• Issue 57 / January - March 2007

    The Most Terrifying Global Catastrophe

    Mustafa Nutku

    The atmosphere, which completely surrounds our Earth, is an aggregate of different elements. Its composition is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen; the remaining 1% consists of argon, neon, carbon dioxide and water vapor. In its elemental free state, and in a mixture with other gases in the atmosphere, nitrogen exists in a diatomic molecule like all other gases (with the exception of the noble gases-helium, neon, argon, krypton, and radon). The two nitrogen atoms that form a nitrogen molecule are united by a triple bond. For this reason, nitrogen molecules are stable: they do not separate easily from each other to form compounds with other atoms. This is known as the inertia property of nitrogen, which can be expressed as follows:

    Thus, the nitrogen molecule is inert and stable. However, in spite of this fact, nitrogen molecules undergo oxidization in the presence of water; in other words, nitrogen molecules are unstable in the presence of H2O and more easily form other compounds. This is expressed in the following equation:

    This reaction occurs quite slowly. If this reaction did not occur so slowly, all of the nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the atmosphere would immediately combine with ocean water to form nitric acid. If this were to occur, an extraordinarily terrifying scenario that would lead to a global catastrophe would occur: The earth’s oceans would change into nitric acid, the most powerful and harmful acid in both its oxidizing and its acidizing effects! Such an event would entirely consume the nitrogen and oxygen of the atmosphere. The only more devastating global calamity imaginable is the apocalypse and the end of time itself! Of course, this chemical reaction cannot be entirely eliminated, even if its rapid occurrence would result in a terrifying global catastrophe. On the contrary, this chemical reaction must continue to occur slowly, as it has in the past, in order to ensure the proper formation of nitrogen compounds in the chemistry of the ocean; this is crucial to the continuation of life on earth. It is interesting that this phenomenon can show us how misguided some philosophers and philosophical movements, who have not based their thinking on religious principles, are in their attempts to demonstrate that humankind is God-like.

    Although humankind is the most perfect creation in the universe, we are nonetheless almost entirely helpless in the face of the dangers that threaten us. The chemical reaction, summarized briefly above, has been taken from a basic chemistry textbook. The rate of the chemical reaction we described-in which nitrogen molecules in the presence of water can result in oxidation and the formation of nitric acid-in fact occurs in such a measured way that it is beneficial rather than harmful. This fact, along with the regularity at which the rate of this reaction occurs, clearly demonstrates the helplessness of the human condition.

    Fortunately, the slow rate at which this reaction occurs ensures that the terrifying global catastrophe described above does not occur. Entire oceans do not turn into nitric acid, and the oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere, which is so crucial to our survival, is not consumed in this apocalyptic fashion. Should we not, therefore, learn the chemistry behind this good fortune? Even more importantly, should not we wonder Who calibrates the rate of this reaction, and continues to ensure that this careful calibration is not disturbed?


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