Energy and the Human Journey: Where We Have Been; …

Darwin , but believed that natural selection primarily worked at the individual level. The idea of group selection has , if . Anthropologists and biologists see evidence of group selection, not only in social creatures such as , but also in the ability of human societies to survive competition with their neighbors. Hunter-gatherer societies eliminated disruptive members by , which has been argued to have been reflected genetically in eliminating uncooperative people from society. Those kinds of activities may have helped cull the human herd of “uncooperative” genes. When Europe conquered the world, it had the highest energy usage, by far, of any peoples on Earth, which was why it always prevailed. When high-energy societies met low-energy societies, the results were almost always catastrophic for low-energy societies. Hunter-gatherer societies have no chance in a competition with societies possessing domesticated plants and animals, much less industrialized societies. Whether they are species or human civilizations, the determines their viability.

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From the , elites have played the same basic games, which were concerned with gaining economic power as a means to political power. All ruling classes . The elites of city-states, whether they were in Mesopotamia or Mesoamerica, tried to militarily conquer their neighbors and form larger polities. Nations and empires have constantly formed, fragmented, and fallen over the millennia, and they almost always disintegrated because they ran out of energy. Greed and can never be satiated, and those in their thrall continually feed their addictions. often become successful politicians and corporate executives, as their affliction is advantageous in organizations in which amassing wealth and power are primary goals. For those who have encountered today’s ultra-elite and lived to tell about it, the evils that they relate about such environments are difficult for “normal” people to understand. Those at the top have elevated greed and a lust for power to nearly inconceivable levels. Just as John Rockefeller hired talented psychopaths, so do the GCs. I have encountered their agents and they talented; I will grant them that. The tried to blame my former partner for her death . He probably worked for the GCs, but was a contract agent, as many are. He later defrauded the public with the same tactics he used to help destroy our company, as did another contract agent provocateur, . People like them do not have consciences.

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Canals were competitive with railroads, sailing ships were competitive with steamboats, and watermills were competitive with steam-powered mills until around 1850. It for coal-powered steam to prevail against wind and water power. Water and wind power were not only geographically restricted, but they were also dependent on the weather. Calm air (and storms) and droughts (and floods) were the bane of wind and water power. Coal did not have those restrictions. American towns were built on hillsides above watermills to house the workforce. As coal-power made its ascendance, those mills and towns were abandoned. The pollution of industrial America’s cities could rival London’s. A visitor to Pittsburgh in 1841 described approaching the city as entering a dark cloud of coal smoke; the peoples and buildings inside it were blackened like some vision from hell. Far from an indictment, however, the visitor happily saw it as “progress” that would soon arrive at his home town of Cincinnati. The rivers of the Eastern Woodlands ran blue and clear before Europeans arrived. When I lived in Ohio, the Ohio River at Cincinnati in the 1990s had brown, stinking waters that nobody in their right minds would swim in. The Cuyahoga River that flows through Cleveland , and the 1969 fire finally led to environmental legislation that began to clean up the USA’s lakes, rivers, and air. The in the 1980s rivaled .

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But the branch of the that readers might find most interesting led to humans. Humans are in the phylum, and the last common ancestor that founded the Chordata phylum is still a mystery and understandably a source of controversy. Was our ancestor a ? A ? Peter Ward made the case, as have others for a long time, that it was the sea squirt, also called a tunicate, which in its larval stage resembles a fish. The nerve cord in most bilaterally symmetric animals runs below the belly, not above it, and a sea squirt that never grew up may have been our direct ancestor. Adult tunicates are also highly adapted to extracting oxygen from water, even too much so, with only about 10% of today’s available oxygen extracted in tunicate respiration. It may mean that tunicates adapted to low oxygen conditions early on. Ward’s respiration hypothesis, which makes the case that adapting to low oxygen conditions was an evolutionary spur for animals, will repeatedly reappear in this essay, as will . Ward’s hypothesis may be proven wrong or will not have the key influence that he attributes to it, but it also has plenty going for it. The idea that fluctuating oxygen levels impacted animal evolution has been gaining support in recent years, particularly in light of recent reconstructions of oxygen levels in the eon of complex life, called and , which have yielded broadly similar results, but their variances mean that much more work needs to be performed before on the can be done, if it ever can be. Ward’s basic hypotheses is that when oxygen levels are high, ecosystems are diverse and life is an easy proposition; when oxygen levels are low, animals adapted to high oxygen levels go extinct and the survivors are adapted to low oxygen with body plan changes, and their adaptations helped them dominate after the extinctions. The has a pretty wide range of potential error, particularly in the early years, and it also tracked atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The challenges to the validity of a model based on data with such a wide range of error are understandable. But some broad trends are unmistakable, as it is with other models, some of which are generally declining carbon dioxide levels, some huge oxygen spikes, and the generally relationship between oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, which a geochemist would expect. The high carbon dioxide level during the Cambrian, of at least 4,000 PPM (the "RCO2" in the below graphic is a ratio of the calculated CO2 levels to today's levels), is what scientists think made the times so hot. (Permission: Peter Ward, June 2014)