Life Goes On
Biosphere Climate Change Earth Science EarthSphere Blog Environment Repost

An Existential View of Climate Change

Life Survives, But Will We?

(Published in The EarthSphere Blog. Cover Image: Life Goes On by WM House & CF LovelaceArcheanArt) – Sign up for weekly email updates


I speculated on the origins of water and life on Earth in several recent articles. This article picks up the story by looking at the biosphere from the prospective of our own species, Homo sapiens.


Water From Cosmic Debris Supports Life (ArcheanWebMedium)

Water Created by the Sun (ArcheanWebMedium)

Building Blocks of Life (ArcheanWebMedium)

The Spontaneous Rise of Life

We don’t know the specific answer to why DNA, the basic building block of life, formed; we only have our speculative theories. One of the problems facing all attempts at explaining the origins of life is the second law of thermodynamics: “The total entropy of a system either increases or remains constant in any spontaneous process; it never decreases.” Stated another way, it says all systems will tend towards increasing randomness and less order. Almost everyone putting serious thought into the origins of life agrees that its creation must be a spontaneous way to dissipate energy. Life spontaneously developed as part of a natural process. Given another water-rich solar system with a planet in the optimal temperature range for liquid water, we would expect it to happen again. So, let’s have a look at the big picture.

Take the number one and put twenty-four zeros behind it to give you a trillion trillions, and you might be close to estimating the number of stars in the visible Universe. We won’t try counting the ones we can’t see. NASA estimates the Milky Way alone contains up to 400 billion stars. These numbers add up to a mind-boggling number of opportunities for life to spontaneously develop, opening the door to some deep existential thinking about the nature of life and what it really means to be a human being.

Our initial response may be relief, we are probably not alone. But it also brings the realization that our solar system is located on a minor arm of the Milky Way galaxy called the ‘Orion Arm,’ making Earth an insignificant backwater planet at the galactic scale and virtually non-existent in the context of the whole Universe.

Life on Earth

Life on our planet thrives in a thin strip of real estate situated between a molten furnace and a frozen void. It clings tenaciously to the surface of our Earth. Its permanence is not guaranteed, and at numerous points in the planet’s long history, life’s grasp on Earth’s surface has been tested by events that threaten the survival of the biosphere.

The diameter of Earth is about 8000 miles. At 4000 miles below Earth’s surface lies a planetary core where temperatures reach 6,000 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are hotter than the surface of the sun. Above us lies space. The pervasive temperature in deep space is 2.7 Kelvin or -270.45 degrees Celsius; the temperature of the remnant background radiation from the big bang, the beginning of space and time. Remember, at zero Kelvin atoms stop moving.

Our piece of real estate seems substantial to us, but in reality, it is thin and fragile. Life exists from the deepest ocean at 36,070 feet (10,994 meters) below sea level in the Mariana Trench, to the highest mountain at 29,029 feet (8,848 meters). Our layer of life reaches a maximum thickness of about 20 kilometers or 0.156 percent of Earth’s diameter. For comparison, an apple’s skin is about 0.4 percent of its diameter.

Our Only Home

This thin, 20-kilometer thick strip at Earth’s surface is where the geosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere interact and create conditions for the biosphere of life to either survive or disappear. Despite the overwhelming probability of life elsewhere in the Universe, Earth is all we have. Given the vast spaces of the Universe, a lack of interstellar propulsion systems, the inadequate speed at which we can move through space, an ultimate velocity limited by the speed of light, and no wormholes to travel through, we need to embrace Earth as our only home and only sustainable option.

We know the biosphere has been around for about four billion years, and we also know life has been in crisis multiple times during its evolutionary journey, but always survived. Realistically, we should be clear about Anthropocene climate change. It doesn’t pose a threat to the biosphere. Worse situations have been thrown at life over the past eons, and the biosphere has pulled through. Granted, life on the planet looked very different after each of these catastrophes, and millions of species were lost. But the biosphere survived, and new species evolved; life carried on.

Anthropocene climate change is very personal because it poses an existential threat to humans. If left uncontrolled, the outcome will probably be the same as in the past. Species extinction will peak. We must understand that Homo sapiens may be one of the victims passing into the void of non-existence. The good news is new forms of intelligent life may evolve in the aftermath; the bad news is they just won’t be us.

(Excerpts from Vanishing Origins, read the book on Wattpad as it unfolds)

The EarthSphere Blog: Exploring life and the planet supporting it.

More from ArcheanWeb:

ArcheanWeb: Exploring the environment, art, science, and more

ArcheanArt: Innovative digital art

ArcheanWeb On Medium:

EarthSphere Publication — Science and the environment

Dropstone Publication — Stories, life observations, art, and more


Reflections on life’s journey and thoughts on the Tao Te Ching — In Search of a Path

A fictional adventure about the origins of life — The Strings of Life

Stories in progress on WattPad

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.