Nearly 30 years ago, Antonin Scalia was approved by the Senate in a unanimous vote. Analysts are projecting a much tougher road for the next nominee. We look at four potential nominees: California Attorney General Kamala Harris, DC Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, Ninth Circuit Judge Paul Watford and Eighth Circuit Judge Jane Kelly.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Juan Gonzalez: And, Scott Horton, what about this issue of the—what happens from here on in and also the choices that President Obama has? Does he name a more moderate justice and then really make it difficult for the Republicans to continue to block a nomination or does he attempt to go to a more liberal justice and really sharpen, in the upcoming election, the choices that voters have when they’re electing a president?
Scott Horton: Well, you know, to me, the political elements here have never been sharper for the Supreme Court. So I think we’re going to see this whole issue of the Supreme Court front and center in the election campaign for the new president. It’s always there in the final rounds of the election; we usually have candidate saying, "Who is selected now as president will determine the makeup of the Supreme Court." And now we’re in the position where that literally is going to be true. So it will be central.
As for Obama’s options, it seems to me he’s going to be—he’s going to play a tactical game at this point, knowing what the position is of the Republican majority and their leader. And it seems to me the Republicans have put themselves in a position in which they’re going to be subject to ridicule based on their own conduct. I think it’s likely that Obama will put forward a nomination of a moderate with outstanding credentials and probably someone who has recently been approved by the same Republican Senate by a strong vote and watch them cope with that, because I think if their—if their tactic is simply to block, that’s not going to help them in the presidential election.
Juan Gonzalez:: And what would be some of those—who would be some of those potential folks that he might name?
Scott Horton: Well, Sri Srinivasan, I think, is the most commonly cited figure right now, but I think we’ve got a group, principally, of court of appeals judges who were approved over his two terms as president, who have gotten substantial support, including support from Republicans. There are a half-dozen of them in the holding pen right now. Any of them may be put forward. But I doubt it’s going to be the left equivalent of a Nino Scalia. It’s going to be someone who is more of a moderate, more of a centrist, someone who in normal times would be able to count on Republican support.
Amy Goodman: Ian Millhiser, can you talk more about Sri Srinivasan, who he is and his significance?
Ian Millhiser: Sure. I mean, Sri is—I’ve seen him argue cases before. He’s one of the most brilliant litigators of his generation, truly breathtaking intellect. He also, though, clerked for two Republican judges—for a Republican court of appeals judge and then for Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. He spent many years of his careers at a major corporate law firm. So he’s very much perceived as a sort of middle-of-the-road moderate, the sort of candidate a Democrat would put up if they wanted to extend an olive branch and say, "Look, like, I’m going to meet you halfway here by picking someone who wouldn’t necessarily be a Democrat’s first choice, but someone who everyone agrees is an extraordinary intellect," someone who was confirmed 97 to zero the first—when he was confirmed to his current job on the second-highest court on the land. And so I think Sri is going to be attractive to the White House.
There’s a—you know, there are some other candidates—Paul Watford on the Ninth Circuit—
Amy Goodman: Just on Sri Srinivasan, he would be the first Indian American. He’s young, he’s 48 years old.
Ian Millhiser: Yeah.
Amy Goodman: Labor unions were not thrilled when he went up to this court, not feeling that his history of representing corporate clients would bode well for them.
Ian Millhiser: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, what you’re looking at with Sri—and, you know, again, the fact that he had certain kinds of clients as a lawyer doesn’t necessarily predict how he’s going to act as a judge or a justice. But everything we know about him now tells us brilliance and centrism.
Amy Goodman: Can you talk about Paul Watford?
Ian Millhiser: Sure. Judge Watford is a judge on the Ninth Circuit. He has a similar resume to Sri. He worked at a corporate law firm for many years. Unlike Sri, Judge Watford is—was a clerk for Justice Ginsburg. So he has a similar profile of someone who’s been at the top of the profession since the beginning of his career, a great intellect, someone who shouldn’t be perceived as a bomb thrower and should be perceived as more of an olive branch, because he spent most of his career not doing anything that’s really associated with liberalism, just, you know, going out there and making money as a lawyer. So, you know, if it’s Watford, if it’s Srinivasan, if it’s either of those judges, under normal circumstances, that would be an olive branch to the Republicans.
Amy Goodman: And, Linda Hirshman, can you talk about Kamala Harris, attorney general of California, running for Senate—
Linda Hirshman: Right.
Amy Goodman: —to fill Barbara Boxer’s seat?
Linda Hirshman: Right. She would be my selection, if she’s—you know, if she passes the vetting process, because I would just love to see the next several months occupied with a bunch of old white male Republicans pounding on the first Asian-American, African-American attorney—female attorney general of the state of California.
But I think that it’s mostly about the optics. As I listen to my colleagues just now discussing the pros and cons of the olive branch possibilities and so forth, I think that none of this really matters at all, because the Republicans, as far as I’ve been able to observe, do not care about the universe of perfect logic. And the fact that Srinivasan was confirmed 97 to nothing just recently is an argument which reasonable people would make, but I don’t think it matters. I think that this is about power and optics. And if you are going to be realistic about what’s going to happen, then you have to think about who would make the most optically advantageous appointment. And I think Kamala Harris would be very high on my list of people who would do that.
Juan Gonzalez:: Another—
Linda Hirshman: That being said—
Juan Gonzalez:: I’m sorry. Another person who’s been mentioned is Jane Kelly from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Could you talk about her?
Linda Hirshman: I would be—I would be inclined more in the direction of an African-American woman like Kamala Harris. I don’t—I don’t think that it’s about the woman thing right now.
Amy Goodman: Because?
Linda Hirshman: Because I think that getting African Americans to go to the polls in sufficient numbers to elect a Democrat president of the United States is the critical political issue right now. Obama’s numbers from 2008 to 2012 went down among Hispanics and whites. And only a robust African-American vote was effective in 2012. So I’m thinking politically about this. The Republicans are looking at their red states. Arizona, for example, where I live in the winter, will be in the very liberal Ninth Circuit. They’re looking at their constituents living under the governance of very liberal blue circuits. And they are looking at a—I want them to look at the most attractive, politically attractive, possible nominee.
Juan Gonzalez:: I wanted to ask Scott Horton, with the current split in the court—we’ve got all these big cases coming up this term, have to be decided by June—what is your sense of what the fallout will be on some of these cases, if any, that the court may go ahead with?
Scott Horton: Well, I think labor unions can breathe a huge sigh of relief right now, because they were probably looking at a really powerful adverse ruling on the union dues issue coming in one major case. And one fundamental rule here is, it doesn’t matter how the justices voted in conference or the discussions that went on; the vote that’s taken has got to be the vote as it existed at the time the ruling is handed down. So, nothing that’s happened up to this point matters. We’re dealing with an eight-member court on all of these rulings.
But I think, coming back to what was—what Ian said at the beginning, we’re looking at a court that is likely simply to uphold the rulings below. So, in cases where—as in the immigration rights case and the voting rights cases coming out of Texas, where there is a conservative ruling from a conservative court of appeals, that’s likely to be sustained still, I think and where it was a more progressive ruling, that will be upheld.
Amy Goodman: Ian Millhiser, before we go to break, if you could talk about what Justice Scalia is known for, whether we’re talking about his support for gun rights, his opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights, whether we’re talking about abortion, talk about his history, this history of—
Ian Millhiser: Sure.
Amy Goodman: —a man who was appointed by Ronald Reagan.
Ian Millhiser: Sure. I mean, I think that Justice Scalia is a very tragic figure. I mean, if you read a lot of his scholarship, he would articulate a theory of judicial restraint that I think is admirable, this notion that we should be cautious about courts getting too involved in our lives and that we are a democracy and democracy should rule. As a scholar, I think he made very interesting arguments. But as a judge, he often lacked the character or the self-control to live up to the arguments he made as a scholar.
So, you know, the two most—the two most striking examples of this are the two Obamacare cases, where in the first one he wrote a—or he joined a vicious dissent to his own opinion in another case called Raich and then, in the second one, he attacked his own theory of judicial—of statutory interpretation that he laid out in a 2012 book. So, he was a great scholar. I think—I wish that he’d been able to live up to his own ideals. But unfortunately, all too often, I think he let ideology and partisanship get in the way of some of the more idealistic notions that he articulated as a scholar.
Juan Gonzalez:: And, Scott, I’d like to ask you about the irony of Scalia being a proponent of originalism, of faithfulness to the letter of the Constitution and yet now the Republican majority saying, well, the president should not really exercise the powers that the Constitution gives him to name the next Supreme Court justice.
Scott Horton: Well, I think it is highly ironic. I mean, you know, this was a politically driven conservatism. And I think Scalia’s conservatism is unlike what we’ve seen through most of American history. He’s sort of a southern European throne-and-altar type of conservative and not the sort of more progressive conservative that embraces some liberal values we’ve seen through most of American history. And he came up with a formula that would sustain that, which was to try and freeze the country in time constitutionally at 1789, which was a framework that gave him more ballast for his arguments, but certainly didn’t help him win every case.
But I think, you know, his zeal—he undermined himself with his own zeal over and over again, you know, especially in the last few years. He would attack the majority on case after case, saying X, Y, Z is consequence of their opinion and you’ll see—and, of course, that comment was then used by district courts to sustain a more radical interpretation of the majority’s opinion and that hastened things along, like marriage equality.
Amy Goodman: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. I want to thank Ian Millhiser for joining us, editor of ThinkProgress Justice, author of Injustices. Linda Hirshman is staying with us, author of Sisters in Law, a very interesting book about Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; the subtitle, How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World. And we’re joined by Scott Horton, human rights attorney and lecturer at Columbia Law School. Kimberlé Crenshaw will now be joining us, as well, from UCLA in California. This is Democracy Now! We’re talking about the death of Justice Scalia and what happens next. Stay with us.
Amy Goodman: With Saturday’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the most important conservative voice on the court in decades, the nation may be heading into a constitutional crisis, Senate Republicans vowing to block President Obama from filling Justice Scalia’s seat. We’re joined by three guests. Linda Hirshman is still with us from Phoenix, Arizona, lawyer and historian, author of Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World. We’re joined here in New York by Scott Horton, human rights attorney and contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, a lecturer at Columbia Law School. In a moment, we’ll be joined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University. We’re going to turn, though, to Scott Horton.
Juan Gonzalez:: Scott, I wanted to ask you about Scalia’s last decision, which was on a clean power case last Tuesday. He was the decisive vote on that, as well. Could you talk about that?
Scott Horton: Well, I think it’s clear right now that that injunction that was issued by the Supreme Court would not have been—wouldn’t be issued today. His vote was essential to get it over the hump. And that was a radical move. There is really no precedent for the Supreme Court issuing an injunction staying pending argument in the Supreme Court regulations of general applicability of this sort.
Amy Goodman: But just to be clear, this was—struck down regulations of coal-powered plants, which was really the centerpiece of what—on the U.S. position at the UN climate summit in Paris.
Scott Horton: Precisely. And, in fact, I think this decision got more attention overseas than it got in the United States, because we saw a number of European nations focused on the fact that it looked like the Supreme Court was going to block United States’ implementation of the Paris Accords, because these regulations were right at the core of it. And now there clearly is not the majority within the Supreme Court in support of that injunction. But we’re going to have to see—either there will have to be a motion for rehearing of the matter by the solicitor general or we’ll have to await the final decision. But it’s no longer as clear that the situation is ominous for Barack Obama on these regulations.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
- Sixth North Atlantic Right Whale Found Dead Prompts Concern ... ›
- Lobster Industry Ensnared in North Atlantic Right Whale Deaths ... ›
- First North Atlantic Right Whale Calf of the Season Spotted off ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Heather Houser
Compost. Fly less. Reduce your meat consumption. Say no to plastic. These imperatives are familiar ones in the repertoire of individual actions to reduce a person's environmental impact. Don't have kids, or maybe just one. This climate action appears less frequently in that repertoire, but it's gaining currency as climate catastrophes mount. One study has shown that the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from having one fewer child in the United States is 20 times higher—yes 2000% greater—than the impact of lifestyle changes like those listed above.
The Stickiness of Population<p>Only five years ago, there was minimal coverage of the child-free for climate movement. AOC is just one of many reasons it's lighting up now. New scientific analyses, scholarly debates, and social media conversations have shined a light on reproduction and climate. The influential <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/" target="_blank">Project Drawdown</a> framework for climate mitigation includes a list of solutions ranked by their potential impact, two of which—educating girls and providing access to family planning—they project will have <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/table-of-solutions" target="_blank">a greater combined impact</a> on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than almost all other climate solutions because of their effect on fertility rates.</p><p>In January 2020, <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/70/1/8/5610806" target="_blank">11,000 scientists signed onto a study that warned</a> about the unfolding climate emergency. The authors prescribe steps in six sectors that can prevent irreversible planetary collapse, including that "the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity." The framework they propose includes universal access to family planning as well as education and equity for young women. (Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1410465111" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">scientific takes</a> on population-based climate actions are more skeptical about their immediate impact given the scale of fertility reductions needed to balance out longer lifespans.)</p><p>Even before 2020, a new movement was afoot to address climate by forgoing reproduction. Blythe Pepino, a British musician in her 30s, formed BirthStrike in 2018 to build a community of people—typically women-identified—who have opted not to reproduce in response to the ecological and social crises that climate change is creating. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, the group recognized the need to acknowledge the oppression that colors conversations about reproduction as it relates to climate and so reformed itself into a support group for those grieving parenthood. Their new stated goal is to channel that loss into action on climate justice.</p><p>Organizations such as <a href="https://conceivablefuture.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Conceivable Future</a>, however, continue to keep reproduction at the fore. Led by climate activists Meghan Kallman and Josephine Ferorelli, Conceivable Future is raising awareness about how the climate crisis affects "<a href="https://conceivablefuture.org/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intimate choices</a>" like reproduction. The Conceivable Future and now-defunct BirthStrike campaigns share ideological terrain with "<a href="https://www.npr.org/2016/08/18/479349760/should-we-be-having-kids-in-the-age-of-climate-change" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">population engineers</a>," a group of bioethicists who <a href="https://doi.org/10.5840/soctheorpract201642430" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">forward policies for</a> limiting the size of the global population through positive incentives like family planning classes and negative ones such as taxes on wealthy procreators. </p><p>In proposing specific policies rather than individual action, population engineers acknowledge the structures within which reproductive choices occur, everything from media influence to the tax code. Even with this shift to the structural, however, the racist, sexist, colonialist, and nativist legacies of the population question within environmentalism still plague child-free for climate. As do the historical and social injustices that constrain so-called choices.</p>
Racism and Xenophobia in Environmentalism<p>This summer and fall, the climate crisis and its correlated catastrophes—<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/heat-wave-western-united-states/" target="_blank">extreme heat</a>, <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/14/a-third-of-bangladesh-underwater-after-heavy-rains-floods/" target="_blank">flooding</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/wildfires" target="_blank">wildfires</a>—are intensifying alongside Black Lives Matter uprisings and the <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/health-happiness/2020/06/09/coronavirus-public-health-social-justice/" target="_blank">coronavirus health disparities</a> among Black, Indigenous, and Latinx populations. This confluence has brought overdue attention to racism in environmentalism, as evidenced by the Audubon Society's recent <a href="http://audubon.org/magazine/fall-2020/revealing-past-create-future" target="_blank">reckoning</a> with racial injustices in its past and present, including <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/the-myth-john-james-audubon" target="_blank">publicizing</a> that its famed founder was a White supremacist and a slaveholder. The intersections of <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2020/09/23/election-black-voters-climate/" target="_blank">climate justice and racial justice</a> have also come to the fore through <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/climate/heat-minority-school-performance.html" target="_blank">studies of how Black communities are greatly harmed by hotter temperatures</a> and through the popular <a href="https://www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com/" target="_blank">intersectional environmentalist</a> platform created by Leah Thomas, a young Black activist and "<a href="https://www.greengirlleah.com/about-1" target="_blank">eco-communicator</a>." To these reckonings we need to add the racism and xenophobia that have long characterized environmentally motivated population controls.</p><p>The New York Times recently exposed these sins in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/us/anti-immigration-cordelia-scaife-may.html/" target="_blank">a profile of Cordelia Scaife May</a>, showing how this heir to the Mellon fortune converted a love of birding into a network of anti-immigration, pro-population-control organizations that still influence politics today. In the 1960s May linked threatened birdlife to the rapidly expanding human population. May wasn't wrong to see and worry over this link: A host of human activities—from <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/popular-pesticides-linked-drops-bird-population-180951971/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">toxic agriculture and industry</a> to <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.0050157" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sprawling settlements</a> and <a href="https://www.npr.org/2017/10/05/555949789/light-pollution-can-impact-noctural-bird-migration" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">light</a> and <a href="https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/birds-live-near-human-noise-sing-louder-shorter-songs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">noise pollution</a>—decimate avian habitats and habits. May's anti-immigration approach, however, indicates how readily environmentalism can mutate into racist and xenophobic actions.</p><p>The Times investigators show that "protecting natural habitats and helping women prevent unplanned pregnancies merged over time into a single goal of preserving the environment by discouraging offspring altogether." Taken on its own, this goal resonates with Conceivable Future's and population engineers' aims. To be clear, this does not mean that today's child-free climate advocates are racist nativists. However, it does indicate how readily the affiliation arises because of the ugly history of forced population control.</p>
Contemporary Examples<p>And this history is hardly past. For example, race and class conflicts erupted around a population platform within the Sierra Club only 15 years ago. In 2004, a faction of club members took a page from May and argued that more people living in the U.S. meant more encroachment on less developed land and water. As with May's effort, this anti-immigration push amounted to "the greening of hate," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League, who entered the dispute when they found White supremacists lobbying for anti-immigration Sierra Club board candidates. A 2010 <a href="https://www.splcenter.org/20100630/greenwash-nativists-environmentalism-and-hypocrisy-hate" target="_blank">SPLC report</a> firms up the connection between environmentalist intentions and racist agendas by explaining why White nationalist John Tanton infiltrated the club: "Using an organization perceived by the public as part of the liberal left would insulate nativists from charges of racism—charges that … would likely otherwise stick."</p><p>Charges of racism ultimately did stick to Tanton and his anti-immigration, pro-population-control allies. And they continue to stick in analyses of the child-free for climate movement today. Earlier this year, climate journalist Meehan Crist <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n05/meehan-crist/is-it-ok-to-have-a-child" target="_blank">took up</a> AOC's question of whether it's OK to have a child. In arriving at an answer (for her, yes), she affiliates child-free positions with "anti-feminist, racist and anti-human" values and with bad science. "Darker visions" proceed from this analysis, she writes, visions of those who believe "racial purity will save the planet. Closed borders. . . . Ecofascist death squads." The dark visions Crist spins from the child-free for climate question underscore how readily calls for reproductive limits touch the third rails of modern environmentalism: racism, eugenics, xenophobia, even death-dealing.</p><p>We get even closer to these third rails when we consider that the question of whether to reproduce is, for some people, no choice at all. Modern efforts to limit fertility, which ramped up after World War II, have targeted poor women in the Global South, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the U.S. using coercion and force. BIPOC reproductive justice advocates such as Loretta Ross have condemned dichotomous pro-abortion-rights versus anti-abortion politics for producing "<a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Radical_Reproductive_Justice/hN-4DgAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=loretta%20ross%20radical%20reproductive&pg=PT8&printsec=frontcover&bsq=anemic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">anemic political analyses</a>" that ignore the reality of forced sterilizations in prisons and the appallingly high maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. These are all forms of what medical historian and ethicist Harriet Washington calls "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8WCS1Rs8K8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">medical apartheid</a>."</p>
- 7 Billion People Crowding Out Imperiled Animals and Plants ... ›
- David Attenborough: 'Population Growth Must Come to an End ... ›
- For Many Reporters Covering Climate, Population Remains the ... ›
By Sharon Guynup
At this time of year, in Russia's far north Laptev Sea, the sun hovers near the horizon during the day, generating little warmth, as the region heads towards months of polar night. By late September or early October, the sea's shallow waters should be a vast, frozen expanse.
Comparison of autumn sea ice formation for the first half of October 2012 (the record year for Arctic sea ice extent loss) and in 2020 (second place for sea ice extent loss). The satellite record goes back to 1979. @Icy_Samuel, data provided by NSIDC
Arctic sea ice extent on Oct. 25, 2020 was at a record low 5.613 million square kilometers for this date, surpassing the record set in 2019 of 6.174 million square kilometers. ChArctic NSIDC
The Arctic appears to be changing into an entirely new climate state due to rapid warming. The extent of sea ice in the late summer, when it reaches its minimum each year, has already entered a statistically different climate, with surface air temperatures and the number of days with rain instead of snow also beginning to transition. Simmi Sinha, ©UCAR
A polar bear prowls the Arctic shoreline. VisualHunt.com
A fire burning through northern forest in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in July 2020. Greenpeace International
- Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Are at Their Highest in 23 ... ›
- Russia Unveils Plan to 'Use the Advantages' of Climate Change ... ›
- Arctic Sea Ice Melting by 2035 Is Possible, Study Finds ›
By Peter A. Kloess
Picture Antarctica today and what comes to mind? Large ice floes bobbing in the Southern Ocean? Maybe a remote outpost populated with scientists from around the world? Or perhaps colonies of penguins puttering amid vast open tracts of snow?
Giants of the Sky<p>As their name suggests, these ancient birds had sharp, bony spikes protruding from sawlike jaws. Resembling teeth, these spikes would have helped them catch squid or fish. We also studied another remarkable feature of the pelagornithids – their imposing size.</p><p>The largest flying bird alive today is the <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/group/albatrosses/" target="_blank">wandering albatross</a>, which has a wingspan that reaches 11 ½ feet. The Antarctic pelagornithids fossils we studied have a wingspan nearly double that – about 21 feet across. If you tipped a two-story building on its side, that's about 20 feet.</p><p>Across Earth's history, very few groups of vertebrates have achieved powered flight – and only two reached truly giant sizes: birds and a group of <a href="https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/pterosaurs-flight-in-the-age-of-dinosaurs/what-is-a-pterosaur" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reptiles called pterosaurs</a>.</p>
Full-size model of a Quetzalcoatlus on display at JuraPark in Baltow, Poland. Aneta Leszkiewicz / Wikimedia<p>Pterosaurs ruled the skies during the Mesozoic Era (252 million to 66 million years ago), the same period that dinosaurs roamed the planet, and they reached hard-to-believe dimensions. <a href="https://www.wired.com/2013/11/absurd-creature-of-the-week-quetz/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quetzalcoatlus</a> stood 16 feet tall and had a colossal 33-foot wingspan.</p>
Birds Get Their Opportunity<p>Birds originated while dinosaurs and pterosaurs were still roaming the planet. But when an <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur-killing-asteroid-impact-chicxulub-crater-timeline-destruction-180973075/" target="_blank">asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago</a>, dinosaurs and pterosaurs both perished. Some <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-birds-survived-asteroid-impact-wiped-out-dinosaurs" target="_blank">select birds survived</a>, though. These survivors diversified into the thousands of bird species alive today. Pelagornithids evolved in the period right after dinosaur and pterosaur extinction, when competition for food was lessened.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/spp2.1284" target="_blank">The earliest pelagornithid remains</a>, recovered from 62-million-year-old sediments in New Zealand, were about the size of modern gulls. The first giant pelagornithids, the ones in our study, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75248-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">took flight over Antarctica about 10 million years later</a>, in a period called the Eocene Epoch (56 million to 33.9 million years ago). In addition to these specimens, fossilized remains from other pelagornithids have been found on every continent.</p><p>Pelagornithids lasted for about 60 million years before going extinct just before the Pleistocene Epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago). No one knows exactly why, though, because few fossil records have been recovered from the period at the end of their reign. Some paleontologists cite <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2011.562268" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate change as a possible factor</a>.</p>
Piecing it Together<p>The fossils we studied are fragments of whole bones collected by paleontologists from the University of California at Riverside in the 1980s. In 2003, the specimens were transferred to Berkeley, where they now reside in the <a href="https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of California Museum of Paleontology</a>.</p><p>There isn't enough material from Antarctica to rebuild an entire skeleton, but by comparing the fossil fragments with similar elements from more complete individuals, we were able to assess their size.</p>
In life, the pelagornithid would have had numerous 'teeth,' making it a formidable predator. Peter Kloess, CC BY-NC-SA
- Climate Change Threatens Two-Thirds of North American Bird ... ›
- 37% of North American Birds Face Extinction - EcoWatch ›
- Meet Five 'Extinct' Species That Have Returned to Life - EcoWatch ›
The world's largest financial institutions loaned more than $2.6 trillion in 2019 to sectors driving the climate crisis and wildlife destruction, according to a new report from advocacy organization portfolio.earth.
- Climate Crisis May Cause the Next Financial Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- World's Banks Have Given $2.7 Trillion to Fossil Fuels Since Paris ... ›
- World's Biggest Banks Are Driving Climate Change, Pumping ... ›