About 4500 Million years ago, this planet formed. Its first atmosphere was more than 95% CO2, the result of 500 Million years of Hadean volcanic outgassing of unimaginable proportions. This proto atmosphere was the natural environment for life to evolve, from primitive proteins into single-celled organisms which, in an interminable, more than 2000 million years developed organisms that produced O2 and used the carbon in order to build its structural bits. CO2 levels sank and the atmosphere started to evolve into something that we could remotely recognize. Huge ferns and trees evolved and settled the land. They bound huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere but when they died, they did not rot. Their dead bodies piled up on the ground and eventually were covered by sediments in order to become today’s coal reserves. Until fungi that could feed on wood evolved, re-liberating carbon back into the air. If that funghi had not evolved, life would have ended then. But life still got more and more efficient in binding ever more carbon until we reached a low point just a couple of million years ago when carbon was at 180ppm. Below 150ppm plant death occurs. We scratched by planetary mayhem by a hair’s breadth. We are not the first species that changes the planet. We are even far from being the most efficient. But we give carbon back to the air where it’s needed in order to prevent the kill switch the planet has accidentally developed billions of years ago from doing us away.
LONG AFTER THE last print copy of the King James Bible has disintegrated and the Venus de Milo has gone to powder, the glory of our civilization will survive in misshapen, neon-flecked rocks called plastiglomerate: compounds of sand, shells and molten plastic, forged when discarded wrappers and bottle caps burn in beach campfires.