Humans form part of a large variety of living organisms on the planet. We are 1 of over 800 million species that occupy, and once occupied, the planet we call earth. Our collective existence on the planet is about 0.115% of Earth’s total lifespan, making it hard to grasp the fact that our impact far exceeds any other species to date.
The Earth’s 4.6 billion year tenure has witnessed millions of cataclysmic moments, tremendous volatility and multiple extinction events that give way to new life forms. The delicate conditions that make Earth conducive for life to thrive are an inconspicuous ongoing process that shapes the entire biosphere. They are Earth’s orbital and rotational spin, solar radiation distribution, the atmosphere and Earth’s positioning in the solar system.
The latter describes a seamlessly symphonic manner in which life was shaped and formed. Any miniscule disruption to this system would result in large scale extinction and world wide catastrophe in ways we have never seen before. Planet Earth has a chaotic and violent history which underwent at least 5 mass extinctions, some extinctions predate the dinosaurs and through it all Earth stood tall.
To generate a broader context to this, the planet has witnessed 3 eons, 3 eras (under the Phanerozoic Eon), 11 periods and 7 epochs. The latest called the Holocene which started 10 000 years ago and is epitomized by the evolution of modern humans namely Homo sapiens sapiens. A distinct note worth mentioning is that our ancient ancestors, prehistoric humans, appeared in the mid to late Pleistocene epoch about 100 000 years ago in the form of various hominid species. Astonishingly this means that there was more than one species of human beings on the planet in different regions during this window.
Modern humans emerge as the major survivors at the start of the Holocene epoch largely due the global geological changes imposed by the end of the last ice age. The sudden global increase in temperatures meant adaptation measures were imposed onto all living species. Key evolutionary adaptation techniques were necessary to out compete rival competitors and the conditions seemingly or rather thankfully favoured our first group of modern humans. The ability to use tools, grow crops and alter the environment to suit our conditions gave our ancestors a competitive edge. Rival hominid species probably struggled to adapt to the warmer temperatures and likely suffered bloody encounters with modern humans. Eventually they became the first victim of human induced extinction…nor would they be the last.
For thousands of years modern humans lived in harmony with nature. Subsistence living cultivated a culture of a minimalist mindset when it came to consumption. With the concept of money and unlimited wealth Unbeknown to them, people buttered for goods and services whilst existing in small village communities. Within 7000 years later, the human race was well in tune with the concept of harvesting goods from nature. The concept of trade, money (Gold, silver, bronze, iron) and travel at an intercommunity level was a set precursor to what would be the most dominant single species the earth has ever witnessed.
Numerous wars were waged, empires were established, mass communities formed and humans would go on to invent incredible feats. But three inventions were most significant: fire, the wheel and ships. By the 12th century, human footprint was apparent and the mass exploitation of the ecosystem was epitomized by explorers’ reaching new pristine lands, and establishing gradual pillars of a global interconnected trade system, initiated by the spice trade and silk road routes.
The most significant moment would come in the late 18th century when England experienced the first wave of factory mass industrialization. The early 19th century signaled a new official epoch in earth’s history. The Anthropocene Epoch, translating to the modern human era. This era is set aside for its significance in the humans ability to heavily extract from nature beyond control. Mankind partnering with machines to alter and subjugate the environment to suit his needs was a revolutionary step for both the planet, mankind and the entire biosphere.
Up until fire was discovered nearly all carbon dioxide emissions were swept up with utter speed by biological producers (Trees, plants, diatoms and photosynthetic algae & bacteria). The planet was largely on a carbon negative net balance during the ice age in the early to mid Holocene. But the balance would be quickly tipped to an overwhelming positive through the accelerated burning of coal, oil and trees. The natural carbon cycle of the ecosystem was officially altered and this would be the sad state of things to come beyond this point.
We are currently living through the 6th major extinction event. Much like the early Pleistocene, global temperatures are on a sharp rise. But this time the sheer scale of the rise is not natural but artificially manufactured. Unlike the end of the Ice age, the rate of global warming is on an exponential rapid rise, not gradual. The rate of species extinctions is at its highest in human history. We are losing species faster than we can study them, mainly through habitat destruction and large-scale commercial pollution. We are single handedly devastating the entire global ecosystem in ways we could not fully comprehend on every ecological sphere. Air, oceans, land, none is spared. The industrial complex is systematically and efficiently decimating the planet’s sustainability pillars in the name of economic growth.
The previous 5 extinction events resulted in over 90% of all living species wiped off the planet primarily due to a 10 degree global average temperature increase. Millions of volcanic chambers spewed various Greenhouse gases such as Sulphur dioxide (SO2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and carbon monoxide but carbon dioxide (CO2) was the main culprit at play in spiking global temperatures. The mass extinction took thousands of years to materialize. At our current rate of fossil fuel emission we would manage to achieve this level of extinction in less than 400 years of industrialization.
The Anthropocene age is largely driven by mass exponential consumerism leading to mass over harvesting and exploitation of the ecosystem in exchange for financial wealth and supreme mass decadence. Mass extraction, in the form of mining, commercial fishing and deforestation, lead to environmental crimes. The latter has shown to drastically eat away at our pristine quality of life, overall it is polluting our food, health, minds and facilitates the moral degeneration of society as a whole. It fosters a consumer based culture that reinforces the accumulation of material wealth in an attempt to fulfill inner void.
The disconnection between man and nature indirectly led to the formation of the novel sars-cov-2 (Corona) virus which has subjected us to the world’s first global pandemic. This is a sign of things to come in terms of how events will systematically unfold in the turn of the mid to late 21st century. The tell-tale signs of a global climate crisis were first detected in the late 1940s when climate scientists discovered that global temperatures and carbon dioxide pollution levels were consistently on a sharp rise. The more information was gathered, the more startled scientists became about this phenomenon. The first set of solar panels introduced to the world was in the late 1960s. The technology existed but sadly was suppressed by industry giants to buy more time. Unfortunately, it worked and now we are faced with a climate pandemic like no other.
Climate Change cannot be defined as a single ‘natural’ disaster or a global pandemic wave like the COVID-19 outbreak. It is a culmination of natural disasters on excessive steroids collectively breaking down the wider interconnected ecosystem, to deliver the most devastating events simultaneously and continuously over multiple generations non-stop. Wave after wave of intense climate disasters, it will not simply pass and no miracle solutions from a lab can curb it. Once we are past the point of no return, the global devastation will be relentless to say the least. The only solution is prevention, proactively introducing means to curb Greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Delaying this (Climate action) will only push us to the pivotal point sooner.
Contrary to popular belief, the dinosaurs were not the first living set of biota (living organisms) to face mass extinction. The Anthropocene era is another extinction phase, in which the Planet will eventually survive and reset over many decades and centuries long after humans have left (for extraterrestrial means). By continually plunging the ecosystems natural resources we are doing far more harm to our overall population fitness than the actual planet. No amount of money printing, political bureaucracy and exponential GDP growth will do us any good once the manure hits the fan.
The problem is the unwillingness to work with nature and contribute to the seamless role of the symbiosis between humans and nature. Humans are part of the ecosystem and henceforth we are subject to the realms of biological and ecological set rules. Our normal interactions with nature can be significantly improved through simple acts stemming from awareness and being environmentally conscious. Choosing not to litter, separation of our waste, limiting energy consumption (while saving on electrical costs) at home. Showing a consumer preference for environmentally sustainable products & sharing awareness where possible.
The onus is on us to play an active and collective role in becoming environmentally conscious because the mandate to save the planet and humanity is far too big to mandate solely to politicians and big businesses. Our industries and statesmen and women will not save us from this alone. A lot of work is being invested in the science community to reach the common citizen and children on how each can play their part. New research papers recommending solutions on the matter are published regularly and multinational conferences such as COP will go a long way to foster multilateral cooperation towards positive change. A coordinated strike against environmentally unethical corporations and the fossil fuel sectors is much needed along with a holistic approach to the wider society to ensure that prevention is a sure result.
Mankind remains unequivocally opposed at the peak of the planet’s food chain. Our devastation and subjugation of planet Earth is no longer in question. Our ambition for growth, trade and prosperity singled us out to be more than just a participatory species, but we have become an apex keystone player in all environments. The laws of nature do dictate that for every upward swing in population number, a mass decline is inevitable and humans – much like any other animal- will not be spared from this model. More can be done and more should be done by everyone because we are all beneficiaries of a burning planet knowingly or unknowingly.