Human Ancestors Lived In A Low-Carbon World

Human Ancestors Lived In A Low-carbon World

Turritella sea snail shells from the Pleistocene of Sicily. Image: By Wilson44691, via Wikimedia Commons

Carbon dioxide levels are higher now than in all human history, and prehistory too: a low-carbon world nurtured our distant forebears.

For the entire 2.5 million years of the Ice Age epoch called the Pleistocene, it was a low-carbon world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide hovered around 230 parts per million. Not only did Homo sapiens evolve on a low-carbon planet, so did Homo erectus and most other human species now known only from fossil evidence in Europe and Asia.

And this long history of a planet kept cool and stable by low levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continued long after the discovery of fire, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the fall and rise of empires and the Industrial Revolution.

Only in 1965 did carbon dioxide levels pass 320 ppm, after a century of exploitation of fossil fuels that released ancient carbon back into atmospheric circulation.

By 2019, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere had tipped 410 ppm and is still rising. In less than a century, human action had raised planetary average temperatures by around 1°C. At present rates, this average could reach 3°C by the end of this century.

Researchers have known for a century that humans emerged in a cooler world, but much of the story of the distant past was based on the evidence of fossils and sedimentary rocks. The latest research pushes the detailed atmospheric carbon dioxide accounting back to at least 2.5 million years.

“This current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us”

Researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they studied the pattern of carbon isotope readings preserved in the deep yellow soils of China’s loess plateau. What they found confirmed 800,000 years of annual evidence from the ice cores of Antarctica and Greenland – and far beyond that limit.

The wind-blown loess of China dates back to at least 22 million years and each successive layer carries isotope evidence that can be read as testimony to the atmospheric conditions in which the soils were laid down.

The latest find confirms that the normal state of the planet during human evolution was cool, with low levels of atmospheric carbon. Homo erectus was the first known human predecessor to exploit fire, systematically fashion stone hand axes, and to leave Africa for Asia and Europe.

“According to this research, from the first Homo erectus, which is currently dated to 2.1 to 1.8 million years ago, we have lived in a low-carbon environment – concentrations were less than 320 parts per million,” said Yige Zhang, a geoscientist at Texas A&M University in the US, who worked with colleagues in Nanjing, China, and California Institute of Technology.

“So this current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us, for ourselves.” – Climate News Network

About the Author

Tim Radford, freelance journalistTim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities. 

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolutionBook by this Author:

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
by Tim Radford.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon. (Kindle book)

This Article Originally Appeared On Climate News Network

Related Books

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know

by Joseph Romm
0190866101The essential primer on what will be the defining issue of our time, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is a clear-eyed overview of the science, conflicts, and implications of our warming planet. From Joseph Romm, Chief Science Advisor for National Geographic's Years of Living Dangerously series and one of Rolling Stone's "100 people who are changing America," Climate Change offers user-friendly, scientifically rigorous answers to the most difficult (and commonly politicized) questions surrounding what climatologist Lonnie Thompson has deemed "a clear and present danger to civilization.". Available On Amazon

Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future second edition Edition

by Jason Smerdon
0231172834This second edition of Climate Change is an accessible and comprehensive guide to the science behind global warming. Exquisitely illustrated, the text is geared toward students at a variety of levels. Edmond A. Mathez and Jason E. Smerdon provide a broad, informative introduction to the science that underlies our understanding of the climate system and the effects of human activity on the warming of our planet.Mathez and Smerdon describe the roles that the atmosphere and ocean play in our climate, introduce the concept of radiation balance, and explain climate changes that occurred in the past. They also detail the human activities that influence the climate, such as greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions and deforestation, as well as the effects of natural phenomena.  Available On Amazon

The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course

by Blair Lee, Alina Bachmann
194747300XThe Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course uses text and eighteen hands-on activities to explain and teach the science of global warming and climate change, how humans are responsible, and what can be done to slow or stop the rate of global warming and climate change. This book is a complete, comprehensive guide to an essential environmental topic. Subjects covered in this book include: how molecules transfer energy from the sun to warm the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect, global warming, the Industrial Revolution, the combustion reaction, feedback loops, the relationship between weather and climate, climate change, carbon sinks, extinction, carbon footprint, recycling, and alternative energy. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

EVIDENCE

Why We Know California Wildfires Will Get Even Worse
Why We Know California Wildfires Will Get Even Worse
by Kevin Stacey
The severity of wildfires in the Sierra Nevada region of California has been sensitive to changes in climate over the…
New Research Shows How Much Methane Goes From The Ocean To The Atmosphere Each Year
New Research Shows How Much Methane Goes From The Ocean To The Atmosphere Each Year
by Lindsey Valich
New research uses data science to determine how much methane goes from the ocean and into the atmosphere each year.
How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?
How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?
by Mark New
As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and…
Why Some People Still Think Climate Change Isn't Real
Why Some People Still Think Climate Change Isn't Real
by David Hall
At its heart, climate change denial is a conflict between facts and values. People deny the climate crisis because, to…
Europe's Most Iconic Mountain Is A Climate Change Warning
by ABC News
ABC News' James Longman reports from Mont Blanc, where a glacier on the Italian side of the mountain is breaking apart…
Science Counts Humankind’s Carbon Output
Science Counts Humankind’s Carbon Output
by Tim Radford
We leave the planet’s volcanos far behind on greenhouse gas emissions: humankind’s carbon output can exceed theirs by…
Scientists Moor Ship In Arctic Ice For A Year To Better Understand Climate Change
Scientists Moor Ship In Arctic Ice For A Year To Better Understand Climate Change
by Marta Moreno Ibáñez and Rene Laprise
Long polar nights, polar bears, freezing temperatures plunging to -45C. This is what the 600 experts taking part in the…
Human Ancestors Lived In A Low-carbon World
Human Ancestors Lived In A Low-Carbon World
by Tim Radford
Carbon dioxide levels are higher now than in all human history, and prehistory too: a low-carbon world nurtured our…

LATEST VIDEOS

Emergency Medicine For Our Climate Fever
by Kelly Wanser
As we recklessly warm the planet by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, some industrial emissions also…
What Extinction Rebellion climate activists are demanding from governments
by Democracy Now!
More than 700 climate activists were arrested in 60 cities worldwide in a global effort aimed at urging governments to…
Can Nature Repair The Planet From Climate Change?
by The Economist
A closer look at one of the most familiar responses offered to the climate crisis.
How Climate Change Is Threatening Homes In Mumbai
by South China Morning Post
Lowland cities and islands such as the Indian city of Mumbai may face increasingly frequent floods and storms
This is Not A Drill: 700+ Arrested as Extinction Rebellion Fights Climate Crisis With Direct Action
by Democracy Now!
More than 700 people have been arrested in civil disobedience actions as the group Extinction Rebellion kicked off two…
Europe's Most Iconic Mountain Is A Climate Change Warning
by ABC News
ABC News' James Longman reports from Mont Blanc, where a glacier on the Italian side of the mountain is breaking apart…
Something Drastic Has To Happen - Roger Hallam
by Extinction Rebellion
Roger Hallam talks with Stephen Sackur from BBC HardTalk about the need to ACT NOW.
Three Steps to Cut Your Carbon Footprint 60% Today
by TEDx Talks
Not all carbon is created equal. Writer Jackson Carpenter argues that the power to stop climate change rests on…

LATEST ARTICLES

India Builds Homes To Resist Climate Linked Floods
India Builds Homes To Resist Climate Linked Floods
by Our Chennai correspondent
Bamboo, lime and mud are traditional materials being used innovatively in southern India to rebuild homes that can…
Why We Know California Wildfires Will Get Even Worse
Why We Know California Wildfires Will Get Even Worse
by Kevin Stacey
The severity of wildfires in the Sierra Nevada region of California has been sensitive to changes in climate over the…
Extinction Rebellion's Car-free Streets Showcase The Possibility Of A Beautiful, Safe And Green Future
Extinction Rebellion's Car-free Streets Showcase The Possibility Of A Beautiful, Safe And Green Future
by Paul Chatterton
Standing in the middle of a usually busy central London street during Extinction Rebellion’s protests, the air…
New Research Shows How Much Methane Goes From The Ocean To The Atmosphere Each Year
New Research Shows How Much Methane Goes From The Ocean To The Atmosphere Each Year
by Lindsey Valich
New research uses data science to determine how much methane goes from the ocean and into the atmosphere each year.
Great Lakes Flooding: The Warning Signs That Homes Must Be Moved
Great Lakes Flooding: The Warning Signs That Homes Must Be Moved
by Daniel Macfarlane
Every fall, I take my environmental studies class camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan.
Mayors Of 94 Cities Are Taking The Green New Deal Global, As States Fail To Act On Climate Crisis
Mayors Of 94 Cities Are Taking The Green New Deal Global, As States Fail To Act On Climate Crisis
by Simon Curtis
At the seventh World Mayor’s Summit in Copenhagen, leaders of 94 cities embraced a global Green New Deal, in an attempt…
Why We Need To Treat Wildfire As A Public Health Issue In California
Why We Need To Treat Wildfire As A Public Health Issue In California
by Faith Kearns and Max Moritz
Deadly fires across California over the past several years have shown how wildfire has become a serious public health…
Upside-Down Rivers Speed Polar Ice Loss
Upside-Down Rivers Speed Polar Ice Loss
by Tim Radford
Researchers move closer to understanding the invisible dynamics that drive the loss of polar ice shelves – but what it…