Ten Years Ago I First Published The Plankton Manifesto
It was the gentile warning note from our blue planet landlords admonishing us to keep the place in better shape or else.
Alas now ten years later it is becoming clear that our plankton overlords were not bluffing.
This week a new paper in the Journal Nature Microbiology adds to the considerable library of papers describing how the plankton in this blue planet’s oceans are in fact the force to be reckoned with. It been decades since the old dogma has been dislodged that methane, a most potent greenhouse gas, comes only from decaying biology, as in biology without oxygen. Along with this news of how methane is being produced by our changing oceans, the information reinforces our here-to-fore ignored eviction notice for being tenants in common on this blue planet.
Methane is most assuredly produced in the process of anoxic (oxygen free) decay but as this report reiterates it is more importantly is produced by photosynthesis, you know sunlight and plant life Most importantly it comes from the most abundant of all forms of plant life, indeed life, on this blue planet, the cyano-bacters. A vast area of the world’s oceans where the surface waters are super-saturated with methane from this aerobic production is releasing methane to the air. That ocean source likely exceeds the area of decaying methane emitting sources on earth/land.
This weeks paper explains in considerable biochemical detail the very mechanism for photosynthetic production of methane by a class of life called cyano-bacteria, the blue-green algae. They just happen to be the most abundant form of life on this blue planet. They literally outweigh all other life by orders of magnitude (tens of times).
It is now clear that the ocean pasture dwelling cyano-bacters are likely the principal source of global methane. The ocean methogenic process, from recent satellite observations, looks to be producing ~5 times the amount of methane as the lands of this blue planet (including humanities fossil methane emissions). Methane is produced in the ocean not as some nasty side effect of natures chemisty. The oceans cyano-bacters make that methane to feed to their commensal methane eating bacteria.
Those methane producing bacteria live in an ecological symbiosis with all of ocean life. Symbiosis is that aspect of biology where the partners in the symbiosis benefit each other, think of the methane eating bacters fed by the cyano-bacters as the ‘flocks’ of those cyano-bacters. They don’t merely eat for free, they work to sustain the environment in which the cyanobacters and they thrive.
About the role of men, or rather humans.
In Douglas Adams famous book, “The Hitch-hikers Guide To The Galaxy” the central character Arthur Dent interupts a pair of white mice, who are in fact the hyper-intelligent master race of this and multiple universes. The mice are talking about problems with their great computer that was working to provide the answer to everything.
Dent interjects with a quote from the famous human author John Steinbeck saying, “the best laid plans of mice and men …” to which the mice snap back “what do men have to do with anything.” Presently it seems the hyper-intelligent pan-universe masters here on this blue planet are indeed the cyano-bacters who don’t really give a damn what happens to humankind,not that they aren’t happy to have us but only if we behave and help with keeping the place livable.
Shifting the ocean ecology from green plants toward blue-green plants has dire consequences for us
The new developments as detailed in this fine paper tells us about how we should listen to our plankton ‘overlords’. When they issued us their plankton manifesto as few years ago, it was not so much a warning of an eviction, but rather a simple statement of how life on this planet might carry on with or without us.
There is today a dramatic shift taking place on this blue planet, this time not due to our cyanobacterial forefathers and overlords but rather due to our insistent delinquent behaviour of misbehaving. On one hand we have been wantonly spewing hundreds of billions of tonnes of noxious CO2 into the world’s atmosphere. You know that CO2 as being the primary agent of ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ as that is the physicist and engineers view of our CO2.
Biologists have a very different view of the role of our high and rising CO2, for we biologists and especially ecologists, we see CO2 as plant food! It is helping plants on land grow and it is changing the way plants in the ocean grow.
Good news and bad news
Whether these changes to this blue planets environment and ecosystem are good or bad depends entirely on the point of view of each and every particular life form that shares the lease. We humans are particularly sensitive the dramatic changes in our environment as being large rather inflexible creatures with very long life times our ability to evolve and adapt to changes in our environment takes tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years. We are very slow to change and hence very vulnerable to change.
The bacteria on the other hand started as the first residents of this blue planet. It is now clear that within the first 500 million years after the planet formed the bacteria took up residence. The first bacters were simple folk happy to live without the fast energy provided by oxygen and for all intents and purposes eating rocks (or the chemicals associated with rocks.)
One day some of the bacters decided that all that sunlight that was beating down on their blue planet was making things just a bit too hot and the set about evolving a way to be the Goldilock’s prima donna’s that they were. They would craft a means to shade their blue oceans from the blistering sunlight and to do so they would use their own eco-judo, they would use the suns own energy to do so.
The first geo-engineers
The bacter solution was to become photosynthetic. By harvesting the sun’s energy to manufacture new chemicals they would release these chemicals, cloud nucleating aerosols, into the air and make more clouds. This new abundance of bright white clouds would reflect much of the sunlight and beneath the clouds the oceans would have a respite from what was at that time a perennial tropical sun.
The evolution of these geo-engineering plankton was mostly complete by 2 billion years ago and with their good efforts this planet became, and remains today, a planet replete with oxygen. That oxygen promptly provided the fast fix energy that offered the bacters the chance to change from being only plants into also animals.
It took another nearly 2 million years for humans to evolve and we and our kin have only taken up our ‘apartments’ for a very short time in the scheme of things. It seems we’ve not been the best of tenants. Our co-inhabitants of this blue planet aren’t exactly evicting us, they are simply ceasing to make accommodations in their lives that make it comfortable for us to live here.
Before our plankton overlords completely lose patience with us we must act to undo the damage we have done and restore the ocean plankton pastures to historic health and abundance — or else.
There is a present day crisis of extinction threats to countless species of higher life. This is due to our neglect and it is readily reversed if we act quickly enough. By restoring ocean plankton pastures to their recent historic levels of health and abundance we will restore their cooling capacity keep this blue planet in the Goldilock’s Zone we all live to love. This ‘climate action’ if you insist on thinking of everything in terms of ‘climate change’ can be delivered at a cost of mere millions per year.
This is in stark contrast to the trillions of planned ‘carbon taxes’ to say nothing of the prescribed collapse of modern technological societies back to the level of the dark ages. Of course this regeneration of the largest part of Nature, the 72% that is oceans, at such low-cost is seen as anathema to those seeking their share of the trillion-dollar per year terrestrial solutions that cannot cure the crisis. Ces’t la vie.
The ocean solution it turns out is perfectly safe, sustainable, fast, and incredibly low-cost – I like to say it is ‘dirt cheap’ as dirt is the single magic dust that the oceans are dying for lack of. Restoring the oceans will also bring back the fish.
You will find an abundance of reading and reference materials on this blog. Just start perusing the menus and search bar and evolve your own ideas of what might and ought to be done.
Of course if we all do nothing more than wait for someone else to restore our oceans then it’s likely the next thing we hear from the landlord will be, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”