest revolution in Gaian history. There were now two kingdoms of bacteria, the aerobes and anaerobes. All subsequent evolution of nuclear-celled life (eukaryotes – plants, animals, protozoans, fungi) stemmed from aerobic bacteria.
There’s no way of knowing if the original oxygen-polluter species were the same who adapted. Most likely they were among the extinction victims of their own waste. And since bacteria always have evolved much more quickly and profoundly, especially in a crisis, through horizontal genetic transfer than through gradual mutation the way more complex creatures do, it’s problematic to separate bacteria into different species as opposed to viewing them as a giant collective of quasi-species who are always no more than a few steps away from genetic trade.
At any rate, in any crisis, facing any great challenge, bacteria always will be the fastest to adapt and the most resilient. There’s no comparison between the survival prospects of bacteria and those of hyper-complex, hyper-dependent creatures like hominids.
And that’s a grim omen for today. For today a second cabal of creatures is driving a fast, artificial transformation: a small group of bacteria (those which benefit from industrial practices which destroy ecological constraints upon them and open up a free-fire terrain for them), and the berserk hominids whose brains they control. They systematically are pumping the air as full of greenhouse gases as they can, as fast as they can, with the goal of heating up the Earth as much as possible as fast as possible, generating as much climate chaos and ecological destruction as possible. Modern civilization has complete consensus on this campaign. (This is in spite of the fake “climate movement” it’s coughed up. This movement’s purpose is nothing but to tout various scams, each of which boils down to the promise that the ecocidal binge can continue, that you can destroy the Earth and live on it too.)
The ecocidal-genocidal civilization very probably will collapse within the next few decades and the worst of the emissions and sink destruction will cease. But the heating and chaos effects will intensify for centuries as they catch up with the carbon already emitted.
Although we’ll never know which bacteria adapted and which failed during the Archaean-Proterozoic oxygen transformation, we do know that civilized hominids will be the apex victims of their own campaign of global heating, climate chaos, poisonism and mass extinction. The only question is whether the human species will survive and recover on an ecological basis, the only basis which will be possible.
After the tremendous depletion and degradation of all “resources” by the modern binge and by previous civilizations, post-civilized re-primal humanity will face a material existence far more threadbare than that of the primal peoples, prior to civilization. This is one great challenge to species survival.
The second is that the fossil-fueled atmospheric transformation, and the general devastation inflicted upon the Earth by civilization, will force Gaia as a whole to undergo a transformation. This will be a phase change to a new state in accord with the heated and perturbed climate, the toxified environment, and the cataclysmic destruction of biodiversity wrought by the “Anthropocene” mass extinction event. This phase change will endure at least for many centuries and perhaps become the basis of a permanently different world ecology. It’s impossible to know beforehand the magnitude and details of this transformation and what new challenges it will pose to post-ecocide Gaian humanity. We can only guess.

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