Based on fossil records, 250 million years ago over 90% of all species on Earth died out, effectively resetting evolution. (Image: Lunar and Planetary Institute)
Based on fossil records, 250 million years ago over 90% of all species on Earth died out, effectively resetting evolution. (Image: Lunar and Planetary Institute)

Climate, Earth, Evolution

When Everything On Earth Died

2 Jun , 2012 by

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Hey, remember that one time when 90% of all life on Earth got wiped out?

I don’t either. But it’s a good thing it happened because otherwise none of us would be here to… not remember it. Still, the end-Permian Extinction — a.k.a. the Great Dying — was very much a real crisis for life on Earth 252 million years ago. It makes the K-T extinction event of the dinosaurs look like a rather nice day by comparison, and is literally the most catastrophic event known to have ever befallen Earthly life. Luckily for us (and pretty much all of the species that have arisen since) the situation eventually sorted itself out. But how long did that take?

An alien Earth: what our planet looked like during the time of the Permian Extinction. (Via The Planetary Habitability Laboratory @ UPR Arecibo, NASA, Ron Blakey and Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Inc., and The PaleoMap Project)

The Permian Extinction was a perfect storm of geological events that resulted in the disappearance of over 90% of life on Earth — both on land and in the oceans. (Or ocean, as I should say, since at that time the land mass of Earth had gathered into one enormous continent — called Pangaea — and thus there was one ocean, referred to as Panthalassa.) A combination of increased volcanism, global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification and anoxia, and the loss of shallow sea habitats (due to the single large continent) set up a series of extinctions that nearly wiped our planet’s biological slate clean.

Exactly why the event occurred and how Earth returned to a state in which live could once again thrive is still debated by scientists, but it’s now been estimated that the recovery process took about 10 million years.

(Read: Recovering From a Mass Extinction is Slow Going)

Research by Dr. Zhong-Qiang Chen from the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, and Professor Michael Benton from the University of Bristol, UK, show that repeated setbacks in conditions on Earth continued for 5 to 6 million years after the initial wave of extinctions. It appears that every time life would begin to recover within an ecological niche, another wave of environmental calamities would break.

“Life seemed to be getting back to normal when another crisis hit and set it back again,” said Prof. Benton. “The carbon crises were repeated many times, and then finally conditions became normal again after five million years or so.”

“The causes of the killing – global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification – sound eerily familiar to us today. Perhaps we can learn something from these ancient events.”

– Michael Benton, Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Bristol

It wasn’t until the severity of the crises abated that life could gradually begin reclaiming and rebuilding Earth’s ecosystems. New forms of life appeared, taking advantage of open niches to grab a foothold in a new world. It was then that many of the ecosystems we see today made their start, and opened the door for the rise of Earth’s most famous prehistoric critters: the dinosaurs.

“The event had re-set evolution,” said Benton. “However, the causes of the killing – global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification – sound eerily familiar to us today. Perhaps we can learn something from these ancient events.”

The team’s research was published in the May 27 issue of Nature Geoscience. Read more on the University of Bristol’s website here.

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By  -        
A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!



113 Responses

  1. Donald Kines says:

    I hate that sort of thinking. We shouldn’t learn anything from those events 252 million years ago it’s a totally different world. We now have the power of consciousness and intelligence. Besides, we don’t even know what caused the Permian extinction so how much could we possibly learn or change our current behavior without knowing the cause?

    • “we don’t even know what caused the Permian extinction”

      That is the reason that we now investigate it, to learn about ut. And in the end, doesn”t repeat it. To learn from history is to use the power of consciousness and intelligence.

      • ritwiksundar says:

        the sun’s orbit around milkyway galaxy takes ~225million years two come full one circle and this orbital period coincides with major extinctions in the history of earth ..somewhere in the orbital path of sun it has to go through a violent patch of the disk of MWG lasting several million years and all life on earth would nearly become extinct when sun finally cross over ..

        since its been 225mil years since permian extinction we are heading towards some serious shit

        • magnus.nyborg says:

          You could not be more incorrect.

          The sun passes through the disk about every 60 million years, in its circa 200-250 million year orbit. Yep, it bobs up and down several times in one orbit.

          • Gore Gogore says:

            lol you`re all talking like it should exist something static in our Milky Way while we spin with our solar system…if there is something that makes our solar system going up and down, than everything else around us will move about the same way.The old accretion disk of the galaxy is not a perfect CD shape.

          • Olaf2 says:

            It is called gravity, and and the gravity field is more concentrated in the disc since there is more mass.

  2. Controse says:

    Ah yes. Yet another propaganda piece to keep that lead balloon of impending ecological calamity airborne. You see if we don’t all acquiesce to the man made global warming party line we will wind up with a man made Permian Extinction. Maybe Professor Benton really wanted to be a politician all along.

    • JimmySD says:

      Just go F the H off.

      A very short 250 years ago:

      –My California had so many Tule Elk crawling the landscape that the hills appeared to move.
      –Steelhead trout swam up the Los Angeles River
      –16 million salmon a year swam up the Columbia River

      So I must ask you Cuntrose, how much destruction is enough?

      I hate to break it to you, but when push comes to shove if food gets tight imbeciles like you are going to be the first ones to perish.

      • Hlafordlaes says:

        One thing hasn’t changed. You still catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

        • JimmySD says:

          That’s a crock!

          The sane people who recognize that this is a serious problem based on science are not going to change their mind because of me. They know that global warming in a critical issue. They might not tell you how much you P them off because they are too nice.

          I am not that nice.

          I feel like I’m riding in the passenger seat of a car and an obliterated drunk (a global warming denier) is behind the wheel. No matter how much I say “pull the car over so I can get out” they keep firing back with “I can drive just fine”.

          You are putting other peoples lives in danger.

          We cannot tolerate it.

          • Peter Dv says:

            Man, your thinking is quite disturbing.

            I cite Daniel Beck one of comment-ers here:

            “… there is good reason why some people object to Global Warming and the alarmists that are pushing for a socialist/fascist regime to deal with it…”

            Please, read his comments. You seem to fit people he describes so well.

          • I just assumed JimmySD was trolling.

            If he’s real, a psychiatrist would conclude from his potty mouth rants he’s suffering from a mixed schizotypal cassandra disorder. He even finishes off speaking in the plural !

            Although it could also be the product of a Californian high school education, which will be sad for him when he grows up and needs to find employment.

          • JimmySD says:

            Wow!

            You look like a sleazy scumbag.

            I’m talking really freaking revolting disgusting gross.

          • JimmySD says:

            D’Peter Beater…

            You freak-nuts argue with satellites, thermometers, ice-packs, and try to throw saddles on dinosaurs to defend your superstitious book.

            Sounds like you are ripped and trying to drive the car

          • Peter Dv says:

            You are disturbed individual.
            You need help and people around you a protection.

      • Controse says:

        Thank you for your measured response. Are you sure you didn’t mean Tole Elk? You made a similar mistake in spelling my name.

    • When someone paints a scary scenario for you, then asks you for money to ‘solve’ the problem (as the politicians and third rate academics have been doing for 20 years!) it should sound alarm bells for you.
      The problem is, once paid these shysters then have to come up with an even more compelling scare story for more money, and then more money and then more.
      That is why these scenarios have become more and more ridiculous and further and further away from any semblance of real science.

      Now they’ve jumped the shark, implying Armageddon of a permian extinction level is upon us

      But it’s fascinating from a human psychology perspective to watch the pack behavior below. Some people will believe anything that a shamen repeats often enough, even if they don’t have enough knowledge to actually understand it for themselves.

  3. lcrowell says:

    It is rather unfortunate to see the initial responses to this article, which basically say this is some global warming propaganda. In looking at issues of AAAS Science and PNAS and so forth the science of climatology is becoming quite clear on the matter. We humans are unlocking carbons stores that have been buried over many tens of millions of years, with the consequence of adjusting the average temperature of the planet upwards.

    The Permian extinction was the grand extinction, the largest of the 5 major extinctions; the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous. There are some known signatures that accompany these. Some of them involve a rise in CO_2. The Miocene minor extinction some 34 million years ago was accompanied by CO_2 warming. It is of course not a sufficient condition to have CO_2 warming to have a mass extinction, maybe not even necessary. CO_2 warming is not a precursor for a major extinction either. The Miocene extinction saw CO_2 rise to 1000ppm with a 5C warming, but it was nowhere near the ecological disaster of the Permian extinction. We have increased CO_2 from 250ppm to 420ppm, which is a near doubling of that figure. We are expected to reach 1000ppm by the end of this century, particularly due to permafrost melting.

    We humans have probably set the planet on a climatic course that diverges from the cycle of glaciation and interstadial periods that has dominated the Pleistocene for the last several million years. The CO_2 we have released and doubtless will continue to release has broken that cycle, where the current interstadial period should actually be ending. However, we have pushed the climate in a state that will remain warm for probably at least the next several tens of thousands of years. The half life of a CO_2 molecule is about 1000 years, where in that time period half of them have been locked in organic molecules by plants. However, by warming the planet we most likely will increase the rate of wild fires that will keep CO_2 at a high level for considerable time into the future. This time period could be into the multi-100,000 year range.

    It is best to say that we humans on average are not so much intelligent, but clever. Our species has an amazing capacity to exploit the resources of this planet. We are capable of figuring out new ways of doing that, which up to this time has permitted us to expand our energy use and for our numbers to grow to 7 billion. I doubt at any time in the natural history of this planet there has ever existed an animal species our size which was so populated at one time. The problem is that we are also capable of infernal stupidity. Sometimes art says things better than words, and I offer a sketch by Francisco Goya that about says it all.

    http://www.myspace.com/pppavel/photos/29049445#%7B%22ImageId%22%3A29049445%7D

    When I was in grade school I remember watching a TV program about nature. These large lizards, maybe komodo dragons, were fighting. The female was defending its nest against another of its species that was interested in killing or eating the eggs. The female won the battle, but strangely was oblivious to a snake that was having a meal on some of these eggs. I remember thinking, “How can any creature be so stupid?” Yet we are not so different. It is hard to mobilize people into action over a problem that is of our own making, or that involves some problem not induced by other humans. You can however mobilize people enormously and violently if the “threat” involves people who look different, speak another language, believe another god, and so forth. Our brains seem equally wired in a way that blinds us to problems. This has been the case with the climate change issue, and the counter movement on the global warming issue is exactly an example of this. The problem is turned upside down into a threat by a cabal of scientists interested in destroying the economy, or by “evil socialists,” or godless secular scientists, and so forth.

    To conclude this is one reason I find these prognostications about sending astronauts into space with the idea of escaping the demise of the sun in 5 billion years to be silly. We are not in any manner psychologically set up to address a problem of that sort. We are proving to be highly dysfunctional with regards to managing things on this planet for the next few centuries, such as global warming. Then you are going to tell me we can set ourselves up to exist for billions of years into the future managing star systems or the whole galaxy? Are you kidding me?

    LC

    • jackeshan2 says:

      Couldn’t have said it any better.. and great info as usual from your posts! -Jacob

    • lcrowell:

      Do you honestly believe Earth is on the cusp of another Permian extinction event ?

      The definition of successful propaganda is making normal educated people believe in the inane and stupid to support a political movement.

      Incidentally, Eugenics and Lysenko-ism, were the last quasi-scientific ideologies that successfully evolved into political ideologies.

      • lcrowell says:

        I never tried to infer we were on the cusp of that large an extinction. I mentioned the Miocene minor extinction as case in point. We are clearly engineering an extinction event of some magnitude. We have already pushed a million species into extinction, and in the next 50 years we will push as many into extinction. So clearly we are having an impact on the future evolution of life on this planet. Whether this rises to the level of a mass extinction that kills off half of all large species can’t be determined.

        Eugenics was never a proper scientific discipline. It was based on Spencer’s race theory that was borrowed from Darwinian evolution, but there was never a serious research community into the matter. So called race science was just ideology done with scientific trimmings. Lysenkoism was based on Lamarkian ideas which had been pushed off the scientific canon decades before. Anyone who thinks that climate science is related to either of these does not know what they are talking about.

        LC

        • @LC:
          True, everyone agrees that species extinction from habitat destruction is not particularly clever.

          But I’m wondering if you’ve noticed any parallels between the political advocacy of eugenics in the early 20th century and the political advocacy of Global Warming this decade ?

          here’s a clue from just six days ago:
          …. Jenny Jones Green Party leader from SE England: “We want scientific research, but it isn’t sacred, outside the realm of political action.”
          (Yes, that means no science unless it agrees with a political ideology)

          Getting back on Topic:
          That same politician also cites the Permian extinction event as a harbinger of the future for those opposing her political ideology.

          • M_Malenfant says:

            Seems you are mixing up points.
            Global warming is just the consensus finding of a the majority of scientists active in the field as result of human impact on the earth.
            How far this will grow and how severe it’s consequences of course depends on further human behaviour – and that of course involves politics.
            There are (not too surprisingly) many calling for political action to mitigate this trend before it achieves permian dimensions.
            The politica ideology is more on the side of those, who insist that there i no impact on climate or of climate change and no need to take this into account for politics – to formulate it rather neutral.
            Seen from far, this seems to correlate with religiously motivated believes and of course economic interests in the US financing respective public campaignes.
            But perception is always subjective and there is ample possibility to pick examples as you like.
            I’m afraid it might need really desasters for some people to realize what’s going on, and even then it may be more convenient to blame some constructed political enemy.

          • Mr Malenfant: And this…. -> “There are (not too surprisingly) many calling for political action to mitigate this trend before it achieves permian dimensions.”
            ….. is why green advocates like yourself are now perceived as balmy.

            PS: Here’s a clue; I’m not a redneck gun slinging republican from Texas, I actually side with the ONLY politician in parliament who has a background in science.
            “the politicisation of climatology is corrupting science”
            -Graham Stringer (google him) he’s a socialist btw.

            http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2010/4/10/a-chat-with-graham-stringer.html

          • Torbjörn Larsson says:

            Making the points that

            a) AGW is accepted climate science (playing by Stringer’s assessment not to accept politicization, btw)

            b) political mitigation can be made for adverse AGW effects to lower suffering and costs

            is not “green” advocacy.

            “Green” advocacy would be something like suggesting environmental party politics instead of discussing realpolitik.
            ——————
            FWIW, YMMV on scientists:

            Stringer is not a climate scientist, he studied chemistry.

            I’m sure there are many more chemists that are crackpot on climate science than climate scientists, who within 1-2 % accept AGW theory, mainly because they don’t know the science.

          • lcrowell says:

            There are plenty of non-climate scientists who are AGW skeptics, though in the minority. I offer a case in point. Lubos Motl was on the tenure track at Harvard U. which is about as high up the ladder as you can get. He is a particle/string theorist, and pretty top knowledgable on that. He was dismissed because of “irregularities,” and frankly I think because he has a toxic personality that caused him to not get along with people. I check his blog site because he cites some interesting papers on string theory, and he is a good gopher on that front.

            http://motls.blogspot.com

            He is also a serious AGW denier, along with being a far right winged politico. His case is I think cautionary, where the two things that can really blind people are religion and politics.

            It is interesting how his arguments range. He will write stuff about how CO_2 has no global warming effect, to more recently about how climate warming is a good thing. He cites various front groups like the Heartland Org, which is nothing more than a coal-oil shill group. There is a lack of intellectual integrity here, which I think is a part of what got his butt kicked out of Harvard.

            He is bumping around the Czech Rep. and writes stuff that makes me think he is maybe interested in working the political ladder there.

            LC

          • 99% of the worlds scientist are NOT sure about global warming. Saying such a thing just paints you as an AGW zealot without a brain.

            Thankfully, the scientific community in general is much more interested in getting all the data and building a picture as accurate as possible before drawing the conclusions that impose themselves from the analysis, rather than stupidly spouting a hastily-drawn one-sided conclusion taken from incomplete data.

            This is why such information is important, given that our understanding of meteorology is still very much in its infancy – but I understand that the masses (and the zealots) kind of miss that point since you need to be intelligent to understand that the world is a complex dynamic system we can’t possibly hope to fully comprehend.

          • lcrowell says:

            You are focusing on the political aspects of this, which has nothing to do with whether the science is sound or not. There are scientific results which have had political consequences, such as nuclear physics and the politics of the cold war and nuclear arms race. Whether one agreed with the nuclear cold warriors or was into “ban the bomb” that has no relevancy with the validity of the nuclear physics.

            LC

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          • lcrowell says:

            Spam alert. For some reason I have in recent days been getting a lot of these.

            LC

    • Ernie Dunbar says:

      It’s not so much that our brains are wired to blind us to problems, as it is that we feel a desperate need to keep ourselves in the style to which we have become accustomed.

      The root problem is that convenience is killing us. And we will give up that convenience when something rips it from our cold, dead hands. That is what we threaten to do when we say “the coal power plants must be shut down” or “oil must no longer be used for transportation”. Or both.

      And so, the public will resist tooth and nail any efforts we make to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Nevermind the wealthy and the powerful who got that way by selling us fossil fuels. They will create marketing campaigns to play into the public’s need for the luxury of a car or hot and cold running water, and the public will be more than willing to go along with that.

      Be honest here. Would you be willing to go back to the lifestyle available to people in 1850? Except, you know, without the wonderful convenience of heating your house with coal?

      • DrFlimmer says:

        I was with you up to the last paragraph. But that last one is where the problem lies:

        Noone expects you to go back to a 1850ies lifestyle. THAT would be, indeed, ridiculous. It is, in fact, possible to adjust our lifestyle with some “new” technologies, to get energy from other resources than just coal, gas and oil. The basic principles are there (so to speak), what we need is the will to do it!
        Why do you need a car that consumes 15ltrs/100km? There are already far more efficient engines available. And that is just one example.

        You are not supposed to go back to the 1850ies. Adjust your life just a little, and you already make a difference. Everyone can do that. And finally, we need the politicians to do it. And no, this does not lead to communism or socialism. It will lead to some “old” economies dieing (that is their problem, and that’s why they fight it so much…), but others will rise.

      • Donald Kines says:

        The problem is even if completely eliminated fossil fuels immediately, which is not going to happen, we have already released too many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to stop significant global warming. If we are going to fix this problem we are going to have to transition to cleaner energy as fast as we can, but more importantly, we are going to have to develop someway to either remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or counteract the rise in temperature caused by them with something else. That is the only solution I see. This, of course, has nothing to do with the Permian Extinction.

        • Wezley Jackson says:

          The solution to your first point would be: http://thoriumpetition.com/ (plus lots of solar, windmills, hydroelectric and geothermal energy plants).

          The solution to the second point you raise is actually simpler than you think: Greening the planet – Planting lots and lots of trees (vegetation can convert C02 to oxygen and along with the nitrogen cycle remove other toxins in the context of human living).

          Unfortunately these two things may not happen as per LC’s cutting and insightful post shows, unfortunately we humans may not be smart enough to get moving as one species instead of in-fighting and holding on to outmoded ownership ideas…. hhhmmmm…

          I can only hope the glass is half full..

          Wezley

          • lcrowell says:

            I have signed the thorium petition. Nuclear power from thorium is a much saner approach than the U-P breeding cycle used today.

            LC

          • Wezley Jackson says:

            Thank you Lawrence. And to others who are not sure what this Thorium Petition is, if 25,000 signatures are received the Obama Administration will review whether to possibly fund development of a Thorium Reactor. (The Chinese are currently funding a US$1Bn thorium research reactor).
            Quick summary features of thorium reactor (LFTR):
            * Walk-away safe – can NEVER meltdown
            * Can recycle dangerous nuclear waste all the way down to friendlier/ usable hospital and industrial grade isotopes.
            * can refine/provide rare earths to supply the stressed solar/alternative energy market demand
            * Can greatly help non-proliferation as the kind of uranium produced (u233) as an intermediate is useless for weapons production and since existing uranium/plutonium can be fed into throium reactors it means nations would have more incentive selling nuclear materials than weaponising.
            * There is estimated to be over 1,000 years of easily accessible thorium and every major continent and nation has reserves.. Maximum energy security and a new energy economy will be born within a few years – IF the governments invest (relatively modest) amounts into fast-tracking implementation of this existing technology

            Please act today! We can make a difference! (This CFCs and how the Ozone layer was saved because concerned citizens mobilized and lobbied).

            Wezley

          • lcrowell says:

            When I took an undergraduate course in the early 1980s on nuclear physics I remember a rather brief section on thorium slow breeder reactors. I remember then thinking this was a far more sane way of working nuclear energy. I also found it unfortunate that the molten salt reactor program had been cancelled out. The LFTR is a way of working a closed breeder system without the instability issues with U-P cycle.

            I think with renewable energy we will need stabilizing centers of power generation. Solar and wind energy are fairly erratic due to weather conditions. I suspect we will need about 20 to 25% of our energy generation from stable sources.

            Unfortunately the Thorium petition is far short of the critical number required.

            LC

        • Wezley Jackson says:

          And you are right these posts have little to do with the permian extinction but it’s kind of telling that so many intelligent people here saw the image of the bones crawling out onto that dry salt flat and thought of the actions of our human race currently and our lack of collective resolve to put aside differences and resolve an impending crisis.

      • lcrowell says:

        As Dr Flimmer points out we can go a long way towards mitigating the problem without necessarily going back to “horse & carriage” technology. What this does mean is a different sort of economy. The rise of capitalism through the industrial revolution has brought us into a consumer capitialised economy. The more people consume the more money they spend, the more jobs there are in production and so forth. This is what is going to end, for there are only so many resources in the world and a limited entropy absorption capacity of the planet. In other words we can only pollute the planet so far without serious adverse consequences.

        The politics of global warming that is playing out, particularly in the United States is pure fear mongering. Those who have it in their interest to keep profit margins up by extracting ever more resources and fossil fuels from the planet generate fear that creates a negative impression of attempts to reverse what is making them wealthy. This is actually a very old ploy. Governing people by manipulating fear is as old as history.

        A future economy based more on renewable energy, material reuse natural emulation and so forth will be very different from what dominates the world now. This is also something that happens in history. After all the mercantile economics of the early modern period was different from the guild system of the late Middle Ages and the modern corporate system is different from mercantilism. The progression of human activity is about evolutionary change.

        The damage we have wrought on this planet is not likely to be easily reversed. The impact of CO_2 production into the atmosphere is not easily reversed either. I suspect we will have to engage in planetary engineering to mitigate the consequences of CO_2 in the atmosphere. Currently there is 420ppm CO_2 in the atmosphere, and I would not be at all surprised if this increases to over 600ppm in a few decades. The claim is that we need to reduce our CO_2 production by half by the middle of this century in order to avoid the worst of global warming. I suspect that is not likely to happen, even if in a decade or two the big “oh shits” report on climate change finally rattles everyone’s cage and puts this denialism to an end. So we are likely to be faced with this problem over the long term future. CO_2 warming will prove to be the long term gift that keeps on giving for many generations to come.

        LC

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    • Zoutsteen from Holland says:

      You managed to include that humans are stupid … I agree.

      Now for a solution and we’re talking evolution.

      • lcrowell says:

        I was reading last year about how from the time of Cro-Magnon the Homo sapiens brain has decreased in size by 10%. This is compared to the shrinking in brain mass of other domesticated animals, where dogs have a 30% brain mass reduction from their wild relatives or wolves. The article makes the point that we humans are self-domesticated. One plausible consequence is that our brains are evolved towards a greater level of social compliance or obedience — just like a domesticated animal species.

        If this is so it might mean that over time we are becoming more stupid, and not smarter.

        LC

        • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says:

          Is this the article that you referred to?

          • lcrowell says:

            That article is not the one I remember. It was something like NewScientist or such. The gist of what I read was similar to this.

            LC

        • Zoutsteen from Holland says:

          It has more to do with micro structure and efficiency
          Think radio tubes vs electronic circuits, where smaller doesn’t mean less.

          As for mentioning domesticated animals in the negative (don’t we all love freedom) One can build bridges, the other still throws sticks and stones. You give a bit and get more in return. Even if its the crossing of a river, or a flight into space with a team of over 10.000 people. (SpaceX).

          And the beauty of it is, even if what you do is marginal towards the big picture, what you do can still be the top of the best, even if all you can do is hammer away on nails.

    • girdyerloins says:

      I’ve found a book that helped me understand somewhat our peculiar idiocy.
      Entitled “Escape from Evil”, it is frightfully cogent in describing the calamities we subject ourselves to. In it, by the way, the author’s bibliography mentions another, equally cogent, book, entitled “A Canticle for Liebowitz” and that one is truly charming for being fiction.
      Read ’em and weep. Or laugh……

      • lcrowell says:

        Steven Pinker wrote a book “Better Angels of Our Nature,” which does put a somewhat optimistic spin on this. He argues that the number of people who die violently in our age is as a percentage far lower than it was in the past.

        The issue does not seem to be really about evil. I think there are few really evil people in the world. For instance about 1% of people are thought to be sociopaths, where in that case you are talking about a condition that could be called evil. Maybe a few percent more of people have borderline personality disorders that make them potentially malicious. Yet I suspect that 90-95% of people are not what could be called evil.

        What can happen to people is they can be persuaded to follow and obey the commands of psychopaths. Standard measures of loyalty or for believing in something righteous and so forth can be used to cause ordinary people to commit acts of a horrendous nature. Even more probable is these can be made to influence people into just supporting things which are flawed or that cause harm. This is where “stupid” comes into play.

        LC

    • HeadAroundU says:

      Nice post except the conclusion. What’s the point in being negative? You undermine your beautiful analysis. You have to finish it with positive and constructive words…or have you lost the battle before it finished? You must fight till the end.

  4. I’m a big fan of Universe Today and Fraser Cain,
    but really you’ve allowed an interesting topic about the Permian extinction event to degenerate into a scaremongering diatribe.

    Yes of course, 90% of all life on Earth will perish if we don’t start buying carbon offsets and heavily fund third rate academics at ex-polytechnics

    • Nice strawman argument there. High quality!

      • Are you even aware of what a strawman arguement is ?

        • Astrofiend says:

          Are you? http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/strawman

          The only time in the article a reference is made to climate change is the quote “The event had re-set evolution,” said Benton. “However, the causes of the killing – global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification – sound eerily familiar to us today. Perhaps we can learn something from these ancient events.”

          All that was said was that the were things that happened in the end Permian that are observed to be happening now, and that there are lessons in that for us. The implication was that these things can lead to the loss of species, which for the most part is an undeniable fact anyway. You’ve taken their mild statement and characterized their position as “Yes of course, 90% of all life on Earth will perish if we don’t start buying carbon offsets and heavily fund third rate academics at ex-polytechnics”. That is not their stated position. You fabricate two positions for them that they never adopt: 1) that 90% of life on Earth will be wiped out as a result of climate change, and 2) that the way to solve this problem is to ‘buy carbon offsets and heavily fund third rate academics at ex-polytechnics’.

          You’ve tried to use sarcasm to make a position look ridiculous that was never their position in the first place. You’ve set up a strawman argument and then tried to make it look silly. You’ve committed the strawman fallacy. It makes you look silly. Time to head back outside with the 4″ refractor and leave the science conversations to the big boys.

          • M_Malenfant says:

            That’s the sad point, these guys like YamalDodgyData superimpose any science and facts with misguiding claims, irrelevant references etc. before even an argument has been made.
            They seem to be so afraid of any insight, that they try to blurr each trace of fact or science which might not fit their view/interests.

        • Astrofiend says:

          Yep – amazing how these armchair scientists run like little pussies when called on their BS.

    • Aerandir90 says:

      Classic textbook example of a strawman argument, just to reiterate

  5. Hlafordlaes says:

    On the positive side, it might only take another 252 million years for Gaia to whip up a new batch of intelligent, if overly self-referential, sentient beings, if we botch things or get caught off-guard. I feel better already; life goes on.

  6. edorfi says:

    Ya all got it wrong, our future is in space, the wanderers that we are, why million even a thousand years from now earth and its encumbrances will definitely be a thing of the past

  7. edorfi says:

    Ya all got it wrong, our future is in space, the wanderers that we are, why million even a thousand years from now earth and its encumbrances will definitely be a thing of the past

  8. Daniel Beck says:

    I would chime in that I too found it interesting to see the political buzz words of “Global warming” implanted into both the quotes, and the rhetoric of this story. One thing that annoys the daylights out of me, is that proponents of Global Warming seem to refuse to see the fact that the concept of global warming/climate change/Al gores pants is a political kludge that is being used to enact some of the worst legislation and fascist changes in the public and private lives of people.

    My point is, regardless of whether climate change is real, or not, almost doesn’t matter, because it is being used opportunistically by incredibly wicked people to further their own agendas.

    Just a few notable things:

    Forum for the Future, an organization funded by monolithic elitist banks and corporations like Royal Dutch Shell and Bank of America as well as the British government, created short films like the planned opolis video, part of the – “Megacities on the move” project. The clip shows every facet of human behavior, from meat consumption, to car use, to career choices, regulated by a dictatorial technocracy. People who resist the state controlling every aspect of their existence will be forced to live in squalid ghettos while the rest of the population will be tightly controlled in high-tech prison cities. As we previously documented, every draconian idea in this scenario has been borrowed from historical dictatorships, but it’s all OK because it’s for the earth! Right?

    Finnish environmentalist guru Pentti Linkola, publicly called for climate change deniers be “re-educated” in eco-gulags and that the vast majority of humans be killed with the rest enslaved and controlled by a green police state, with people forcibly sterilized, cars confiscated and travel restricted to members of the elite.

    In 2010, James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia hypothesis, told the Guardian that “democracy must be put on hold” to combat global warming and that “a few people with authority” should be allowed to run the planet because people were too stupid to be allowed to steer their own destinies.

    Another prominent figure in the climate change debate who exemplifies the violent and death-obsessed belief system of the movement is Dr. Eric R. Pianka, an American biologist based at the University of Texas in Austin. During a speech to the Texas Academy of Science in March 2006, Pianka advocated the need to exterminate 90% of the world’s population through the airborne ebola virus. The reaction from scores of top scientists and professors in attendance was not one of shock or revulsion – they stood and applauded Pianka’s call for mass genocide.

    The current White House science czar John P. Holdren also advocates the most obscenely dictatorial, eco-fascist, and inhumane practices in the name of environmentalism. In his 1977 Ecoscience textbook, Holdren calls for a “planetary regime” to carry out forced abortions and mandatory sterilization procedures, as well as drugging the water supply, in an effort to cull the human surplus.

    While demanding the general public lower their living standards to comply with the new green agenda, its proponents are complete hypocrites who live in the lap of luxury. Think Al Gore and his multiple oceanside mansions with heated swimming pools. Gore will still be able to roll around in SUV’s and fly private jets while quaffing the finest fillet steak and belching tons of CO2 as he lecture the rest of humanity about their carbon footprint.

    Think of Prince Charles and his insistence that the “proles” not be allowed to take baths as he lounges in the luxuriant splendor of royal palaces. “Snub the tub. If everybody in a four-person family replaced one bath a week with a five-minute shower, you could save between £5 and £15 per year off your energy bill.”

    So you can see the examples listed range from the obscene and demented, to the silly and hypocritical.

    My point is, there is good reason why some people object to Global Warming and the alarmists that are pushing for a socialist/fascist regime to deal with it…

    It’s not about the science, and it never will be, because the people who politically push hardest for the acceptance of Climate Change as Fact, are also the ones who stand to gain the most, or spew crap like what was quoted above.

    Whats amazing is some of the people who will flame me for this, will agree with the lunatics that call for 90% eradication of human life… Not caring that this means they too will suffer and die a horrible bile spewing death…

    There must be a better way people. Find it!

    • Ernie Dunbar says:

      The funny thing is, that if you had actually watched “An Inconvenient Truth”, you would know that Al Gore (just as an example, because hey, you brought it up) had already come up with an idea for reducing carbon emissions to the point where they ceased to be dangerous. And no, it didn’t involve thugs kicking down your door if you used too much gas in your barbecue. In fact, it involved a bunch of simple strategies and technology that exists today.

      But that’s not what you wanted to hear, was it? No, you *wanted* to believe that he’s all about taking away your prized 1998 Chevy Tahoe at gunpoint. You want your enemies to be jack-booted thugs ready to kill you for your lack of adherence to some political ideology, instead of simply converting coal power plants to natural gas.

      • Daniel Beck says:

        Wow, you sure make a lot of assumptions about me, my background, my knowledge of the subject and my possessions. You also greatly overestimate your your own ability to argue against my point.

        You use a number of logical fallacies to attempt to discredit assertions that can be demonstrated by quotes and research, rather than find facts that support your position.

        My assertion is that Global Warming is being used as an excuse for many people to push for insane things… And people like YOU unwittingly gobble it up.

        Just because AL Gore came up with methods to reduce Carbon emissions before that were non violent (READ CARBON TAXES), doesn’t mean he is not a hypocrite. Nor does it mean he had the best interests of mankind at heart.

        I can for example come up with the idea that you will just pay me all the money in your bank account… But when you refuse to do it, I follow it up with coming to your house and holding you at gun point.

        If your basing your argument against my facts on a silly documentary by a former Vice president, your no better than the people who object to claims of Global warming just because some crackpot tinfoil hat wearer says it’s a conspiracy because they saw a Youtube video that said so.

        So in essence what your saying is, you agree with the maniacs that think we should kill off 90% of the people on the planet, or force sterilize people, or force them to pay carbon taxes (Either directly, or Indirectly) to fix the problem?

        Like I said… your whole argument is – Al Gore had an idea how to solve this peacefully…

        And so somehow that justifies all the other crap that is now being done, and said by him and the other alarmists?

        So when a rapist shows up at your door and wants a piece of your mother, wife, girlfriend/whatever – do you think that its ok for him to resort to more drastic measures to get what he wants when you refuse to let him in?

        That would be absurd, and that’s exactly what your arguing in favor of.

        My whole point is, Whether Man made climate change is happening or not, this has become a tool of oppression, and you, like so many others, have fallen for it hook line and sinker. You have bought into a Cult mentality and you don’t even know it. THAT is the inconvenient truth…

        Your welcome.

        If you WANT to believe in Global Warming so badly, please, do so, help people like me who actually practice organic self reliant living find better ways to live. Help develop more efficient energy systems, cleaner energy.

        But don’t side with eugenicists, technocrats and politicians who openly talk about exterminating huge swaths of the population to protect mother earth.

        • I thought you were going to describe the “logical fallacies” of the previous poster and support your position with “quotes and research”. Instead, we get an analogy about rapists that a 9 year old would be ashamed of.

          Nice work.

          • Nigel he’s arguing with a teenager .. If he runs through the twenty common logical fallacies the kid has no chance of understanding it.
            If you had teenage children you’d realise you need to keep the analogies simplistic.

            But talking about logical fallacies, I’ve noticed that teenage green advocates only ever use the “Argument from authority” and the “Ad Hominen”.

            It’s an indication that the education system has degenerated into learning from rote.
            I doubt they’ve even heard the term scientific method these days.

          • Daniel Beck says:

            To be fair, using logical Fallacies is a common part of common speech. It is more entertaining to listen to and take part in when both parties are friendly with one another.

            So people default to using them.

            I used quite a few in my initial argument as well, but I at least tried to stay away from the grossest examples of them.

            But you did completely understand my initial post, and why I responded the way I did. I posted qoutes, and or factual anecdotes regarding the issue I posed…

            And in response I was blasted with Ad Homs, and Argument from Authority (just like you said) but without any further substance.

            I find logical fallacies are forgivable in non formal discussions so long as they don’t comprise the entirety of the argument. Maybe next time Nigel will do better :)

            So thanks for backing me up and seeing my point.

            :)

          • No. Firstly, “If you had teenage children you’d realise…” is its own type of logical fallacy – you can find out which one at your leisure.

            Secondly, the “If you had teenage children…” is exactly the type of assumption based on no knowledge that the previous poster was objecting to initially. So I find it a little strange you would embrace it.

            Analogies should never be simplistic, you may want to keep them simple, however. Simplistic means “characterized by extreme and often misleading simplicity, naive”. You may want to give your children simple explanations of complex ideas, but never simplistic ones.

            Finally, if I call you a dick, that is not an “Ad Hom”, it’s just a simple insult. If I say that you are a dick, and therefore your arguments are not to be trusted, that is argumentum ad hominem.

            It doesn’t matter if this guy was arguing with a teenager or a Nobel laureate – by using a ridiculous, needlessly provocative and logically flawed argument he puts himself in an extremely bad light.

        • SJStar says:

          Boo!

    • DrFlimmer says:

      What some people said or think is quite irrelevant. I don’t know if your quotes are true or not. But it doesn’t matter, they are irrelevant. And so is the political spin.

      Science (which has nothing to do with believing, btw) says that Global Warming is happening and is caused by human activity. Every little evidence points in that direction. Even scientists that used to be “skeptics” are now convinced that this is the case, after they independently researched and analyzed the available data.

      Personal opinions don’t matter. The science is settled.

      • Daniel Beck says:

        “What some people said or think is quite irrelevant.”

        How can you say that what some people say is irrelevant, when the people who said these things are the ones steering the debate, and the planning for dealing with the problem?

        Opinion matters my friend, or you would not be even entering into this discussion, you would be happy in the knowledge that the establishment accepts Global Warming, and leave everyone else who disagrees alone.

        But you KNOW opinion matters… You know this very well… So why are you saying something so illogical as what I quoted above?

        “I don’t know if your quotes are true or not.”

        OK, right here you completely lose all credibility with arguing this issue.

        Let me spell it out for you again.

        Whether you agree with Global Warming or not is what is irrelevant to the point Raised because the end result is the same whether man is altering the environment or not.

        That thing that is unchanged is that there are very dangerous things being discussed by our leaders and those in authority… Many of the “Experts” and “spokesman” for this issue are hypocritical at the barest minimum, genocidal and elitist at the worst.

        So I am not even debating the validity of Global Warming. It’s just not an issue IMHO, because whether there is Global warming or not, I am still going to advocate smart environmental choices.

        But I will never endorse Genocide, socialism, or Eco Fascism to achieve it… Will you?

        • DrFlimmer says:

          No, and if you read my other posts I already wrote in this thread, you would know that.
          What I advocate is first of all that everyone accepts that the evidence is overwhelmingly pointing in one direction, and that it is time to do something about Global Warming.
          Secondly, everyone needs to understand that there are changes to come. And interestingly, that changes come is independent of what we do. On what we do depends only which changes will come.
          If we decide to do something about GW we need to accept that it will change our lifestyle. Actually, so did telephones, televisions, computers and smartphones. Changing our lifestyle must not necessarily be bad (that’s only what some people want us to think). This has nothing to do with “Genocide, socialism or Eco Fascism”.

          Btw: I just read an interesting article on a German website (not necessarily a scientific quote, but it made an interesting point): Global Warming could have a significant impact on our energy production. Since most conventional power plants depend on rivers to cool their equipment, a rising temperature (of the rivers) could force the plants to shut down (this already happens sometimes). From my point of view this really argues in favor of renewable energy production, since it is mostly independent of cooling water (at least in a way as the conventional plants use it).

          • Daniel Beck says:

            But the problem is, not everyone in charge is really talking like you. See, if you said to me – Dan – we should all work toward living like Cody Lundin (he’s one of my heroes), make a home that uses very little energy and learn to live life more to the fullest and not to the excess… I would jump at the chance if it was supported by my economic means and so on. I have done so as best I can afford. I continue to do so, and always will.

            However, if you say to me – You and everyone else needs to pay an increased tax, submit to increased government regulation and inspection and pay lip service to hypocrites like Al Gore, or genocidal maniacs… well… I’ll just be polite and say what I would tell you is quite rude.

            The road to fixing the problem is more like what folks like Lundin have done…

            They have learned how to save big bucks on their energy bills, his home is a model that every new home builder and home owner should consider.

            Now, that only applies to the energy costs of homeowners etc. But the same logic needs to apply to big businesses…

            However, the solution cannot be one of forced change, oppression, or even the iron fist in a velvet glove method of most socialist thinkers.

            The solution MUST be organic and bottom up, not top down. AND NOT FORCED by authoritarians.

            I’m libertarian at heart, I believe in the founding fathers vision of freedom…

            I think that if they also believed/knew about Global Warming, they would have looked for a solution that didn’t ruin their vision of liberty at the same time.

            One thing is for certain, under true capitalism (not modern corporatism), there is a LOT of money to be made by small businesses and companies who would seek to build ecco friendly homes, and stuff for the general consumer.

            IF people really want to win the Global warming issue… Forgo debating the issue of whether it is a problem or not…

            Instead argue the benefits and cost saving measures that can be found by creating a greener economy, and lifestyle.

            I encourage you to look up Cody Lundin and his home. Nothing super science about it. But very unusual and if everyone lived like this, they could have their cake AND eat it too…

            Be well.

          • Daniel Beck says:

            PS when I say this: “IF people really want to win the Global warming issue… Forgo debating the issue of whether it is a problem or not…”

            I’m really just suggesting that people stop trying to argue the galvanizing issue that surrounds it when that energy is better spent finding common ground and creating solutions everyone can enact.

            Otherwise, if Global Warming is real, we will all either still be too busy arguing about it to fix it and perish/suffer

            OR

            The Ministry of Truth with take over (using the crisis to their advantage as those in power are prone to do) and while mankind might prevail, our freedom and happiness will be a thing of the past.

            Am i making better sense yet?

            Either way, Take Care.

  9. milo harkness-smith says:

    The anti-global warming theory people seem real mad. Why are you all so angry? It’s just science.

  10. Jimmy D. says:

    I think one of the most important lessons we can learn from events such as the Permian mass extinction is that no matter how much the biosphere is damaged, Planet Earth will recover and life will evolve into new forms. The human legacy may be a sedimentary layer of plastic and a new biological era, composed of the descendents of the species we have propagated (dogs, cattle, corn, etc.) our genetically modified experiments, and the species that best survive us (crows). Humans will probably radiate into several new species rather than go extinct. Our civilization is part of the natural process of this planet. What appears to be a disaster from our limited perspective may be just as important as the oxygen catastrophe or the KT extinction for establishing a new and more complex form of life on this planet.

    • Joe Cazana says:

      Let’s hope so

    • Aerandir90 says:

      Well that’s assuming that we’re still mucking around on the planet by the time the next major extinction event begins, or maybe its already begun and we don’t know it cos the time scales are just so huge.

      Anyway, chances are that we would have small offshoot of our species existing on other planetary bodies and in space say a 1000 years from now, so its all goood

  11. Joe Cazana says:

    I think whenever someone posts a statement of factual history there shold be a link to support that statement, otherwise it is just he said she said and a big pissing match

  12. Dick Fineman says:

    i fail to see how humanity as a whole can learn from an event 252 million years ago when it can barely take the last 150 years worth of causality into the accounting of its immediate future

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      It is a few hard facts that we have learned under those last 150 years of history, among many other facts learned. We can concentrate long enough to account for important facts. (Say, as when making safety limits for dams.)

  13. Astrofiend says:

    Interesting that people read a 60 line article about a study that was published in Nature, and then accuse it of rampant political simpering because of a 2 line comment by one of the authors at the very end.

    Anyway – in regards to the actual article – interesting stuff. I think it’s a fascinating period in Earth’s history. I wonder how the quoted period of 10 million years would change if 99% of life was wiped out instead of 90%? Or if it was 80%? Or if the amount of life wiped out is relatively inconsequential, and the time taken ultimately depends on the other factors operating at the time, and life will spring up relatively quickly no matter what given half a chance….

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      I touch some of that in my length first comment. Short version, your second scenario looks more reasonable and the current work is a part of what supports that.

  14. tenstripe says:

    Evolution is the extinction of life in the forms as they exist here and now. To say somthing is extinct is to deny evolution.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      ? The second sentence contradicts the first.

      Evolution doesn’t imply anything on extinction of individuals or populations.

      But population genetics use the observation that individuals die when doing calculations on populations, which they in most cases do.

      Very few individuals are eternal, even bacteria has an upper limit on cell divisions for the part that accumulates damaged biochemicals. For the moment I think some flatworms and a cnidarian are suspected to get around that and be individually eternal.

      • tenstripe says:

        Thanks Torbjörn Larsson. I agree that this is not a global warming article but somthing of historical scientific study.

        If a paleantologist unearthed a dinasaur skeleton, he would correctly state that it is an extinct species. I won’t fault him for not knowing that it really tasted like a chicken. Evolution is change not extinction; Yet, change could be an end.

        • tenstripe says:

          Also, if a few radical politicians do lead most of the planet into extinction. There will be some little lemur primate in Madigascar that survives in some hole in the ground. Mankind will once again rise up to achieve space travel. Albeit, with little poined noses and a few primary colors dabbled on their faces; the grin will be just the same!

  15. Leszek O says:

    As a short lived human species most of us have a big problem imagining anything longer then our short lifespans. Within the last million years the Earth experienced many cataclysms which wiped out or seriously reduced the number of species. I could just give one example of such an event which was the explosion of the Toba super volcano 70000 years ago. That probably put into the atmosphere more greenhouse gases then we as humans did to this day.
    One of the theories puts the Permian extinction due to the enormous volcanic event ongoing for millions of years almost continuously. Trying to compare it to human activity is laughable.

    • DrFlimmer says:

      Sure. If the Yellowstone, or a similar super volcano, explodes, we face much more trouble than what is ahead of us.

      But there is a huge difference between a super volcano (or other natural catastrophes) and Global Warming. We cannot prohibit the former, but we have serious responsibilities concerning the latter.
      We have no clue, when the next big natural catastrophe occurs. It can be tomorrow or in a Million years. Global Warming is happening right now, and we are responsible (that is a scientific fact, no need for political spin).

      Now go. Tell your children that you don’t care. Tell them, that we had the power to prevent the worst, but did nothing. Tell them, to wait for the next super volcano, because then anything else would be irrelevant. Go, tell them!

      • Leszek O says:

        I have brought the sample of the super volcano only to show the scale of catastrophic events and not that it is going to happen any time soon and that we must worry about it. Global Warming is a fact, but it is also an effect brought on by our particular type of civilization. If we want this civilization to grow then there is not much we can do about it and I believe not much will be done until we find some other source of energy or drastically reduce the population. Unfortunately, the GW is the cost that we must pay and our children will just have to deal with this problem.

        • Torbjörn Larsson says:

          This is incoherent. First you put up a thoroughly ignorant and laughable comment, see lcrowells points, that indicates you think there has been anything like the current GW when in fact it is unprecedented in rate. Then you say that it doesn’t matter whether or not it is avoidable.

          There have been extensive work that shows this has been, and still is, avoidable for much less cost than doing nothing will get us.

        • DrFlimmer says:

          Well, I disagree. I think, the resources, the research, and the know-how to change the world are already there.
          What we seriously lack is the will to do it. Some because of profit, others because of laziness.
          The “civilization” can still grow – it will just look a little bit different.

          • Leszek O says:

            What we seriously lack is not the will but the money. To move away from the relatively cheap fossil energy will require a major effort and a lot of money. The “West” damaged the climate and got rich in the process. Now it forces everyone to reduce the fossil fuels because of the GW. How about accepting 10% additional tax rate to build for free the ecological power plants for the poorer countries. That would solve some of the problem.

          • DrFlimmer says:

            I could actually agree on something like that. But tell that to the “average” American (sorry! I am from Europe).

            20 years ago the car industry resisted to install airbags in cars. In the end, they were forced politically to do it. Such a political way is needed NOW to do something about GW. Too bad that this will is lacking.

    • lcrowell says:

      Volcanoes produce comparatively little CO_2. Most of the material that comes out of a volcano is particulate, generating pyroclastic plumes and flows. It takes a huge amount of volcanism to raise global CO_2 levels. This has occurred in the past, such as the Deccan flat supervolcanism period. The Toba supervolcano, situated in or near Sumatra, did influence the climate, but not because of CO_2 increases. It appears to have blanketed the Earth’s atmosphere in ash layers that lead to a dimming of solar radiation. Volcanoes result in cooling, not heating. The die-off of plant life resulted in a desertification of Africa and is thought by some to have been pressure that lead to our species radiating out of Africa. The rain forests did bounce back from their reduction around rivers. A Yellowstone supervolcano event will doubtless have dire effects as well, which could amplify the climate problem induced by us.

      Indeed the statement about the Permian extinction is that it was a perfect storm of events that lead to a sequence of die-offs. A Yellowstone supervolcano eruption 50,000 years after the “wax job” we do on this planet could indeed be such a repeat of this.

      LC

      • Leszek O says:

        Normal volcano eruptions produce each year about 100 times less CO2 then humans are producing at the moment – true. However, super volcano eruption produce super amounts of CO2. Initially the SO2, dust and ash released cause the cooling but after a few years once particulates and acid rain fall down the released CO2 causes global warming. This probably is in fact a blessing after the long winter.
        Nevertheless, the point I am trying to make is that the natural disasters can have a much more profound effect on the climate in comparison to human activity.

        • lcrowell says:

          I have to in part punt on this. I am not sure how much CO_2 would be released by a Yellowstone scale supervolcano. I will say that this is a transient event. While it might produce in a year as much CO_2 as we produce in a year, I doubt it would rise to the level of being equivalent to our entire CO_2 output over the last 200 years.

          Issues of volcanoes and the like fall pretty far outside my domain of experience. The question would have to be researched properly.

          LC

        • lcrowell says:

          I have to in part punt on this. I am not sure how much CO_2 would be released by a Yellowstone scale supervolcano. I will say that this is a transient event. While it might produce in a year as much CO_2 as we produce in a year, I doubt it would rise to the level of being equivalent to our entire CO_2 output over the last 200 years.

          Issues of volcanoes and the like fall pretty far outside my domain of experience. The question would have to be researched properly.

          LC

  16. Dick Fineman says:

    wow, is this really universe today? its getting all youtube up in here, this comment section needs a Great Dying.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    This confirms what other studies has suggested, the Permian extinction is different.

    – It is the only extinction that has wiped out over 80 % of species in either sea or on land.

    – Its ~ 10 million years of recovery (defined as the same diversity of species) is an order of magnitude larger than the ~ 1 million years or less suggested for other extinctions.

    – It is the only extinction that has managed to hit insects.

    One major proposal for why it was so extensive is that it happened as the most recent supercontinent Pangea formed. Earlier supercontinents were too early to leave an impression in the fossil record, the next oldest was Rodinia ~ 1.1 – 0.75 Ga bp (billion years before present). In fact the earliest fossils of complex multicellular organisms, the calcium carbonate sponge Otavia antiqua, appears ~ 0.76 Ga bp, another test for the formation of supercontinents as environmental bottlenecks.

    To put this in perspective, the oxygenation of the atmosphere that Jimmy D mentioned was probably an even larger extinction event.

    For those with an astrobiology bent, two recent papers can be taken to build a theory implying that.

    The first paper is an exciting result on RNA world organisms. That an RNA world preceeded the current DNA cellular world is pretty established today. We have many fossils in the cells (RNA transcription of genes, RNA catalytic center in ribosomes, RNA tagging of proteins going to the cellular membrane). And because it predicts how the interlocking between todays proteins working DNA and DNA producing proteins was preceeded by RNA catalysts and RNA genomes.

    We can predict that early RNA organisms lived in a world of little oxygen and hence much iron, before the oxygenation of the atmosphere. The paper tests that nicely, since it finds that iron ions works better than today’s magnesium ions for RNA catalysts:

    ““We’re used to our world of oxygen, and oxygen and iron is just a terrible combination. They make a hydroxyl radical, and everything it hits loses a hydrogen, shredding RNA and proteins too,” says Williams.

    Without oxygen in the mix, iron would no longer be a shredder of RNA and could instead serve as a potential co-factor in RNA folding, just as magnesium does.”

    The increase in reactivity is at least an order of magnitutde in some cases. I believe the authors suggest somewhere that this predicts why RNA was selected over other similar compounds, it is particularly adept in taking advantage of the plentiful iron.

    The interesting point is that Benner, wellknown expert on origins of life, sees this as an implication that the change from RNA to protein catalysis can be tied to the time of oxygenation. More specifically, it would be the point where an eventual mixture of catalysts would latest see the RNA mostly replaced. It is an excellent bottleneck constraint explaining why RNA world life disappeared in toto.*

    This coincides with the recent phylogeny of Braakman and Smith on evolution of metabolism, which according to them shows sign of divergence precisely after the creation of the oxygen atmosphere. The pre-LUCA would have been fitted with a curiously robust, redundant and over evolutionary time stable metabolic network that were fixed by “imprecise or unreliable enzyme function … or unreliable regulation”.

    They point out that this would leave open the possibility of chemical evolution at early stages, but it could as well be used to signal a disappearing RNA world. [“The Emergence and Early Evolution of Biological Carbon-Fixation”, Braakman and Smith, PLoS Comp Biol, 2012.]

    The secon paper raises the question: if not a later cyanobacteria were responsible for the atmospheric change, what was? A blog article at the time pointed to a paper where a presumed global glaciation at the time lead to the first UV-driven release of massive amounts of oxygen.

    The initial pulses of the poisonous substance would have tipped the balance and eventually lead up to a diversity of oxygenating photosynthesizers. In effect reversing the usual oxygenating photosynthesis – oxygen – glaciation supposed order of events.

    Needless to say, the RNA to DNA world bottleneck could, most likely would, have wiped out nearly all existing life.
    ——————
    * Except possibly surviving as some parasitically simplified RNA viruses akin to what some people believed happened to the putative DNA Megavirus ancestor.

  18. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    [Duplicate removed.]

  19. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    [Sigh.]

  20. illumined says:

    While certainly global warming is real the worst thing we can do is overreact and start doomsaying. But the real issue we face is that current environmentalism doesnt really offer much in the way of realistic solutions. If I may I would like to quote from the recent World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2012:

    “WWF’s One Planet perspective explicitly proposes to
    manage, govern and share natural capital within the Earth’s
    ecological boundaries. In addition to safeguarding and restoring
    this natural capital, WWF seeks better choices along the entire
    system of production and consumption, supported by redirected
    financial flows and more equitable resource governance. All of
    this, and more, is required to decouple human development from
    unsustainable consumption (moving away from material and
    energy-intensive commodities), to avoid greenhouse gas emissions,
    to maintain ecosystem integrity, and to promote pro-poor growth
    and development (Figure 58).”

    Pay attention to the bit about “moving away from material and energy intensive commodities”, that’s code for the complete and total deindustrialization of the planet. In other words, blasting us back 200 years. How do I come to this conclusion? Because almost all metals take considerable energy to mine, smelt, and mill into the various useful alloys our products come from. That, and most industry is also energy intensive.

    So why would they want such a thing? Because it is the only possible way the planet can have an energy grid that is 100% from renewable sources. It won’t happen if there is any real industrialization because wind, solar, tidal, and wave all have a lot of very serious limitations. They are all fundementally diffuse, which makes them impractical to develop on a large scale. Now of course we do have a carbon free energy source that is sufficiently energy dense and cost competitive to power our industries, and that is nuclear fission. But they won’t go for it. They won’t because it allows the industrial civilization that they hate so much to continue, and is against their “let’s go back to nature” religion.

    I’ll also quote one more point they make in the same report about energy consumption:

    “Decrease energy demand by 15 per cent by 2050 compared
    to 2005.”

    All economies that grow will increase their energy demand, it’s a fact of life. While efficiency improvements will slow down the rate of increase, it will still increase. In fact, one of the best metrics to use to determine whether or not an economy is growing is just by looking at the rate of increase for energy demand. So what the second quote means is they want us to be in a decades long recession.

    So what should we do? I think the first thing we should do is toss aside contemporary environmentalism, their feel good renewable energy schemes and their malthusian “biocapacity” ideas. Energy and agriculture policies need to be based on sound science, good engineering, and at least some amount of economic reality. It is only then that we can have real solutions that don’t invole Na’Vi wannabeism.

    • Shootist says:

      This people are reds, painted green.

      It is that simple.

      • Wow; ‘anti-Malthusian’.Presumably, ‘Shootist’ is a Freudian slip for ‘I vote Republican, like to drive a big car and enjoy shooting dead wild animals for ‘sport’ (and stuff the environment’). D*ckhead.

      • super_earth says:

        McCartystism ( seeing “reds” everywhere. ) is outraging and pathetic.

        Malthus was not a marxist. Marxism was then (mid-1800s) just beginning. Malthus just noted the obvious: the resources are finite, and if demand is not contained, there will be a massive famine and struggle to survive. And Darwin understood that very good. Darwin realized that such a process is what happen all the time in nature, driving evolution by selective dying (aka natural selection).

        Now we have become something that has enlarged that natural instinct to grow at the expense of the others too much. We are now a too big influence on earth to behave as energy-hungry bacteria in a petri dish (that grow exponentially until they all die killed by nutrient depletion and their own wastes). It is time to behave as what we are now: the dominant species on earth.

        The solutions(renewable energy) are not “nihilist”. Those are solutions to allow the continuation of human civilization (together with most of advanced life on earth). “Nihilist” is to continue polluting and depleting natural resources until we remain resourceless and so polluted that the result is annihilation.

    • super_earth says:

      “All economies that grow will increase their energy demand, it’s a fact of life. While efficiency improvements will slow down the rate of increase, it will still increase”

      Then you admit implicitly that our current economic system is wrong, because it assumes infinite economy growth, a thing that is inconsistent with the laws of physics. To pretend growing eternally is madness, because resources are finite. That should be obvious to any thinking person.

      • illumined says:

        And eventually the sun will explode. Of course nothing is infinite or forever (except for me of course), but these kinds of doomsayers have been pronouncing that we would be imminently out of a whole slew of stuff and that hundreds of millions (or billions depending on when it was told) would die from the “inevitable” starvation for a real long time. Just look at the Club of Rome predictions from the 70’s, so perhaps resources arent quite a limited as we think?

        But even so, why choose to limit ourselves to this one, small, insiginificant planet? In just this star system there’s 7 other planets, several dwarf planets, dozens of moons, and likely hundreds of metal rich asteroids. But there’s hundreds of billions of other star systems in just this galaxy. The sheer amount of resources that exist even locally is unimaginable.

        Such is abundance, so feel free to drink from the horn of plenty, because there is plenty there.

        • super_earth says:

          Resources like solar energy?

          There is a great abundance of renewable energy. It is fossil energy that is scarce. Any economy dependent on it will collapse when the fossil fuel resources are depleted. For the human civilization, there are at most 100-200 year of coal resources (for oil and gas there are just decades) before they run out (assuming constant demand and rate of exploitation equal to the present one, a conservative assumption that quite overestimate the time left).
          But is not resource depletion the main concern. The main concern is pollution. Because burning fossil fuels at the velocity we do is changing the composition of our atmosphere. Now we are at a concentration of CO2 of 390 ppm, a value not seen in 15 million years. Just 200 years to erase15 million years of CO2 decline. That’s shocking from a geologist perspective. And we are headed to restaurate the eocene hothouse climate (1000ppm, 50 million years ago), in just 100 years.
          This post is about the Permian extinction. Guess what caused it: a massive liberation of greenhouse gases (from flood basalt eruption over Siberian coal formations) that caused an extreme global warming.
          And there are still people like you that will choose to burn the future generations in a repeat of a massive extinction because not doing so is “blasting us back 200 years”.
          1000 ppm is where we are headed with the fossil fuel economy. That was the condition in the Paleocene/Eocene, when there were no glaciers even on the poles. Do you prefer blast all of us (together with most life on the planet) not 200 years, but 50 Million years back ?

  21. The statement that the Permian Extinction wiped out 90% of all life actually understates the situation: 90% of all SPECIES were wiped out, which probably means that something like 99.8% of all living things were wiped out.

  22. Aqua4U says:

    Whewy… Somebody close that window, it’s down right gusty in here! And HOT too! The Peta tons of methane being released as the arctic permafrost melts has apparently already ignited quite the row!

    What I find totally engrossing within this article, is contemplating the suggestion that a HUGE _variety_ of species have gone extinct upon the Earth. It’s not too much a stretch of the imagination to consider the possibility that out of all those millions of variations in the evolutionary scheme of things, other intelligent species may have evolved over the Milena?

    To continue this line of thought… Imagine that an advanced civilization of reptilian, mammal/reptilian, or other mixed genome large brained or ‘hive brain’ animals had evolved and had advanced far beyond our current understanding or expectations. There they were, some 250 million years ago (Blind guess at any date) looking up at the stars. Some of them decide to visit those stars and begin to prepare for the journey. Most of the population thinks the idea insane and dismisses the call for recruits. The ship is built and tens of thousands board and are placed in hibernation. The ship leaves…

    Eons pass… the ship arrives at it’s destination and begins terraforming the most suitable nearby planet. Eventually several planets around as many stars are transformed into acceptable habit and populated.

    Actually….. They’ve come back several times to see what happened to Earth after the great calamity. Yes, they knew about that… even saw it coming. The message about the impending destruction reached them several hundred years after the catastrophe…

    ~@; )

  23. Aqua4U says:

    Addendum: Returnee’s to Earth realize that life on the surface is now impossible for them. They prefer to breath a methane enhanced atmosphere.. laced with hydrocarbons… get it?

  24. copernicus34 says:

    All you global warming apocolyptics are bunch of quacks. when has the climate of this planet ever been unchanging? i’m not even arguing whether or not the planet is heating up or not. has anybody been looking at possibly other causes? it sort of alludes to mr icrowell’s little story about the critter defending her nest from a like-species but totally ignoring the real (or perhaps more lethal) threat. all of our eyes and attention is focused on global warming, but nobody is looking at possibly other causes. NOBODY!! mr icrowell thinks we are stupid, he/she is right, but perhaps for a different reason he/she estimates. tired of this name calling bullcrap (deniers, alarmists) wtf ever. convince us, stop putting this in the realm of politics (where you know everything gets turned on its head) and convince the planet with hard statistically proven facts. not the hockey stick, thats been summarily debunked. bring back science, brink back skepticism, its why we (as humans) have achieved so much. where would we be without a few (maybe more) discerning minds throughout time questioning the very foundation of then ‘modern thinking’. to the global warming quacks ‘take your head out of the sand’, most of us skeptics do indeed believe the world is round, and not flat. convince us, convince me why we must give up what we have achieved, and send billions to their deaths (because thats what we are talking about with the economic cataclysm you all want to unleash on the planet). It really is funny when i read nowadays, some astronomy sites (this one is not too much in that category) that wax poetic about global warming. quick to say what percentage of climatologists believe this or that, without a mention of how many statisticians ‘believe’ the same. take a look at the climatologist field. everybody has a connection to everybody else, they are a very small group, easy i think (knowing a little about human behavior) to cabal together a like-minded theory (and thats what it is right? a theory?), especially with the amount of money involved. we are all quick to jump on people, politicians, even scientists with the dreaded ‘ties to oil’ but apparently all the climatologists are saints, with only the best at heart.

  25. ITSRUF says:

    OMG. Temperatures are 25 degrees cooler now than they were during the Permian Era. This proves an ice age is coming!

    (Just making a point) — See how easy it is to be misled when one “cherry-picks” data that fits their hypothesis?

    • illumined says:

      Looking at this is very instructive. http://www.scotese.com/climate.htm

      Appearently when the extinction event actually happened the global average temperature was nearly twice what it is today.

      Looking around at some of the temperature change predictions for the end of the 21st century, I haven’t seen one that’s anywhere near that. Given that by the end of the century will certainly be out or nearly out of all fossil fuels, it’s safe to say that’s probably as high as it will go.

  26. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    TL;DR. But calling climate scientists “quacks” is like calling licensed doctors “quacks”.

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