The Other I

January 7, 2010

Will it end sooner rather than later?

Filed under: Environmental Issues — theotheri @ 3:36 pm
Tags: , ,

Although generally speaking, most of us aren’t thrilled by it, we mostly accept that we are going to die and that in galactic terms, that will be rather sooner than later.

But what about the end of the world?  St. John in the Apocalypse prophecies a rather ghastly end to the world, but with the consolation that at least the good will be transported to a better place to live in peace and harmony.

But scientists also ask how our earth might end.  And if most of their hypotheses don’t have “And they lived happily ever after” endings either, at least  up to now most of the possibilities lie comfortably millions of years in the future.  The sun won’t burn out for another four billion years and by that time, if  descendants of Homo sapiens are still around, they might have established some outposts in other galaxies.

Today, however, the papers are featuring two “the-end-of-life-on-earth possibilities that are a little less distant.

The first is the possibility of a supernovae explosion in our neighbourhood that would destroy earth’s ozone layer.  Astronomers from Villanova University in Pennsylvania said the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite shows a white dwarf star that is sucking in gas and steadily growing.  In the process, it has released small blasts of energy called novas every 20 years or so.   These burps stopped in 1967.  But when the star reaches a critical mass the star will blow up in a supernova blast.   The star is over 3,000 light years away, but the blast could destroy earth’s protective ozone cover, exposing it to deadly radiation.  As one writer put it, “it would frazzle the earth.”

At the moment, although scientists say it could happen “soon,” “soon” in galactic terms does not seem to mean this week.  They aren’t suggesting we all run for radiation cover for another million years or so.

The second end-of-the-world scenario covered in the news today is the possibility of a huge methane explosion that could devastate earth’s oxygen supply.  Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more warming than carbon.  Huge amounts of it are stored in bogs, in the seabed and ice caps.

The melting ice caps could be the problem where the release of methane has accelerated.  The rates of release are not lethal at this point, but there is cautious concern that a vicious circle could accelerate:  as methane is released with global warming, global warming is thereby increased, leading to faster methane releases leading to… etc.

A mega-methane explosion has been fingered as the cause of at least one of the five major extinctions that we know have taken place on the planet.  Major extinctions are catastrophes not to be taken light.  They usually last millions of years and each have wiped out between 75 and 95% of all the species living anywhere on the planet.

At least, unlike the supernova explosion, we might be able to actually do something to reduce the possibility that the worst-case-scenario will occur.

I think most of us would agree it would be better if it didn’t happen.

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