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CARBON PARADOX

posted by Marcus, January 23, 2017 @ 6:04 am

THE CARBON PARADOX:
Why are we here?
Why are we alone?
And how long have we got to live?


Explana­to­ry notes and ref­er­ences for the YouTube video ‘Car­bon Para­dox’:

The Fermi Paradox:

In 1950 Ital­ian physi­cist Enri­co Fer­mi asked sev­er­al of his col­leagues at Los Alam­os: “Where is every­body”? There are var­i­ous accounts of the ques­tion pos­si­bly indi­cat­ing the con­ver­sa­tion with Emil Konopin­s­ki, Edward Teller and Her­bert York — com­piled by Eric M. Jones — occurred sep­a­rate­ly to a con­ver­sa­tion with Leo Szi­lard where­in Szi­lard quipped that aliens were already here, and they were called Hun­gar­i­ans. (There were a num­ber of Hun­gar­i­ans work­ing at Los Alam­os, jok­ing nick­named the ‘Mar­tians’.)

… he went on to con­clude that the rea­son that we had­n’t been vis­it­ed might be that inter­stel­lar flight is impos­si­ble, or, if it is pos­si­ble, always judged to be not worth the effort, or tech­no­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion does­n’t last long enough for it to hap­pen.” - E. M. Jones (1985) “Where is every­body?” An account of Fer­mi’s ques­tion, Los Alam­os Nation­al Lab­o­ra­to­ry

Read more: ‘The Fer­mi Para­dox Is Not Fer­mi’s, and It Is Not a Para­dox’ — Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can

The (Modified) Drake Equation:

Around this time sev­er­al sci­en­tists — many with links to Los Alam­os, like pro­fes­sor of physics at MIT Phillip Mor­ri­son — pub­lished the­o­ries regard­ing the search for extrater­res­tri­al life. In 1961 astronomer Frank Drake helped con­vene a meet­ing at the Green Bank Obser­va­to­ry, where he cre­at­ed the ‘Drake Equa­tion’ as a form of agen­da for the meet­ing, to esti­mate the num­ber of intel­li­gent civ­i­liza­tions in our galaxy. Orig­i­nal esti­mates by Drake and his col­leagues deduced that some­where between a bil­lion and 100 mil­lion extrater­res­tri­al civ­i­liza­tions should exist in the Milky Way alone.

In 2016, Dr. Adam Frank from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester and Dr. Woodruff “Woody” Sul­li­van from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton mod­i­fied Drake’s Equa­tion to con­sid­er the num­ber of alien civ­i­liza­tions ‘ever’. They con­clud­ed the prob­a­bil­i­ty that humans are alone in the Milky Way to be 1‑in-60 bil­lion.

Read more: ‘The Odds That We’re the Only Advanced Species in the Galaxy Are One in 60 Bil­lion’ — Air&Space Mag­a­zine

Drake, Frank and Sul­li­van all added more weight to Fer­mi’s orig­i­nal ques­tion, “Where is every­body”?

Bracewell-von Neumann Probes:

Math­e­mati­cian John von Neu­mann was one of the Hun­gar­i­an ‘Mar­tians’ at Los Alam­os joked about by Leo Szi­lard (above). Von Neu­mann worked on the con­cept of self-repli­cat­ing ‘automa­ta’ through­out the 40s and 50s. Odd­ly, he did not com­ment specif­i­cal­ly on their use in space explo­ration. Rather, it was in 1960 that pro­fes­sor of Elec­tri­cal Engi­neer­ing at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, Ronald N. Bracewell, pro­posed the use on von Neu­man­n’s automa­ta in space explo­ration. Lat­er again, it was math­e­mat­i­cal physi­cist and cos­mol­o­gist Frank Tipler who cal­cu­lat­ed (in his 1981 paper titled ‘Extrater­res­tri­al Beings Do Not Exist’ in the Quar­ter­ly Jour­nal of the Roy­al Astro­nom­i­cal Soci­ety, vol­ume 21, pages 267–281) that it would take these drones a peri­od of 4 mil­lion years to explore the entire known uni­verse. In this, Bracewell and Tipler added expo­nen­tial­ly to the Drake-Frank-Sul­li­van esti­mates of the prob­a­bil­i­ty of encoun­ter­ing alien civil­i­sa­tion since esti­mates were no longer con­fined to the Milky Way.

Fur­ther, Tipler was rebutted by Carl Sagan and William New­man 2 years lat­er. Pub­lished in the same jour­nal, Sagan and New­man showed Bracewell-von Neu­mann Probes would repli­cate expo­nen­tial­ly and there­fore uni­ver­sal explo­ration could occur in half the time esti­mat­ed by Tipler. (See ‘The Solip­sist Approach to Extrater­res­tri­al Intel­li­gence’, vol­ume 24, page 113). In oth­er words, the Uni­verse could have been explored 7000 times over since the Big Bang.

When Frank and Sul­li­van ran their mod­i­fied Drake cal­cu­la­tion for the entire Uni­verse, the result was a 1‑in-10-bil­lion-tril­lion prob­a­bil­i­ty that human’s are the first tech­no­log­i­cal life form.

If you mul­ti­ply the cal­cu­la­tions by Sagan and Frank/Sullivan it is pos­si­ble to demon­strate that we should have encoun­tered evi­dence of many tril­lions of oth­er life forms, with addi­tion­al Bracewell-von Neu­mann Probes being encoun­tered in con­stant waves of inter­stel­lar activ­i­ty.

Again, much more so, “Where is every­body”?

The Gaian Bottleneck Hypothesis:

Astro­bi­ol­o­gists Aditya Chopra and Charley Lineweaver at the Aus­tralian Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty pro­posed the ‘Gaian Bot­tle­neck Hypoth­e­sis’ in their Jan­u­ary 2016 paper ‘The Case for a Gaian Bot­tle­neck: The Biol­o­gy of Hab­it­abil­i­ty’ pub­lished in vol­ume 16, issue 1 of Astro­bi­ol­o­gy, pages 7–22.

Chopra and Lineweaver specif­i­cal­ly state that: ‘If life emerges on a plan­et, it only rarely evolves quick­ly enough to reg­u­late green­house gas­es and albe­do, there­by main­tain­ing sur­face tem­per­a­tures com­pat­i­ble with liq­uid water and hab­it­abil­i­ty.’

Enter, ‘The Great Fil­ter.’

The Great Filter:

The ‘Great Fil­ter’ put sim­ply, is Fer­mi’s orig­i­nal hypoth­e­sis that “tech­no­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion does­n’t last long enough for [inter­stel­lar flight] to hap­pen.” While humans have already passed one of more ‘Gaian Bot­tle­necks’ — mass extinc­tion events in our bio­log­i­cal lin­eage — it is less like­ly we have already sur­vived the ‘Great Fil­ter.’ As such, geo­physi­cist James Kast­ing — among those cit­ed by Chopra and Lineweaver in their paper — when inter­viewed on the ques­tion of ‘Gaian Bot­tle­necks’ by online mag­a­zine www.inverse.com, stat­ed: “I think cli­mate change could be a Great Fil­ter for us.”

Read more: ‘Fail­ure to Find Aliens Means We’re in Safe Space’ — Inverse Sci­ence

Here­in lies the foun­da­tion for answer­ing our orig­i­nal three ques­tions:

Why are we here?
Why are we alone?
And how long have we got to live?

Chemistry and Carbon:

The peri­od­ic table maps the struc­tures and prop­er­ties of all 118 known ele­ments. Car­bon in par­tic­u­lar is spe­cial in that its exis­tence answers our biggest ques­tions.

We use car­bon a thou­sand dif­fer­ent ways every day. It’s in rub­ber, asphalt, dia­monds, sug­ar, wax, oil, plas­tic, coal, lime­stone, car­bo­hy­drates, house­hold gas in your cook­top, car­bon monox­ide, car­bon diox­ide, char­coal, methane, mar­ble, graphite, chlo­ro­flu­o­ro­car­bons hydrochlo­ro­flu­o­ro­car­bons used in cos­met­ics, pack­ing foam, aerosols, glue, paint, air con­di­tion­ers, as well as all the plants and ani­mals we use to build homes, and make cloth­ing and food. Even the radioac­tive dat­ing of fos­sils is based on mea­sur­ing car­bon in organ­ic mat­ter. Our entire civil­i­sa­tion, life as we know it, is based on the prop­er­ties of car­bon.

There are more than ten mil­lion dif­fer­ent organ­ic com­pounds known by chemists. Car­bon is the only ele­ment that can form so many com­pounds — because each atom can form four bonds to oth­er atoms, and because the car­bon atom is small enough to fit into very large mol­e­cules. It’s also the fourth most com­mon ele­ment in the uni­verse and has the high­est melt­ing point — mean­ing it is least like­ly to change prop­er­ties based on dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures as plan­ets cool, oceans liq­ue­fy and atmos­pheres form.
If we think about these prop­er­ties, car­bon is a stand-out among all ele­ments.

Let’s rank all ele­ments in the Uni­verse by:

  • - Avail­abil­i­ty of mul­ti­ple elec­trons to form bonds, being their valen­cy,
  • - Abil­i­ty to bond with oth­er ele­ments using the ‘Paul­ing Scale’ of elec­troneg­a­tiv­i­ty (you can also use bond length but the results are the same),
  • - Atom­ic radius, as the abil­i­ty to fit into com­pact, com­plex mol­e­cules,
  • - Ther­mal sta­bil­i­ty, being melt­ing point (an ele­ment must not fre­quent­ly tran­si­tion states to sup­port life), and
  • - Abun­dance in the Uni­verse

Car­bon is:

  • - 33rd on valen­cy
  • - 10th on radius
  • - 12th on elec­troneg­a­tiv­i­ty
  • - 1st on melt­ing point
  • - 4th on abun­dance

If you com­bine all these prop­er­ties, no oth­er ele­ment comes close.

PROPERTIES

 

 

 

 

 

 

RANKS

 

 

 

 

 

No.

Sym

Name

v

r

e(X)

mp

a

 

v

r

e(X)

mp

a

SUM

6

C

car­bon

4

67

2.55

3500

0.005

 

33

10

12

1

4

60

16

S

sul­fur

6

88

2.58

113

0.0005

 

6

15

11

83

10

125

14

Si

sil­i­con

4

111

1.9

1410

0.0007

 

33

22

38

33

8

134

44

Ru

ruthe­ni­um

6

178

2.2

2250

4E-09

 

6

63

19

10

37

135

76

Os

osmi­um

6

185

2.2

3045

3E-09

 

6

67

19

4

39

135

78

Pt

plat­inum

6

177

2.28

1772

5E-09

 

6

61

17

17

34

135

34

Se

sele­ni­um

6

103

2.55

217

0.00000003

 

6

20

12

79

20

137

77

Ir

irid­i­um

6

180

2.2

2410

2E-09

 

6

64

19

8

40

137

42

Mo

molyb­de­num

6

190

2.16

2617

5E-09

 

6

69

27

6

34

142

35

Br

bromine

7

94

2.96

-7

7E-09

 

1

18

8

90

31

148

45

Rh

rhodi­um

6

173

2.28

1966

6E-10

 

6

58

17

13

57

151

54

Xe

xenon

6

108

2.6

-112

0.00000001

 

6

21

10

94

22

153

74

W

tung­sten

6

193

2.36

3410

5E-10

 

6

71

15

2

60

154

5

B

boron

3

87

2.04

2300

1E-09

 

52

14

30

9

51

156

52

Te

tel­luri­um

6

123

2.1

449

9E-09

 

6

29

28

69

29

161

33

As

arsenic

5

114

2.18

816.8

8E-09

 

23

24

26

60

30

163

53

I

iodine

7

115

2.66

114

1E-09

 

1

25

9

82

51

168

46

Pd

pal­la­di­um

4

169

2.2

1552

2E-09

 

33

55

19

22

40

169

7

N

nitro­gen

3

56

3.04

-210

0.001

 

52

8

6

97

7

170

26

Fe

iron

3

156

1.83

1535

0.0011

 

52

44

43

25

6

170

75

Re

rhe­ni­um

7

188

1.9

3180

2E-10

 

1

68

38

3

68

178

82

Pb

lead

4

154

2.33

327

0.00000001

 

33

43

16

71

22

185

13

Al

alu­mini­um

3

118

1.61

1050

0.00005

 

52

26

51

45

14

188

43

Tc

tech­netium

7

183

1.9

2200

0

 

1

65

38

11

73

188

8

O

oxy­gen

2

48

3.44

-218

0.01

 

79

6

3

98

3

189

24

Cr

chromi­um

6

166

1.66

1857

0

 

6

53

47

15

73

194

41

Nb

nio­bi­um

5

198

1.6

2468

2E-09

 

23

75

52

7

40

197

79

Au

gold

5

174

2.54

1064

6E-10

 

23

59

14

44

57

197

85

At

asta­tine

7

127

2.2

302

0

 

1

31

19

75

73

199

28

Ni

nick­el

2

149

1.91

1453

0.00006

 

79

41

37

31

13

201

93

Np

nep­tu­ni­um

6

38

1.36

640

0

 

6

2

59

65

73

205

17

Cl

chlo­rine

5

79

3.16

-101

0

 

23

13

5

93

73

207

10

Ne

neon

0

38

3.98

-249

0.0013

 

100

2

1

100

5

208

40

Zr

zir­co­ni­um

4

206

1.33

1852

0.00000005

 

33

81

61

16

17

208

58

Ce

ceri­um

4

67

1.12

795

0.00000001

 

33

10

84

61

22

210

29

Cu

cop­per

2

145

1.9

1083

0.00000006

 

79

37

38

42

16

212

36

Kr

kryp­ton

2

88

3

-157

0.00000004

 

79

15

7

95

18

214

23

V

vana­di­um

5

171

1.63

1890

0

 

23

56

49

14

73

215

51

Sb

anti­mo­ny

5

133

2.05

630

4E-10

 

23

32

29

68

65

217

27

Co

cobalt

4

152

1.88

1495

0

 

33

42

42

29

73

219

32

Ge

ger­ma­ni­um

4

125

2.01

937

0

 

33

30

32

51

73

219

50

Sn

tin

4

145

1.96

232

4E-09

 

33

37

35

78

37

220

21

Sc

scan­di­um

3

184

1.36

1539

0.00000003

 

52

66

59

24

20

221

83

Bi

bis­muth

5

143

2.02

271

7E-10

 

23

36

31

76

55

221

1

H

hydro­gen

1

53

2.2

-259

0.75

 

94

7

19

101

1

222

84

Po

polo­ni­um

6

135

2

254

0

 

6

33

33

77

73

222

18

Ar

argon

0

71

3.19

-189

0.0002

 

100

12

4

96

11

223

90

Th

tho­ri­um

4

156

1.3

1750

4E-10

 

33

44

63

18

65

223

15

P

phos­pho­rus

5

98

2.19

44

0

 

23

19

25

86

73

226

73

Ta

tan­ta­lum

5

200

1.5

2996

8E-11

 

23

76

56

5

72

232

22

Ti

tita­ni­um

4

176

1.54

1660

0

 

33

60

55

19

73

240

31

Ga

gal­li­um

3

136

1.81

30

0.00000001

 

52

34

44

88

22

240

96

Cm

curi­um

4

145

1.3

1340

0

 

33

37

63

35

73

241

4

Be

beryl­li­um

2

112

1.57

1278

1E-09

 

79

23

53

37

51

243

92

U

ura­ni­um

6

193

1.38

1132

2E-10

 

6

71

58

40

68

243

95

Am

ameri­ci­um

4

118

1.3

994

0

 

33

26

63

48

73

243

57

La

lan­thanum

3

88

1.1

920

2E-09

 

52

15

85

53

40

245

25

Mn

man­ganese

4

161

1.55

1245

0

 

33

48

54

38

73

246

72

Hf

hafni­um

4

208

1.3

2150

7E-10

 

33

83

63

12

55

246

91

Pa

pro­tac­tini­um

5

205

1.5

1568

0

 

23

78

56

21

73

251

102

No

nobeli­um

3

56

1.3

827

0

 

52

8

63

57

73

253

12

Mg

mag­ne­sium

2

145

1.31

639

0.0006

 

79

37

62

67

9

254

9

F

flu­o­rine

1

42

3.98

-220

0

 

94

4

1

99

73

271

39

Y

yttri­um

3

212

1.22

1523

7E-09

 

52

84

78

27

31

272

47

Ag

sil­ver

2

165

1.93

962

6E-10

 

79

52

36

50

57

274

101

Md

mendele­vi­um

3

161

1.3

1245

0

 

52

48

63

38

73

274

94

Pu

plu­to­ni­um

6

177

1.28

640

0

 

6

61

73

65

73

278

81

Tl

thal­li­um

3

156

1.62

303

5E-10

 

52

44

50

74

60

280

60

Nd

neodymi­um

3

206

1.14

1010

0.00000001

 

52

81

82

47

22

284

48

Cd

cad­mi­um

2

161

1.69

321

2E-09

 

79

48

46

72

40

285

68

Er

erbium

3

226

1.24

1522

2E-09

 

52

90

76

28

40

286

49

In

indi­um

3

156

1.78

157

3E-10

 

52

44

45

81

67

289

66

Dy

dys­pro­sium

3

228

1.22

1412

2E-09

 

52

92

78

32

40

294

86

Rn

radon

6

120

0

-71

0

 

6

28

96

92

73

295

98

Cf

cal­i­forni­um

4

194

1.3

900

0

 

33

73

63

54

73

296

2

He

heli­um

0

31

0

-272

0.23

 

100

1

96

102

2

301

71

Lu

lutetium

3

217

1.27

1656

1E-10

 

52

85

74

20

70

301

64

Gd

gadolin­i­um

3

233

1.2

1311

2E-09

 

52

96

80

36

40

304

30

Zn

zinc

2

142

1.65

420

0

 

79

35

48

70

73

305

20

Ca

cal­ci­um

2

194

1

839

0.00007

 

79

73

87

56

12

307

59

Pr

praseodymi­um

4

247

1.13

935

2E-09

 

33

99

83

52

40

307

62

Sm

samar­i­um

3

238

1.17

1072

5E-09

 

52

97

81

43

34

307

69

Tm

thuli­um

3

222

1.25

1545

1E-10

 

52

87

75

23

70

307

100

Fm

fer­mi­um

3

231

1.3

1527

0

 

52

94

63

26

73

308

67

Ho

holmi­um

3

226

1.23

1470

5E-10

 

52

90

77

30

60

309

80

Hg

mer­cury

2

171

2

-39

1E-09

 

79

56

33

91

51

310

87

Fr

fran­ci­um

3

42

0

27

0

 

52

4

96

89

73

314

99

Es

ein­steini­um

4

228

1.3

860

0

 

33

92

63

55

73

316

97

Bk

berke­li­um

4

253

1.3

986

0

 

33

100

63

49

73

318

65

Tb

ter­bium

3

225

0

1360

5E-10

 

52

89

96

34

60

331

89

Ac

actini­um

3

200

1.1

1050

0

 

52

76

85

45

73

331

70

Yb

ytter­bium

3

222

0

824

2E-09

 

52

87

96

58

40

333

38

Sr

stron­tium

2

219

0.95

769

0.00000004

 

79

86

89

62

18

334

55

Cs

cae­sium

2

161

0.79

321

2E-09

 

79

48

95

72

40

334

61

Pm

prome­thi­um

3

205

0

1100

0

 

52

78

96

41

73

340

3

Li

lithi­um

1

167

0.98

180

6E-09

 

94

54

88

80

33

349

11

Na

sodi­um

1

190

0.93

98

0.00002

 

94

69

90

84

15

352

56

Ba

bar­i­um

2

253

0.89

725

0.00000001

 

79

100

92

63

22

356

63

Eu

europi­um

3

231

0

822

5E-10

 

52

94

96

59

60

361

88

Ra

radi­um

2

205

0.9

700

0

 

79

78

91

64

73

385

37

Rb

rubid­i­um

1

265

0.82

39

0.00000001

 

94

102

93

87

22

398

19

K

potas­si­um

1

243

0.82

64

0

 

94

98

93

85

73

443

Car­bon loves to bond with oth­er ele­ments, is capa­ble of form­ing com­plex pro­teins, is abun­dant, and ther­mal­ly sta­ble.

Also:
(a) Heav­ier ele­ments than those in the peri­od­ic table may exist (i.e.: hav­ing more than 118 pro­tons) in the core of some stars, how­ev­er they are high­ly unsta­ble out­side of stars.
(b) Car­bon is mar­gin­al­ly too heavy to have formed imme­di­ate­ly dur­ing the Big Bang. Rather, car­bon atoms are formed inside stars in a process called ‘stel­lar nucle­osyn­the­sis.’ More pre­cise­ly, the rules that gov­ern mat­ter — the arrange­ment of elec­trons in shells around sim­i­lar num­bers of pro­tons and neu­trons — were defined dur­ing the Big Bang. Car­bon is a prod­uct of this struc­ture.
© Anoth­er rea­son car­bon is able to form so many organ­ic com­pounds is ‘cate­na­tion’ — its abil­i­ty to bond with itself in long chains. Owing to its valen­cy of +/- 4 car­bon — being a ‘Group 14’ ele­ment — will give or take elec­trons with oth­er atoms and form mul­ti­ple strong cova­lent bonds. It could be argued that this ‘tetrava­lence’ is even more impor­tant than total valen­cy here. This would seem to be the case based on struc­tures in ter­res­tri­al organ­ic chem­istry and green­house gas­es. How­ev­er, replac­ing valence with tetrava­lence only serves to fur­ther exag­ger­ate car­bon’s unique­ness, while exclud­ing sul­fur. The exis­tence of sul­fur bac­te­ria on earth is the best evi­dence of an alter­na­tive bio­chem­istry. Also, includ­ing elec­troneg­a­tiv­i­ty in the rank­ing com­pen­sates some­what for the use of total valence.
(d) The over­all rank­ing of sul­fur and sil­i­con does not con­firm their exis­tence as alter­na­tive bio­chemistries giv­en the large delta below car­bon. How­ev­er, it is inter­est­ing to note that sul­fur bac­te­ria already exist on earth, although still reliant on the pres­ence of car­bon. Sil­i­con is also often pro­posed as a the­o­ret­i­cal alter­na­tive chem­istry due to cate­na­tion (above). Oth­er alter­na­tives to these are cos­mi­cal­ly rare or exist at nar­row tem­per­a­ture ranges. As such, the results of this rank­ing seem to be sup­port­ed by oth­er evi­dence. Ruthe­ni­um is also used in anti-can­cer med­ica­tion owing to it’s abil­i­ty to bond with DNA and in pho­to­volta­ic cells to improve sen­si­tiv­i­ty to solar radi­a­tion.
(e) Even in these alter­na­tive bio­chemistries the cen­tral prin­ci­ple of the Car­bon Para­dox may also be upheld as sul­fur also forms potent green­house gas­es and silane has sim­i­lar prop­er­ties to methane.
(f) The ‘over­all rank’ of ele­ments is based on the sum of rank­ings of indi­vid­ual prop­er­ties. Exper­i­ment­ing with prod­ucts and means only serves to fur­ther exag­ger­ate car­bon’s unique­ness, and using Tuples and Euclid­ean vec­tors to derive over­all rank — giv­en we are rank­ing a uni­form num­ber of prop­er­ties in a uni­form list of ele­ments — proves redun­dant.
(g) In the graph shown in the video the sum of rank­ings of the ele­ments is invert­ed to cre­ate a point sys­tem, scor­ing car­bon rel­a­tive to oth­er ele­ments — where a high­er score indi­cates suit­abil­i­ty for the for­ma­tion of life.

Self-Replication:

Two years ago Jere­my Eng­land, a 31-year-old assis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, derived a math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­la that shows that if you take car­bon — in the pres­ence of oth­er key ele­ments, and shine sun­light on it, it will inevitably form com­plex pro­teins to dis­si­pate heat, based on the sec­ond law of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics:

England formula

These pro­teins even­tu­al­ly form cells which even­tu­al­ly evolve the behav­iours we know as ‘life.’ In oth­er words, life is an inevitable arrange­ment of car­bon in con­cert with oth­er light ele­ments.

That’s why we are here.

But there’s a twist.

WHY ARE WE ALONE?

Some­thing has stopped intel­li­gent life from prop­a­gat­ing through­out the uni­verse, even though — sta­tis­ti­cal­ly — it as good as cer­tain­ly should have hap­pened long ago. So why — if life is inevitable — isn’t it? This brings us back to the ‘Great Fil­ter.’ Some­thing stops life from get­ting past a cer­tain point. The answer is sur­pris­ing­ly sim­ple.

Car­bon, for the same rea­sons it is the only source of life, is also dead­ly. We don’t have to look very far for an exam­ple.

Our twin plan­et Venus — right next door — has sim­i­lar prop­er­ties as Earth, is rough­ly the same size, shares a sim­i­lar chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion and orbits the same sun. By any log­ic, life should have evolved there as well. But the atmos­phere on Venus is 96.5% car­bon diox­ide.

 

VENUS

EARTH

RATIO

RADIUS:

6,052 km

6,371 km

95%

MASS:

4,867,500,000 Tt

5,972,370,000 Tt

82%

AV. ORBIT:

108,208,000 km

149,598,023 km

72%

YEAR:

224.7 days

365 days

62%

GRAVITY:

8.87 m/s²

9.8 m/s²

91%

AGE:

4.6 bn yrs

4.543 bn yrs

101%

PLANETARY TEMP:

232 K

255 K

91%

TOTAL CO2:

4.1 x 10e23 gm

=

v

 

 

 

- ATMOSPHERE:

4.1 x 10e23 gm

1.4 x 10e20 gm

292857%

- FOSSIL FUELS:

0

7 x 10e22 gm

0%

- CARBONATE ROCKS:

0

3 x 10e23 gm

0%

- BIOSPHERE:

0

10e19 gm

0%

- ATMOSPHERE:

0

2.4 x 10e18 gm

0%

- OCEANS

0

1.3 x 10e20 gm

0%

 

 

 

 

OBSERVED TEMP:

735 K

288 K

255%

As shown in the above table, all of Venus’ sur­face car­bon is trapped in the atmos­phere rather than in organ­ic mat­ter, oceans, rocks or soils. The green­house effect of so much CO2 in the atmos­phere gives Venus an aver­age atmos­pher­ic tem­per­a­ture of 462 degrees Cel­sius (864 degrees Fahren­heit) not only mak­ing it inhos­pitable to life but also evap­o­rat­ing its oceans and streams.

Graphing Life vs CO2:

Sev­er­al near-miss mass extinc­tion events have occurred in earth­’s his­to­ry. One event in par­tic­u­lar very near­ly end­ed life on earth. To map the inverse cor­re­la­tion between the num­ber of sur­face organ­isms and atmos­pher­ic car­bon, total gen­era was used from ‘Cycles in fos­sil diver­si­ty’ by Robert A. Rohde and Richard A. Muller of the Depart­ment of Physics and Lawrence Berke­ley Lab­o­ra­to­ry, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia — pub­lished in March 2005 in ‘Nature’ issue 434 (7030), pages 208–210. This chart shows fluc­tu­a­tions in diver­si­ty of marine fos­sil by gen­era for the past 542 mil­lion years, and has a high cor­re­la­tion with ‘A Kinet­ic Mod­el of Phanero­zoic Tax­o­nom­ic Diver­si­ty. III. Post-Pale­o­zoic Fam­i­lies and Mass Extinc­tions’ by J. John Sep­kos­ki, Jr. first pub­lished in ‘Pale­o­bi­ol­o­gy’ Vol. 10, No. 2 (Spring, 1984), pp. 246–267

To illus­trate the inverse cor­re­la­tion, and com­bin­ing mul­ti­ple ref­er­ences, I plot­ted the 30 mil­lion year fil­tered aver­age of:
— Peter Ward’s ‘Atmos­pher­ic CO2 550 mil­lion years ago to the present’ from ‘Under a Green Sky’ pub­lished by Harp­er Collins in 2007,
— data from GEOCARB III by Robert A. Bern­er And Zavareth Kothavala, pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Sci­ence, Vol. 301, Feb­ru­ary, 2001, P. 182–204,
— ‘COPSE: A new mod­el of bio­geo­chem­i­cal cycling over Phanero­zoic time’ by Noam M. Bergman, Tim­o­thy M. Lenton and Andrew J. Wat­son pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Sci­ence in May 2004, vol. 304 no. 5, pages 397–437,
— 2001 data from Daniel H. Roth­man in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences USA vol. 98 no. 8, pages 4305–4310, and
— ‘CO2 as a pri­ma­ry dri­ver of Phanero­zoic cli­mate’ by Dana L. Roy­er, Robert A. Bern­er, Isabel P. Mon­tañez, Neil J. Tabor and David J. Beer­ling pub­lished in GSA Today, vol­ume 14 no. 3, p. 4–10.

Inverse correlation between life and atmospheric carbon

Inverse cor­re­la­tion between life and atmos­pher­ic car­bon

Car­bon not only inevitably forms life, but it also forms the most com­mon green­house gas­es — CO2 and Methane — heat­ing plan­ets to the point where life is inevitably destroyed. This same cor­re­la­tion also demon­strates the feed­back loop between extinc­tion and the cre­ation of fos­sil fuels. For intel­li­gent life to form, it must evolve over hun­dreds of mil­lions of years. Peri­od­ic ‘Gaian Bot­tle­necks’ ensure fuel exists for an advanced species to inevitably set about it’s own destruc­tion.

As I described in my arti­cle ‘Elon Must­n’t: Why We Should­n’t Go To Mars’, you can trace the ori­gins of humans back to cyn­odonts that sur­vived the End Per­mi­an Mass Extinc­tion 235 mil­lion years ago. In this same mass extinc­tion the oil was formed by which we now fuel our own demise.

All of those mil­lions of gen­er­a­tions of bil­lions of species, when they died, became coal, nat­ur­al gas, and oil. For human civil­i­sa­tion to have devel­oped to the point we are able to change our atmos­phere, we had to har­ness prim­i­tive car­bon stores. We first dis­cov­ered and mas­tered fire 125,000 years ago and the moment we began burn­ing wood, as that first whiff of green­house gas went sky­ward, we set a dooms­day clock tick­ing.

With time, human’s advanced from wood to coal, coal to oil, and oil to nat­ur­al gas — burn­ing the same car­bon that once formed life. Ade­quate stores of suc­ces­sive fuels tipped like domi­noes. We can now trace the iso­topes of car­bon, name­ly car­bon 13, in the atmos­phere, to prove that the car­bon we have burned is caus­ing glob­al warm­ing.

Every life form that ever exist­ed any­where in the Uni­verse would have faced exact­ly the same chal­lenge. As sure­ly as car­bon forms life, it cas­cades into this inevitable pat­tern. Once CO2 lev­els in the atmos­phere reach a tip­ping point around — as we saw dur­ing the End Per­mi­an Mass Extinc­tion 260 mil­lion years ago — ris­ing ocean tem­per­a­tures trig­ger the thaw of tun­dra, the death of jun­gles, and the release of deep ocean sed­i­ments called ‘Clathrates’. These kick the tem­per­a­ture up anoth­er 20 degrees as we saw in the End Per­mi­an mass extinc­tion. The only way the tem­per­a­ture declined is that enough algae sur­vived in our oceans to slow­ly reab­sorb that car­bon, oth­er­wise Earth would now look like Venus — hun­dreds of degrees hot­ter, and devoid of life.

That is why we are alone.

Just as inevitable as life, is it’s extinc­tion — thanks to the very same prop­er­ties of one crit­i­cal ele­ment.

And that is the ‘Car­bon Para­dox.’ Car­bon is cause of life is also the rea­son we haven’t encoun­tered any oth­er life in the Uni­verse.

Which brings us to the third ques­tion…

HOW LONG HAVE WE GOT TO LIVE?

In 1964, the Sovi­et astronomer Niko­lai Kar­da­shev devel­oped what is now called the Kar­da­shev scale, clas­si­fy­ing humans as being at the very begin­ning of the scale — emerg­ing ‘Type I’ — based on our ener­gy sources. For any life form to sur­vive long enough to trav­el the stars, it would have to achieve ‘Type 2’ — har­ness­ing the ener­gy of its sun. As such, our species is now at a piv­otal turn­ing point.

In the very same instant we have come to realise our predica­ment, it is almost too late. Our cur­rent rate of releas­ing car­bon into the atmos­phere is the fastest it has been in 66 mil­lion years, and faster than the peri­od lead­ing into the End-Per­mi­an mass extinc­tion. Tem­per­a­tures are pre­dict­ed to rise in the next Cen­tu­ry 20 times faster than at any oth­er time in the past 2 mil­lion years.

Human civil­i­sa­tion is pre­sent­ed with a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty: will we learn to man­age the atmos­phere of our plan­et, and har­ness the Great Fil­ter? Based on the work of Fer­mi, Drake, Frank, Sul­li­van, Bracewell, von Neu­mann, Tipler, Sagan, New­man and hun­dreds of oth­er sci­en­tists, it is evi­dent that no oth­er species has suc­cess­ful­ly nav­i­gat­ed this tran­si­tion.

If we suc­ceed, we may well be the species that explored the entire Uni­verse in the next 4 mil­lion years.

If we do not, we will van­ish with­out a trace tak­ing all known life with us.

Mean­while, across the Uni­verse, the same inevitably opera plays out again and again, a tril­lion times over, and will until a species even­tu­al­ly thwarts the #car­bon­para­dox.

PLEASE COMMENT

9 Responses to “CARBON PARADOX

  1. Sen­sa­tion­al arti­cle (and video)!
    I haven’t seen ‘the Car­bon Para­dox’ framed up and sum­ma­rized this well any­where before! — Tru­ly ter­rif­ic stuff.

    (And, as a rur­al fire­fight­er, I hope Trump and his cli­mate-sci­ence-deniers all read and watch it… prefer­ably on a con­tin­u­ous loop, until it sinks in for them 🙂

  2. Marcus Marcus says:

    Thanks JT! It may be a lit­tle too long for cer­tain peo­ple.

  3. Awe­some Blog­post Thanks for shar­ing.

  4. […] See also The Car­bon Para­dox – Mar­cus Gib­son: […]

  5. Lloyd says:

    Saved as a favorite, I real­ly enjoy your blog!

  6. D. C. says:

    Great arti­cle and sum­ma­ry of car­bon and its impli­ca­tions for civil­i­sa­tion and under­stand­ing of the Earth-life sys­tem. I would like to talk to you about the car­bon para­dox.…

    Thanks, D.C.

  7. site, says:

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    help­ful. Many thanks for shar­ing!

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