Mass extinction is finally fighting its way back into the news cycle, thanks to recent scary reports on climate change from the International Program on the State of the Ocean, the United Nations Environment Program and the July issue of Science. But University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward has been there, done that, and he’s still depressed as hell.
“I wrote a book in 1994 called The End of Evolution: A Journey in Search of Clues to the Third Mass Extinction Facing Earth that said, within in a decade or two, we’d be seeing these monumental destruction’s, and people laughed at it,” Ward explained by phone from Seattle. “I wrote a book just last year about sea-level rise called The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps, saying that things look pretty desperate for the next 60 to 80 years and got almost no reviews. Luckily, I’m not going to be alive to see the worst of it. But the sad thing is that it’s horrible to be right, just horrible. Somebody gave me the foresight to see what’s coming, and I don’t like it.”
Ward’s work has been consistently ahead of the curve and has transformed him from a rigorous scientist with no shortage of data to a climate-change Cassandra who scares the shit out of the status quo. At least initially, Our Flooded Earth was too hot, pardon the pun, to handle in 2010, but the National Geographic Channel has based this year’s series, Earth Under Water, on its fearsome predictions of the significant sea-level rise that global warming has already priced into the environmental picture. Ward also appeared in every episode of Animal Planet’s 2009 series Animal Armageddon, a CGI-rich program examining how different species succumbed or survived the various extinction events in Earth’s extensive history.