In Episode 3 of Catastrophe series, host Tony Robbins continues to explore the global disasters that enabled humanity's evolution. This segment traces the events that lead to the massive Permian Extinction that decimated 95% of life on the planet some 250 million years ago, and what implications those events may have on us today.
It was initially theorized that an asteroid blast nearly destroyed Earth in its Permian Age by blacking out the sun and essentially choking out the majority of ancient life forms; however, evidence found through the study of ancient rocks indicates that the extinction was actually a slow-burn event that took course over the span of a hundred-thousand years, whereas an impact-induced extinction would have occurred within a matter of weeks or even days. It is instead Siberia's ancient lava flow, the Siberian Traps, which led scientists to identify volcanic flood basalt as the true instigator of the Permian extinction.
Interview subjects explain that volcanic conditions created storms of acid rain, which were responsible for ravaging Earth's surface and collapsing the food chain and ecological structure. Although some sulfuric acid remained in the atmosphere and cooled the planet's surface, the eruptions ultimately caused the atmosphere to warm to a degree that had a severe negative impact on climate systems, causing droughts and scorched deserts across the world. Waters went stagnant due to hydrogen sulfide gas and the majority of life at that time failed to escape the extreme change in climate. The remaining 5%, however, evolved into life as we now know it.
Taking a cautionary tone, this episode asks if we are now recreating these same devastating conditions with our current level of carbon dioxide production. Could it be that we are headed towards a new age of extinction, destined to repeat our planet's past devastation? One scientist indicates the answer is a known "yes" and the real question is simply a matter of "when?" Planet of Fire effectively brings our planetary past into our present with this dark but pressing inquiry, reminding us of the many catastrophic events that enabled our world to exist in the first place as well as its ever-changing nature.