This article aims to explain the importance of a habitable climate for humanity and how our activities (especially in the last decades) have altered the composition of the global atmosphere, breaking in this way the natural balance so necessary for keeping the environment healthy and alive.
Table of Contents:
2. Linkage of Life: Atmosphere, Water, Land, Life
3. History of Civilization – From Prosperity to Defying Nature
4. Global Warming Effects – from 2ºC to 6ºC (Read in Part II)
“Listen to me, please! You are like me, a homo sapient, a wise human. Life, a miracle in the Universe, appeared around four billion years ago and we, humans, only two hundred thousand years ago. Yet, we have succeeded in disrupting the balance that is so essential to life. Listen carefully to this extraordinary story, which is Yours, and decide what You want to do with it!”1 (Arthus-Bertrand, Yann – Home, Elzeviz Films/Europacop/France2, 2009)
This is how it began one of the many documentaries that crossed my path during previous research, a piece of work meant to raise awareness with regard to the world we live in. A mixture of fabulous landscapes and images of natural disasters gave me a pause of thought and a couple of questions came to my mind: Why is the World turning upside down? Where did we do wrong? What is the problem? How to manage this linkage of life made by atmosphere, water, land and life combined? How fast and by which methods do we have to fix our mistakes? Which is the new legal order We need to implement, so We can heal this Planet – an asset We share? What is my footprint, as a sole human being from a small country, in relation with an atmosphere with no boundaries?
Linkage of Life: Atmosphere, Water, Land, Life
Our daily routine usually does not allow us to go outside the box, to have a look at the big picture and think at the world we live in, at our role on this planet and at what will come after us. We are walking agendas that focus on certain things only at certain times. How often do we wonder how do our small actions look at a broader scale? But we avoid to do that, because looking at ourselves from an upper perspective scares us. It shows ourselves to be too small, and makes us realize we are just one of the many species on this planet and, more than this, each of us, as individual do not own this planet, but we come by, like in a hotel room, and after staying a few decades, just leave. How often do we think at what do we leave behind, how much do we disturb our neighbours, how well do we maintain our room in order to leave it in a proper shape for the future guests?
Earth runs on a harmonized balance, in which every being has a role to play. It took me a while to get out of my daily routine, out of my box, to comprehend, to grab the essence of this mechanism and to admit that nothing is self-sufficient and each and one of the beings of this Planet exists through the existence of another. This theory, according to which the engine of life is linkage, is also known as The GAIA Theory and belongs to Professor James Lovelock, a scientists who used to work in the laboratories of NASA and British Academia. Many compared the magnitude of his theory with the discovery that we are not the centre of the Universe, or with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. According to Lovelock, Planet Earth is a self-regulating system, especially when it comes to its own atmosphere, and, by interfering, a catastrophe might occur.
Half a century ago, while he was part of a research team at NASA, working on the burning issue “Is there life on Mars?”, Lovelock came up with the idea of measuring the composition of the atmosphere of Mars, chemically, and, according to the gases found, there was the answer to the question. The measurements were easy to be taken, also without going there – just by using a regular telescope improved with an ultra-sensitive infra-red analyser. “My argument was, if there was life on the surface, there it would be obliged to use the atmosphere as the source of materials to make itself. And it would also have to use the atmosphere as a place to deposit its waste products. And doing that, would change the composition of the atmosphere in a way that would reflect the existence of life.”2 (Beautiful Minds – James Lovelock (The Scientific Gaia Hypothesis), BBC Four, 2010) On September 1965 the results of the analysis came up. In order to prove there was life on Mars, a variety of gases needed to be found in the composition of the atmosphere. But, the results showed something else: almost nothing but carbon dioxide and bare traces of other gases. This meant that Mars was probably lifeless.
It is true that this discovery was a remarkable and historical by itself, but in addition, something else came alive: “At that moment, suddenly a thought came to my mind. But why is the Earth’s atmosphere so amazingly different? The Earth is an amazing Planet. How does it stay habitable, all the billions of years? We have got oxygen mixed with methane, that would be explosive if it were different in composition. Then it occurred to me that both gases were made by living organisms at the Earth’s surface. If they were making them, maybe they were regulating them. The Earth is a self-regulating system, almost alive, that’s holding its atmosphere constant. If the organisms can regulate the amount of gas in the atmosphere, then, they can regulate the temperature. The life is involved in self-regulating the state of atmosphere and the climate.”3 (Beautiful Minds – James Lovelock (The Scientific Gaia Hypothesis), BBC Four, 2010)
For many years, this theory has been unaccepted, criticised, considered pessimistic for humanity, forbidden from being published in scientific magazines, but eventually, embraced by scholars. Lovelock’s view about the future of our Planet with regard to the presence of humans (and to our impact, if we continue to behave as we do it at the moment), from a Gaian perspective, of course, does not draw up the most colourful painting – “[…] when we first started interfering with the atmosphere, nothing much happened. It was encompassing it by its ordinary regulating mechanism. But when it gets too much, Gaia can’t cope with it. It’s going to play absolute mayhem with our civilization in the next 10 or 100 years.”4 (Beautiful Minds – James Lovelock (The Scientific Gaia Hypothesis), BBC Four, 2010)
History of Civilization – From Prosperity to Defying Nature
The best way to understand the present and foresee the future is to look into the past and upon the evolution of humanity in order to realize the impact that climate had on the today’s world economic and social map. In drawing up the history, in the simplest manner, we start with the beginnings, when people lived as hunters, having as main occupation satisfying their basic needs from one day to another. In time, populations living in friendly climates and near water resources, started to domesticate plants and animals. This predictable food production determined humans to build up long-lasting settlements, to develop their social skills in an organized manner and the surplus provided through agriculture had been the driving force of our evolution.
Organized on hierarchies and by activities, and because of the food supplies, the communities decided to divide their labour on different fields as the group’s needs were changing – once the basic ones had been covered, others appeared in addition. Therefore, some of the groups were supported by the farmers in order to study different phenomena or to find solutions to improve their working tools, their weapons, or to search for cures against illnesses. All kinds of discoveries and inventions, known simply as technology, brought advantages to some communities over the others.
The world’s population started to grow and, people, in need to expand their crops fields and to build cities and civilizations, commenced cutting off the trees and changing the course of the rivers. Domestication of animals, for agriculture and travelling had been also another key for evolution. This conferred to communities the opportunity to travel, discover new places (maybe better for their needs than the ones they had known from before), other peoples, other customs and this was the starting point for commerce – a way to make profit and increase the capital. Learning about others’ assets, drove to rivalry between peoples and appetite for domination – reasons enough for starting competition and military conflicts.
Evolution, progress have not always been due to covering basic or luxurious needs, but also to show supremacy over the others of the same kind. But the competition had been unfair since the beginning, when some communities had been fortunate enough to live in friendly climate places (having in this way all the tools necessary to evolve – today’s rich peoples) and the others living in places where only too few nutritious plants could grow and too few animals to be domesticated (the pure and simple translation of the saying “there cannot be a sharp mind on an empty stomach” – today’s poor peoples). Eurasia, for example has large landmass, stretching from east to west and is, thus, in the same climate zone – temperate, which has multiple seasons, making it, in this way, harder for diseases to spread (since many of the “bearers” of diseases die during the winter season).5 (Lambert, Tim; Harrison Cassian – Guns, Germs and Steel, based on a book by Professor Jared Diamond, PBS / National Geographic Channels, 2005)
On top of this situation, the gap had grown even bigger once the rich countries, helped by technology, discovered the soil resources – gold, silver, diamonds, coal, gas and oil. This does not mean that the poor peoples do not have them. They simply do not have the technology and the financial power to exploit them – just another sad picture called “A rich country of a poor people”. But this is not an impediment for the rich to take over the richness from the poor.
This had happened continuously in the last half a decade, either through military or contractual means, especially when it comes to coal, gas and oil. These fossil fuels had been revolutionary – in few decades – a single lifetime – the exploitation and usage of coal, gas and black gold have changed the face of Earth more radically than all previous activities of humanity.
Posed to a tremendous worldwide deforestation (the Amazon forest has been reduced by 20%), a tripled population in 50 years, 900 million cars on top of the already existent industry and huge amount of pesticides and fertilizers used in agriculture, the scientists admitted the composition of the atmosphere has changed, containing a serious amount of carbon dioxide (among other dangerous substances), due to which the World is warming up and we daily bare the consequences. Sunlight easily passes through carbon dioxide. But as sunlight heats up the earth, it creates infra-red radiation, which does not pass back through carbon dioxide so easily. The energy from sunlight cannot escape back into space and is trapped. We also see a somewhat similar effect in greenhouses or cars. The sunlight warms the air, which is prevented from escaping by the glass. Ominously, the amount of carbon dioxide generated has grown explosively, especially in the last century. Before the Industrial Revolution, the carbon dioxide content of the air was 270 parts per million (ppm). Today, it has soared to 387 ppm. (In 1900, the world consumed 150 million barrels of oil. In 2000, it jumped to 28 billion barrels, a 185-fold jump. In 2008, 9.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide were sent into the air from fossil fuel burning and also deforestation, but only 5 billion tons were recycled into the oceans, soil, and vegetation. The remainder will stay in the air for decades to come, heating up the earth.)6 (Kaku, Michio – Physics of the Future. How Science will Shape Human Destiny and our Daily Lives by the Year 2100, Penguin Books Ltd, England, 2011, p.97-98)
Global Warming Effects – from 2ºC to 6ºC (Read in Part II)
Arthus-Bertrand, Yann – Home, Elzeviz Films/Europacop/France2, 2009Beautiful Minds – James Lovelock (The Scientific Gaia Hypothesis), BBC Four, 2010Beautiful Minds – James Lovelock (The Scientific Gaia Hypothesis), BBC Four, 2010Beautiful Minds – James Lovelock (The Scientific Gaia Hypothesis), BBC Four, 2010Lambert, Tim; Harrison Cassian – Guns, Germs and Steel, based on a book by Professor Jared Diamond, PBS / National Geographic Channels, 2005Kaku, Michio – Physics of the Future. How Science will Shape Human Destiny and our Daily Lives by the Year 2100, Penguin Books Ltd, England, 2011, p.97-98