extinction

Just another climate extinction prediction scare from the UofA

Arizona Daily Star story Feb 19, 2020:

Print edition title: UA researchers: Warming could kill 3 million species in 50 years.

Online edition title: Arizona researchers predict extinction explosion in bleak new study

Star reporter Henry Brean writes: Human-caused climate change could drive close to a third of all plant and animal species worldwide to extinction in the next 50 years, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Arizona. Without a concerted effort to curb global warming, roughly 3 million species could be lost by 2070, warned UA professor John Wiens, who co-authored the study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “What happens is up to us,” Wiens said. “If we do nothing, there’s going to be a massive loss of species. If we take action … we can cut that in half.”

See also: UofA press release

The paper:

Recent responses to climate change reveal the drivers of species extinction and survival

by Cristian Román-Palacios and John J. Wiens

The paper was published February 10, 2020 in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.) The PNAS paper is paywalled but you can read the full paper from Prof. Wiens’ website.

Abstract

“Climate change may be a major threat to biodiversity in the next 100 years. Although there has been important work on mechanisms of decline in some species, it generally remains unclear which changes in climate actually cause extinctions, and how many species will likely be lost. Here, we identify the specific changes in climate that are associated with the widespread local extinctions that have already occurred. We then use this information to predict the extent of future biodiversity loss and to identify which processes may forestall extinction. We used data from surveys of 538 plant and animal species over time, 44% of which have already had local extinctions at one or more sites. We found that locations with local extinctions had larger and faster changes in hottest yearly temperatures than those without. Surprisingly, sites with local extinctions had significantly smaller changes in mean annual temperatures, despite the widespread use of mean annual temperatures as proxies for overall climate change. Based on their past rates of dispersal, we estimate that 57–70% of these 538 species will not disperse quickly enough to avoid extinction. However, we show that niche shifts appear to be far more important for avoiding extinction than dispersal, although most studies focus only on dispersal. Specifically, considering both dispersal and niche shifts, we project that only 16–30% of these 538 species may go extinct by 2070. Overall, our results help identify the specific climatic changes that cause extinction and the processes that may help species to survive.”

My take:

The paper claims that increases in yearly maximum temperatures is the most critical factor in extinctions, yet according to the paper, maximum temperature increased only 0.4°C at sites with previous extinctions versus 0.14°C at sites without extinction. It is hard to believe that such a small temperature rise would make a difference since over the past 10,000 years Earth experienced several warm-cool cycles of more than 2°C.

The species extinction prediction numbers are based upon temperature projections from climate models and extrapolated to guess possible future temperatures.

But:

“The forcings that drive long-term climate change are not known with an accuracy sufficient to define future climate change.” — James Hansen, “Climate forcings in the Industrial era”, PNAS, Vol. 95, Issue 22, 12753-12758, October 27, 1998.

And:

“In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the prediction of a specific future climate state is not possible.” — Final chapter, Third Assessment Report, IPCC.

The researchers speculate that past local extinctions in the areas studied may be related to climate change, but they present no physical evidence to support the speculation. There may have been other factors contributing to extinction.

Both Star reporter Henry Brean and researcher Wiens cite “human-caused” climate change by which I assume they mean carbon dioxide emissions. However, there is no physical evidence that shows carbon dioxide plays a significant role in controlling global temperature.

The researchers recommend: “…our results also suggest that successful implementation of the Paris Agreement targets (i.e., warming <1.5 °C by 2100) …could help reduce extinctions considerably, possibly to 16% or less by 2070. My, how politically correct.

Related articles:

A Review of the state of Climate Science

New study shows that carbon dioxide is responsible for only seven percent of the greenhouse effect

New Study shows that impact of carbon dioxide rising to 700 ppm is about 0.5°C

University of Arizona produces another global warming food scare

(A recent paper from the University of Arizona claims “Grasses across the globe may be unable to keep pace with a changing climate, threatening some of the world’s most critical food sources, according to new research by University of Arizona ecologists.”)

Impact of Paris climate accord and why Trump was right to dump it

Thought to be Extinct

Climate alarmists keep claiming that global warming will cause massive species extinctions. The latest claim of that type appeared in the Arizona Daily Star, May 1, 2015. This study, from the University of Connecticut used, you guessed it, computer modeling to come to the conclusion that “Global warming will eventually push 1 out of every 13 species on Earth into extinction.” This study (see full paper) was a synthesis, or study of studies, with no real-world original data.

Authors of these papers should get out of the office and look at actual habitat. In a previous ADI article: Habitat niche modeling, predictions of extinction, and a dose of reality scientists compared predictions of where several species should live according to habitat niche models to where they actually lived, based on fossil evidence. The results: “It’s almost as though [they are] living in all of the places that the model says it shouldn’t be living in and not in any of the places that the model says it should be living in,.”

An extensive study: “The Specter of Species Extinction” (60 pages) based on real world investigation concludes “To summarize, both theory and observation paint the same picture. A goodly portion of earth’s plants and animals should actually expand their ranges and gain a stronger foothold on the planet as the atmosphere’s temperature and CO2 concentration continue to rise. If the air’s CO2 content were suddenly to stop increasing, however, the biosphere could find itself facing a significant challenge, as the world’s plants would cease acquiring the extra physiological protection against heat stress that is afforded them by rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Consequently, the end result of curtailing anthropogenic CO2 emissions might well be just the opposite of what many people are hoping to accomplish by encouraging that policy, i.e., many species might actually be driven to extinction, rather than being saved from such a fate.”

Most past major extinctions are associated with extreme cold: ice ages, comet impacts that put much dust in the atmosphere which cooled the planet, and the still unexplained sudden cooling of the Younger Dryas period about 13,000 years ago which caused the demise of mammoths and other mega-fauna. The geologic record also shows that after each extinction event, life rebounded, became more diverse and more robust.

With the foregoing as a preface, I am always amused when some animal, thought to be extinct, is rediscovered. Some recent examples:

March 20, 2015: Hummingbird thought to be extinct spotted in Colombia. [link]

Sep. 8, 2014: Seychelles snail, believed extinct due to climate change, found ‘alive and well,’ says group. [link]

July 9, 2013: ‘Extinct’ corpse-eating fly back from the dead. [link]

July 6, 2013: The northern Mexican garter snake was once thought to be extinct in New Mexico. But several have now been found near the Gila River. [link]

June 4, 2013: An ‘extinct’ frog makes a comeback in Israel. [link]

Sep. 18, 2011: NEW DELHI – Years of combing tropical mountain forests, shining flashlights under rocks and listening for croaks in the night have paid off for Indian scientists who have discovered 12 new frog species plus three others thought to have been extinct. [link]

May 19, 2011: Scientists thought a mysterious guinea pig-sized rodent species (red-crested tree rat, ) that hadn’t been seen in 113 years was long extinct. Until one of them ambled up to two volunteer naturalists at a nature reserve in Colombia two weeks ago. [link]

Sep. 28, 2010: The Guadalupe fur seal was declared extinct in 1892, but thousands of Guadalupe fur seals are now swimming off the coast of Mexico. [link]

Those computer modelers ought to get out in the field once in a while to experience reality.

Habitat niche modeling, predictions of extinction, and a dose of reality

We have all heard dire predictions that global warming will cause species extinction. Such predictions are based on ecological niche models (ENMs) that study where animals live now and assume that they must have the same habitat conditions to survive.

A new study from the University of Oregon, based on fossil evidence shows that these studies fail. The researchers studied the fossil records of five ancient mammalian species that survived North America’s last glacial period. All the models said they should have lived much farther south than the fossil evidence shows.

The paper abstract reads:

Ecological niche models (ENMs) are crucial tools for anticipating range shifts driven by climate change. As hypotheses of future biotic change, they can be difficult to test using independent data. The fossil record is the best way to assess the ability of ENMs to correctly predict range shifts because it provides empirical ranges under novel climate conditions. We tested the performance of ENMs using fossil distributions from the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ~21 000 yr ago). We compared hindcast ENM LGM distribution hypotheses for five species of small mammals, drawn from the published literature, to the known LGM fossil record for those species and found a consistent southern prediction bias in the ENMs. This bias urges caution in interpreting future range predictions, and we suggest that the Pleistocene and Holocene fossil record should be used as an additional resource for calibrating niche modeling for conservation planning.

One of the researchers commented in a press release about the short-tailed shrew, one of the species studied:

It’s almost as though it is living in all of the places that the model says it shouldn’t be living in and not in any of the places that the model says it should be living in,” said Davis, who also is manager of the paleontological collection at the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. “This suggests to me that whatever the model is keying on is not actually important to the shrew.”

Nor to the American marten, two species of flying squirrels and the Gapper’s red-backed vole, all of which lived mostly outside of predicted ranges, according to the fossil record. Northern and southern flying squirrels, the Davis study found, shared a compressed geographic region. It may be, Davis said, that some species tolerate competition under harsh conditions but separate when abundant resources are available.

See Press Release and Full Paper.

As with climate models, we see here, too, that modeling in other areas of science often diverges from actual observation. This occurs either because the modeled systems are too complex or the modelers work with erroneous assumptions. Remember that the next time you see headlines which proclaim extinction of species X due to global warming.

See also:

Ozone theory has holes

National Climate Assessment lacks facts, an analysis

Evidence that CO2 emissions do not intensify the greenhouse effect

How much global warming is dangerous?

Book Review- Driven to Extinction by Richard Pearson

He should have started with chapter 2. In chapter 1, Pearson invokes the IPCC model scenarios and the contention that human carbon dioxide emissions will produce a temperature rise of somewhere between 2-to 11 degrees F, and that will “likely” cause extinction of 20% to 70% of species. There is, however, no physical evidence which shows that human carbon dioxide emissions have a significant effect on global temperatures. That being said, let’s imagine that the world will continue to warm, regardless of cause, and examine what the consequences might be.

In chapters 2 through 5, Pearson takes the reader on expeditions to Madagascar, Costa Rica, the British Isles, North America, and South Africa where he examines how specific species are reacting to global warming. This is mainly a study of range changes pole-ward and to higher elevations for plants and animals. Some species expand their ranges, some ranges contract, while others are not affected. There are winners and losers. Pearson notes that some amphibians are more susceptible to disease as temperatures “converge on a range that is just right to promote disease outbreaks.” He also examines how plants and animals may react to changes in the onset of the seasons (phenology). Pearson notes that there may be some observation bias in these studies and does point out potential problems.

I did detect one error in this section. On page 88, Pearson says “the world’s oceans are gradually turning acidic.” Not true, the oceans are alkaline, and there is a natural cycle of pH variation within the alkaline range (see my rebuttal here).

Chapters 6 through 8 discuss extinction risk modeling and experiments. Pearson fairly points out areas of uncertainty. He also discusses the ability of plants and animals to adapt to changing conditions. Here, too, there are winners and losers. He discusses complicating factors such as habitat loss due to human encroachment. Pearson says, “we cannot really expect to accurately predict how an ecological community will respond to climate change.” And, “climate change has the potential to rearrange species, assembling new communities as plants and animals shift their ranges and adjust their phenology. The consequences of this reshuffling will be alterations to existing interactions between species as well as the creation of novel sets of interactions.”

Chapter 9, entitled, “Cry Wolf?” discusses exaggeration of scientific studies by the press, and whether scientists should or should not be political advocates. Pearson does not mention possible scientific bias in the competition for research grants.

In the final chapter, Pearson, himself, becomes an advocate for more conservation parks, connectivity between reserves, and for reducing our use of fossil fuels.

Pearson’s thesis is that the current warm period is unprecedented due to human emissions of carbon dioxide, and this may cause many adverse effects on plants and animals. He seems unaware that during the last 10,000 years the world  experienced several warm-cold cycles. At least three of the warm cycles were warmer than now and warmer than the high range of IPCC predictions. How did species cope with these changes? Except for extinction of megafauna near the end of the last glacial epoch, an extinction that was abetted by an abrupt cooling period (the Younger Dryas), where are the bodies of victims of global warming from these previous cycles?  Many studies of the fossil record during times when the temperature quickly rose at least 4 degrees C, found changes as Pearson describes in chapters 6 through 8. But those same studies found very little evidence of broad scale extinctions.

 In spite of my criticisms of this book, I found it well-written and a very interesting read.

About the author: Richard Pearson is Director of Biodiversity Informatics Research at the American Museum of Natural History. He has a PhD. (2004) from Oxford University in biogeography, and is a research scientist in the museum’s department of herpetology.

The book was published by the Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.

Arizona Geological History Chapter 6, The Cretaceous Period

The Cretaceous Period (145- to 65 million years ago) was hot and steamy. There was no ice at the poles. Global temperature is estimated to have been about 18 F warmer than today. Atmospheric carbon dioxide began a 145-million-year decline from about 2,000 ppm to the 380 ppm of today, in part, due to carbon sequestration by formation of coal deposits. Flowering plants appeared.

Paleomap 94

The North American continent was split by a sea connecting the Gulf of Mexico with the Arctic Ocean. Transgressions and regressions of this sea formed conditions ripe for coal formation similar to those in the Paleozoic Era In Southern Arizona, the lower Cretaceous Bisbee Group, consisting of the basal Glance conglomerate, the Morita formation sandstones and mudstones, the distinctive Mural Limestone (which forms the cliffs just east of Bisbee), and the sandstones and mudstones of the Cintura Formation record the changes in sea level. Upper Cretaceous rocks, the Fort Crittenden Formation lie unconformably (representing erosion or structural change) upon the Bisbee Group. The lower Fort Crittenden is dominated by marginal wetland to deep-water lake deposits, whereas the upper Fort Crittenden is characterized by wetland to deltaic deposits. These rocks contain organic geochemical evidence of wildfires which suggest that seasonal aridity and wildfires were common occurrences.

There are no early Cretaceous rocks recognized in northern Arizona. Thick sequences of upper Cretaceous rocks were deposited on what is now the Colorado Plateau. These represent near-shore marine, coastal, and river-deposited sands, mudstone, and coal. Coal is mined from the Dakota sandstone at Black Mesa in Navajo County, AZ. This is overlain by the Mancos Shale, and several other sedimentary formations.

The Laramide orogeny of late Cretaceous to early Tertiary time (80- to 40 million years ago) built the Rocky Mountains and closed the inland Cretaceous sea. Subduction of oceanic crust under continental rocks along the west coast caused compression and uplift of the continent.

This was the time of emplacement of most of the porphyry copper deposits in the western U.S. Volcanism was extensive, and included the volcano that produced the rocks of the Tucson Mountains.

sonorasaurusDinosaurs roamed the land, including Arizona’s Sonorasaurus thompsoni, a new species of brachiosaurid dinosaur whose remains were first discovered in the Whetstone mountains by UofA graduate geology student Richard Thompson in 1994. Sonorasaurus is estimated to have been about 50 feet long and 27 feet tall, about one third of the size of other brachiosaurus. It may have been a juvenile or just a small dinosaur species. Sonorasaurus was an herbivore. Tooth gouges on its bones suggest it was killed and eaten by a larger dinosaur. A single blade-like tooth of a huge meat eater called Acrocanthosaurus was found near the bones and suggests that this was the predator that killed Sonorasaurus. You can see an exhibit dedicated to Sonorasaurus at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

The end of the Cretaceous Period saw another major extinction of life. Dinosaurs, pterosaurs, many marine reptiles, some marine invertebrates, some groups of mammals, and a few plant groups became extinct. The reasons are still controversial. We know that an asteroid impacted near Yucatan, Mexico and formed the Chicxulub crater about 65 million years ago. The impact is said to have vaporized rock into clouds of dust, that cooled temperatures, and created clouds of sulfurous gas, which may have killed plants with acid rain. The impact is also said to have deposited a thin clay layer containing iridium and strained quartz. However, the extinction occurred during an 800,000-year eruption of basalts that form the Deccan Traps in India. Volcanic eruptions can also product dust and sulfur dioxide emissions (and layers of iridium which characterize the K/T boundary). More precise dating shows that the Chicxulub impact occurred 300,000 years before the mass extinction. Evidence suggests that the extinctions occurred over a period of several million years.

Cretaceous Trivia:

The white cliffs of Dover, England are Cretaceous age chalk deposits.

Paul Spur, a rail stop between Bisbee and Douglas exists because Mural limestone was mined for smelter flux.

Mural Hill Bisbee 1902

Hills carved from Cretaceous beds east of Bisbee. View is northward across Mule Gulch. The prominent white band is the upper member of the Mural limestone, forming the top of Mural Hill on the left and showing the dislocation due to the Mexican Canyon fault. Cochise County, Arizona. December 1, 1902. Plate 9-B in U.S. Geological Survey. Professional paper 21. 1904, figure 7 in U.S. Geological Survey Folio 112. 1904.

References:

Dickinson, W.R., et al., 1989, Cretaceous Strata of Southern Arizona, in Geologic Evolution of Arizona, Arizona Geological Society Digest 17.

Finkelstein, D.B, et al., 2005, Wildfires and seasonal aridity recorded in Late Cretaceous strata from south-eastern Arizona, USA, Sedimentology, Volume 52, Issue 3 , Pages587 – 599, International Association of Sedimentologists

Krantz, R.W., 1989, Laramide Structures of Arizona, in Geologic Evolution of Arizona, Arizona Geological Society Digest 17.

Nations, J.D., 1989, Cretaceous History of Northeastern and East-Central Arizona, in Geologic Evolution of Arizona, Arizona Geological Society Digest 17.

Arizona Geological History: Chapter 3: Devonian to Permian Time

Arizona warms from ice age, becomes tropical again, gets flooded by the ocean, suffers another ice age, warms up, makes coal, and suffers a major extinction of life.

In this chapter we will complete the Paleozoic Era with four periods: Devonian (416- to 359 million years ago), Mississippian (359-318 mya), Pennsylvanian (318- 299 mya), and the Permian (299-251 mya). In the European classification, the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian are, together, called the Carboniferous period because it was during this time that most coal deposits were formed.

Paleomap 390After recovery from the Ordovician ice age (about 440 mya), Arizona was apparently a highland on the southwest edge of a continental mass, about 30 degrees south of the equator. I say apparently, because there is no record from the Silurian period (444- to 416 mya ), so Arizona may have been dry land that was subject to erosion.

Paleomap 306During the last four periods of the Paleozoic, Arizona was mainly under water. The rocks deposited during this time represent deposition on a continental shelf environment. There were several episodes of transgression (encroaching) and regression of the sea from the west. Only what is now the northeastern corner of the state remained above sea level for most of the time. The rise and fall of the sea was due to both tectonic shifting of land and changes in water volume from the glacial epochs.

Limestone was the principal rock deposited during this time along with relatively minor shale and sandstones. All the formations contain fossils. These limestones currently make up most of the mountain ranges south of Tucson.

Mississippian rocks rest unconformably (not at the same angle or with evidence of erosion) on Devonian and older rocks. This means that there was some tectonic adjustment and erosion between the two Periods. (And by the way, the geologic Periods are usually defined by their distinct fossil assemblages). The principal formation of the Devonian is called the Martin Formation with type area in Bisbee. The principal Mississippian limestone is called the Redwall Limestone near the Grand Canyon and the Escabrosa Limestone in southern Arizona. Kartchner caverns are in the Escabrosa Limestone, but the caves formed recently.

Paleomap 255Pennsylvanian and Permian rocks represent complex cycles of transgression/regression by the sea, caused by changes in water volume due to glacial epochs, and by tectonic uplift and sinking of the continent. This tectonic shifting was the result of the collision of Gondwana on the south with Pangea on the north. Carbonate rocks dominate in the northwest and southeast, while sandstones and conglomerates dominate in central and northeast Arizona.

Most coal deposits  in the world were developed during the Carboniferous period.  Coal is mostly carbon accumulations from fossil plant material deposited in swamps so devoid of oxygen that bacteria and other critters couldn’t survive to feed on their remains. This implies that climate was warm and wet, and that the cyclic transgressions/regressions of the sea were relatively quick enough to bury the swamps before the luxuriant plant life could be destroyed.

Arizona coal was formed during the Cretaceous Period. It is mined in Navajo county, and, according to the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources, ranks second only to copper in economic importance.

Worldwide coal formation stripped the atmosphere of carbon dioxide. Beginning in mid- Devonian time, about 380 mya, through early Mississippian time, atmospheric carbon dioxide dropped from around 4,000 ppm to near current levels of 400 ppm by 340 million years ago. Temperature, however, remained high (about 68 F world average vs 57 F today). But near the Pennsylvania-Permian boundary time, about 270 million years ago, the planet was plunged into another ice age. Note the 70-million-year gap between lowered carbon dioxide and decreased temperature. By the end of the Permian, temperatures rose again to an average of about 63 F, soon followed by a rise in carbon dioxide to just under 3,000 ppm. (Rising temperature causes more carbon dioxide to be exsolved from the oceans.) Volcanism contributed to the rising carbon dioxide.

The first known land vertebrates, amphibians, appeared in late Paleozoic time. Devonian rocks contain fossils of amphibians called stegocephalians (roofed head) because of flat, broad heads. Most were one- to two inches long, but later forms became as large as a crocodile and most were probably carnivorous judging by the teeth.

Reptile fossils appear in Pennsylvanian rocks. The first were small like amphibians, but later Permian reptiles got up to eight feet long. One group, the Therapsids, had teeth differentiated into incisors, canines, and molars similar to present-day mammals.

The Permian ended with a mass extinction in which about 90% of species disappeared, including marine fauna, plants, and terrestrial animals. The reason for this extinction is unknown although there are many speculative theories. This extinction happened over a period of several million years and is coincident with the coalescing of continents and extensive volcanism.

When Pangea and Gondwana collided is reduced marine habitats and brought deep, oxygen-poor ocean water to near surface environments. Major volcanism, in what is now Siberia, lasted for about one million years and annually spewed billions of tons of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These two events are probably contributory to the extinctions.

But, with the dawning of the new Mesozoic era, life rebounded and became more diverse and more robust.

OmphalotrochusPHOTO: Omphalotrochus (snail) from the Permian Colina formation, collected about 2 miles southeast of the Tombstone airport. Notice also the pits made by rain drops differentially eroding the limestone.

 

A Geologist's Tale

The Endangered Species Act is bad law because it fails to provide any positive incentives for conservation; it “takes” beneficial economic use of private property without just compensation; it prevents economic opportunity on public land; and it seeks the unnatural. Preservation is unnatural because things change; nature itself creates species and kills them off, most notably in 5 known mass extinctions in the last 500 million years and in at least two other mass extinctions before that. But, after each mass extinction, speciation and biodiversity increased, because the most robust lived and evolved to occupy the newly empty life niches.

It is, perhaps, only natural to want to preserve the status quo, but some environmentalists carry this to ridiculous extreme and even yearn for some imagined Eden that never was. Whatever their motives may be, they derive them in part from ignorance about life on earth. So let me tell you a story.

In the first half of the 19th century, when the science of geology was young, a British geologist, Adam Sedgewick, was working in Wales. He noticed that certain strata contained abundant fossils of marine life that formed a characteristic life assemblage which was, later, to be recognized throughout England and Europe. He named these strata “Cambrian” after the Latin name for Wales. He also noticed that successive layers of rock contained a slightly different characteristic assemblage of fossils. Life was evolving. Later dating would place the beginning of the Cambrian period at about 540 million years ago.

But there was a mystery. The Cambrian rocks showed an “explosion” of abundant and varied animal life. The strata below the Cambrian (called Precambrian) was apparently devoid of obvious life. This vexed Charles Darwin whose new theory of evolution demanded that the Cambrian animals should have evolved from earlier life forms.

Of course, Darwin was right; there are Precambrian fossils, but they weren’t discovered until 1940 because they weren’t obvious. It’s hard to make a fossil out of a jellyfish. I’ll get back to that later.

So let’s now go back to the beginning and take up the story, as we know it, in chronological order.

 

Life leaves a signature. We now know that life began on Earth almost 4 billion years ago, and it left a signature consisting of a special combination of carbon isotopes. The first known life-form on Earth was the bacterium. You’ll notice that bacteria are still with us. That’s because they are good chemists. They don’t change body shape, but they do change chemical processes in response to the environment.
 

 

 

The first bacteria developed and lived at crushing ocean depths near undersea volcanoes where they derived sustenance from hydrogen sulfide emitted by the volcanoes. Gradually these earliest bacteria worked their way to shallow water near land, and started to use carbon dioxide and sunlight. The oldest known fossils are microfossils called stromatolites, which are remnants of bacterial mats. The earliest stromatolites are dated at about 3.5 billion years before present. For about one billion years, bacteria were the only life-form on earth.

Bacteria give off oxygen, and after a billion years, that process caused an environmental crisis. About 2.5 billion years ago, oxygen levels in the ocean reached some critical level which caused iron and manganese to precipitate. All of the world’s large iron deposits, called Banded Iron Formations, formed between 2.5- and 1.8 billion years ago, and none have formed since. After oceanic iron was used up, oxygen increased in the atmosphere. The oxygen began to destroy methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas, and the reaction produced carbon dioxide, which is 62 times less effective at warming the surface of the planet. Loss of methane plunged the planet into a profound ice age that lasted for about 30 million years. The bacteria retreated to equatorial habitats and again toward warm volcanic vents. Populations became isolated and some changed; they became more organized into a new life form called Eukaryotic microbes. Fossil Eukaryotes appear in the iron formations, initially as single cells, then as multicellular chains up to 4″ long. Life was getting big. The Eukaryotes would eventually become animals, plants, and fungi. Algae appear in the fossil record beginning about one billion years ago.

Planet Earth suffered another series of ice ages between 750 million and 600 million years ago, which caused at least three separate mass extinctions including most of the stromatolites. Another extinction occurred 560 to 500 million years ago, right at the start of the Cambrian Period. But with each extinction, life bounced back, became more diverse, and bigger. And that brings us back to the discovery in 1940.

In 1940, an Australian geologist, R.C. Sprigg, found some fossils in Precambrian sandstone in southern Australia. These “Ediacarans” resembled jellyfish, worms, and stalked sea anemone-like creatures. Some of these fossils were nearly three feet long. Similar fossils have since been found worldwide. The Ediacarans appeared about 580 million years ago and were largely gone by 550 million years ago. As I said, it’s hard to make a fossil out of a jellyfish. The early Ediacarans were preserved in bacterial mats, stromatolites. When the stromatolites disappeared, so did the means of fossilizing Ediacarans.

The next evidence of animal life are trace fossils, not the critters themselves but squiggles and tracks left by relatively large animals capable of locomotion. Next came SSFs, small shelly fossils, evidence that animals first formed hard parts that are easily fossilized. These critters appeared beginning about 545 million years ago. The “abundant life” in Sedgewick’s mid-Cambrian assemblages didn’t appear until 522 million years ago. Genetic work from molecular biology studies, and more-recent fossil discoveries suggest that a major diversification in animal life took place at least 50 million years before the Cambrian, and that the Cambrian “explosion” represented the second major diversification. So you see, there is a continuous line of fossil evidence for evolution; it just took us a while to recognize it.

Abundant, visible life was present on planet earth by 500 million years ago, and nature tried to kill it off several more times. Here are the major events.

The Ordovician and Devonian mass extinctions of 440- and 370 million years ago caused extinction of 20% of marine families. The Permo-Triassic mass extinction event of 250 million years ago appears to have been the most catastrophic. It is estimated that 80% to 90% of all species became extinct during this event. These extinctions are associated with Ice Ages.

About 50% of genera were eliminated in the end-Triassic extinction 200 million years ago. This one may have been caused by cooling associated with an asteroid impact. The Cretaceous/Tertiary extinction, 65 million years ago which eliminated the dinosaurs and about 50% of other species is attributed to cooling events caused by vulcanism and asteroid impact.

Finally, megafauna, such as the mammoth, became extinct about 10,000 years ago following the last period of glaciation. The time of extinction coincides with a major cooling event called the Younger Dryas. Some attribute this event to asteroid impact.

Life on earth is risky, but resilient, and each extinction was followed by more speciation and greater biodiversity. The old order gives way to new.

So that’s my story. Put all that against the feeble folly of the ESA. Do you see now why the plight of pygmy owls and other “endangered” species doesn’t impress me? Lots of things kill off life on earth, including us. We are part of Nature. Notice also, that most extinctions were associated with cooling; not warming.

Bottom Line: The Endangered Species Act reflects only our own hubris, and is just so much wasteful foolishness because Nature is the ultimate impartial and ruthless arbiter of life on earth.