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  • What Dinosaurs Can Teach Us About Climate Change: Q&A Dr. Kenneth Lacovara Dinosaur-Skeleton-dr-lacovara Full view

    What Dinosaurs Can Teach Us About Climate Change: Q&A Dr. Kenneth Lacovara

    What can we learn from the past to help us understand climate change?

    I recently attended an Academy Town Square to hear Dr. Kenneth Lacovara talk about dinosaurs because, uh, dinosaurs are awesome. He discovered one of the most gigantic dinos ever, the Dreadnoughtus, in Patagonia. But as Lacovara chatted about more these incredible creatures, he also brought up climate change and a tweet from Al Gore. Naturally, I wanted to learn more.

    The Dean of Earth & Environment at Rowan University and Director of Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park was appropriately taking a walk in South Jersey Woods as we called him. “To be called a dinosaur is a great compliment!” Lacovara’s enthusiasm and passion are clear from the beginning.

    Recently, he’s been researching in the park about the (believed to be) extinction layer and the fallout from the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaur. Although that impact happened off the coast of Mexico, there are remnants all around the world from this incident – which is why there’s evidence of the asteroid in New Jersey.

    But just because they were doomed from a space rock, dinosaurs have an impressive 155 million year history. During their existence, they dealt with climate change, extinction of species and food sources, continents colliding and the introductions of other species.

    Dinosaur Deniers Exist

    Similar to Climate Change, there are dinosaurs deniers. People who don’t believe climate change tend to get stuck in their echo chambers or have financial or political reasons.

    For t-rex rejectors, there are a couple of reasons. On the one hand, a small fraction of people (like a group called Christians against Dinosaurs), who believe that dinosaurs never existed and that it’s a lie. As Lacovara says, “I think it’s hilarious.

    Religion may play a role too. There’s a larger group of people who think the earth is young. “Dinosaurs are no older than about 6000 years and that for some reason they’re creatures that didn’t make it on the (Noah’s) arc. And that’s why they perished,” as Lacovara explained.

    “It’s a similar thought process that leads to one over the other. (Deniers) start with the answers they like and work backwards from there. If you start with the outcome you want, well this couldn’t have happened. “

    Perhaps there’s a significant overlap between dino and climate denying. Lacovara also draws an interesting comparison with their mentality: “If you think the earth is 6000 years old and if you think the earth is going to end soon when the rapture occurs, then why conserve anything? On your planet, there’s no long term.”

    Dr. Lacovara dinosaurs

    What Dinosaurs Can Teach Us About Climate Change

    So why does studying dinosaurs matter for climate change?

    As Lacovara says, he could have substituted dinosaurs with many examples. “I use the group dinosaurs to stand in for the past. The Past matters because it’s the only place that guides us towards making the right decisions in the future.”  And by studying the past, we’ll be able to predict what can happen.

    There are examples in the past of calamities and preservations of natural systems, and we can see how systems respond, the timeframe it takes to get in and out of these situations. We’d be foolish and arrogant to ignore these vast volumes of history contained in the rock records.”

    For example, take glaciation. The onset of the glacial periods happened very suddenly. Things were pretty stable, then all of a sudden there was a tipping point, which threw the whole system out of stability.

    So compare that with our current state of climate change. As Lacovara points out, right now, we see things changing very slightly – temperatures, sea level, etc. But that doesn’t mean those are identical to the kind of changes we can expect in the future. If we reach certain tipping points, everything can change really rapidly. 

    Scary, right?

    We can get into trouble really fast, and it takes a long time to recover.”

    Another lesson? Ecosystems can recover, but that’s a slow process. After dinosaurs became extinct from the asteroid, it took about 15 million years for biodiversity to recover to where it was.

    We have broken the earth’s climate system, and we need to do everything now to stem the damage. But the earth will not go back to where it was, probably for the rest of civilization,” as Lacovara continued.

    Although climate change is a looming danger, a larger one may be in mankind’s hands. Currently, we have enough nuclear arsenal in the world to create as much heat that was generated from the (dino) asteroid. After the initial asteroid hit and the climate heated up, the atmosphere then plunged into a temperature into a really cold period that killed the other species that survived the initial impact. Lacovara marvels at the current nuclear state of the world.“I don’t know if anyone understands the power that humans now have at their fingertips.”   

    Despite the scary scenarios we discussed, it’s not the time to give up hope.

    Dr. Lacovara in Patagonia

    How Dr. Lacovara Thinks Humans Can Beat Climate Change

    As humans, we have another power, thought, to determine how we look at the world. “I tend to remain optimistic.”

    So why is Lacovara so optimistic?

    “Humans have the capacity to be smart and adaptable. It’s amazing what’s happening right now despite political currents going the other way; with renewable energy sources, whole countries relying on only renewable energy. I am optimistic in the longer term that humanity will see straight and solve these problems.”

    He also acknowledges current political challenges. “Obviously, we have a rocky period we’re going through. The speed matters, but we will solve them.”

    Lacovara also encourages civic participation in the democratic process.

    “I hope people think about the environment in the voting booth. Who we elect today matters.” Despite what issues we talk about, the climate will become a larger issue in the future. “In 25 years, that will be the only issue that matters.” 

    Need a little more motivation? We just be like the dinos. “They managed to hang on and preserve themselves for a long time despite challenges they felt. We have a degree of that adaptability as well – we just have to try.”

    So after all, humans can be more like dinosaurs rather than the asteroid.

    You can purchase Why Dinosaurs Matter online and find Dr. Lacovara on his website.

    Julie Hancher

    About Julie Hancher

    Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake.

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