The State Column political Website gravely — and hilariously — asks, “Could global warming shrink humanity? New study suggests it’s possible:” Note that they’re not talking about reducing the size of the population — which global warming will of course also cause, no doubt. They’re discussing reducing the size of the population:
Humans may be much shorter if global warming continues, according to the latest study.
A new study finds that ancient horses shrunk even smaller than their ancestors, a trend scientists say is likely the result of global warming.
Modern mammals, including humans, could be at risk of shrinking as a result of global warming, just as small prehistoric horses shrank to an even smaller size when temperatures rose 56 million years ago.
The proposal follows from a study of Sifrhippus, the first horse, 56 million years ago. Sifrhippus shrank from about 12 pounds average weight to about eight and a half pounds as the climate warmed over thousands of years, according to a report published by a team of researchers and reported in the journal Science on Thursday.
The study finds that early horses were much smaller than their modern day ancestors, which have since been bred for speed, size, and a number of additional attributes. The earliest-known horse, Sifrhippus, first appeared in North America during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans caused average global temperatures to begin to rise.
During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a period when temperatures on the planet rose by around 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, scientists say the small horses shrunk even smaller in size. The team of scientists say the resulting shrinkage was the result of natural selection. The team of scientists noted that the small horses likely evolved to be smaller during warming because smaller animals did better in that environment, perhaps because the smaller more easily shed excess heat.
The researchers, led by Ross Secord of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Jonathan Bloch of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, studied the geochemical composition of the horse’s teeth to document the decrease of the horses body size through the geologic timeframe of the PETM.
A New York Times report on the same story was linked to by the Weekly Standard under the very-’70s-headline, “Let’s Get Small” — along with a detour in Seinfeldian shrinkage:
That’s right: shrinkage. As a dedicated fan of Seinfeld, I’m the first to admit shrinkage can have disastrous consequences (just ask George). Though I have always been under the impression it generally occurred in … uh … colder climates. But I am no scientist, so I defer to the Times and their assortment of expert sources.
Or at least I would, if I hadn’t gotten a few paragraphs in and found this minor detail in the history of the amazing shrinking horse:
They report that the little horse got 30 percent smaller over the first 130,000 years [of a period of warming], and then — as always seems to happen with weight loss — shot back up and got 75 percent bigger over the next 45,000 years.
That’s right! This ancient shrinking horse apparently… got bigger. Hmm. Difficult to explain, I know, and I certainly can’t speak to the science of it. After all, as experts often tell us, a warmer planet will bring severe unpredictability. I will say this, despite the misleading headline and lede, I really hope the Times is right about anthropogenic equine shrinkage: After all, who doesn’t love tiny horses?
Well, they’re certainly great for riding the range in Montana whilst raising a crop of dental floss. (Or building a miniature master race of chocolate-manufacturing mini-me’s, as Tim Blair notes.) In addition to Steve Martin, George Costanza, Frank Zappa and Gene Wilder homages, these reports of equine and human shrinkage also call to mind the section of Tom Wolfe’s 1976 essay, “The Intelligent Coed’s Guide To America” that was titled, “The Frisbee Ion.”