Chapter 4 – The “Relativity” of Time and Temperature

By Michael Belsick

This chapter about time may seem irrelevant to a discussion about climate change.  I have included it because it may provide a better comprehension of time with respect to the Earth’s climate over the eons.  In the previous chapter, we discussed how orbital mechanics of the Earth’s rotation around the sun changes every 100,000 years.  That is an extremely large number to comprehend.  The birth of Jesus Christ was just over 2,000 years ago and that seems to us a very long time ago.  So how can anyone truly comprehend the age of the Earth and everything that has occurred on Earth during that time?  No person can truly understand the almost infinite.  When it comes to the creation of the heavens and Earth, the age of the Earth is incomprehensible because it is so far beyond the limits of our own lifespans.  Let me try to convey nearly infinite time as if it were condensed down to a 24-hour period that we can comprehend.  If the Earth was formed out of gases and rocks 24 hours ago (4.54 billion years ago actually), then here are some milestones in geological time:

  • After 4 hours and 10 minutes, bacteria-like life first appeared in the seas (3.5 billion years ago)
  • After 12 hours and 31 minutes, an oxygen atmosphere formed (the beginning of weather)
  • After 18 hours and 46 minutes, the first multi-celled organisms appeared (600 million years ago)
  • After 21 hours and 47 minutes, the first vascular plant life appeared
  • After 22 hours and 24 minutes, the first reptile appeared
  • After 22 hours and 46 minutes, the first dinosaur appeared
  • After 23 hours and 39 minutes, dinosaurs became extinct (That was 65 million years ago)
  • After 23 hours and 53 minutes, apes first appeared
  • After 23 hours and 59 minutes and 58 seconds, homo sapiens arrived on Earth
  • After 23 hours and 59 minutes and 59 seconds, wooly mammoths became extinct (4,000 year ago)
  • As the clock strikes 24.00-hour, modern man is finally on Earth (still long before Jesus Christ was born)

There are few points to be made from above.  First and foremost, no one was around when the Earth was formed to document the process.  Carbon dating (estimating the age of something due to the radioactive decay of carbon from when it was originally formed) greatly helps in determining the age of fossilized bones and organic matter.  But carbon dating only works for something less than 75,000 years old.  If something is older than that, then comparative aging is used to determine how old something is.  For example, if a find is made and one can determine the age of the rock around it, then you have a good guess as to the age of the object.   The bottom line is that all the science can do is to look back at geological and fossil evidence to piece together the best guess of what happened and approximately when it happened.  As such, it is merely a hypothesis, the best that modern science can provide.

Figure 12. Continental Drift

Additionally, the Earth has undergone massive changes in land masses, shown in Figure 12.  Using known plate tectonics, scientists speculate the existence of one super continent, Pangea, some 200 million years ago (22 hours and 56 minutes ago per the above analogy).  These plates slowly started to drift apart over time forming the continents that we have today.  Consider this.  We know that gas and oil deposits were created back when large amounts of organic matter grew, died, and were buried by earth.  Over millions of years, this “fermented” and became oil.  I for one cannot envision massive amounts of organic matter growing in the Arctic or Middle East as they are today.  What if these areas used to be tropical rain forests near the equator when the organic matter was deposited?  During the “fermenting” period, these large land masses moved to where they are today?  If land masses can move, then everything that one currently envisions as a stable climate is also subject to change.

Since I like analogies, here is one.  Imagine a 1-mile long picture that depicts the entire history of the Earth and life on Earth.  Cut that picture up into jigsaw puzzle pieces and dump most of the pieces into the trash never to be seen again.  Now there are only a few remaining pieces left, most of which are from only one end of the puzzle (representing human’s existence “today and recent past”).  Scientists sort through these remaining pieces of the puzzle and try to accurately place them on the puzzle board where they belong, trying to reconstruct the entire puzzle.  Since no one was around to see or know of all the different puzzle pieces, scientist can never prove exactly what happened and how the pieces fit together.  What we have today is the collective best guess of all scientists.  This does not prove scientists are wrong.  It merely means that scientists can never prove that they are 100% correct.  That is important to remember.

I wrote this chapter in order to provide a perspective for the reader.  Mankind thinks of time in terms of his personal existence.   We expect tomorrow to be just like today.  Essentially, we anthropomorphize history.  Conversely, history does not give a hoot about humans.   The important “take away” from this chapter is two-fold.  First, the notion of time is relative per our understanding.  Science does the best that it can to determine “what” happened and “when”.  It is their collective best guess, even if they attempt to make it sound absolute.  Second, pre-historic temperatures are also merely the collective best guesses from scientists.  There were no thermometers or people to read them in pre-historic times.  In other words, be skeptical of anyone trying to “sell” you some supposedly absolute truth.  That advice includes even this author.  I am merely providing the information that I have been taught or read.  I am here trying to provide everyone the facts as I know them plus the uncertainty surrounding those facts.