What a terrifying responsibility you and I have stumbled into! And, really, it did not have to be that way. The fact that you and I are now alive means that some part of us, if only a blueprint, has been here definitely for 2.7 billion years, and most likely, as Australians, for 3.5 billion years. Do not drop the ball now.
Shamefully, it was our ancestors who made this planet a battleground for all living things even though we did not start out that way. Ancestors? Most of us can trace them back only a very short distance. Many of you have bettered me. After 60 years of research I have uncovered 98 surnames for myself in Canada, Ireland, France, and Germany with one line unbroken back to 1384 in Rouen, France. All this was in the relative comfort of Registry offices, Church records, Mormon archives, and my den with its over-worked computer. Knowing a little history I was able to trace my Irish roots back to Princess Scota in Egypt and Miles in Scythia about 1500 BC (see my blog of 18 March 2011 “The Irish and Scots as Egyptians and Scythians”), my French ancestry back to Anatolia about the same time (see my blog “We Hatti” of 06 Oct 2010). For my late wife, Joan, I found 55 surnames in 14 villages in 5 counties in England back to 1515. All 14 villages retain much the charm they had when described in the Domesday Book, decreed by William the Conqueror in 1085. Too often records imply women had no part in births as only the father is recorded. But I digress. It took thousands of others, working under more difficult conditions to take all of us back much further. All the way?
Only we humans have evolved the wherewithal to recognize and analyze the clues that take us back to our origins. With admirable patience and long hours of painstaking work in far less than ideal conditions, numerous members of our species have found the proof that our current, violent and ever-changing, universe is 13.820,000,000 (13.82 billion) years old. Our solar system began operating 4.6 billion years ago and it took this planet a billion years, with the help of many volcanoes, to produce the soup of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and temperature to ignite the spark that produced life, a long time to us short-lived mortals.
Probably, there was more than one spark with Australia, the Bahamas, and Belize providing the most tantalizing clues. Simple cells, called prokaryotes, formed to lay the groundwork for the emergence, 200 million years later, of our clever and peaceful Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) who learned how to perform photosynthesis. Then, for some 1.4 billion years it was Life using non-life to survive and reproduce asexually. Blissful peace for mortals? But then complex cells, called Eukaryotes, evolved and multiplied. They became grazers, feeding on prokaryotes and so began the current mess we are in of species eating species to survive. Meanwhile cyanobacteria continued their photosynthesis, whose by-product, free oxygen, then a poisonous gas, built up sufficiently to create, 251 million years ago, the third and worst of the six mass extinctions Life has endured. We are now in Number Six, this one due to Humans. Our current guess is we have 8.7 million eukaryotic species - 1% of all those who have lived, but only 1.2 million have been catalogued. Estimates of Prokaryotic species range from 10,000 to a million.
Slowly Life evolved to tolerate oxygen and to even make it essential. The Burgess Shales of Alberta reveal a pre-Cambrian explosion of oxygen-based creatures that eventually led to us and the continued necessity of eating other species, but we humans also prey on ourselves, having killed over 4 billion other humans, not to mention horses, in major wars, as well as many more in minor conflicts.
Many humans have decried this condition as long as written records exist, but only recently have we attained the knowledge of how to correct all this but yet we still use brute force, a most ineffective cure. We have created far too many of us, have despoiled our fragile environment, have embraced Greed rather than Empathy, and have created thousands of hate groups.
Fortunately, the thousands of hate groups are now being matched by the thousands of individuals and organizations devoting their time, efforts, and fortunes to attack the grass roots of inequality, poverty, ignorance, greed, hate, and climate change. Women worldwide are now averaging 2.5 children, down from 5,0 only 40 years ago. Our scientists are discovering synthetic foods to limit, and eventually erase, our need to kill other living things for food. Our world will remain a battleground and we are trapped in it - but we can go a long way in limiting the horrors that now surround us.
The struggle is immense so it does need you and me. It is our collective responsibility. Ignoring it solicits dire consequences. So welcome aboard!
Ye Olde Scribe, 05 July 2015