Why Earth’s story matters

Who says understanding Earth’s Evolution is irrelevant?

Sadly, all too many.

I often hear people, not just the religious with their thoughtless rejection and outright contempt for our Earth and her story, but also rational educated people who superficially accept the notion of evolution, yet seem to have no curiosity about Earth’s Pageant of Evolution.

They dismiss the need to learn anything about it as though evolution were pointless. As if learning how to make money and survive while trying to have a ‘good time’ was all that mattered in life. All the while I’m thinking, but evolution created this world we depend on, isn’t it worth embracing?

The general disinterest just doesn’t seem right. Especially considering what an amazingly beautiful, action packed, complex, mysterious and absolutely relevant story Earth’s deep history has to offer us.

From its earliest formation and that improbable, just right, collision that blasted away Earth’s first ‘hostile’ atmosphere, which made room for a new atmosphere to form, with time of course. That collision also ‘liquified’ and reformed the mess into our amazingly advantageous coupled Earth and Moon arrangement, without which complex animals probably could never have evolved here.

On a microscopic level it started with the changing brew of elements and molecules, that kept on playing with each other, always trying to find advantageous pairings. Those select advantageous pairings lead to cascading sequences. Thanks to time, lots of time, some of those pairings started repeating themselves in a new way and very simple life was created.

That’s what evolution is, time, learning, changing, sharing, cooperating, consuming, and so on. Folds within folds of accumulating harmonic complexity flowing down the cascade of time.

First the unchanging elemental atoms that combined into ever more complex and interesting molecules. Then combinations of molecules becoming an ever richer assortment of minerals. Then life joined the party with a few tricks up it’s sleeves.

Life figured out how to ingest some of those newly evolving minerals and rearrange them into yet more unique minerals that could then be used for building body parts.

Life also somehow figured out how to split water molecules into their individual atom’s thus starting the rise of free oxygen. A very rare thing because oxygen is one of the most reactive atoms around. Meaning mineral evolution was supercharged once oxygen atoms were available to bind with.

Life kept on making more oxygen, with time oxygen ran out of minerals and elements such as iron to bind with, then it started to accumulate in the atmosphere.

That led to some real losers, still only oxygen had the properties (reactivity) that had the potential to power complex organisms with their intensive metabolisms. Meaning the losers were very simple organisms, while the stage was being prepared for something much grander.

Biology kept busy getting along and figuring out how to do the things it did better, since that’s what got passed down in greater quantity. Thus the first few billion years of Earth unfolded with little to see on the outside, but much experimentation going on at the fine detail level. Discovering biological tricks, engineering molecular components that would later enable complex life to blossom.

But biology couldn’t have done it without her partner geology! Earth’s geology includes our moon which probably played a big role in kick starting plate tectonics, which kick-started continent formation.

That turned into evolution’s forge. You know, with all that volcanic activity; its mixing, and pressing, and baking, and bulldozing, and dispersing huge masses of land.

We’ve also learned that the moon started orbiting rather close in to Earth and in the beginning the days were as short as 5 hours. Of course as the moon pulled away from Earth, the days became incrementally longer while the tides became shorter. The moon continues pulling away from Earth today, though now it’s slowed down to about an inch and half a year.

Try to imagine those first billion years, humongous relentless tidal waves racing at highway speeds, mowing down early volcanoes as they emerged from the oceans.

But the volcanoes were equally relentless, mountains and continental shelves slowly built up upon huge tectonic plates that floated atop Earth’s softer mantel, as baby continents were jostled around our globe, driven by deep down convection. These were destined to smash into each other and create yet more volcanoes and land formations, and so on.

Do you know that for the first nearly 4 billion years there were no plants, no roots, no soil, only wind, rain, rivers, and the pounding waves. Erosion, rocks, sand and ocean and those relentless waves.

Then some 600/700 million years ago, Earth’s rotational wobble aligned with continental movements and ocean currents to produce a couple glacial periods that covered the continents, turning our planet into a snowball Earth. Periods when glaciers pulverizing massive quantities of rocks on the continents. This then flowed into the seas enriching them with minerals and salts and more building blocks for life. Over the oceans ice reached all the way to the equator.

Then some really wild things started happening. For one, the simple one celled life, that had any sense, kept moving towards the open water and sunlight. See what’s going on here? Though glaciers covered the oceans, it was never 100% covered. There were always currents that came together, cracks and leads and narrow water channels where sunlight still accessed ocean waters.

So these single-celled critter of every variety were increasingly concentrated, meaning competition and opportunities for those who learned fastest and adapted bestest.

All the while, deep in the belly of Earth this kilometer, and more, worth of surface ice was acting not only as insulation but also as a pressure lid. Meaning volcanic activity was stifled, while heat from Earth’s deep interior was accumulating and volcanic pressures were increasing.

Something had to give. For the rest of this story, pick up next month’s Four Corners Free Press, a bargain at 50 cents.

Peter Miesler writes from near Durango, Colo., and maintains a few “information kiosk” blogs, including confrontingsciencecontrarians.blogspot.com/ and NOVillageAtWolfCreek.blogspot.com

From Peter Miesler.