Earth’s story is not about dynasties but communities

Earth’s story is not about dynasties but communities

Riley Black writes:

The worst day in the entire history of life on Earth happened in the northern springtime. On that day, the last of the Age of Dinosaurs, a roughly seven-mile-wide chunk of rock that had been hurtling towards our orbit for millions of years slammed into Earth’s midsection and immediately brought the Cretaceous to a close. The consequences were so dire that survival in the hours immediately following impact was merely a matter of luck.

Of course, life wasn’t totally extinguished on that day 66 million years ago. Some species survived, emerging into a transformed world. We can’t help but draw our own history to this specific moment, the dawn of the Age of Mammals, when fuzzy beasts could finally flourish. Dominant dinosaurs suffered a stroke of cosmic bad fortune, and our mammalian kin inherited a planet where they would no longer have to fear death in reptilian jaws. The image is of a great ecological cast change, different players continuing the evolutionary story. It’s a very appealing distortion.

The entire reason we so often fixate on the supposed dominance of the dinosaurs is because we now see ourselves in that position. For more than a century, the decimation of the ‘ruling reptiles’ has been taken as a cautionary tale of what could happen to us – not all that different from pundits who cry that the United States is set to topple like the Roman Empire. The narrative becomes one of power, influence and longevity, one group of organisms above all others deciding the course of entire ecosystems over the span of millions of years. Mass extinctions become examples of winners and losers. Where Tyrannosaurus rex and family faltered, the story goes, our mammalian relatives were victorious. The story says more about the way we interpret the past than what actually transpired; by creating a fairly-tale out of a distant prehistoric event, we’ve inflated our sense of importance in the world. [Continue reading…]

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