ANDREW GLIKSON. Human cognitive dissonance and the mass extinction of species.

The history of Earth is marked by at least seven major mass extinctions,  including asteroid impact effects 580 million years ago, the end Ordovician glaciation, late Devonian asteroid impacts, end-Permian volcanism and ocean anoxia, end-Jurassic volcanism and Cretaceous-Tertiary asteroid impact—mostly associated with an extreme rise in atmospheric CO2. Currently the seventh mass extinction of species is taking place, mainly as a consequence of CO2 rise at a rate close to that induced by an asteroid impact (Figure 1). The Seventh mass extinction is triggered by a species which harnessed transfer of carbon from the Earth’s crust to the atmosphere and has split the atom, but is failing to control the consequences. Such is the scale and the rate of the unfolding climate catastrophe that, in the words of Joachim Schellnhuber, the EU’s chief climate scientist, it threatens the life support systems of the planet.

The glacial-interglacial oscillations of the Pleistocene (from 2.6 million years ago to 11,500 years ago), are giving way to a human-induced extreme thermal event that is leading to the melting of the large ice sheet, a rise in sea level by many meters and ultimately tens of meters, dangerous hurricanes, floods and droughts.

As extreme weather events are killing and injuring hundreds of thousand people and a huge numbers of animals in parts of the globe (, the origin of these developments is largely covered-up by the mainstream media. Petty issues are endlessly propagated by the press and in parliaments. It is business as usual among the privileged minorities, emitting carbon at accelerated rates as they drive and fly around a warming world. 

Figure 1. Comparison of the rate of temperature rise between (1) the last glacial termination (14,000 – 11,500 years ago); (2) Paleocene-Eocene thermal event 56 million years ago; (3) 1750-2016 AD Anthropocene event; (4) asteroid impact.

With this perspective, the ignorance of the majority, enhanced by vested interests-controlled mainstream media, and the criminality of atmosphere-polluting lobbies, may only become clear when survivors finally comprehend the loss of large parts of the habitable Earth.

With this perspective the political furor over the difference between 26 percent and 50 percent reduction in emission favored by the different parties is meaningless, since neither target can prevent the amplifying CO2 feedbacks from continuing to warm the atmosphere, land and oceans (

In true Orwellian Newspeak fashion, the “powers to be” have changed the language, from “climate change” and “global warming” to “electricity power prices”, namely from the future of live on Earth to the hit pocket nerve, a Faustian Bargain which underpins the sacrifice of future generations and much of nature.

The Seventh mass extinction does not rise exclusively from global warming, and can be brought about, separately or in combination, by design or accident, through the probability of a global nuclear cataclysm. As time goes on, this possibility becomes a probability and inevitably a certainty, an increasingly likely prospect on a warming planet burdened by resource wars. The hapless inhabitants of planet Earth are given a non-choice between progressive global heating and the coup-de-grace of a nuclear winter.

From the Romans to the third Reich, the barbarism of rich empires surpasses that of small marauding tribes. It is mainly among the wretched of the Earth that true charity is to be found, where empathy is learnt through suffering.

Further experiments with the fate of Earth are underway. Once new generations of the Hadron Collider have been deemed “safe,” pending further science fiction-like experiments dreamt by ethic-free scientists, Earth may or may not become a black hole. Unfortunately little doubt exists regarding the consequences of the continuing use of the atmosphere, the lungs of the biosphere, as open sewer for carbon gases. As stated by the renown oceanographer Wallace Broecker in 1986, “The inhabitants of planet Earth are quietly conducting a gigantic experiment. We play Russian roulette with climate and no one knows what lies in the active chamber of the gun.” 

Andrew Glikson

Earth and paleoclimate scientist. 


Andrew Glikson is an Earth and paleoclimate scientist. His books include:
The Archaean: Geological and Geochemical Windows into the Early Earth;
The Asteroid Impact Connection of Planetary Evolution; Asteroids Impacts, Crustal Evolution and Related Mineral Systems with Special Reference to Australia; Climate, Fire and Human Evolution: The Deep Time Dimensions of the Anthropocene; The Plutocene: Blueprints for a Post-Anthropocene Greenhouse Earth; Evolution of the Atmosphere, Fire and the Anthropocene Climate Event Horizon; From Stars to Brains: Milestones in the Planetary Evolution of Life and Intelligence; and The Event Horizon: Homo Prometheus and the Climate Catastrophe.

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