November 03, 2016

Is it the end of the world as we know it? If so, do you feel fine? Credit: KFDL / Flickr Creative Commons

When you picture the end of the world - as we know it - what do you see? Zombies? Some sort of road warrior-filled desert? More zombies? Try this on for size: a climate so transformed that it becomes inhospitable to life. That actually happened around 2 billion years ago. And you can pin it on a single culprit: blue-green algae, which farted out so much oxygen that creatures that couldn’t adapt to the new enviornment found it impossible to survive. Turns out, our planet has undergone a handful of mass extinction events, periods during which much of the life on Earth has been wiped out. Annalee Newitz is the author of “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember,” and she thinks there are lessons we can apply to the mass extinction event that we may be living through right now.

Three Takeaways:

  • According to Newitz, all five mass extinction events in Earth’s history have had one thing in common. Each one “destroyed the planet by changing the climate very quickly.” 
  • If humans go through a big mass extinction event (which, due to climate change, could be happening now), Newitz doesn’t think everyone is going to die. Humans are too spread out and too adaptable. Instead, it’s just going to be horrific for the select few who survive.
  • Evidence for a sixth mass extinction: A lot of biological diversity is being destroyed due to human involvement, and it looks like we’re past the carbon tipping point. Newitz says it’s difficult to comprehend the idea that we’re in such peril, because things seem so normal. But extinctions frequently unfold over the course of thousands of years.

More Reading

environment, WGBH, pri, Kara Miller, Annalee Newitz

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