from The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins:
An Illuminating History of Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins,
Artist and Lecturer
written by Barbara Kerley
with drawings by Brian Selznick
(many of which are based on the
original sketches of Mr. Hawkins)
Scholastic Press, 2001
I don’t remember being mesmerized by any one thing when I was growing up. My girls either.
But in my work as a children’s librarian, I discovered fascinations with everything from sharks and spiders to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (remember those?).
And of course, dinosaurs. I hoped my own grandchildren or at least one or two would get hooked on dinosaurs, but no luck.
One of the boys loved Thomas The Tank Engine. One was so into mushrooms that he had his own field guide at age three. One knew the names and workings of every construction vehicle, common and obscure.
Fairies and princesses captured the imagination of both girls like nothing else.
But no dinosaurs.
I indulged my own fascination by providing dinosaur storytimes. We made paper-plate stegosauruses, and tyrannous masks and claws. We read lots of books and learned about lots of dinosaurs. I usually ended by (hopefully?) inspiring the kids by telling them that I might be looking at the person who solves the mystery of how and why the dinosaurs all became extinct. Now we have consensus, but then there was still controversy.
Since time began, scientists have recorded five major mass extinctions. Lots of questions remain, but much has been learned. Actually in all that time, five is a pretty low number. According to https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-timeline-of-the-mass-extinction-events-on-earth.html the big five are:
About 439 million years ago, the combination of glaciation and the formation of the Appalachian Mountains resulted in falling sea levels. Since the majority of the animal life lived in the ocean, trilobites, brachiopods, and graptolites died off in large numbers. Plant life was left high and dry.
Devonian Extinction, Late
About 100 million years later, giant land plants are thought to have caused the next extinction. Their deep roots released nutrients changing the composition of the oceans themselves. This resulted in mass amounts of algal blooms and depleted the seas of oxygen and therefore, animal life. Many scientists consider this mass extinction to have taken place over over hundreds of thousands of years.
This extinction event is called “The Great Dying.” About 96% of life perished in a huge volcanic eruption 251 million years ago. It filled the air with carbon dioxide which fed different kinds of bacteria. Large amounts of methane emissions warmed the Earth and the oceans became acidic. Ancient coral species were totally lost.
Like the other mass extinctions, it is believed that this one was also a gradual phenomenon. The blame has been placed on an asteroid impact, the resulting basalt eruptions, and climate change. Mammals were the dominant species and then they weren’t. Dinosaurs had room and time to flourish. That was about 200 million years ago. Dinosaurs evolved and thrived for 135 million years.
Sixty-five or six million years ago, so the theory goes, a huge asteroid (about six miles in diameter) traveling at 10 to 20 miles per second, smashed into Earth and left a crater 110 miles across, about as wide as the whole state of Delaware is long! The crash was bad. Very bad. The dust it threw off was full of sulfur, which is particularly adept at blocking out sunlight. The dust storm and the resulting “impact winter” snuffed out the sun for so long that plants could not photosynthesize. Then ferns grew almost rampant.
It took millions of years for life to recover its former level of diversity.
We may well ask, “What’s next?”
Nearly 150 authors from 50 nations worked for three years to compile a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The panel is composed of 132 member nations (find them here: https://www.ipbes.net/members) including the United States. Representatives of each member nation signed off on the findings. Here's the report, released on May 6, 2019, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/
Overwhelming evidence paints a dire future for our planet. Species loss is speeding up. More than half a million land animals are at great risk of extinction in the coming decades. The oceans are no better off.
This time, no 6-mile-wide asteroid crashed into earth. No giant plants upset the chemical balance of the soil or water. No new mountain ranges have formed.
This time, humanity is both perpetrator and victim of our current condition. Maybe it’s human nature to choose convenience over longterm sustainability. Maybe it’s human nature to live in the moment without giving much thought to the long view. Maybe it’s human nature to "make do" in a dangerous situation rather than try to change it for the better.
It is easy to become overwhelmed, scared stiff. But it only takes one idea, one thought, communicated widely, lived loudly, believed strongly, to head confidently into the future. A bright one. For our kids. And grandkids. And theirs, too.
-— stay curious! (and say no to plastic!!)
I’m reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. Henry Holt, 2014.