When you're diving, you crash through glass, shattered into a million pieces by the waves. The ocean's surface really is a glass border between two different worlds. From above the glass is dark, the waves are blue. From below, the glass is white, the waves shimmer with light. When you dive you pass, truly, into a bizarro world.
When I went under I looked up, at what was once down. It made no sense. I could see the sun, but everything around it had folded into an unintelligible circle. The ocean's surface really is glass in that sense, it forms a literal fish-eye lens, sucking in the sky from horizon to zenith.
From below, it looks a mess. The waves make an undulating hall of funhouse mirrors, each one moving with the wind. It's beautiful but impossible to comprehend. I looked for a minute and then that world just disappeared. Underwater, it really feels like above water doesn't exist.
I thought, as I turned and looked down. This is what fish must feel like. They must not give a fuck about us. Just as we don't give a fuck about them. Life on our side of the mirror is killing them. I can see it in the bleached coral from the ever warming seas. This isn't the first time death has come across the glass border. Two billion years ago, it was the oceans that changed the air.
It's called the Great Oxygenation Event or—depending on who you're asking—the Great Oxygen Holocaust. It's important to understand, because we're causing another holocaust today.
The Great Oxygen Holocaust
When I was diving, I was sucking on my regulator for dear life. It's funny, because I was actually sucking on farts. Oxygen is a waste product of photosynthesis. It's literally plant and bacterial farts. We live off it, like a dung beetle lives off shit, but these farts are unbelievably toxic. If you dive with 100% oxygen, it kills you after about 6m. Oxygen is flammable, it corrodes iron to dust, it's nasty as fuck.
From roughly 3.5 to 2 billion years ago, cyanobacteria farted up so much oxygen that it caused rampant climate change. Their farts oxidized methane and slowly (then all at once) cooled the Earth, turning the place into a giant snowball. The Earth froze down to the equator and almost everyone died. It was fucking shit. But out of these wintery ashes, life as we know it emerged.
Hence you have me, sucking on this toxin, while fish sip it out of the sea. In small doses, it's a magical energy source, powering us as much as it powers a candle. Cyanobacteria really was Prometheus, bring energy to the earth. This was the terrible terraforming of the Earth, making it habitable for life as we know it. And it all came from farts. Cyanobacteria treated the atmosphere like a toilet, but from life emerged like a lotus from the muck.
Looking down, while diving, I can see the Great Carbon Holocaust we're living through today. The bleached and brown coral of our decimated reefs. Industrial farts have been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere for decades. The oceans have absorbed over 90% of this heat, but something's gotta give.
Last holocaust, the oceans and iron absorbed oxygen in 'sinks' until they just couldn't anymore. The collapse happened slowly, then all at once. The same thing is happening today. The oceans will absorb heat steadily until they just collapse. Then the poles will melt, the seas will rise, entire ecosystems will completely disappear. We are stumbling into it now, but at some point we'll just hurtle into a Fireball Earth. We're fucking doing it again. It's another planetary holocaust.
It took bacteria hundreds of millions of years to learn from their mistakes and balance the thermostat. Are we as smart? I honestly don't know. Whatever we're doing, we're doing it faster than ever before. We're really underestimating how unpredictable this all is.
Through A Mirror Lightly
We stop at 5 meters to let the nitrogen bubble out of our cells. Then we kick upwards, through the glass, as it fractures into bubbles and light. I take out my regulator and breathe in the vivacious air. Suddenly the ocean is opaque again. I'm on the other side of the mirror. Up has become down, light has become dark. Bizarro world is gone, or I'm in bizarro world. Everything feels strange.
Diving is controlled dying. You're slowly running out of air. That's how it feels to be alive right now. We're in an uncontrolled dying, quickly running out of time. I can see it underwater, I can feel it in the hot April air. But what do I do? Suranga pulls the diesel engine, and stands up, steering with his foot. Inside, drops of dead photosynthetizers come briefly back to life, their souls turning the engine before leaving to heat the sky. They changed the Earth forever, not once, but now twice. It feels like we're just along for the dive.