Influencing our destiny - and then it gets destroyed so it has to reshape itself - Part 2

Determining our destiny by changing our planet

The article "Life gave Earth its continents" (New Scientist, 23 November 2013, p. 10) goes even further and claims that even the first life shaped (unknowingly) the way our planet looks like and thus our destiny: bacteria eroded land and the sediments were then washed away and sunk elsewhere to the ocean floor and deeper in the earth by plate tectonics. As these sediments contained water and in contact with the heat of the inner Earth formed steam (lots of energy), the seafloor could rise so land and continents appeared while it seems if there was no life, our planet may have looked more like one giant water planet with a few volcanoes. Thus, it seems life even shapes unknowingly its own future because, as a result of the rising of land, land organisms such as plants could emerge from bacteria that were pushed above the sea and had to adapt to a life in dry conditions or die.

Also plants and animals influence the planet and thus each others future. Article "Rewind, erase, rerun" (New Scientists, 16 November 2013, p. 34-38) describes how animals interfere with their environment and as a consequence change it to force it into a certain direction that will benefit the animals while the type of plants attract certain animals. Thus, often living organisms can shape the landscape although other times changes to our planet force living organisms to adapt or disappear. E.g. animals that eat grass move in large herds from one area to another and prevent that too many trees can grow; as a result there is more space for grasses that feed them. Still, while the animals eat the grasses, the system becomes poor for the animals as there is less food, and thus the animals move to another region. This prevents they eat all the grass and thus prevents food shortages while the grass can regrow and even trees get a chance. Also the grasses have adapted to be eaten because they do not grow from the top as many plants do but grow from below. In comparison, when the animals are trapped, all grass will be eaten, then young trees and finally the animals will try to survive by eating the older trees until the whole system collapses and nothing is left. Also forests try to maintain themselves by creating the right conditions (rain) and animals and plants adapt while deserts try to stay dry and animals and plants adapt. A change in the landscape can have huge consequences: e.g. when a river flows through a dry region, beavers can build dams so the river floods and trees can grow in the dry area (humans can do the same, but at such an enormous scale that trees drown). Thus, everything on this living planet influences each other, as suggested in the Gaia theory.

Zeebrugge at the coast of Belgium has a port build into the sea that can be seen from miles away, thereby changing currents.


But certainly humans influence planet Earth (both consciously and not) that can have far-reaching consequences, today as it had in the past. The above mentioned New Scientist article of 16/11/2013 is interesting because it describes how earth may have evolved if humans didn't occur although maybe it was inevitable we emerged (as forests disappeared and were replaced by grassland where we stood on our legs to see meat-eaters before they saw us but also to find food. Maybe the reason why we always destroy(ed) forests all over the world is because we originated in grasslands and are scared of forests?). E.g. it describes how 125,000 years ago we were in the Eemian interglacial period but humans may have prevented we re-entered a new ice-age, thus changing climate is not always bad. As we come from Africa we do indeed like warm weather and thus started using fire to warm us but it also changed our environment as we used wood from forests to heat us so woodlands became smaller while this resulted in warming of the climate; fire even helped us to become rulers of this planet and thus probably it is (one of) the most important things humans learned to control. It also enabled humans to rule over other humans as it can be used during wars or you can become rich by selling heat (oil and gas). Maybe it also played a role in us having to leave what we call "Paradise" as we may have burnt down large fields of nature as humans have done over the course of history, thereby changing fertile land into desert.

But we also change(d) our environment in other ways: building roads and cities and to do so, we destroy(ed) mountains and forests, dried land or sometimes did the opposite, built ports (that can change currents). This has not always been bad. But we destroyed so much landscapes that many animals and plants went extinct, even when we didn't hunt them to extinction but by destroying their habitat. And this continues today at an unprecedented speed; we know we are in the sixth extinction phase (or Holocene extinction). This is how I came to the idea that maybe also dinosaurs destroyed themselves while an external factor was the final straw. All these changes had and have big consequences for our environment, including the weather system because the removal of forests can result in a dryer climate. And while we ruined our environment in the past, we know start to learn how to use our dominance to save it (and thus ourselves) although going in overdrive has always been a human characteristic such as claiming that species that invade our countries should be destroyed while changes in climate already result in invading species as animals and plants try to find new areas that have a climate they prefer while others will disappear. In addition, some people are fanatically in denying anything is happening and thus continue as if nothing is changing. But, even the melting of the ice at the Poles will result in a changed coastline worldwide.


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