and Niveau élevé
Life, whether human, animal or plant, is always embedded in an environment of circumstances or conditions that must be in a very specific balance. If these conditions change, then the life form must either change with it or it dies out.
A very decisive key point for these conditions, probably even the most important of all, is our climate. It is assumed that life on our planet was and is only possible at all because of the Earth’s atmosphere, i.e. our “climate”. There may also have been life on Mars at some point. But then the atmosphere disappeared and without the protection from radiation and without a “climate”, neither water nor the other basic conditions necessary for life could survive. Thus life disappeared from the planet Mars, if there ever was any.
An atmosphere, with its associated climate, is therefore the basis for an “ecosystem”, which in turn is the basis for life. While a change in a single climate “condition” or circumstance may not have a life-changing effect on individual species per se, it has a much greater effect on an ecosystem. Here, the different parts of the system then react and become change agents in the eco-balance themselves. The effect is thus potentiated via a domino effect.
The most important component of the climate is the average temperature. An increase in the global average temperature of only 5°C caused the extinction of 95% of all sea-dwelling and about 66% of all land-dwelling life forms at the end of the Permian, about 252 million years ago. Conversely, 444 million years ago, a drop in average temperature of 5° C also caused the extinction of over 50% of all species.
If we take a look at the statistics of the extinction of land-dwelling life forms, we can see very well how global climate changes in the past
542 million years have almost destroyed our ecosystem again and again and then slowly rebuilt it.
The graph shows what percentage (left vertical axis) of the country’s animal and plant species became extinct how many years ago (lower horizontal axis in millions) and at what geological time (upper horizontal axis).
The average temperature of our climate is mainly regulated by the amount of carbon dioxide (CO²) in the air. The ecosystem collapse and species extinction 444 million years ago was triggered by a 5°C drop in the average global temperature. The reason for this was most likely the appearance of land plants, which removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This happened not only through the build-up of biomass through photosynthesis, but also through the accompanying weathering of the soil. This occurred not only through the build-up of biomass through photosynthesis, but also through the accompanying weathering of the soil.The extinction of species 252 million years ago can be traced back to a 5°C rise in temperature, this time caused by an increase in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. The reason for this was the Siberian Trapp. This is a magma-flooded province in Siberia that was formed from flood basalts and released large quantities of CO² during its formation. The great extinction 200 million years ago was also most likely caused by the release of large quantities of CO², which occurred as a result of magmatic eruptions in the Atlantic before the break-up of the continental plate there. The collapse of the ecosystem about 60 million years ago was probably caused by the impact of a comet.
How should one imagine the course of such a climate catastrophe? Why does a relatively small fluctuation in average temperature suddenly cause 95% of all marine life and more than half of all plants and animals on land to die out? The first step, or the initiation of the catastrophe, is the melting of the ice cap at the North Pole. White, snow-covered ice reflects the sunlight back into space and with it the heat. With a higher content of the greenhouse gas CO² in the air, the climate warms. When the ice cap at the North Pole melts somewhat due to the higher temperatures, it becomes smaller and reflects less light back into space, which instead falls into the deep blue, open sea and heats it up. The higher water temperature then causes the ice layer to melt even more, which causes even more sunlight to fall into the sea, and so on. After an upward spiral temperature curve, the polar cap finally disappears to a large extent.
The increase in the global average temperature by almost 2°C has caused a temperature increase of 4°C in the Arctic. For it is not only the greenhouse gas CO² that is having an effect here now, but also the changed ratio of white, snow-covered ice to dark, open sea.
This in turn has an impact on the Gulf Stream. The temperature difference between the equatorial region and the polar region and the floating glacial ice of the North Pole are the engine of the Gulf Stream. Freezing part of the sea water at the North Pole changes its salinity and heavy, cold, highly saline water sinks to the seabed. From there it flows in the depths back to the equator, where it heats up again, rises to the surface and flows in the upper water layers back to the North Pole. Without the freezing temperatures of the North Pole water and the floating pack ice, the Gulf Stream comes to a standstill.
Since the Gulf Stream is the only supply of oxygen for the deep sea, a cessation of it causes the death of all “aerobic” organisms in the deep sea. So the great dying begins first in the depths of the oceans. The rotting carcasses of the deep-sea dwellers and the dead plankton then cause a “tipping” of the aerobic system, i.e. the oxygenated water, into an “anaerobic” system, i.e. an oxygen-poor ecosystem dominated by putrefactive bacteria. Acidic, sulphurous water now rises to the higher layers of the sea and also causes an ecocatastrophe there, with the result that eventually the entire aerobic life system of the sea dies out and only anaerobic organisms such as certain bacteria and algae exist. The whole sea becomes a red, sulphurous broth in which no normal “aerobic” bacteria or plankton can live. But the sea produces 75% of our atmospheric oxygen. Without this, the atmosphere then overturns in a further stage of the catastrophe. Thus, after marine species, most land animals become extinct. The “acid rain” does the rest. Even a higher CO² content in the air influences the PH value of the oceans. About half of the free CO² is bound in the water of the oceans and turns it into carbonic acid. Compared to pre-industrial times, the increased carbon dioxide content of the air has already roughly doubled the acidity of the oceans. But once the sea is completely overturned and most marine life dies off, it is not normal water vapour that evaporates over the sea and fills the rain clouds, but sulphurous carbonic acid or other acids, and a strongly acid rain then also causes most plant species on land to die out.
When the disaster has reached its peak, a whole new ecological process begins. Now anaerobic bacteria and algae thrive, which extract the large amount of CO² from the atmosphere and process it into petroleum. The dead, oil-filled bacteria and algae sink by the trillions to the seabed, where they form the later oil deposits. The removal of CO² from the atmosphere causes the temperature to drop again, new ice caps form at the poles, and a Gulf Stream develops again. Now the atmospheric oxygen entering the deep sea kills the anaerobic bacteria there, the deep sea tips back into an “aerobic” system and eventually a new natural cycle develops, similar to what existed before the eco-disaster. New, calcareous marine animals deposit layers of lime on top of the layers of dead oil bacteria and this is how the underground oil deposits are formed.
What happened 252 million years ago and 200 million years ago is being repeated in these very decades. A large part of the CO² that triggered the environmental catastrophe at the end of the Permian and the end of the Triassic is bound in petroleum. Better said, it was bound in petroleum. And while this CO² was released into the atmosphere within 200,000 years at the end of the Permian, we humans will manage to blow all the resulting petroleum into the atmosphere in the form of CO² within about 200 years. But that’s not all: at the same time we are burning vast quantities of coal, which represents the stored CO² of the land masses. So we are putting carbon dioxide from two global environmental disasters into our atmosphere in a very short time.
The consequence of this will be an increase in the global average temperature. The consequence of this is a melting of the polar ice caps. The consequence of this is a suspension of the Gulf Stream, with the resulting overturning of the sea and a drastic reduction in atmospheric oxygen. Already, the ice cap at the North Pole in summer is only half the size it was 30 years ago, and in the summer of 2013 the Gulf Stream stopped for the first time for a short time. For about 2 weeks, the marine researchers could no longer measure any currents.
Although the mechanisms of the ecocatstrophes at the end of the Permian and at the end of the Triassic are known, and although it is clear that this mechanism is being repeated right now, relatively little is being done about this development. Climate conferences alone do not help. Before industrialisation, we had a CO² content in our atmosphere of 220 ppm, i.e. 0.022 %. Today we have a CO² content of 380 ppm. At the same time, the “new entry” of CO² into the atmosphere continues unabated. Globally, about two new coal-fired power plants go online every week. Some scientists are even of the opinion that we have already passed the “point of no return” and that a collapse of our current ecosystem can no longer be stopped, no matter what we do now. Even with a complete abandonment of fossil energies, they believe, the self-reinforcing process of the disappearance of the North Pole Ice would be unstoppable. Once the North Pole Ice has fallen below a minimum level and the Gulf Stream stops, the overturning of the sea takes its course and can no longer be stopped.
Whether the collapse of the ecosystem will take exactly this course, as some climate researchers suspect, is not certain. One might assume that there would be a Gulf Stream even without ice formation at the North Pole. The warm, and thus lighter, sea water at the equator of about 30°C would in any case rise upwards and spread out on the sea surface, while the colder polar sea water would sink into the depths. Thus, there would be a current at the water surface from the equator to the poles and in the depths of the oceans from the poles to the equator anyway. A problem for this is only the anomaly of the water in its expansion due to temperature. The warmer water gets, the lighter it becomes, or the colder it gets, the heavier it becomes. However, this mechanism reverses at 4°C. Water with only 1°C or 0°C is lighter than water with 3° or 4°C. Ice water at 0°C therefore does not sink to the seabed, it remains on the surface. To overcome the 4°C barrier, it is therefore necessary to increase the salinity, which is produced in the pack ice when part of the seawater freezes. When salt water freezes into ice, it always freezes as fresh water. The salt remains in the remaining water. The higher the salt content, the heavier the seawater. This is why ice formation in the open ocean is one of the main drivers of the Gulf Stream, allowing heavy water to sink to depth despite the 4° threshold of water stratification. If this mechanism were to stop working, we would probably have at least a much shorter Gulf Stream stopping at the coasts of Canada and Iceland.
Some climate researchers also assume that the Arctic will cool down again when the Gulf Stream stops, because then no more warm water masses from the south would come to the north. They even predict a small ice age as a result. Another fact also speaks against total ecocollapse in the near future: Antarctica is not based on floating ice like the Arctic, but on ice on a land mass. Here, therefore, the ice does not recede and gives way to the open sea. The Labrador Current, the southern counterpart to the Gulf Stream, is therefore not endangered.
The idea of a world in which the oxygen in the air will soon no longer be sufficient to breathe, where we will not only have electricity and water delivered to our homes by pipeline, but also the air we breathe, and where we will have to walk around in the open streets wearing oxygen masks, is thus a hitherto unproven assumption of only some climate researchers. But one thing remains to be suspected: By the time we have clarity on these issues, it will certainly be too late to turn the wheel and take effective countermeasures.
The conclusion is that in the past, several global environmental catastrophes, triggered by a greenhouse gas-induced temperature rise or downturn, caused the extinction of a large proportion of all animal and plant life forms. The speed at which we are now ramping up our average global temperature dwarfs any of these mega-catastrophes. In order to have any chance of stopping the collapse of the ecosystem, the very first thing we should do is to switch our energy supply to 100 % CO²-free energy sources, not sometime in the future but now. The team around Niveau élevé has already been working on this task with great commitment for several years, as we can see in the following chapters.