Sunday, 27 September 2020

Extinction event, again?


It is rather strange that everyone I talk to (corona virus rules abided by) says the national lock-down benefitted nature, birds have been singing quieter as there were very few cars on the road, no planes in the sky except for some cargo ones and cleaner air. But now everyone is talking about getting back to ‘normal’! Whatever normal really means. I take it to be taking the car for shopping even to the shop a few metres away, to take Spanish holidays for a drink or twenty on the beach and a fumble if you can remember what your equipment is for, just for a start. There is a saying in the Dutch language ‘Na mij de zondvloed’. Freely translated ‘After me, the deluge’. But what is the meaning? Simply this ‘Do whatever I want, devil may care’. It is attributed to Madame de Pompadour, the lover of King Louis XV of France.

The meaning is quite clear, I am OK, you can worry about it when I’m gone. I do what I want to do, thank you and goodbye. Or words to that effect.

This ‘devil-may-care’ attitude was shown beautifully on a window placard ‘We need help, we need beer’ shown on a university campus (BBC News report). You may wonder about the standard of today’s students. You might now begin to believe that the human race is pretty well doomed. I am not joking, just observing the trends. Watching an excellent programme on Freesat Channel 175 (Smithsonian) about the extinctions that have occurred on the planet and the reasons for these happening you would have picked up that carbon-dioxide and sulphuric acid rain were the main culprits. The Permian one (250+ million years ago) was possibly caused by enormous volcanic activity in Siberia. The Cretaceous one that killed off the dinosaurs around 66 million years ago had similar results but was caused by an enormous asteroid impact in today’s Mexico. The programme finished by stating that the rise today in the levels of carbon-dioxide due to human activity is beginning to look like another extinction event. 

The problem with the gas is that it ‘binds’ oxygen which then becomes unusable for breathing. As a result CO2 is poisonous to human beings. However it is needed by plant growth, trees and such. Another rising gas level is that of nitrous oxide. The internal combustion engines and jet engines produce this gas, it now makes up some 8% of greenhouse gas emission. Compared with 86% for CO2 is seems tiny but overall it makes a severe impact. Methane as well, produced by cattle and rotting vegetation brings some 10% to the greenhouse gas emissions. Not a pretty picture then and surely it is most important to start looking at ways to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases coupled with how we can and should work with nature to bring a proper balance that will benefit all life. Rather than thinking it will be for others to do, just bring me beer!

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