I have no idea if the thoughts laid out below are original or not. I would assume not. Or if they have any scientific validity. But I thought of them organically and I’m proud of this post.
The world is facing a climate crisis. This is because of humans emitting CO2 into the atmosphere (I’m not worried about specifics here) for the last ~200 years. When we first discovered how to burn fossil fuels, there were just over 1 billion people on the planet. Prior to the 1800s, the Earth was in relative equilibrium.
The Three Earth Scenarios
Scenario 1 (Real Life): Humans begin emitting CO2 when there is 1 billion people on the planet.
We’ve burned enough fossil fuels and emitted enough CO2 over the last 200 years to have an immediate threat to the human race, but we’re also far along enough technologically to realize we’re doing it and potentially stop it from happening.
Scenario 2: Humans begin emitting CO2 when there is say, 100 million people on the planet.
Climate Change isn’t nearly as dire as today because humans wouldn’t have burned as much fuel, and as tech advanced, we’d recognize and curb our output before the consequences were too severe. Conceptually, this would be the world having the CO2 emissions of 1900, but the technology of today. The human race would be fine.
Scenario 3: Humans begin emitting CO2 when there is say, 5 billion people on the planet.
Climate change is beyond repair as humans have released way too much CO2 before we’re even advanced enough to realize it. Conceptually, this would be the world having the CO2 emissions of today, but the technology of 1900. The human race would be in huge trouble.
How Tech Advances
This whole idea hinges on a relationship between population and tech advancement.
Is there any significance to the number 1 billion, which is roughly how many people we had when we began harnessing the power of fossil fuels?
Given how fragmented human existence was for thousands of years, I would say not really. We weren’t 1 billion people working in unison. We were thousands of subsets working independently. It seems reasonable to think that if populations joined together earlier, we could be far more advanced than we are today with far less people.
Alternatively, without globalization we could continue existing in our tribes, isolated from outside ideas, and maybe we wouldn’t realize the power of fossil fuels or how to harness it until there were significantly more people than there are now.
This is just my argument to say that our current course wasn’t inevitable. I’d be curious what actual smart people think about this
When thinking about this, I didn’t exclusively have the Earth in mind, but any advanced civilization, and whether or not climate change inevitably kills them.
Say history played out exactly as it did, but Earth was the size of Jupiter (1300x). I’m not a scientist, but I BELIEVE we’d be fine because it would take magnitudes more CO2 to fuck up the atmosphere. Additionally, you’d have a longer time frame to develop advanced tech before the damage was too great.
But on a planet that large, ideas would spread much slower, so you’d likely have far more than 1 billion people before you began burning fossil fuels. Likely closer to 1 trillion. This obviously gets back to the population / tech correlation, which certainly exists, but just isn’t 1:1.
Alternatively, if Earth was the size of mercury (1/3x), it would take less CO2 for irreparable damage AND the time frame between when you began emitting CO2 and when it would be too late would be much shorter than the 200 years we’ve had. So we’d be really screwed.
I’m sure there are scientific facts I’m ignoring, like how atmospheres change related to planet size, but so be it.
I know nothing about this. The Earth has a middle of the road atmosphere?
A planet like Mars, which has a lot of similar characteristics to Earth, has almost no atmosphere. I have no clue what would happen if you burned a ton of fossil fuels on Mars. CO2 would just disappear into space because there’s no atmosphere to hold it in, so global warming wouldn’t exist.
On the other end, Venus’ atmosphere is out of control. It holds everything in.
So clearly there are different types of atmospheres. I just don’t understand them.
The one note here is that the Earth’s atmosphere, in all likelihood, is part of the reason life was able to form in the first place. You can’t have global warming in the sense we’re talking about without a lifeform to actively warm it. So if Mars and Venus’ atmosphere aren’t conducive to life, then you can’t really consider them when talking about global warming.
The Warming Source – Fossil Fuel?
The only reason we have fossil fuel is because carbon-based life developed over millions of years and the Earth preserved the remains of dead organisms in a way we could use them. If we had way less fossil fuel, or none at all, obviously it couldn’t cause global warming.
And for all live-having planets, I don’t know if fossil fuels would exist on them. Especially if they weren’t carbon-based.
Someone who really studies this could come up with more.
What’s the Point?
I honestly don’t know. I’ve worked on this post for over three hours and I have no real conclusion. Which is why the title of this post is so boring.
I guess I’m just pointing out that a lot of variables had to be relatively precise for us to have this potentially solvable problem of climate change. If one variable goes one way or another, we’re either undeniably dead because of it or it’s no issue at all.
Finally – Which Side Are We on Today?
My gut feeling is we’re already on the Scenario 3 side where we’ve fucked up the atmosphere beyond repair and that there will be some mass extinction event in the next 100 years because of it. That doesn’t mean every human will die, but just that millions, possibly billions will die.
But that’s just me!