The Ammonite


I really enjoy John Birmingham’s for a number of reasons. First, there is JB’s patented scathing wit. Second, every now and then he gives us readers glimpses of what he’s up to. Finally, on occasion he gives us something to think about as well.

As many of you are aware, Australia is burning up at the moment. It appears they are having an unusually early and active fire season, exacerbated by dry conditions and high ambient temperatures. These temperatures are record highs, and the drought is unusually long. So, many thousands of acres are burning up. The fires destroy everything, of course, and the smoke plume can easily be seen from space.

This is what a one odd degree change in average temperatures looks like.

Today I’m going to speak of the past, not of the future. The image above is an ammonite, a completely extinct species of sea dwelling creatures prevalent worldwide from the Devonian period to the K-T extinction event. In other words, they lived for about 350 million years. A long time; these were not fragile or non-adaptable animals.

The one you see above is known as a heteromorph ammonite, I dug it out of the Pierre shale in South Dakota. Unfortunately, this is the only way we can see ammonites these days, as sad ghosts unearthed from rocks and mud.

The ammonites died because the conditions they needed to survive ceased to be, worldwide. They took the biggest hit at the P-T extinction, but the final species died with the dinosaurs at the K-T event, 66 million years ago.

Our recorded history is a joke compared to the length of time that the ammonites floated in the water columns of Earth’s oceans. A couple of thousand years as compared to hundreds of millions.

These were tough, well established creatures. Now every last one of them is gone. Forever. Why? Mostly through a massive volcanic eruption in the P-T extinction that poisoned the skies and oceans on Earth, but later via a big old asteroid that killed darn nigh everything with a pre-nuclear nuclear winter and layers of ash.

In other words, the ammonite is no longer with us because the Earth’s climate changed. For the worse. Suddenly.

We live and die by our planet’s climate. Our bodies are shaped by the living conditions and ecosystems of our ancestors. Look at the back of your hand and you’ll see the history of your ancestry, the impact of changes in climate. Those that ran from the approaching glaciers and huddled around its edges needed the sun’s rays; their descendants are what we call “white” these days. There are many, many examples of changes in morphology in our species as reactions to Earth’s climate, the planet we were made for.

The planet we are poisoning.

I am as guilty as anyone. I maintain and use three gasoline vehicles. At times I burn wood, and I have burned coal to heat. When temperatures are below freezing, I have little choice but to use a fuel-oil furnace. I use plastic bags at Wal-Mart. The dreary list goes on.

This is why I am so excited by people like Elon Musk, or even Jeff Bezos.

It is easy to sink into despair and inaction when confronted by a massive challenge. But then I look at the news and I see that Musk or Bezos, both multi-billionaires who can really make a difference, have done something new and bold. Something that makes a real difference.

Space exploration, colonization. Just in case. Electric, non-gas burning cars. Tunnels for mass transit. Solar energy advances. These are good things!

Because of incremental improvements in technology, my house uses one hell of a lot less energy than it did when I was a kid. LED bulbs, etc. Also, it’s been 30 years since this old place burned coal; I tore out the massive, blackened furnace some 15 years ago. These days we mostly heat with a heat pump; admittedly this is an older model. When it dies I’ll get a new, far more efficient model that will work to about 10F(!), and I’ll hardly have to use the fuel-oil furnace in the future.

So I’m getting there, and so are a lot of people.

What we need is time. You can’t change the world overnight.


The ammonites had eons. And then the eons stopped, at least for them. The world they depended upon changed.

Our epoch dawned.

Can we see the echoes of our sunset, way down south in Oz? Will we have the collective wisdom to be better stewards of the land and the beasts, as the Bible commands of the faithful?

Time will tell.

Do we have it?



2 thoughts on “The Ammonite

  1. I work in this sphere and what you are doing is the solution.
    I have told people for a long time, don’t try to change the world, change what you do, look after your own backyard. It doesn’t have to be right now or drastic but get a plan started, and it’s easier than you think.
    If we all look after our own backyard we save the planet and we change society.


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