The Internet is populated by what I would refer to as Dinosaur Atmosphere Enthusiasts: People who are convinced that because CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were once higher than they are today, we should crank them back up and watch as the deserts start teeming with life again. They tend to think they’re pasting esoteric insights nobody else has ever considered into the comment section of a blog or a news website, but they’re not. The main problem with their argument is as following: Just because a particular concentration of CO2 was once prevalent doesn’t mean human beings can live under such concentrations.
As I explained yesterday, we are adapted by evolution to low concentrations of CO2, as are all the other plants and animals that currently populate our planet. There’s also the simple fact that the sun used to be smaller and gave less heat if you go back hundreds of millions of years ago, which these people also seem to be missing. The Earth won’t respond exactly the same if you crank CO2 back up to what it was half a billion years ago.
But this reminds me a bit, of a guy sitting in an airplane that’s rapidly losing altitude due to a broken engine. He is nervous, but next to him sits the world’s smartest man, a freedom loving patriotic alpha male, who explains to this vegan beta soycuck that he has only sat in the airplane for two hours and he actually spent most of his life on the ground, which is a much safer place for humans to be than in airplanes anyway.
You would probably expect him to explain to this alpha male that it’s not the whole “being on the ground” part that has him worried, it’s the process of crashing into it. And similarly, no matter what our climatic end destination may be and how capable life on Earth may prove to be of adapting to those circumstances, It’s the whole process of getting there that’s filled with traps, chaos, devastation and misery.
If you open a bottle of beer and rapidly pour it into a big glass, you’ll have to wait with drinking it until it has stabilized again, unless you just want to cover your face in fume. Alternatively, you can pour the beer gently into the glass and the foam will be limited.
Similarly, you could very gradually burn fossil fuels and maintain a planet that’s compatible with civilization. Wait for plants to grow and sequester the stuff in the soil, as well as for enhanced weathering to kick in and start sequestering the stuff and you wouldn’t be in trouble. No, it’s the whole crashing headfirst into a dinosaur atmosphere part that’s causing us trouble. You’re recklessly pouring that beer into a glass rapidly enough for all the foam to explode all over your glass and onto the table.
Have you ever considered what happens during climatic transitions? The Earth destabilizes. Ice on land melts and pours into the ocean. The difference in pressure causes uplifts where the glaciers used to be, along with increased pressure on the ocean floor. This is how you get earthquakes. Those earthquakes, when they happen underwater, can trigger landslides that lead to tsunamis.
Of all the submarine landslides observed in the geological record of the past 125,000 years, around 50% date back to one specific period: 15,000 to 8000 years ago. Those of you who are smart, will realize this is the period when we transitioned from the Pleistocene to the Holocene. There are different factors that have to be considered here. Parts of the seafloor have methane hydrates, which will destabilize when temperatures rise. The other factor to consider is that sea level rise increases pressure on vulnerable slopes. Increase pressure enough and you’ll trigger a landslide.
The tsunamis you get are nasty. Take a look at this estimate of wave height for the Storegga slide:
Ignore the whole people dying part for a moment, what do you think happens to our nuclear power plants when we get a tsunami like this? And keep in mind, this stuff was happening just about everywhere as we transitioned from the Pleistocene to the Holocene. Here you have an example of a massive sudden underwater landslide off the coast of Taiwan, caused by destabilization of methane hydrates during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition.
The bottom of the ocean warms, the methane hydrates are destabilized, they explode, a landslide is triggered, the landslide leads to a tsunami, the tsunami hits the coast within a few hours and you’re dead. Depending on where this happens, you’re looking at millions of deaths within hours, along with many more once the nuclear power plants melt down and the spent fuel rods are exposed to the air. There’s a reason nuclear power is so controversial: It’s not because of “hippies”, it’s because it can amplify any natural disaster you face.
Sometimes you can get earthquakes, simply because pressure changes due to soil erosion and deforestation. That’s how the 2011 Haiti earthquake that killed 200,000 people is thought to have been caused. Heavy earthquakes seem to be getting more common around the world, a likely consequence of all the global changes taking place.
This is not the only trouble along the road to the promised Dinosaur Atmosphere Utopia. You also have to deal with the soil melting beneath your feet. Buildings across Siberia are collapsing, because the permafrost on which they were built is melting. Infrastructure like pipelines is threatened too. The permafrost harbors all sorts of frozen germs that are now springing back to life. This is how you could have the next pandemic.
There are plenty of other problems you run into, more than I could list here. It takes a couple of centuries, to form 1 centimeter of fertile soil. You often hear people say that with higher CO2 concentrations, plants need less water. This is generally correct. It’s also correct that rainfall will increase over the Sahel, as can be seen here:
But here’s the problem: You have no soil. You will have to wait centuries, to see 1 centimeter of topsoil form. It’s much easier to destroy an ecosystem, along with the soil it produced, than to give rise to a new one.
The same problem applies to ocean acidification. The ocean doesn’t stay acidic forever, eventually the acidity is buffered. It’s the period of transition from a low CO2 atmosphere to a high CO2 atmosphere, that makes the ocean very acidic.
This is the general pattern you see. Periods of transition are chaotic and deadly. They lead to mass extinctions. Maybe the world would look like paradise eventually at 1200 parts per million. The problem is: How do you get there unscathed?
The animals face this problem too. As the Earth warms up, they have to migrate to new places. For some animals this is not possible, perhaps they have an ocean or a desert on one side and humans on the other side, so they go extinct. But for others like bats, it should be easier to accomplish. Bats will bring disease with them however, that will then have an opportunity to jump into other species. Eventually as the Earth stabilizes they will settle down in new places, but as they migrate, they come into contact with other animal species that they normally don’t encounter (including humans). That’s how you get new pandemics.
This is the general problem you run into: We depend on stability of many different forms, without even realizing it. And so when the Dinosaur Atmosphere Enthusiasts say stupid shit like “actually the Earth is carbon-starved compared to millions of years ago”, they don’t seem to be asking themselves: “Ok, how do we go from naked-ape atmosphere to dinosaur atmosphere, what are the obstacles along the way?”
Of course I don’t expect that I’m going to change their mind today. After all, Dinosaur Atmosphere Enthusiasm is not some sort of peculiar bizarre philosophical position independent from everything else. Rather, Dinosaur Atmosphere Enthusiasm is a product of an ideological commitment to fossil fuels. This ideological commitment in turn tends to be a consequence of the realization that you would otherwise need to accept a reduced standard of living, to let your children have a life worth living.