Life as a Geological Force[2]

Compendium Volume 1 Number 1 July 2017

Going back almost 4 billion years, a scant half-billion years since the formation of planet earth from cosmic dust, life began to appear.  It persisted through eons of celestial, tectonic and climatic upheaval.  Around a billion years later, life, in the form of microbes, found the driver’s seat and has taken over the world ever since.  In an anthropocentric culture that creates gods in its own image, we are not generally aware that millions of species of living things have molded this planet, turned it blue and green, and created most of its features, from an oxygen atmosphere to geological formations to proliferation of millions of other kinds of living things. Without life, Earth would be merely another rock flying through space, like Mars or Venus.

The power of life is especially important in discussions of and action on climate change, since mainstream climate science views living things as victims of global warming, not primary drivers of potential climate solutions, as mentioned above.  This is most unfortunate since our current obsession with greenhouse gas emissions as a root cause of climate disruption has led us to a dead end.  For even if we were to go to zero emissions immediately, due to positive feedback loops and a seriously degraded biosphere, climate chaos would likely continue to accelerate and rage out of control.[3],[4]  It is therefore not unreasonable to pursue the possibility that living things are able to remove the requisite carbon from the atmosphere, cool the biosphere as well as return biodiverse life to dead and dying ecosystems, and in fact there is ample evidence that such is the case – as we shall see.

Gerber, P.J., Hemming Steinfeld, Benjamin Henderson, et al. 2013, Tackling climate change through livestock -  A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2013, [Earthworms]

Hansen, James, et al. 2016, Young People's Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions, [Introduction]

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013, Working Group 1, Summary for Policymakers,, p 26.

[2] See Westbroek 1991.  His research is based on the groundbreaking work of Russian systems scientist and biogeophysicist, Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945). Vernadsky’s work is relatively unknown in mainstream science, which is still fractured into narrow disciplines where systems thinking is more theoretical than operational reality.  See Vernadsky’s signal work, The Biosphere, in an excellent edition annotated by Mark McMennamin with a forward by Lynn Margulis, Copernicus/Springer-Verlag, 1998

[3] “A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period. [emphasis added]” [United Nations 2013: 26].

[4] “The growth rate of climate forcing due to human-caused greenhouse gases increased over 20% in the past decade mainly due to resurging growth of atmospheric CH4 [methane], thus making it increasingly difficult to achieve targets such as limiting global warming to 1.5°C or reducing atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm. Such targets now require “negative emissions”, i.e., extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere. [emphasis added]” [Hansen 2016: 1]

For the full PDF version of the compendium issue where this article appears, visit Compendium Volume 1 Number 1 July 2017