Candlelit Dinner Anyone? (The Great Oxygenation Event)

Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser

In my related article I explained there is an epoch in the Earth’s history termed the “Great Oxygenation Event.” It happened a long time ago, roughly 350 million years ago, when much of today’s coal beds in the earth’s rocks began forming. candlelit dinner

It all began with one simple and then-new invention by Mother Nature. That invention has been truly great and everlasting; it’s widely known under the term PHOTOSYNTHESIS.


Photosynthesis (PS) is the process by which algae and plants convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to organic matter, like the wood of trees. Any other organism on this planet that is not an alga or plant itself feeds on the former. Therefore, CO2 is the source of all life on earth. There is not a single organism that does not require the carbon atom as a basic building block.

Photosynthesis brings about another product, rarely mentioned but vital to all higher organisms on the planet, and that is molecular oxygen (O2). There is no other source of O2 on earth but photosynthesis. Therefore, without carbon dioxide there also would be no free oxygen in our atmosphere.

Oxygen (O2)

Without oxygen in the water there would be no fish. Without oxygen in the air there would be no mammals on land. Oxygen is the material organisms need to turn the plant-accumulated sun-energy into energy useful for our ability to move and propagate. Given its concentration in the air alone, nearly 21%, oxygen is approximately 500 times the level of CO2 that makes up 0.04% (even after burning all the fossil fuels for centuries). As you can see, there is little CO2 but plenty of O2 in the atmosphere.

Given the fact that all free molecular O2 in our atmosphere and water comes solely from CO2 via the photosynthesis (PS) process, you may wonder if this was a “slow and steady” accumulation of O2 or if there were epochs in the earth history that really got the PS process going in grand style. Indeed, the latter was the case and it’s what scientists commonly refer to as “the great oxygenation events” (GOEs). Actually, there were two such periods. The first one some two billion years ago (plus or minus a few million) and second one a billion-plus years later. Now, don’t get the idea that the GOE happened over night or even over a few thousand years. In geological terms such “short” periods are not even mentionable. No, each GOE took many millions of years.

The Great Oxygenation Event

However, the GOE is real, particularly the second one. It was a time of great plant exuberance on earth. Plants like the modern-day horsetail  (Equisetum sp.) and the long-extinct scale trees were growing all over like mad. In some of the coal seams, their imprints can still be found. The GOE happened mainly during the (geological) Carboniferous period stretching from 350 to 300 million years ago. During these 50 million years, a great part of the atmospheric CO2 was converted by PS to O2.

Actually, the PS process was so active then that the O2 concentration in the air rose to 35%, nearly double the level it is today. The decline since took many more millions of years to distribute it “more justly” between the atmosphere and the ocean water. Today, the oceans hold much of that formerly “excess” molecular oxygen. But now back to the “evil” carbon dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

As mentioned already but worth repeating here: the entire supply of molecular oxygen on earth is derived from that CO2. Naturally (pun intended) the PS process did not just create the oxygen, it also had a “side effect” of reducing the atmosphere’s content of CO2. Around the time of the GOE, the atmosphere contained more than ten times the level of today and before that it was more than a 100 times that level.

Despite the planet’s continuous (and still continuing) attempts to keep the atmosphere supplied with an adequate level of that CO2 stuff it had steadily declined to a level of approximately 200 ppm (parts per million). At that concentration, plants simply become starved of available CO2 as its partial pressure can no longer sustain PS. Mother Nature’s PS process consumed more CO2 than all the thousands of volcanic vents and eruptions could push into the air. Luckily for all life on earth, the algae and plants did not die out and managed to slow down their CO2 consumption by “hibernating” until they could once more “breathe again freely” when the CO2 level had increased again. There is evidence in for that in the renewed growth of ancient redwood trees in California.

You’d think these facts alone would be enough to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all “anti-carbon-footprint-advisors” like the United Nations’ IPCC and many NGOs to reconsider. Not a chance. They are hell-bent to call it pollution. Even the U.S. Supreme Court said so (perhaps you can forward the link to this post or a copy to the court and/or to any of the elected officials in your area); they might just be interested in getting this info.

In any event, I think it’s an appropriate contribution “Earth Hour” which is held annually and this year was on Saturday, March 28, 2015. The WWF and other NGOs asked you to curtail your “carbon footprint” for the “sake of Mother Nature.” Some folks held a candle light dinner or candle light party.

That’s great, burn some candles at Earth Hour. It’s good, really, because burning candles produce more life-sustaining carbon dioxide than modern low-carbon-footprint electric lights.  


Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts

Dr. Kaiser can be reached