The Weekend Wonk: Jonathan Payne on Extinction Events

August 29, 2015

I interviewed paleo-biologist Jonathan Payne, of Stanford, for my recent piece on Extinction events, which you can find below the fold.

The last major extinction event, the one most people have heard about, happened, we think, when a massive asteroid strike wiped out the Dinosaurs.  The good news is, that’s pretty rare.
The bad news is, not all extinctions are caused by asteroids.

17 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Jonathan Payne on Extinction Events”

  1. fletch92131 Says:

    here, is probably better piece on mass extinctions,,) I wonder why environmentalists keep pushing for people towards death, cutting down forests note to grow palm oil, and other BS stuff, like wind energy (truly last century energy form)and solar(not quite there yet until there’s storage). How about as an alternative energy form?

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Do you read books, fletch? Or have someone read them to you? If so, you should read The Sixth Extinction by Kolbert. Some 300 pages that go into much more and “better” detail than your short and superficial link. Not quite sure what you’re “wondering” about, either—it’s not very lucid.

      And as far as the Bloom Box (which is just another fuel cell variation) as an “alternate energy source”, I think you should sell everything you own and sink the proceeds into Bloom Box stock. It’s another Solar Roadway, although the genius behind it HAS raised $400+ million over the years (and is looking for more).

    • jimbills Says:

      There’s no good reason to not want to try any cleaner alternative to fossil carbon – including the Bloom Box. It’s a gap in reasoning to rule out other alternatives like wind (because it’s “last century”, really a ridiculous thing to say, especially if one has ever actually seen a modern wind turbine) or solar (because it still has a ways to go technologically on storage). Ruling them out, especially as they are the two most widely adopted cleaner energy sources (ignoring hydro and nuclear), and as they are currently more affordable than the Bloom Box, is basically saying that it’s okay to stick with what we have for now. In other words, you’re essentially saying, “Let’s wait”, which is the same story line adopted by certain industries and their funded think tanks.

      I agree about biofuels for now. Algae oil shows some promise, but ethanol and palm oil likely creating as many problems as they solve.

      Your extinction link is a kindergarten level primer on the subject.

      • jimbills Says:

        “Your extinction link is a kindergarten level primer on the subject”

        Clarifying – the ‘Apocalypse Now?’ section talking about the current extinction rate is very basic info and has little of it. The other 7/8ths of the piece on past extinctions is fine.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      This is a good skeptical science piece on why ‘you can’t rush the oceans (why CO2 emission rates matter)’:
      quote: “Four of the “big five” mass extinctions… were associated with abrupt global warming… triggered by Large Igneous Province (LIP) eruptions… [the] relevance… for us today?… they confirm what scientists have modeled from ocean chemistry: CO2 emission rates mattered back then just as they do now. In fact they are key.”

      you said: “why environmentalists keep pushing… people towards death… [for example] BS stuff, like wind energy…and solar” That’s got ‘cognitive bias’ written all over it. I can see the headlines now ‘Run! from the creature that ate Nevada! Big solar will push you over the precipice!’

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Perhaps the only comment on the thread that really addresses the topic at hand. We have let ourselves become distracted by a moron AGAIN.

        CO2 is key to global warming (aided by the human population explosion and the over-exploitative nature of modern society). An actual big asteroid strike would be just bad luck.

    • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

      I refuse to click on any unknown link shorteners. Post canonical links only.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Why is that? Are “unknown link shorteners” dangerous? (For those of us that never heard of “canonical links” before you mentioned them). And would fletch “do us dirty”? Need I worry about having clicked on his links?

        • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

          Problem is that you have no idea where they will take you because the destination url is hidden – you could end up watching a beheading video, or get infected by a malicious site exploiting a vulnerability if your computer is not fully patched.
          It’s also (un)common decency – I wouldn’t waste my time on a link to American Finker, but I would visit a recognized scientific site such as Nature or Scientific American.
          Denialist blogs can just FRO…

      • redskylite Says:

        Very good call & advice to all of us, I rarely click on those either, some links can be so long though that they can be necessary. The best ones to use have a preview option, so you can see the link without opening it. I understand TinyUrl does have the preview feature (but does mean going to their site to check them out), and there are several Firefox addons for previewing some other shortened links.

        We live in a world of phishers, hackers, crackers and crims all after your personal details . .

        I won’t be opening this one either . . . . .

    • redskylite Says:

      Well after first checking your shortened URL with software at “”, I liked the huge font you have employed and the highlighted statements in red, could speed read it in under 60 seconds.

      Your links did not seem scientific at all, but you are advocating sticking on coal and oil. Bad, Bad man you are condemning my grandchildren to a life in a +4°C altered world, and still increasing. You are redrawing the atlas of the world. Very bad man. Nobody likes wind turbine caused bird deaths but at least a lot of effort is going in to modifying the technology to decrease the risk, and to make each turbine more efficient. Try following the progress and update your blog on that ….

      • redskylite Says:

        OOPs – wrong post, unless you think it fits here (that’s fine), Pls ignore, you didn’t see this . ….

    • Lionel Smith Says:

      You need to try some more serious reading on this to get a truer picture, here are suggestions:

      “Climate Change and Biodiversity”
      by Thomas E. Lovejoy and Lee Hannah

      “Saving a Million Species: Extinction Risk from Climate Change”
      by Lee Hannah Ph.D. (editor), Thomas Lovejoy

      “The Unnatural History of the Sea”
      by Callum Roberts

      “The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea”
      by Callum Roberts

      “Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean”
      by Lisa-ann Gershwin and Sylvia Earle

      “Driven To Extinction”
      by Richard Pearson

      You will learn from reading Dr Callum Roberts that one of the big problems is moving baselines. Thus how can one set fishing quotas when the starting baseline of numbers of that species are lots in history. You will discover that tales of old fisherman being able to walk on the sea from there being so many fish, seals, otters are whatever may not be so far from the truth.

      The running history of species depletion from one geographical area to another as people targeted different populations and species is a marked feature.

  2. From the essay:

    The last major extinction event, the one most people have heard about, happened, we think, when a massive asteroid strike wiped out the Dinosaurs. The good news is, that’s pretty rare.

    Asteroids? Not necessarily. There has been some back and forth regarding whether the dinosaurs were killed by supervolcanoes that gave rise to the Deccan Traps (perhaps in part due to a rapid global cooling that results from sulfates entering the stratosphere, but principally due to the build up of greenhouse gasses) or the asteroid impact responsible for the Chicxulub crater. For the past couple of decades, the mainstream view has been that the primary cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs was the asteroid. However, recent analysis of fossil evidence in geological strata suggest that extinctions were drawn out over a period of 200,000 years in a way that is more consistent with supervolcanoes rather than an asteroid being the culprit.

    Please see:

    So what did-in the dinosaurs? A murder mystery…
    by Howard Lee, 12 March 2015

    • Lionel Smith Says:

      My money would be on a combination of factors a slow decline in species number and distribution with the Chicxulub event being the last straw, that iridium layer is, I think, still significant.

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