The catastrophe that allowed mammals to reign supreme

Humans are so comfortable with their self-declared dominance over the rest of life, appointing themselves titular head of an entire geological age in the ‘Anthropocene’, that we forget how we are party to a much wider evolutionary alliance: the mammals. Steve Brusatte announces that mammals reign supreme upon this planet. One thinks especially of their place as climax predators in almost all regions – the lions, tigers, wolves and bears for example – or the sheer weight of numbers of the megafauna in the African savanna, the herds of wildebeest, antelopes and zebras. Mammals are more widely spread over the planetary surface than all higher organisms, with the possible exception

How close is humanity to destroying itself?

Humanity has come startlingly close to destroying itself in the 75 or so years in which it has had the technological power to do so. Some of the stories are less well known than others. One, buried in Appendix D of Toby Ord’s splendid The Precipice, I had not heard, despite having written a book on a similar topic myself. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a USAF captain in Okinawa received orders to launch nuclear missiles; he refused to do so, reasoning that the move to DEFCON 1, a war state, would have arrived first. Not only that: he sent two men down the corridor to the next launch control