Extinction Lessons From The Dinosaurs

As we mass extinct ourselves

indi.ca
9 min readSep 29

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Illustration by Mark Garlick, Science Source (via)

The dinosaurs dealt with much worse climate change than us (the air was literally on fire) and somehow survived. The terrible lizards got shrunk down to rotisserie size, but they were still alive. After thousands of years, they even thrived, coming back as ‘terror birds’ in time. As I’ve written, we should be so lucky.

As Riley Black wrote in her book The Last Days Of The Dinosaurs, there’s a few lessons we can learn from the dino’s ‘demise’ as we face our own decline. I’ll cover the two lessons here. One is that extinction is avoidable, but that shrinking our ambitions is not.

1. Extinction Is Avoidable

“A Tyrannosaurus rex chick shivers in the cold aftermath of the asteroid impact 66 million years ago. The asteroid caused sulfur aerosols to enter the atmosphere, which led to global cooling.” (Image credit: ©James McKay; Creative Commons, via)

The first lesson is that the dinosaurs did not go extinct. This has been hotly debated, but is now mostly settled. Birds are dinosaurs, ergo extant, not extinct. As Black said, “Birds were not simply waiting in the wings when the asteroid struck. They were part of the great flowering of dinosaur diversity, their roots anchored deep in the Jurassic.”

What did go extinct are the big dinosaurs. These unfortunate beasts got alternately fried, baked, frozen, and then had their bones literally dissolved in acid (rain). Their world was literally rocked and it’s a miracle they came out in any form at all. Immediately after impact (if you weren’t hit, tsunami’d or earthquaked to death), much of the atmosphere turned into a goddamn air fryer. Temperatures reached 260℃, which makes modern climate change look like a cakewalk. Then all the debris blocked out the sun, dropping temperatures 60℃ and leading to a near collapse in the whole food chain.

Only a few creatures could survive the immediate heat and even fewer could survive the cold. Nobody with big appetites could survive at all. The big dinosaurs had simply reached the end of the line. They were done.

‘Big’, however, is not synonymous with ‘dinosaur’. Birds were able to come off the dinosaur bench and, eventually, thrive. As Black said, “the meek inherit the Earth — and they had done so four times before.” That category included our…

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Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.