The Connection between the Burgess Shale Fossils and Planet Earth
In the hundred years since Charles Walcott’s discovery there has been an unprecedented transformation in our understanding of the history of the Earth, of the physical processes which shaped it, and how important the Earth’s environmental health is to our very survival. Largely through the media (news, television and movie documentaries, and the internet) and educational programs directed at students and the public at large, a great many people – not just scientists – are now engaged in and concerned with understanding the Earth and the environment in which we live, and how it has been shaped.
There is still much to learn from the history of the Earth and that knowledge will come through ongoing research in earth sciences. Understanding more about the past and how life has evolved can help us to make even more informed decisions about the mitigation of and adaptability to global climate change, including ensuring adequate fresh water for survival of human and all other species, prevention of biomass extinctions, and management of our diminishing resources.
Throughout time the processes that have shaped the earth have been both gradual and, as we now realize through paleontological research, rapid and catastrophic. We now understand as well that we must alter our behavior just as rapidly to ensure the viability of the planet, and to provide for our very survivability. Change we must, but such change will be significantly enhanced and managed through even more scientific discoveries, including the study of past physical processes and life forms. It is not just through human history that we come to understand the past: our knowledge of the evolution of life on Earth, as well as the processes that shaped the planet, and how they reacted and interacted, will provide us with a better understanding of the consequences of change in the future.