Descartes walks into bar. Bartender asks, “Hey, René, fancy a drink?”. Descartes replies, “I think not” … and disappears.
I either have a fatalistic approach to life or a faithful approach to life, but I simply don’t worry about Global Warming or Climate Change. While we can be an arrogant bunch of monkeys and get worked up about things beyond our control, we tend to lose sight of why we would care about a topic in the first place.
“If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it.” – Dalai Lama XIV
Whether you fall on the Evolution side, Intelligent Design (ID) side, or the Creationist side, the answer is the same.
The planet began out of chaos, a state most inhospitable to life,… yet… here we are… I think.
For the Creationist/ID types, if we are capable of rendering the planet uninhabitable for all life forms, then it was part of the plan (or Design). Either that or the Creator would simply start over; one universal sized sand painting, or like Fate forever knitting and snipping.
For the Evolutionist it is all about adaptation. Out of the chaos of the primordial ooze, from searing temperatures, and an atmosphere that was primarily nitrogen and carbon dioxide, life began and thrived.
Categorically, both the Evolutionist and the ID/Creationist agree on this point. Plants were first, even if only of the single cell variety.
However, some billions of years ago (or was it thousands? 😉 ) there was a problem. The environment became toxic to the life forms. The toxin was called … oxygen. But somehow some life forms adapted: we won’t speculate further exactly how they did it (as that is a topic for another discussion), but we are fairly certain they did… (this is the part where you pinch yourself to confirm the hypothesis… go ahead, I’ll wait).
These newly adapting life forms managed to make use of the oxygen and found that the power potential was much, much higher. Locomotion became possible. These new species were indeed fruitful and multiplied (yes, both the fruits and those that eat fruit). The point is that eventually a homeostasis was more or less achieved with plants, protozoa, bacteria, fungi, and many multi-celled life forms (insects, animals, etc) balancing out each other’s waste products.
We hear daily that carbon dioxide is the enemy; after all, the EPA has declared it a toxin. But is it, really? What are we really worried about?
I assert that any purported altruism toward other species or the current homeostasis is purely cognitive dissonance toward the inevitability of extinction, rooted upon a built-in need for self preservation. And, sometime later we will have a discussion on why we have a self-preservation instinct (hint: after reading the next sentence, ask yourself what purpose can self-preservation possibly serve?)
So let’s do a little thought-experiment, albeit more of a philosophical exercise than a scientific one.
Start at the chaotic beginning: literally fire and brimstone (you know, … “Africa Hot”), lightening, and a carbon rich atmosphere.
Somehow the first plants appear (again we won’t worry much exactly how it happen, it is enough for this “experiment” to simply know that it did happen).
Suppose for a moment that the plants continue to reproduce, consuming carbon dioxide and producing oxygen; BUT in this case the plants don’t adapt to the increasing concentration of oxygen. I.e., simply nothing develops to use the oxygen such that the inevitable outcome is that the one critical component (carbon dioxide) is completely consumed.
That’s it. Nothing left.
In this case ALL of the plants die and crumble, leaving behind masses of carbon rich dust. So what happens next?
Assuming that Sol is still shining, or really any form of energy stirs the atmosphere, I propose that a spark would occur (you know… friction, storms, lightning). In the oxygen rich atmosphere this has but one consequence… fire. The carbon rich dust burns, and in a substantial way carbon dioxide is returned to the atmosphere.
In such an environment life has the opportunity to start again, just like it did the “first” time. But how likely is it that life would “restart”? Honestly, I have know idea, only observing that the conditions in the “second” round are not quite the same as the first. However, if the premise is that we must have life, then it seems “risky” not to let the carbon back into the atmosphere.
But what if, in the extreme opposite, we keep returning the carbon to the atmosphere to the point where there is no free oxygen? The answer should be obvious: The aerobic life forms die, and plants carry on (sufficient solar incidence notwithstanding), bringing us to the next dilemma. After all of the aerobic life forms die, the oxygen levels increase again. How likely is it that new oxygen-using lifeforms will develop again? It worked the “first” time, but will it work again? Again, the original state at the “beginning” would not match the state at the end of the all-oxygen or all-carbon-dioxide scenario.
And, that is the essential problem in “chaos theory”: start from even a slightly different point, get a very different outcome. There is really nothing magical about it. The results are a manifestation of either extreme sensitivity to parametric changes or simply running a system for a very long time.
Either way, without a concurrent cycle to balance the carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere we would risk letting all life die out, and the prospect of a “reboot” appears less likely, but we could not really ever know.
After all, what is the purpose of it all? I know, I know… philosophers and theologians have been asking that for millennia, but if you accept the premise that all species and individuals are ephemeral (i.e., extinction is inevitable) and that both science and theology predict an “end of times” (Armageddon, Sol goes “boom”, the Universe goes “crunch”, or the Universe goes cold)… what is the point?
Or maybe putting it another way… If we cannot control the long range outcome, why do we care? If we abandon Theological thought for a moment, what are we left with? Nothing. The whole thing is pointless and we must be a figment of our own imagination, or party to some cruel joke.
However, there simply has to be a greater purpose. And while we can go ’round and ’round the theist/atheist wheel as to the source of that purpose, the point is there must be some purpose… thus a reason to care.
We care because it is relevant to us today. Even knowing that there will be an inevitable outcome we are compelled to survive as a species because it is what we are. We are good stewards because it suits us. We know that if we mess it up our number is up. But I don’t worry myself over it endlessly; the planet and all life forms will take care of themselves, it has already been through a lot more than we can throw at it.
Chew on that the next time some “environmentalist” or government wonk tries to sell you something; ask yourself what they have to gain from inciting concern, worry, or even panic; follow the money. Who knows?…You just might “save the planet” despite them.