Grazing animals and humans create deserts. Beavers and humans create lush habitats. Over the past 600 million years Nature has created 5 mass life extinctions. Today, humans have reached the stage where they are well on the way to creating #6, the Final Extinction.
Our current geological epoch, known as the Holocene, started 11,700 years ago with the retreat of the last ice age. In it, millions of inquisitive human minds have raised our species to rival Nature and to be both a blessing and a curse. To reflect this, many of us have adopted the term Anthropocene for our epoch where the hope lies that our knowledge, intelligence, and ability to influence Nature can prolong a satisfactory existence for most living things. Our progress is amazing. Alas, its success does demand that far more of our 7.8 billion humans open their closed minds to Inquisitiveness. The Devil, in the form of Greed, remains with us.
Intelligence is something we share with the atoms and molecules that make us what we are. Relatively-immortal atoms can choose among thousands of possible transient associations, but, like us, are not free of external forces. Place a molecular bundle of ice in a kettle and it will change from a solid to a liquid to a gas. Place us next to Greed, and too many of us will change, but for the worse.
We humans are actually incredibly unique, so can claim, with some justification, to be at the apex of known intelligence, but none of us can recall ever being asked if we wanted to be Human in conflict with Nature when the roots of both can be traced back to the current Big Bang which many of us claim happened about 13.8 billion years ago, setting aside the fact that we really do not know what Time is. And, we can suspect that Intelligence is using us to create computers and robots to enhance itself.
Rejoice! - all that mystery gives us atoms, who have chosen to build ourselves into Homo sapiens, a needed challenge to set safe courses as we stumble through what we call Life, a dishonourable pursuit for all those species whose existence depends on killing, eating, and otherwise using, other species. Shame on us!
So far, we have survived by adapting to, co-operating with, and fighting Nature, while realizing Nature has many problems of its own to endure. In reference to Sun 3 (Earth), and throughout geological time, Nature has had to react to cycles from the 11-year solar magnetic cycle to the 225-million-year-solar-system cycle around the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy. Other major problems include long-term changes in sun radiations, Continental Drift where our continents merge then drift apart, and the Milanovitch Cycles: Precession, a 26,000 year cycle, Tilt, a 23,000 year cycle between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees, a 100,000-year circular-to-elliptical orbit, caused by gravity from other planets. To endure, Nature and the Anthropocene humans need to be caring pals.
We humans have divided and labelled our Nature’s geology into 4 Eons (the Hadean (hellish) 4.6 bya [billion years ago], the Archeozoic 3.9 bya, the Proterozoic 2.5 bya, the Phanerozoic 540 mya), 3 Eras (Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic), 11 periods, and 24 epochs. Nature is the author of these divisions. We now are in the Phanerozoic Eon, the Cenozoic Era, the Qaternary Period, the Anthropocene Epoch.
Life emerged 3.8 bya, with single-celled prokaryotic cells, such as bacteria. Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) became the first microbes to produce oxygen by photosynthesis some 3.5 bya, permitting Homo sapiens to evolve some 200,000 years ago. Nature creates topsoil for us at an average rate of one inch per thousand years.
Let us consider our bewildered species. It is so easy to find oodles of reasons to submit to Depression. Millions have, but other millions recoil in disgust at the route we took, so synthetic foods are now in 30 labs worldwide. Solace increases as we become aware of the increasing hundreds of human organizations striving to lessen, if not correct, the human-made threats that terrify us such as biodiversity loss, climate change, conflicts, greed, population explosions, poverty, warfare, and all those other human-made harms.
Actually, our preferred human goal has been with us for a long time in individuals, families, clans, tribes, villages, city states, nations, alliances, and the growing knowledge that our world is one. We do not have to dig too deeply to find that we have produced, here, there, and everywhere, billions of doves concerned with the welfare of others. Shamefully, we find, as we delve, that, in the vast majority of these associations, we have bred hawks who use the doves as fodder for Greed abetted by clubs, spears, swords, chariots, cannon, tanks, aircraft, missiles, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
The truism that “He who liveth by the sword shall perish by the sword” is attributed to Jesus but predates him as similar advice can be found as far back as records exist. Addiction is a human failure, be it drugs, food, greed, sex, religious and political beliefs, or war profits.
Civilization requires cities. Cities require people, varied skills, organization, administration, and security. So does irrigation, so it is logical that many of our great civilizations started along rivers that ran through dry lands such as the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates in Sumer (Iraq), and the Hwang Ho in China.
About 4,450 years ago the Sumerian civilization along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers had a number of agricultural cities born of the need for irrigation. Between Umma and Lagash a large shared area of irrigated fertile soil, called Guedena, had been created. Lugal (King) Eanatum of Lagash, not unlike some of our current leaders, knew he was the chosen one, being the son of goddess Ninhursag and the god Ningirsu, so had divine right to tax Umma for its share of Guedena. The dispute led to war, won by Eanatum. Stacks of bodies from both sides did not deter him from embarking on a spree to conquer Ur, Uruk, Kiutu, Kish, Mari, Akshak, and Susa, capital of Elam (Iran). He now had enough fertile land and booty to maintain a growing army. He also built new cities and shrines and tried to cement a peaceful empire but numerous uprisings led to his death in battle. The people of Lagash, reluctant to keep losing good men in war, chose to follow peaceful Urukagina who wrote history’s first code of civil rights, reduced taxes, equalized the sexes, and limited the power and profits of the elite, including the military leaders who suffered a greatly-downsized army. They eliminated him by using Lugal Zaggessi of Umma to attack, loot, and burn Lagash. This gave Sargon the Great of the Semitic Akkadian Empire incentive to defeat Zaggessi who ended his days in a neckstock. Other warlords also met painful ends, like the one who was smothered under a cover that was laden with food for the victors’ feast. The feasting victors learned nothing as they embraced further conflicts.
The dismal struggle for human rights is thousands of years old. Of the world’s top 115 peasant uprisings most were brutally defeated by paid, fed, clothed, and housed peasants killing poorly trained, or cared for, peasant protestors. This hopelessness continued through the unbelievable slaughter of WWI that gave us the League of Nations, the equally brutal slaughter of WWII that resulted in the United Nations, and the Arab Spring that was defeated by the Greed of oil interests. The Minority still controls the Majority. We have work to do: in 2016, 67 countries suffered declines in civil liberties while only 36 had gains.
The United States is a puzzling example of all this. Blessed by geography, peaceful neighbours, a good constitution, and educated people, it should be a shining light, and it is in many respects, yet it has always been an aggressor nation in which the minority hawks have controlled all the elections. Canada achieved peacefully all that the US boasts it won by revolution. It stole land from Canada, Mexico, Polynesia, and the Caribbean. Its wrongful interference around the world has taken millions of lives and it created soulless organizations like Taliban, Al Qaida and Daesh which it both uses and fights. A few other puzzles, challenges, and changes:
CLIMATE CHANGE: The United Nations holds annual conferences to assess and promote action. 2017 saw #23 held, for the third time, in Bonn, Germany. Starting in 1995 they were held in Bonn, Geneva, Kyoto, Buenos Aires, Bonn, The Hague, Bonn, Marrakesh, New Delhi, Milan, Bueno Aires, Montreal, Nairobi, Bali, Poznañ, Copenhagen, Cancún, Durban, Doha, Warsaw, Lima, Paris, Marrakesh, and Bonn. Are my eyes failing me? I recognize no city there from China or the USA, the world’s top polluters.
GUN VIOLENCE: We have endured long millenia of men carrying clubs, spears, daggers, swords, and guns, proving we are far from “civilized”. Yet, today, we have hundreds and organizations, world wide, opposing such childish behaviour. Here are a few statistics of selected countries showing the number of guns owned per 100 citizens, followed in brackets by the annual number of murders per 100,000 people: USA 113 (11), France 31 (3), Canada 31 (2), Germany 30 (2), Australia 22 (1), Mexico 15 (8), Italy 12 (1), Jamaica 8 (31), UK 7 (.2), Israel 7 (2), India 4 (.3), Japan .6 (.06). Other murder rates: Honduras 85, El Salvador 64, Venezuela 62, Russia 10, Palestine 7, Iran 4, China 1. The average world rate fell from 7.6 in 2004 to 6.2 in 2012.
POPULATION CONTROL: Endless migrations tell us that our world has always been overpopulated relative to resources and technology. “Go forth and multiply” is dangerous advice, yet followed by most species. Today, we have 7.8 billion humans on a planet capable of providing a good living for 2 billion. Our Anthropocene epoch is seeing some progress. Active organizations include: China with its limited family stance, Australia with “Sustainable Population”. Canada with its “Population Institute”, Ethiopia with its “Population, Health and environment”, Germany with its “Foundation for World Population”, Italy with its “Rientrodolce”, Madagascar with its “Blue Ventures”, Netherlands with its “Rutgers WPF” and “The Ten Million Club”, Switzerland with its “Ecopop”, Uganda with its “Conservation Through Public Health”, UK with its “”Population Matters”, USA with over a dozen organizations promoting family planning.
2017 MILITARY SPENDING: exceeds $1.6 trillion annually, proving we have yet to deserve this planet. The top 15 offenders: USA $611 billion, China 215, Russia 69, Saudi Arabia 64, India 56, France 56, UK 48, Japan 44, Germany 41, S. Korea 37, Italy 27, Australia 25, Brazil 24, UAE 23, Israel 18. Warheads owned by the 9 nuclear armed countries are: Russia 7,000 including the Tsar bomb with a destruction diameter of 31 miles, the USA with 6,800 and a 10-year $1 trillion budget to update them, France 300, China 289, UK 215, Pakistan 140, India 120. Israel 80, N. Korea 8. Just how terrifyingly dangerous this can be is broadcast in the jealousies and corruption that infects the governments and militaries of all, even democratic, countries. Denmark is considered the least corrupt nation, so if we call it #1 for purity, the standings of the nuclear countries are: UK 10, USA 15, France 20, Israel 23, India 62 tied with China at 62nd, Pakistan 96, Russia 110.
AREA 51, that endured 105 above and 828 below ground nuclear explosions, starting in 1951 under orders from President Truman, and ending Sep 1992, is secretly isolated on 5,000 square miles of desert in Nevada, and can fill us with dread and foreboding, increased even more by the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Its secrecy, even from Congress and the president on a need-to-know basis, asks “Who governs the country?” It is obvious that other countries follow suit, such as the USSR nuclear test site on Novaya Zemlya where the Tsar bomb was tested in 1961. So to what oligarchies have we given our right to exist while billions of our tax dollars are consumed for whose priorities and for we know not what? Some declassification, the impossibility of all thousands of workers keeping their oaths of secrecy, and investigative reporters reveal that fortunes and lives were sacrificed in the game of intelligence gathering and one-up-manship. Here U2 spy planes were perfected to take highly-detailed photos from 60,000 feet, well above the 45,000-foot ceiling of fighter aircraft, but not high enough to escape the USSR missile that brought down, among others, CIA’s Gary Powers, flying well into Russia out of a US CIA base in Pakistan on 01 May 1960, a Soviet holiday. Gary neglected to take his suicide pill. Kruschev played the game well by forgetting for a week to admit he had Gary alive while allowing Eisenhower to lie to the US and to the world that it was a weather reconnaissance plane flying out of Turkey that got lost and wandered over Russia. In spite of promises to stop all aerial spying, Area 51 worked on the Oxcart and other spy planes that could reach 90,000 feet and mach 3, finally ending the intense CIA-USAF rivalry when the SR71, a USAF stealth baby, won out.
OUR MARINE HERITAGE: Our pristine seas have become garbage cans. In 1988 the uninhabited 14 square-mile Henderson Island, half way between Chile and New Zealand, was so pristine it was claimed as an UNESCO Heritage Site. Just 29 years later an inspection team went ashore for a 3-month stay. They found the beaches littered with 38 million pieces of plastic from the US, China, Russia, Europe, and South America, along with 18 tons of fishing net. The team counted 3,500 pieces of plastic washing ashore daily. Today, our oceans are 30% more acidic than they have been in the past two million years. Yet, they still attract 4.6 million fishing boats and 57 million employees leading to 32% of our fishing now in biologically-unsustainable areas. In 2013 aquaculture caught up to wild fishing in tonnage and continues to pull ahead.
SYNTHETIC MEAT: We have actually made a start at saving poultry, pigs, and cattle. We got our big brains due to eating meat. It is time to close the cruel slaughter houses, say thanks, and move on. In 1931 Winston Churchill predicted synthetic meat in 50 years, a little optimistic, as it was August 2013 that saw the first synthetic beef hamburger, made by a Dutch team from the Maastricht University, pass the test when it was publicly cooked and eaten in London. Some 30 worldwide labs are now engaged producing synthetic meats. Memphis Meats of San Francisco is now producing chicken strips.
TERRORISM: All violence produces terror. “But, you started it” is not a remedy. It is not always accurate. Whenever any of us are the victims, we all become “Je suis Charlie” and the flower bouquets pile up. This is as it should be - but why are we silent when our aircraft and drones kill far more innocents? We are well aware of root causes and what creates enemy combatants but seem reluctant to take the necessary steps to lessen the extent of the gardens. Well, that is not quite true either. Many, with money as weapons, are making a difference but the mess we have allowed to grow with mindsets forged by states, religions, communities, and individual grievances is formidable.But, is that not why we have the Anthropocene epoch - to enhance the one-world concept and the rights of living things? What other concept gives us a chance of surviving a little longer?
Ye Olde Scribe