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The Earth Before Hydrocarbons

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The Earth Before Hydrocarbons

It is important to note that in the above circle graphs, nitrogen, oxygen, and argon compose 99.964% of our atmosphere. The amount of CO2 is 0.04%.

That is NOT 4% or even four-tenths of one percent. It is four one-hundredths of one percent: 407 parts per million (by weight: One part per million is one gram per million grams). The below graphs are from NASA.

Dropping back 500 million years, before there were any hydrocarbons beneath the surface of the Earth, there was abundant plant life and animals with vertebrae had evolved.

Indeed, recently the remains of “giant worms” in northern Greenland (there was no Greenland ice sheet) dating from that period have been found. At that point, there were thousands of square miles of shallow coastal and inland seas.

As plant life and single-cell organisms decayed and died, they sank to the bottom. Over many millions of years, this dead organic matter was covered and compressed as continents shifted and the land sank and rose.

The plants became coal. Cellulose (C6H10O5) is the primary organic component of plants. Simply put, photosynthesis in plants takes water from the Earth and CO2 from the atmosphere, and together with energy from the sun produces organic molecules with the sun’s energy stored in the bonds that bind the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

Carbohydrates and hydrocarbons: same stuff. The coal family ranges from peat to anthracite with a half-dozen grades in between (lignite, bituminous, etc.).

Peat is not much different from wood; anthracite coal is almost pure carbon. Besides carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, coal also contains sulfur, nitrogen, and coal ash. Of course, when carbon burns, CO2 is produced.

The single-cell organisms that decayed and sank became covered, turning into petroleum. The petroleum subjected to the most pressure and temperature became natural gas, i.e., 95% methane (CH4). CH4 + 2O2 = CO2 + 2H20

The process of the formation of hydrocarbons began about 500 million years ago, spanned several hundred million years, and ended about seventy-five million years ago.

Earth has never been too warm, at most about twenty degrees Fahrenheit above today’s average temperature.

That average temperature level was maintained over billions of years with no carbon stored underground.

Twenty degrees warmer would put an end to snow in much of the world, but that would be it. The Yukon and Siberia would be pleasant places to live and farm.


Robert Stewart is a graduate of Brown University and he has law degrees from New England School of Law and New York University Graduate Law School. He is presently a semi-retired (retired but still working) mathematics instructor at a technical high school in Massachusetts. He has followed closely the climate debate and the many failed predictions for fifty years.

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