For billions of years when this planet was first learning about life the only form of life of the planet were the cyanobacteria, the Blue Green algae.
These bacteria live here for several billion years until about 600 million years ago they deigned to allow themselves to evolve another form of life, the Green algae. The Blue Greens were and are a profoundly flexible group, they can survive either by ingesting and digesting organic matter, such as another Blue Green sister, or they can use photosynthesis to capture energy from the sun and with baser elements combine that energy to build and sustain themselves. The Greens however can only use photosynthesis to survive. When the Greens of the algal community started to flourish this was a world almost devoid of free oxygen.
The Green algae, the phytoplankton, produced all of the worlds free oxygen and in doing so made a path for further evolution to proceed. Now some 600 million years later we humans flourish on this blue planet, so much so that our CO2 is now threatening to reverse the 600 million years of evolution gifted to the planet by our Blue Green ancestors. (There is a good news side to this story and that is that we know that life in the ocean is incredibly capable of repairing and restoring itself, scroll to the last couple paragraphs of this post for the good news.)
The Blue Greens don’t really care much. They have been living here happy go lucky for billions of years and if their experiment to evolve larger critters proves to be a bust because some few of those larger critters have become a rouge viral infection the Blue Greens are quite indifferent to rebooting the whole planetary ecosystem. It will be one of those really dramatic reboots that some of us know as the Blue Screen of Death in our computers. One of those really bad system crashes when just everything fails and the whole damned machine has to struggle back to life from its most primitive machine state. It’s damned annoying and work not preserved is all lost and must be done over again. This Blue Screen of Death reboot is underway due to the insidious effects of rapid CO2 production by us. It’s not that CO2 is inherently bad just that too much too fast is overwhelming the speed of evolution to accommodate the rapid change. The safety net for life as the Blue Greens have created is that if all else fails simply retreating to an earlier state of Blue Green dominated life is a safe bet. From there new systems can be rebuilt.
Sadly for us, humans and other “higher life forms”, our planetary ecosystem does not have the facility to save or back up its work. If we do continue to play our very potent role in the planetary re-boot we will all disappear into the fossil ages and be gone forever. Perhaps in another 600 million years of so some new “higher life forms” will be digging through the geologic record and they will find our remains. If they are lucky their evolution will not have followed too closely that of ours and they will net be what we have become an unrelenting misbehaving system level virus in an otherwise beautiful and wondrous ecology of life on a small blue planet in the “Goldilocks warm wet zone of life” of one billions of stars in the universe.
There is a good news side to this story and that is that we know that life in the ocean is incredibly capable of repairing and restoring itself. The problem of our hard and heavy beating of the ecosystem by burning fossil carbon accumulated in the geologic cycle of the planet for tens of millions of years is that it is starving the oceans of vital mineral dust that blows it normally receives from dust in the wind. Our high and rising CO2 is nourishing and growing healthy bushy plants on land, and we call that “Good Ground Cover” with that good ground cover we have been and are ever more effectively eliminating dust in the wind. That dust carries the vital mineral micro-nutrients that ocean plants, the GREENs of the ocean need.
We know that Mother Ocean is dying as we watch her ocean plants die off at the rate of losing one entire Amazon Rainforest worth of plant life in the oceans every 5 years. We also know that when the oceans receive dust in the wind from great dusty deserts like the Sahara or from volcanic ash dustings the ocean returns to abundance. All our Mother Ocean needs is the dust our life style is denying it and she will heal herself.
The image of the NE Pacific from space shows what one tiny village with just one fishing boat can do to replenish and restore their patch of our dying ocean