Mass extinctions have happened periodically throughout Earth's history for a variety of different reasons, with the usual culprits being either asteroid hits or climate change. The Eocene extinction was originally thought to have been caused by climate induced issues, but recent evidence has suggested that the changes in the weather occurred due to a meteor strike, now believed to be the one that created the Popigai crater in Siberia. The resulting "impact winter" was caused by tiny particles blanketing the Earth and reflecting the sun's heat, creating a global temperature drop that wiped out most of the Earth's species.
Though most mass extinction events typically took thousands of years to evolve, certain events in history occurred much more quickly. Scientists believe that the last Ice age took hold of the Earth in a matter of months. Evidence is suggesting that Earth is already in the midst of a gradual mass extinction event with thousands of species disappearing across the planet on an almost daily basis; at the current rate, more than half the world's creatures are expected to be gone by the end of the century. However, a recent study has suggested that things could be speeding up and we could have been ousted from the planet by 2054.
The study was conducted by researchers Dr. Malcolm P.R. Light, Harold Hensel and Sam Carana and is entitled: " The Arctic Atmospheric 'Methane Global Warming Veil'. Its Origin in the Arctic Subsea and Mantle and the Timing of the Global Terminal Extinction Events by 2040 to 2050 - A Review."
The findings of the study, which reviewed a host of previous research in order to make the predictions, suggest that rising methane levels represent the greatest threat to the future of the Earth. It explains how methane is formed by aquatic organisms, and is then frozen into ice crystals many meters below the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean. The reserves of methane under the ocean are continuing to grow at alarming rates, and an excerpt from the study outlines the danger from this subterranean time bomb:
"There are such massive methane reserves below the Arctic Ocean floor, that they represent around 100 times the amount that is required to cause a Permian style major extinction event, should the subsea Arctic methane be released in a short period of time into the atmosphere. If only a few percent of the subsea methane hydrate reserves in the Arctic Ocean (some 1000 billion tons of Carbon) is dissociated and the methane is released into the atmosphere, it will cause total deglaciation and a major extinction event."
The increasing temperatures created by global warming are forming the perfect conditions for this methane release, which requires only one millionth of the energy that is being constantly added to the seas, land and atmosphere of the planet:
"Unfortunately for us, global warming has heated up the oceanic currents fed by the Gulf Stream flowing into the Arctic, causing massive destabilization of the subsea methane hydrates and fault seals and releasing increasing volumes of methane directly into the atmosphere," states the study.
For those who need further perspective, the study clarifies the full impact of the extra energy released into the environment by the human population as "The total human induced global warming is equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atomic bombs detonating every second."
The study then makes the stark and chilling warning regarding the future of our earth:
"Humanity has signed its death warrant and our final extinction will be carried out by Mother Earth within the next 30 to 40 years unless we immediately take extremely drastic action to entirely curb our carbon dioxide pollution, eliminate large quantities of methane from the subsea Arctic Ocean, seawater and atmosphere (down to ca 673 - 700 ppb) and revert completely to renewable energy."
The future is looking pretty bleak then, so is there anything we can do?
The world's governments are now hoping that implementing practical measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the globe will help to halt the ever-worsening effects of climate change.
"Climate change is the defining issue of our time. If we do not take urgent action, all our plans for increased global prosperity and security will be undone,” said the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his opening remarks at the recent “Abu Dhabi Ascent”, which he co-hosted with the United Arab Emirates Government in an attempt to build commitment ahead of his Climate Summit, on 23 September in New York. “That is why it is important that Governments complete a meaningful new climate agreement by 2015 that will rapidly reduce emissions and support resilience,” he added.
Mr. Ban identified nine key areas with the greatest potential for rapid and positive change. They include energy, cities and transport, finance, resilience, agriculture and short-lived climate pollutants.
He explained that many of the solutions we need already exist, and many others are already in the process of being developed.
"But we need to deploy them at a scale that matches the challenge. And we need to do it now, because we may not get a second chance,” he warned, adding that “we are rapidly approaching dangerous thresholds. The longer we delay, the more we will pay.”
Attempting to motivate each individual to play their part in healing the earth is not as easy as it might sound, despite the dire warnings that scientists are continuing to assault us with. In a review article published in Nature Climate Change in April 2012, the question of why global warming does not motivate an urgent need for action in the way that other moral imperatives do was discussed.
"Climate change poses significant challenges to our perceptual, cognitive and affective information-processing systems, making it and its threats difficult to engage with and appreciate," stated the authors.
The article, written by Ezra M. Markowitz and Azim F. Shariff and entitled "Climate Change and Moral Judgement", reviewed six reasons why climate change poses significant challenges to our moral judgement system.
The cognitive complexity and abstract nature of the subject was cited as a major reason why the average person was unable to readily connect to the concept and act on it. It is non-intuitive and difficult for many people to grasp and relate to. As the human moral judgement system is conditioned to react most strongly to intentional acts of transgression, the perceived blameless nature of climate change fails to prompt a reaction.
The uncertain and nebulous effects of the phenomenon breeds a culture of wishful thinking, as most individuals are unable to identify a direct consequence of climate change within the sphere of their personal environment. The mixed opinions of scientists and lack of definitive prognoses also results in an unreasonable optimism. The politicization of climate change fosters ideological polarization; certain political parties will choose to affiliate with "greener" initiatives, whilst others will view it as an economical liability.
In order to circumvent these barriers to action, the paper outlines a framework of strategies to promote awareness and bolster recognition of climate change as a key personal issue for every individual. The strategies involve the use of existing moral values, using broader values that would appeal to as yet untapped demographics. The use of "emotional carrots" rather than "guilt sticks" was thought to be more motivating, as opposed to the use of shaming tactics that were more likely to cause and anxiety and therefore withdrawal and inaction.
"Understanding how to connect the very global and abstract issue of climate change to our very local and human moral intuitions may play a critical role in rallying first our hearts, and then our hands, to action," say the authors, who rightly argue that ensuring the success of a "grass-roots" approach is imperative for the planet's future.
To simplify the process of "acting for climate change", the Context Institute have put together "101 Ways To Heal The Earth" a list of practical and easily implemented suggestions that almost any person can follow in order to make a personal contribution to the cause.
The list seems almost too mundane to matter, but illustrates how relevant even the smallest steps can be in attempting to slow this snowballing series of climactic events. Most suggestions are aimed at reducing energy costs, but some are more lateral and innovative, such as " Plant deciduous shade trees that protect windows from summer sun but allow it in during the winter" and "Support organic farming and gardening methods; shun chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides."
Less obvious ways of helping the environment just rely on spreading the word and promoting a ripple effect of awareness around the planet:
"Xerox this list and send it to ten friends" and "Stay informed about the state of the Earth" which you can do by visiting and subscribing to our wonderful website here at Unknown Country!
Is there anything that can be done on a more esoteric level to combat climate change, reduce rising methane levels and avert a looming mass extinction event?
At number 101 on the list was the advice: "Pray, visualize, hope, meditate, dream". This may yet prove to be most powerful suggestion on the list, as by setting an intention to avert the impending cataclysm and visualizing a more positive outcome, we commit to our part in the process and become consciously involved.
This can only be a good thing, and what do we have to lose, other than our beautiful home planet?