Our species evolved from homo erectus, starting about 1.9 million years ago. That was 680,000 years into the Quarternary Period, which has featured glaciation on roughly hundred thousand year cycles and a number of impressive volcanic eruptions.
We are Children of Ice and Chaos
The defining characteristic of our species is flexibility; some of us land on our feet no matter how and where we get dropped. We turn up in the strangest of places, A Hundred Centuries Off, because we are collectively unstoppable. We walk around or through fire, ice, and wild beasts a hundred times our sizes, unless we stop to eat them.
And we’re about to experience some chaos of our own making, thanks to the Atlantification of the Eastern Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Ocean gets warmer the deeper you go, the inverse of every other ocean in the world. Only now this has happened:
In studying the data from the moorings, the researchers found that warm water from the Atlantic, which has traditionally been separated from melting ice because of the halocline layer—a barrier that exists between deep salty water and fresher water closer to the surface—has been penetrating the barrier, allowing ice to melt from below. It has also led to the water becoming less stratified, like the Atlantic. They describe the changes as a “massive shift” in the ocean that has occurred over an extremely short time frame. These new findings may explain why the extent of ice coverage has been shrinking so dramatically—at a rate of 13 percent per decade.
Repeat after me: Whoops. We’re going to see the Last Of The Laurentide very shortly and Arctic summer sea ice seems likely to precede it into the land of fond memories much sooner.
We’ve had some epic last stands, none more so in our 200,000 years as modern humans as the Toba bottleneck. It hurts me a little to point at this near extinction of our species circa 70,000 BC and to not have the clean explanation of the Toba eruption. There is evidence in India that our species shrugged off the Toba effects, continuing to leave behind the same stone tools that appear before Toba’s ash layer. So something happened back then that nearly ended us, but we don’t really know what.
This time, here at the dawn of the Anthropocene, we’re going into another population bottle neck with at least some of our eyes wide open. We’re storing seeds and ice cores in safe paces and Dark Mountain has brought us Eight Principles Of Uncivilization. Love it or hate it, our species is getting ‘right-sized’.
I see some signs of hope. Graphene desalination. Perovskite solar cells. And a geo-engineering effort that isn’t total mad scientist material – Africa’s Great Green Wall. Simple, durable things are going to carry the day after the day our global supply chains are finally, irrevocably collapsed. I wrote Once & Future Cavemen but I don’t see Mars serving as Wrangel Island did for the mammoth.
We’re going to experience greater distances in the future, but it’s not going to be due to climbing out of our gravity well. Instead I see the Earth’s surface functionally stretching as oil supplies become more dear and climate change forbids any more carbon exhumation. We could afford epic battles spanning the Pacific seventy years ago. Let that much time pass again and we may be doing things more like the 1947 Kon-Tiki Expedition.
We only just figured out why Clovis points are so cool, despite the fact that our species literally rode into the Americas on the back of this durable style of arrow and spear head. We have so much to remember, both in the sense of rediscovering things like that, as well as not forgetting the massive cache of knowledge we now possess.
I promised horrors in the title, didn’t I? Just look at the sidebar and you’ll find some of the worst:
- Yemen is a humanitarian crisis which we show no intention of every trying to solve, I believe this is an instance of Functional Triage.
- We had a warm up for Yemen right at the end of the Cold War, in Somalia. Look to this country as the model for what can happen, and why we will prefer to steer clear.
- The biggest word in the cloud, Syria, is also the biggest problem. Yemen is worse in environmental terms, but Syria is just right there in the middle of everything.
- Libya is a primo example of the need to reign in NATO. This is a mess that didn’t need to be, much like the one caused by Bush’s adventure in Iraq.
To be completely clear, the problem isn’t Muslims, it’s western imperialism, religious fanaticism, and what that drives us to do. Maybe one day the U.S. will melt down its enormous carrier fleet to make gardening tools; our policeman of the world shtick has gotten really stale, and if we’re going to lead we should do it by example here.
Not that we’re going to do that mind you, our species learns the hard way, with handfuls of survivors studying the wreckage a bit, before they limp off to try something new.