Not to frighten anyone, but a new report has come out saying that our species can expect a mass extinction of humanity to begin as soon as the year 2100.
There have been five mass extinction events throughout the history of life on Earth. The Permian extinction, which wiped out roughly 95 percent of all marine life, was the worst.
Daniel Rothman, a geophysics professor at MIT, has analyzed the changes that took place in the carbon cycle leading up to these five main events – as well as dozens of smaller ones – and says that 2100 could be the beginning of the end of life on Earth.
According to Rothman, carbon is the culprit.
Animals and humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, and photosynthesizing plants do the opposite; so, the Earth naturally cycles carbon through the atmosphere and ocean. Any disruption in that process — either adding too much carbon at once or speeding up the rate at which it’s added — can throw the planet’s climate out of whack.
Rothman says that in each extinction, there was something that triggered off the devastating chain of events. For instance, the Permian extinction is thought to have been caused by huge magma pulses that belched carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while the dinosaur-killing K-T event was likely an asteroid impact which set off worldwide wildfires and volcanic eruptions.
Rothman developed a mathematical formula that takes into account the critical rate and magnitude of changes to the carbon cycle and related that to a timescale. He learned that there are two different thresholds — the speed of carbon added or magnitude of carbon added — that, if crossed, would trigger a mass extinction event.
After applying those thresholds to historical data, Rothman was able to study the rate and magnitude of the change in carbon levels, and it was clear that each of the five mass extinction events was marked by the same scenario — carbon overload.
Rothman showed that the critical extra amount of carbon required to end life on Earth is about 310 gigatons – which is the best-case scenario projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
And it’s well below the worst of more than 500 gigatons — which would far exceed the line.
In all scenarios, the study found by the end of the century, the carbon cycle will either be close to — or well beyond — the threshold for catastrophe.
Although mass extinction won’t soon follow at the turn of the century, anything could happen as the world enters what Rothman calls “unknown territory.”
“This is not saying disaster occurs the next day,” he explained. “It’s saying — if left unchecked — the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict. In the past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”
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