Oxygen and Life

There is a fairly angry debate going on about the ideas of human produced greenhouse gases effecting the long-term weather patterns on the planet. I’ll probably eventually blog about that sometime in the future but I thought I’d take on the role of oxygen and life forms. The reason I do this is because several people have told me, rightly so, that it is natural for the earth to have a much higher concentration of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere and it has in the past. But, do we want a world with those levels?

I’m going with the theory that the earth is somewhere around 4.5 billion years old and if you have strong religious beliefs that go counter to this concept then this blog probably doesn’t hold much of interest for you.

So, the earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago and oxygen was basically absent and so was life. At about 3 billion years ago there is some evidence for life although this debatable. There was still no oxygen around. For a long while only simple, anaerobic forms of life existed.

About 2.4 billion years ago there was what is called the Oxygen Catastrophe. This essential destroyed most of the anaerobic life forms. The simple reason it occurred is that the iron that previously absorbed all the oxygen became saturated and then excess oxygen spread into the atmosphere. This combined with methane and made carbon dioxide which greatly reduced the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Still, greenhouse gases were in much higher concentrations than we see today.

About 300 million years later, in this still relatively low oxygen environment, we see the first emergence of multicellular animals. It seems relatively clear to me that as greenhouse gases decline and oxygen goes up so too does life increase.

We then see smallish life-forms until about 500 millions ago when there is a period called the Cambrian Explosion. It’s a relatively debatable “explosion” but one of the causes of the increase and diversification of animal species seems to be an increase in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. There are arguments that it was not the major cause but simply one of many that happened to coincide at about the same time.

Since then there have been a number of catastrophic events wherein most of the species on earth were wiped out. There is again debate about the cause of these events but oxygen seems to be pretty clearly related. Less oxygen, less life. Which makes an awful lot of sense.

This blog isn’t about whether or not climate change is real or if so, caused by the industrial age, but I simply hope to point out that having the atmosphere gain levels of carbon dioxide and methane and lose oxygen is … to coin a phrase … bad.

So, let’s do what we can to keep oxygen levels stable. Whether or not you believe mankind is contributing to the measurable increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; it seems reasonable to try to reduce the emissions we can control.

Tell me what you think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

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