As of 2020, scientists have only indexed two percent of our planet’s microbial species. As Earth warms during this Anthropocene era, we could be on a vector where millions of years of zombie, dormant life forms sealed under two miles of Antarctica ice may become exposed. As COVID-19 has shown, we have no idea what ancient viruses, existing in a gray area between living and nonliving –no skin, no nerves, no brain, life at a minimum– will be lurking, waiting to find a potential host and begin its borrowed life. Its sole function to create more of itself, endlessly. We may be living at the intersection of an alien, viral time bomb with a warming planet.
When the Earth was last four degrees warmer, during the Eocene Epoch, there was no ice at either pole. Global warming of this magnitude, observes Mark Lynas, visiting fellow with the Cornell Alliance for Science at Cornell University, “would eventually leave the whole planet without ice for the first time in nearly 40 million years.” At five degrees of global warming, an entirely new planet will coming into being –“one largely unrecognizable from the Earth we know today.”
At one degree – the world we are already living in – writes Lynas in his terrifying new book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, “vast wildfires scorch California and Australia, while monster hurricanes devastate coastal cities. At two degrees the Arctic ice cap melts away, and coral reefs disappear from the tropics. At three, the world begins to run out of food, threatening millions with starvation. At four, large areas of the globe are too hot for human habitation, erasing entire nations and turning billions into climate refugees. At five, the planet is warmer than for 55 million years, while at six degrees a mass extinction of unparalleled proportions sweeps the planet, even raising the threat of the end of all life on Earth.”
So far as we yet know, Earth is the only planet in the entire universe “which has summoned forth life in all its brilliance and variety,” concludes Lynas. “To knowingly cut this flowering short is undoubtedly a crime, one more unspeakable even than the cruelest genocide or most destructive war.”
The Daily Galaxy, Andy Johnson, via Mark Lynas and Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (Kindle Edition)
Image credit: Shutterstock License