Extinction Level Events

The 1998 movie, “Deep Impact” had one scientist confused that another colleague was obsessed with an extramarital affair involving a person named “Ele.” Surprise, Ele, turned out to be an acronym for “Extinction Level Event” and the stage was set for drama.

There have been five ELEs in earth’s history. An Extinction Level Event is defined as a geologic or astronomic event resulting in the “annihilation of most species on the planet.” In four of the five ELEs, the culprit has always been CO2 and subsequent planetary warming. The ELE that eliminated the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was caused by a five-mile wide meteor striking the planet obliquely near the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Indirectly, this strike led to increased volcanic eruptions, increased greenhouse gases (including CO2) and planetary warming.

In every case, 90% of animal and plant life on the planet was eradicated. The pineapples we enjoy today are epiphytes (literally “above the plant”) because they survived the Cretaceous-Tertiary Event (the most recent ELE that eliminated the dinosaurs) by living attached to dead tree limbs high above the toxic cloud of mold, sulfurous gases and CO2 swirling at the forest floor for a century. In every case of an ELE, life did not reboot on the planet for millions of years. It takes that long to develop stable weather systems, ocean circulations and new life forms to evolve from primitive to complex. Homo sapiens as a species has only been around for about 500,000 years.

There are lots of reasons why technology cannot save humankind from itself. Despite the movies, there will be no future Noah’s ark full of rich people and food to preserve humankind. But there are still many things we can do to slow down or even stop the inevitable. Failure to take reasonable measures against an oncoming planetary disaster because of political or ideological dithering will make our generation a pariah of history. If history still exists in the future.

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