When asked what comes to mind when thinking about dinosaurs, Sara Yocum, a senior secondary education and history major said, “Fossils, Jurassic Park and extinction.”
Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, however, believes dinosaurs left us another legacy. This legacy, he showed, transcends the fictional world of Jurassic Park and challenges us find our place in real life.
Lacovara, a world-renowned paleontologist and the inaugural dean of Rowan’s new School of Earth and Environment, spoke about his experience working with dinosaurs and its educational implications at a February, 2016 TED (Technology Entertainment Design) Conference.
While not all TED Talks make it online, the video of his was posted last week.
TED, a non-profit devoted to spreading ideas through short talks, covers a wide-range of topics from science to business to social issues. Started in 1984, TED now has over 2,000 videos in more than 100 different languages.
With such a prominent reputation, Lacovara at first had a difficult time believing his invitation to speak at the conference was trustworthy.
“When I opened up the letter, it was very slickly formatted and I thought – this is just an advertisement,” Lacovara said. “But when I saw the word Dreadnoughtus, and I took a closer look – I thought, ‘Is this really for me?’ I was very excited. Who wouldn’t want to give a TED Talk?”
Lacovara said that initially, he was asked to speak about the fieldwork he completed in Patagonia, Argentina, where he discovered an 85-foot plant-eating dinosaur which he named the Dreadnoughtus, deriven from “dreadnought,” an English word that means “fear nothing.”
Although Lacovara knew he wanted to discuss his work with the Dreadnoughtus, he also felt that TED’s slogan – “Ideas worth sharing” – ironically pushed him to consider a topic that he felt was bigger than dinosaurs. Lacovara said he decided to use the Dreadnoughtus as a starter to ultimately challenge people to think geologically about their actions.
“It doesn’t matter if you are studying the Dreadnoughtus or grasshopper larvae. It’s all so amazing and it’s just a joy to convey that sense of wonder about the world.” Lacovara said. “I wanted people to come away from my talk feeling somewhat small and vulnerable. Because if you feel small and vulnerable … it will make people more mindful of what they do and hopefully it will inspire people to treat the planet a little more gently than what they do.”
Fittingly, Lacovara’s TED Talk reached the Internet on April 22, 2016, Earth Day.
At the conference, Lacovara spoke to a crowd of over 1,000 people, which contained a number of distinguished guests, including Al Gore, Harrison Ford, Cher and Bill Gates. However, speaking to a crowd of intelligent, illustrious individuals did not stir Lacovara.
Adam Savage, best known for the Discovery Channel show “Mythbusters” and a fellow “TEDster” – the name used by Lacovara to describe TED alumnus – congratulated Lacovara via Twitter the day his talk reached the Internet.
According to “Rowan Today,” Lacovara has been asked to present his talk abroad in Mexico and India. Locally, on April 28, 2016 he will be the featured guest on National Public Radio’s “You’re the Expert” at the Philadelphia Science Festival.
Lacovara also made a point to emphasize the “precarious and potentially fleeting” status of Earth, which he considers the main focus of his talk.
“The dinosaurs died in the world’s fifth mass extinction, snuffed out in a cosmic accident through no fault of their own,” Lacovara said. “They didn’t see it coming, and they didn’t have a choice. We, on the other hand, do have a choice.”
When asked what people can do to make an impact on protecting our planet, Lacovara suggested simple, mindful actions like recycling and buying local.
As a university, Lacovara said that providing proper environmental education is critical. When people begin to understand the multiple existential crises of global warming and sea level rise, he believes that citizens and politicians alike will make a more concerted effort to protect Earth.
“We can do something about it,” Lacovara said. “That choice is ours.”