I understand that the vast majority of you are busy cleaning up from Thanksgiving, putting up Christmas lights and shopping for gifts for those you hold near and dear. Trust me… I have the same concerns and pressures on my time. But if you have a free moment to spare, the good folks at The Daily Beast have an announcement which you may wish to factor into your holiday planning:

You’re all going to die.

The fraction of species now at risk of extinction in the near future includes over one quarter of all species being monitored including mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish.

The potential losses of species are on a scale that is rivaled by only a few events in the last 500 million years of Earth’s history. Five times during that span, the majority of species on the planet vanished in a short interval of time. Scientists have now identified the triggers of two of those events: an asteroid that struck Earth 66 million years ago and wiped out dinosaurs and much more, and massive eruptions of volcanoes underneath Siberia that decimated the world 252 million years ago.

While the triggers for these two calamities were different, detailed study of what unfolded in the past reveals a common mode of destruction that is relevant to understanding our predicament today: in each case, mass extinction resulted from large and rapid environmental change on a global scale. Indeed, the main weapons of mass destruction unleashed by the Siberian eruptions included enormous quantities of the very familiar climate-changing gas carbon dioxide. The great concern of scientists today is that the potential global temperature changes projected over the next century approach those that took place 252 million years ago

The odd part of this article is that I actually agree with a few of the basic conclusions, though not for the reasons given. There are definitely a large number of species which have gone extinct and more which almost undoubtedly will in the future. For many of them, the industrial activities and expansion of mankind have clearly been a factor, largely due to reductions in suitable habitat. That’s unfortunate, but we take up a lot of space and we mold the planet to our needs as the dominant species.

As my dad used to to say with a wry bit of humor… if the cows didn’t want to be eaten they should have evolved better weapons technology sooner.

As to mankind, in the end we shall almost certainly meet our doom. If you choose to view this through a religious prism, Judgement Day is coming sooner or later. From a more secular standpoint, any number of catastrophes await us. Meteor strikes, supervolcanoes, another period of intense volcanic activity, the next ice age, the collision of the continents as the next Pangea is formed, or just the eventual expansion of the sun as it runs out of fuel. Unless we find a way off this rock, our number will eventually be up.

But the idea that we have figured out the climate change question to the point where we can predict that the end is near might be a Cambrian bridge too far.

Tags: extinction