Thursday, December 20, 2007

Humans Massed, Ready for Extinction

Bloggingheads.tv had one of the best Science Saturdays I have seen this past week. I’d strongly recommend the entire 1 hour talk between science writer extraordinaire Carl Zimmer and University of Washington Professor Peter Ward, who has also authored some 15 books. His most recent has shot up on my "to read" list and is called Under a Green Sky. Ward is a paleontologist and has spent much of his career studying mass extinctions. He is a fascinating interview; articulate, knowledgeable and fully aware that his audience may not share his expertise.

I am also linking you to what I considered the most important part of the “diavlog” and I hope, if you don’t want to watch the entire hour, you’ll click on it and watch this shorter segment. If anyone does, please leave a comment about what you think. I’d love to discuss the issues he brings up.

You may think you know about past extinctions and what would be the probable cause of a future one, but some of the scientific understanding seems to be shifting. Just to tease you a bit – it’s not necessarily the “impact” or the “warming” that Ward thinks will directly cause the extinctions. He also gives some fascinating insights into the science wars that go on whenever a new hypothesis causes a re-examination of the orthodoxy.

7 comments:

Brian said...

Wow! I normally can't be bothered to sit through interviews, but that was really interesting.(Okay, I've only watched a couple of parts so far).

Death by sewer gas - sounds like a horrible way to die.

The Exterminator said...

I'd say that my reaction pretty much echoes Carl Zimmer's:Oh, boy followed by humorless, nervous titters.

By the way, I've decided to invest in scented candles for when the entire Earth smells like one giant fart.

John Evo said...

Zimmer is not yet in his element, doing these bloggingheads diavlogs but he always lines up great guests. His last one was Lee Silver.

Anyway, I appreciate that he tends not to "get in the way" of a guy like Peter Ward. He pretty much just lets him run with it, though there were some follow-ups I think he should have gone after. Hopefully he'll get Ward back on again soon.

So, if I understand Ward (and maybe one of you can correct me) he still is on-board with the K/T extinction being primarily due to the meteor that hit in southern Mexico about 65 million years ago, but is arguing that most of the others had a different cause.

I had never heard it put the way he's talking about, but it sounds solid. I heard one that's similar and it goes like this: a global warming episode got rolling, causing a positive feedback loop that accelerated. The warming melted large parts of Siberia, releasing methane gas that had been trapped for millions of years in the ice. The methane killed life on many continents.

What he is saying sounds more probable, because the effects would be more world-wide.

Sillysighbean said...

I listened to Peter Ward on some podcast before this and the one fact that stuck with me was that along with the asteroid hitting us causing an extinction, there have been other extinctions..maybe about 15, those having to do with changes in the oxygen/carbon dioxide ratios. Why can't the disbelievers in global warming get with that fact that it is not a good idea to be putting CO2 in the environment. For the first time in the history of this planet we can actually do something to control our fate. I don't think we are going to make it as a species. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

The Exterminator said...

I'm not qualified to judge what he says using scientific data. But it sounds probable to me, too, and doesn't paint a pretty picture.

Gas mask, anyone?

ordinary girl said...

Hey, Bloggingheads is working for me this morning, so I'm watching this now (or listening at the moment). Thanks for sharing! I had given up listening to it at work.

PhillyChief said...

Mmmhmmm.... mmmm.... riiight.... yeah.... mmmhmmm.

Maybe if we all start eating more brussels sprouts, we'll condition ourselves so that when the methane comes, we can survive it. HA! I've also justified more days of beer, bbq and/or wings! Nice.