Here at the top of the food chain, less than two weeks from a national election in the world’s richest country, intra-species power struggles seem like where the most interesting action is. But writing about the Carnial Pluvial Episode – “one of the oddest climate events, and most severe biotic crises, in the history of life” – Peter Brannen has a reminder of the myopathy of that view:
Though they are often thought of as the mascots for mass extinction, dinosaurs benefited tremendously from the specter of indiscriminate destruction and climate chaos over their entire history—from this, the Carnian Pluvial Episode, to the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic which took out their crocodilian competitors and ensured the dinosaurs’ reign for over 100 million years. But mass extinction is an untameable fire and, in the end, brings about the fall of even the most storied empires.
Two hundred and thirty-four million years ago a path was cleared by climate change for the dinosaurs’ eventual dominance—propelling a previously unimpressive tribe toward greatness, like a band of ragged but resourceful Romans overthrowing the Etruscans. If our species is in the late stages of empire, for whom are we clearing a path?
As Carl Sagan put it, “the Earth is where we make our stand.” But we probably won’t be the last species to do that. It’s healthy to zoom out sometimes.