I’ve read several books on the subject of human evolution in an attempt to solve the problem of where we’re going from here. Almost all of the books say the same basic things about our past, with some variation here or there. They all say the same thing about our future, with varying degrees of hope from “we’re totally fucked” to “we might be able to salvage ourselves by getting off the planet” to “we’ll have to invent some adaptations to survive.” Seems pretty dire, right? Apparently, we’ve evolved a trait that makes us all not freak out about what we know is coming. This inability to confront the reality of our alarming situation means we won’t do anything about those things. We’ll just keep on keeping on because that’s what humans do. We take and use as we please, with little regard to the consequences.
Our past can be summed up this way, give or take:
We shared a common ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis between 800 thousand to 1 million years ago. At some point, that ancestor migrated out of Africa and split off in two different directions. One branch became the Neanderthals roughly 200,000 years ago or so, and the other became the Denisovans.
Homo sapiens (our delightful species) also evolved from the common ancestor and roughly 40,000 years ago or so we migrated out of Africa and came upon both the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. We carry in us DNA from both of these human species yet both are considered extinct. There is some debate as to how their extinction came about. Did we obliterate them because we’re so horrible and that’s what we do? Or did we merge with them? Or did we out compete them for food? I’m guessing we destroyed them. I think we probably imprisoned or enslaved them (because that’s what we do, what we’ve done) and used some as sex slaves. That is an extreme hypothesis and one that could never be proven but where humans are concerned, always imagine the worst and work from there.
The combination of homo sapiens with neanderthal or denisovan genes eventually led to our great leap forward – around 30,000 years ago when we domesticated dogs and eventually horses and eventually domestic animals rather than kill. Up until we learned how to domesticate animals we hunted almost all creatures to near extinction. It’s horrifying the way each of these books lays that part of our history out. We just had no clue what we were destroying. And we still don’t.
Cut to – now. Here we are. There are a few factors that will lead to our destruction that we are simply not dealing with. We’re brewing a perfect storm that includes the following three factors:
- antibiotics in meat products, in rivers and streams (among other chemicals), oceans and even cosmetics. They have been used freely and often, lowering our resistance to the point where we will likely be taken out by some pandemic in the next two generations (see this Fresh Air interview). This is the thing that will weaken millions of us.
- population growth all over the world. The target is 11 billion that supposedly the planet cannot sustain. This could lead to mass starvation, world wars — who knows what else.
- climate change, or warming. Another potentially weakening factor that will harm farming all over the world. We won’t stop meat and dairy production so we can’t possibly turn around greenhouse gases. Even if we stopped right now we would only be able to stop the clock about 30%. We’ve been doing this since the 1900s and we’re on a path to total warming so that either the planet will warm to an unlivable temperature (we’d have to go underground or into space) and remain that way for thousands of years, or else it will flip and we’ll head into an ice age. The only thing people agree on is that this shit is going down and we have to act now.
Put all three of them together and you can imagine that things don’t look too good for people. What can we do? We can try to act to make our politicians turn to wind and solar (all republicans think climate change is a hoax), stop eating meat and dairy as much as possible, even if it’s once a week – the market will determine how much meat is produced. Drive a hybrid or don’t drive at all.
Anyway, if you want to know, and you probably don’t, here are some books to read: