With apologies to chickens, crocodiles, sharks and other creatures that can play “Six Degrees of Separation” aka “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” with their prehistoric cousins, dinosaurs as we know them from books and fossils found in museums have been extinct for some 65 million years.
Dinosaurs ruled the planet for about 165 million before that. For comparison, humanoids have been calling Earth home for about 6 million years with homo sapiens making their debut roughly 300,000 years ago.
People, of course, are really fascinated by dinosaurs. Spark even reviewed “Jurassic World” in 2018. And some collectors and museums are willing to shell out a million dollars or more to purchase the mostly complete skeletons of creatures like “Big John,” a massive triceratops that perished some 66 million years ago—only a million years before the dinosaurs disappeared.
History Repeating Itself?
Since humans are so interested in dinosaurs, it begs the question: Are we so used to learning about dinosaurs that we are ignoring the fact that we are potentially becoming ones?
I’m not a doom and gloom kind of guy, but, while listening to Marc Binder’s keynote presentation for the 10th International Conference of Life Cycle Management, his second to last slide in particular caught my attention. It simply asked: “Dinosaurs 2.0?” He means the human species could be in danger of long-term survival down the road if we don’t make drastic changes to how we tackle more sustainable practices sooner than later. He also explained that action is needed rather than just talk from governments, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), academia, industry and consumers.
Dinosaur photo credit: Stephen Leonardi/Unsplash
As the slide says, “If we don’t act quickly enough, we could become the next ‘dinosaurs.’ The Earth, itself, will be fine in several thousand millennia, but new creatures could inhabit the planet by then. Maybe the dinosaurs will get a second chance. I’m sure they’d take it.”
Yes, Binder—Sphera’s vice president of sustainability consulting services—was trying to be provocative with that statement and not trying to suggest the end of the world as we know it is nigh, but he makes a valid point.
The Earth is making a lot of “noise” these days as we see in reports like:
- Children Are at Risk: One billion children to be exact, according to UNICEF. “These children,” UNICEF explains, “face a deadly combination of exposure to multiple climate and environmental shocks with a high vulnerability due to inadequate essential services, such as water and sanitation, health care and education.”
- Current Affairs: Atlantic Ocean currents are being disrupted, and the instability could lead to temperatures plummeting in Europe along with more storms, food shortage issues for South America, India and West Africa, and rising sea levels in the East Coast of the United States.
- A Real Icebreaker: Rainfall was observed at the peak of the Greenland Ice Sheet for the first time since records have been kept. As the National Snow & Ice Data Center explained, “At this point in the season, large areas of bare ice exist along much of the southwestern and northern coastal areas, with no ability to absorb the melt or rainfall. Therefore, the accumulated water on the surface flows downhill and eventually into the ocean.”
- Europe Engulfed: This summer, flooding led to many deaths in areas of Europe like Germany and Belgium. As Science explained, “Researchers are just beginning to unravel the complex web of climatic, hydrological, and social factors that contributed to the catastrophe. But they already have some suspects in mind, including a warming climate that can supercharge rainstorms.”
- The Fast and the Furious Becomes Reality: Weather-related disasters have been on an uptick for half a century now, and a new report from the World Meteorological Society says a disaster related to weather, climate or water occurred each and every day, on average, over that time frame causing $202 million in losses and 115 deaths. Each and every day between 1970 and 2019 when averaged!
- Wildfires Lead to Wild Rides: South Lake Tahoe, California, is a popular tourist spot, but a wildfire forced tourists and residents alike to flee the area recently. Trying to leave the area in cars proved difficult as traffic ground to halt from the sheer number of evacuees. “Until this morning, I didn’t think there was a chance it could come into this area,” one resident who was stuck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic told the Associated Press. “Now, it’s very real.”
Very Real, Indeed
As the Queensland (Australia) Museum states about the Mesozoic Era (250 million to 65 million years ago), “When dinosaurs ruled the Earth, the climate was most likely hot and humid. There is no evidence of Ice Ages or glaciations found in rocks of this age. … Atmospheric carbon dioxide was close to present-day levels. The ice caps at the North and South Pole had melted, resulting in raised sea levels.”
During the Cretaceous Period, the last period of the Mesozoic Era (145 million to 65 million years ago), temperatures rose about 10°C (18°F) from either a huge asteroid crashing into Earth or perhaps volcanic eruptions that released ash and gas into the atmosphere.
Rising temperatures? Something sounds all too familiar.
We already know by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report that things are bad. Actually, really bad. As the report states, “The likely range of the total human-caused global surface temperature increase from 1850–1900 to 2010–2019 is 0.8°C to 1.3°C, with a best estimate of 1.07°C.” That means that even if we focus on the “best” estimate of 1.07°C (1.93°F), we’re just 0.43°C (0.8°F) away from going above the preferred Paris Agreement goal of ensuring that global warming does not exceed 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels.
Raised sea levels, too, you say? We know a little something about that, too. We’ve seen an 8- to 9-inch jump (21- to 24-centimers) from 1880 until today, and 3.4 inches (8.6 centimeters) of that occurred between 1993 and 2019 alone. In terms of carbon dioxide (CO2), countries collectively now emit some 36 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year from burning fossil fuels and cement production, up from about 6 billion tonnes in 1950.
Eruption of Eruptions?
As for volcanic eruptions, a few years ago scientists hypothesized that climate change could lead to bigger eruptions in the future as glaciers melt. Well, again, the prognosis isn’t good here either. In a separate study, scientists found that glaciers lost 267 gigatonnes of ice per year between 2000 and 2019. As NASA explains, just one gigatonne of ice would be the equivalent of every inch of space in New York’s Central Park, which is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), having a 341 meter (1,119 foot) chunk of ice on it. You can see a visualization of just what that would look like here.
As you might expect, there are many theories about what actually caused the dinosaurs to go extinct, but regardless of how the dinosaurs met their untimely demise, they certainly didn’t have the technology, solutions and information at their disposal to do something about it. Humans do. It’s time, Binder said, to stop talking about making changes and actually doing something about it.
For point of reference, one recent study estimates that some 2.5 billion Tyrannosaurus rexes, the “king” of dinosaurs if you will, roamed the planet (over the course of 2.5 million years). So there were maybe 20,000 adult T. rexes living at any given time. Today, no one would argue, mankind is the “king” of the animal kingdom, and we are closing in on 8 billion people living on Earth in 2021 alone. This is why we must do better as a global community to help protect the planet and to protect our world for future generations.
For the business community in particular, taking an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) approach is key to creating a sustainable future not only for the organization but also for the communities in which the businesses operate, and data, software and expertise will help companies get to where they need to be.
There’s still time to right the ship, but we must start now. It’s the proverbial “second chance” that the dinosaurs did not have. And If you need any more motivation to start taking sustainability more seriously, let’s just say Binder’s warning should be all the “fossil” fuel you need.