Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Brief History Of Air



In the beginning, about four and a half billion years ago, the earth was very hot, but at least it wasn't humid. The atmosphere, such as it was, contained hydrogen and helium, elements that were so tiny they kept floating off. Nearly a half-billion years later, the crust had finally begun to sturdy up, so the molten bits had to blow their way through it via volcanoes. This produced carbon dioxide, steam and ammonia but no free oxygen. It was not hospitable to life, and I believe it. I visited my fourth-grade teacher's apartment once, and it smelled like ammonia, and I thought I was going to die.

The carbon dioxide dissolved in the new oceans, which set the world up with a big wad of carbon, the atom of life. There was just a huge bunch of carbon in there, none of it aspiring to become humans at the time. Then as now, we were more or less unthinkable.

About a billion years later, there were all sorts of life-forms, microbes that produced free oxygen out of the carbon dioxide. They got off to a slow start; you know how it is when you're just starting a project and you're in the dithering phase. But by about 2.7 billion years ago, we had what you could call a proper oxygen atmosphere. This was known as the Oxygen Catastrophe, because most of the things zipping about at the time found oxygen poisonous. You see, it's all a matter of perspective. Some of us like to think that the world as it is currently constituted was made for us, but they have it all backwards. If it weren't just this way, we wouldn't be here, and if it changes much, we won't be, no matter who loves us. But I digress.

Thanks to plate tectonics, our continents began doing the bumper-car bop all over the globe. Mountains wrinkled up. A molten rift in the middle of the ocean pushed the continents apart like it was a speculum. There was a huge shift of carbon to land-based forms. In the Carboniferous Period, forests towered and ferns fronded and swamps proliferated, jammed with plants. Talk about your humidity. There were more plants than the world has ever seen, before or since. All this sent oxygen into the air in enormous quantities, leading directly to the pinnacle of creation, the age of giant salamanders, and we've been declining ever since.

On numerous occasions the planet clogged up with ice, even--at one point--being completely covered in the stuff, more ice than the world has ever seen, before or since. Various things factored in. Panama, for instance, not only bogged down shipping traffic until we sliced it open, but changed the flow of the oceans and ushered in a new ice age. It was just one thing after another. By the time people showed up, we were squeezed into a relatively small area because of the massive ice sheets. An apartment in Manhattan, for example, was completely out of the question. We wandered around and whacked the random mastodon and more or less fit in with the scheme of things, and then about a month ago--or 11,000 years, it works out about the same, geologically speaking--the ice retreated. Well, boy howdy. Party time!

We were having some fun now. First we burned up all the forests that were hanging onto most of our carbon dioxide. That gave us some cool stuff, cities and roads and big-box stores and gigantic deserts and whatnot. Ask any infant slapping her hand in the strained carrots--it's fun to have an impact. Then someone discovered all that plant material that had been buried in the Carboniferous Period, and now the  ceiling's coated with strained carrots.

People started sucking it all out and burning it up and some people made money, more money than the world has ever seen, before or since. And the atmosphere started changing again, faster than ever before.

Some other people started getting whiny about it, but they're the kind of people who never get invited to parties. The people who made all the money got together and listened to Al Gore, and they knew something had to be done, so they made up some stuff about him and mocked him for it. Then we got a new President who looked like he might want to try something, too. He got started with some baby steps, and then the people who made all the money got together and told everybody he was a Muslim alien, because they aren't allowed to say "colored guy" anymore, and that was that.

The End. No, really.

36 comments:

  1. Not much to add to that brief history of the world. The strained carrots are on MY ceiling, too, which amazes me. What goes around comes around. Your post made my day.

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  2. True story: 2 friends of mine were discussing how the autumn seasons seemed to be getting less brisk and the frost dates were later and the winters shorter. In fact, as one said, "Everything's getting warmer."

    And then she added, "But it's NOT global warming."

    Well, if she says so...

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  3. If it were so damned serious, I'd be laughing.
    Not your piece, of course--I am laughing at that.
    But the rest of the stuff--the people who get together and make up stuff just so they can...what?
    Anyway--parting continents like a speculum? Oh my.
    Are you and Jon Stewart in league? I just was looking at his last EARTH--too funny. Maybe you could collaborate with him. But then, we would all die from laughter, but maybe we're all gonna die anyway. . .gasping for air.

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  4. Ain't that the livin' truth. Or more precisely, the dyin' truth.

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  5. I got to laugh before noon! Imagine how much funnier it would have been if it weren't so true.

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  6. Oh, don't show this to Sarah Palin. She might learn something.

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  7. Clearly, something IS afoot; at least around here! The DC area was named as having the worst weather in the country this year. We had several nasty, record-setting blizzards (yes, the Post Office officially announced that it would not be making its appointed rounds), followed by a scorching summer with 67 days where the temperature exceeded 90 degrees. We just had 5-10 inches of rain yesterday. No wonder the UK just recognized Druidry as a religion; guess they finally realized it's not nice to fool Mother Nature! Elaine

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  8. Poor Mother. I think she needs a rest from the likes of us.

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  9. No doubt. Maybe she's fixin' to give herself one, too.

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  10. hahahahhaha You're the -- what, rock? frog? man? what means "awesome" nowdays? Murr, you're in the consellations....

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  11. I cannot blush more deeply without catching fire.

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  12. Weeelll..I read this post , and it made me think of this..
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrkThaBWa5c&feature=related.
    Listen, be sad. Then figure out what to do next...

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  13. I want to hire you to write for me. As me.

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  14. This may be your best one yet. I can't imagine how anyone else could have combined all those elements -- including the speculum -- and made it hilarious and ... well, I guess poignant is as good a word as any ... at the same time.

    A friend of mine is fond of saying that the Earth is visited periodically by catastrophes, and that we're just the current one. Can't argue that one at all. Thing is, we're the first one that can (allegedly) think, and still the experiment seems to be failing.

    And why am I not still laughing?

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  15. Everyone said all I wanted to say in the comments before me. But let me add to the throng of voices. Well said. Perhaps humor will be a way for important things to be heard.

    (I always wondered what ferns do in the humidity--they frond, of course!)

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  16. We're on the same wave length as far as topics this week, but your take on it is far more clever.

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  17. I'm gardening my brains out to feed the bees and the guy next door is buying his kids miniature skidoos, dirt bikes and atvs. ochone, ochone.

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  18. That way his kids can get to their bleak future that much faster.

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  19. The history of the earth part one. If I'd been taught this way at school, I might be dead clever by now. Instead of just reading in admiration.

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  20. Read your Bible, Murr (King James Version only). The world's 6,000 years old, despite what you might hear from the Godless liberals who want us to believe otherwise.

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  21. I have a friend who contends that. What I could never understand is, if one is willing to allow, say, a thousand years per "day" God created the earth, why not a billion? You know, between friends?

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  22. My friend Bob just told me this is a blog he's "really getting to love."

    And now I am too. Marvelous. The history of the world is a few short paragraphs with enough time for a few side trips.

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  23. Thank you, wvng, much obliged. I'm always interested in how people rattle into this particular hole in the blogosphere. "Bob," eh? That narrows it down.

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  24. Elizabeth BrewsterOctober 4, 2010 at 10:27 PM

    Just wanted to point out for those who don't know your OTHER talents, that the salamander picture is an original Murr...

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  25. I sent more your way via Facebook.

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  26. So which is he - an alien or a Muslim? I don't want to waste my air so I'm holding my breath until I find out.

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  27. He and Mr. Spock do have some similarities.

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  28. I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

    God Bless You ~Ron

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  29. Oh, this is a great post. (I'm finally gimping around the cyberhood again and seeing what I've missed over the past few weeks).

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  30. murr, just stopping back again to let you know ive been here...and that i put another brief history up

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  31. I sent more your way via Facebook.

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  32. Read your Bible, Murr (King James Version only). The world's 6,000 years old, despite what you might hear from the Godless liberals who want us to believe otherwise.

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  33. Oh, don't show this to Sarah Palin. She might learn something.

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  34. Ain't that the livin' truth. Or more precisely, the dyin' truth.

    ReplyDelete
  35. True story: 2 friends of mine were discussing how the autumn seasons seemed to be getting less brisk and the frost dates were later and the winters shorter. In fact, as one said, "Everything's getting warmer."

    And then she added, "But it's NOT global warming."

    Well, if she says so...

    ReplyDelete