The Atlantic

Our Cataclysmic Planet

How mass extinctions inform our understanding of human-caused climate change
Source: Rony Muharrman /Antara Foto / Reuters

If you could have been there, somewhere in Siberia at the end of the Paleozoic Era nearly 252 million years ago, you would have witnessed an apocalyptic horror that rarely visits our planet.

Also, I mean, you would have been doomed. Almost certainly. It was a bad scene. Mass extinction is a real shitshow.

But let’s say, somehow, you could have watched this madness unfold—without succumbing to the monstrous cloud of carbon dioxide belched up from the volcanoes of the Siberian Traps, without being incinerated by an ocean of lava, without starving in the ruins of the global acid rain that destroyed the ecosystems on land, and without being burned alive in the wildfires that scorched the earth.

If you could have lived through all of this, which, by the way, you

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readPsychology
Why It Feels So Terrible to Drop Your Kid at College
The freedom of adulthood makes parents lose touch with dread, and emptying the nest offers a certain, and sometimes unwelcome, return to it.
The Atlantic3 min read
The Parasitic Vine That Slowly Sucks the Life Out of Wasps
Every year, Scott Egan and his students crisscross the country looking for odd, round things called galls that grow on plants. They are, essentially, plant tumors. Once you start looking, they’re everywhere. Egan stops at county parks, cemeteries, ch
The Atlantic3 min readSociety
A Woman’s Paycheck Is Influenced by Her Hometown—Even If She Doesn’t Live There Anymore
In a new study, economists find women from places where sexist attitudes prevail end up earning less later in life.