Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Worst of Times - with Professor Paul Wignall

Mass Extinctions on a Global Scale

Brian Miller writes:

Paul Wignall    Photo by Sally Bavage
"The 'whodunit' of a satisfyingly oblique murder mystery, that central and dangerous unknown, has whet the popular appetite for crime fiction since Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle gave a gritty skin to the genre almost two centuries ago. Few literary sleuths would guess, however, that the printed page they hold in their hand, to make no mention of those hands themselves, are the denouement of a much greater and much more intricate murder mystery than any woman in white or Baskervilles hound. Paul Wignall digs for a solution to that very mystery in his book The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions, tracing the smoking gun of some of the most climactic extinctions in history to an unfortunate confluence of conditions on a still (relatively) young earth. The culprit? One that, for being identified, still roams free today: carbon dioxide. "

Sally Bavage adds:
Paul's new and somewhat controversial theory fingers Pangea, the giant supercontinent that 260 million years ago had huge lava flows of basalt, causing a massive rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. If you think the two degrees Celsius rise that scientists now believe is a red line not to cross, imagine seas of 40 degrees Celsius, fatal to almost all life forms on earth, even the plants and the normally robust insects. The equatorial region was completely barren; life moved to the relatively temperate polar regions where his research in places such as the Arctic, Svalbard and Antarctica has uncovered the evidence.

Forget the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs 60 million years ago; this really was the Big One. And are we on the brink of another mass extinction, the Age of Mankind? Could be, he said. But with a short timescale of perhaps ten thousand years, so not one to worry about just yet.

Audience Comments
Very informative!

Quite interesting, especially at short notice. Not very literary

Wonderful event, widely informative

Very interesting, and not very encouraging for our future. Good discussion

Interesting topic. Would have liked to see the book/cost

Interesting topic but it really only came alive during the questions. The link to LitFest was a bit weak

Sadly, this was not the advertised event (due to illness) and I came especially for it. However, I got to learn something very new to me.

Very interesting talk on Mass Extinction Events before the dinosaurs where the world overheated. Poor CO2 management. Thanks to Paul Wignall for standing in. Well presented and fascinating talk.

A very well explained and fascinating talk. Well worth attending.

Very interesting and entertaining. Groundbreaking information well presented – fascinating new info to me.


Enjoyed it. Very interesting, learnt a lot of new stuff. Yes, I would have been interested in buying the book.

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