Thomas Holiday: “Instead of trying to revive extinct animals, it would be better to protect our incredible planet”


In ‘Other Worlds’, scientists at the University of Birmingham begin a safari through the past, recreating already extinct landscapes and warning of the troubled future that awaits our planet: in danger of being, but all is not lost”, assure

Thomas Holiday, en Madrid
Thomas Holiday, en MadridJavier Martinez
  • Adriana Ocampo (NASA) “Asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs helped give birth to humans”

Imagine that next summer, instead of traveling anywhere on the planet, you could take a safari through the past and visit one of the landscapes that existed millions of years ago: the land where the titular dinosaurs walked.Aurians, giant penguins and other fantastic creatures are now extinct, or perhaps the land of Kenya where hominids first lived. Evolutionary biologist paleontologist Thomas Holiday (Edinburgh, 1989) invites us on that journey through time other world (Debate), a book in which he reconstructs with precision the geological history of our planet witnessed by it during the past 600 million years.

His story, however, is based on what scientists have studied for centuries in traces that have been preserved from worlds that have already disappeared. Because for Halliday, associate researcher at the University of Birmingham, fossils are “true biological hieroglyphs” and their literary journey through extinct ecosystems is also a wake-up call about the troubled future that awaits our planet due to the environmental crisis caused by humans. has been activities and this is turning into a rapid change in the landscape, as he explains during an interview with EL Mundo in Madrid.

In his book he describes how certain regions of the Earth were in certain geologic periods, such as the Mediterranean region 5.33 million years ago. How would you summarize the development of the area now occupied by Spain and how long it took to create the Iberian Peninsula as we know it today?
Well, it all started 200 million years ago, in the Jurassic, like the rest of Europe, with an atmosphere similar to tropical climates. There were large islands and one of them was Iberia. Europe began to rise, Africa began to move north, and this led to the formation of mountain ranges such as the Alps. The formation of the Iberian Peninsula as we know it today is partly due to this phenomenon, although sea levels have fluctuated, rising and falling over the past few million years. And at the time you mentioned, when the Mediterranean Sea dried up, Spain and Africa were connected. The area where the Strait of Gibraltar is now occupied by long and very deep gorges. Spain’s geological history is fascinating and preserves very important evidence. For example, Las Hoyas in Cuenca has amazing dinosaur fossils from the time it was an island, and Atapuerca preserves some of the oldest human fossils.
You say that since the last ice age, large species have been disappearing or about to disappear from all continents, and that our world is beginning to look like a post-extinction world. Some scientists say we are experiencing the Sixth Great Extinction, do you believe it too?
Difficult to measure. Many of the elements of judgment that are available to us now give us a glimpse that a mass extinction has occurred, but when we look to the past we have the problem that we don’t know everything that was there. Certainly, as a species we are making an impact on an unusual world no more than any other species that has lived in the past. So my answer is that we are destroying the ecosystem which in turn makes life possible. We risk mass extinction, but not everything is over. The good thing is that we know how to combat it, what tools to use to counter this trend, such as reducing CO2 emissions.
Are there examples of animals that are alive today that survived the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, but are now under threat?
The ancestors of all living things today are in the past that survived extinction; However, if you ask me about any creature that has the same current lifestyle as before, we can talk about crocodiles, although the number of crocodiles we have today are not even remotely present, For example, in the past. Cretaceous.
We have to consider that the environment in the Cretaceous world was very different from what we have now, for example, there was no ice at the poles and the climate was moderately warm, whereas we have cooled a lot over the past 30 million years. world.. As a result of that change, all species had to adapt. Projected CO2 concentrations for the year 2100 will cause a rise in temperature to levels that were present 35 million years ago. Humans had never been exposed to such temperatures.
He says in his book that the presence of plastic everywhere is evidence of our influence, and that there are already microbes that feed only on plastic. Tell me about them.
That’s right, this microbe, Ideonella Sakinsis, was discovered in the wastewater of a plastics recycling plant in Japan. It digests the bonds of PET plastic, which has many uses, for example in making plastic bottles. We’ve seen that throughout evolution, when a new material such as plastic appears, organisms adapt to that new condition, and in this case they digest it, deciding what to do with these materials. May be useful for us to solve the problem. Waste and also shows us how versatile the evolutionary and adaptive capacity of living beings can be.
We are often seeing new temperature records, including in Antarctica. According to estimates made by paleontologists, which period of the Earth was the hottest and which was the hottest in its entire history?
If you ask me to go back to the beginning of Earth’s geological history, 4.5 billion years ago, about 600 million years ago we came out of the so-called snowball period, during which almost the entire planet froze and they could only survive were. Microorganisms. Perhaps it was then that the evolution of multicellular organisms began. That would be the coldest time, and the warmest time, occurred during the Permian, which ended 250 million years ago, and is the period during which the largest mass extinction of living beings occurred. There was only one landmass, a single megacontinent within which the temperature was extreme.
The asteroid that fell 66 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs is one of the most famous geological episodes. In your opinion, do we take an asteroid threat seriously today?
I don’t know much about the danger of asteroids, it’s better to ask a space expert, but I think it’s something we can’t do much about, the speed at which they travel and with which they Dinosaurs wiped out. fraction of a second. Obviously now we have many more opportunities to figure this out, but we can’t do much so I think the thing we should be worrying about and working on is sorting those things out, The ones we can solve, not the issues we’re desperate for. can’t do anything
Going back to your question about temperature extremes, a lot of people say, well, it’s hot, but that’s also not a big deal, because there have been times in the past where it was really hot. The bad thing is not that the temperature rises too much, but the speed at which these changes are taking place. These sudden and sudden changes are problematic and very harmful. Its temperature is not to be recorded, but year after year so many temperatures have to be recorded in such a short period.
Have you seen the movie ‘Don’t Look Up’ about a large asteroid heading towards Earth?
I haven’t seen it, but I interpret it as an analogy to the problem of climate change.
From your experience, do politicians heed the warnings of scientists?
So far, I would say no. The first study to show that carbon dioxide (CO2) was a greenhouse gas was published in 1877, just two years before gasoline became commercially available as a fuel. And the first US President who was warned about the negative effects of CO2 in the atmosphere was Lyndon Johnson. I think awareness is slowly increasing and this is an issue that is increasingly in the public debate. Politicians are also realizing that it could also help them win more votes, as we have just seen in the Australian elections. [gan Anthony Albanese del Partido Laborista], But although things are improving, for example, in the United Kingdom, a new tax has been announced for fossil fuel producers—coal, oil, etc., which also affects wind power producers as prices rise. Renewable energies have to pay for what they haven’t. At the moment, there is no connection between what politicians say and do.
There is great concern about the possibility of war and nuclear attack in Ukraine; Apart from the millions of deaths it causes, how could it affect the Earth?
We talked about the idea of ​​nuclear winter. An asteroid struck 66 million years ago, the sun was blocked for two years and as a result, plants could not photosynthesize and the ecosystem collapsed. I’m not an expert on the effects of nuclear weapons, I’d imagine that some of their effects would be similar, but in theory nuclear war shouldn’t have a catastrophic impact like an asteroid, which destroyed all ecosystems.
Now we are talking about two different disasters. We have one environmental catastrophe that man is slowly causing, and another that depends on a specific action of man. I am more concerned about what is happening slowly, the environmental devastation.
Scientists can now extract DNA from some extinct animals such as mammoths. If technology allows, should we try to revive extinct animals?
It’s a good idea you pick up, to imagine that we can look at these living beings instead of looking scared; But I believe that reviving extinct species raises many ethical dilemmas. To begin with, your environment no longer exists. In Siberia, Zimov is trying to rebuild the ecosystem in which the mammoths lived. You need an Indian elephant to give birth to a creature that is its closest living relative, which you don’t know if it will survive. Elephants and perhaps mammoths are highly intelligent, passing on all the information they need to survive in their culture and the world around them. How do we teach these mammoths we created to work in an unfamiliar environment? Instead of yearning for a bygone world and trying to resurrect it, I think we should focus on protecting our wonderful present world, and making sure it survives for many years to come .
If I were to bring you a time machine right now, what geological history would you travel through?
As a tourist you will visit the Mediterranean Sea about 5.33 million years ago, when it dried up and began to refill. First the water reached Italy and Malta. A huge waterfall occurred, which was much bigger than the fall of Angel Falls in Venezuela. It was a sight worth seeing.

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