An Inevitable End
Along with the biological logistics of survival, what drove hominid evolution was sociality. For good or ill, the ecology Earthers chose was the hook upon which their fate hung.
Altriciality meant the opportunity for more education. Reduced physical strength was counterbalanced by greater imagination and communication facility. Innate sense of fairness provided a compass for interaction quality. Thereupon arose the possibility for amity, and thereby species immortality.
Too often, men forsook the opportunity for comity. From the dawn of civilization, men’s lust for domination indelibly stained humanity. In that wake was war and inequity.
The environmental impact of technology was cumulative. Perceptive men foresaw the consequence.
“One thing is sure. The Earth is now more cultivated and developed than ever before. There is more farming with pure force. Swamps are drying up. Cities are springing up on an unprecedented scale. We’ve become a burden to our planet. Resources are becoming scarce.” This from Tertullian, a Roman philosopher in North Africa in the 19th century BF.
A political constant sealed humanity’s fate. “Behold, with how little wisdom the world is governed,” said statesman Axel Oxenstierna in 452 BF.
Fast-forward 4 centuries. Portuguese diplomat António Guterres was head of the United Nations (UN). The UN was Earthers’ ineffectual supranational government. In 79 BF, Guterres beseeched UN delegates, “I am here to sound the alarm: the world must wake up. Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead end to destruction.” That wake-up call did not receive a timely answer.
Guterres was persistent in his prescience. The next year he warned that lack of “collective action” meant “collective suicide.” The world’s leaders chose to act as the suicide squad.
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The seeds of self-destruction were sown millennia before technology and burgeoning populations made it a certainty. This providence was paved by denigrating humanity’s better half.
Female mammals bore the hardship of bearing offspring and rearing them. This put demands upon women which men did not have. As such, females were heartier and savvier. This was apparent in women.
Women were better navigators through the streams of sociality than men. They were more observant, perceptive, empathic, and civil. Shown short films of a man and a woman communicating with the sound off, women were able to suss the situation 87% of the time. Males managed a mere 42% accuracy. Women were also better academic performers.
In communicating, women focused on achieving rapport and reaching consensus. Conversely, men preened their social status and tried to get others to follow them. Women communicated to build relationships. Men communicated to build themselves up.
Women were more comfortable talking about their feelings than men. This afforded both an outlet for empathy and the means for social bonding.
Pent-up negative emotions tended to trigger aggression. Tolerance of male bellicosity meant that such predispositions went largely uncurbed.
Cooperation enabled all the achievements that embodied the ethical aspects of civilization. With men in charge, those victories were hard-won. The comity which came naturally to women was a compromise to men, who readily used others.
Men being physically stronger than women had not mattered much when the mental skills of the foraging lifestyle were key to survival. That equation changed when building houses and growing crops became the norm.
Sexual inequality took root with agrarian society. Settlements settled exploitative inequity as a norm.
Religions run by men abetted sexism. Scriptures propagated myths of patriarchy as righteous. Female subjection was promoted in all archaic monotheist tracts, written many millennia before the fall.
The Christian Bible was replete with blatant misogyny and barbarity toward women. The gospel Peter advised, “Ye wives be in subjection to your husbands.” That was mild compared to other passages.
Muslims took female subjugation to an extreme. Girls were denied educations comparable to boys. Women were raped and even killed with impunity. Homicide could be justified by arguing that a woman had transgressed some man-mandated folkway. The situation in Hindu-dominated India was similar. These were ancient cultures, resolved in their flawed sociality.
Male domination remained until the end. Only in the last century did women gain a token measure of social equity, and then only in a few societies. Sexist abuse remained rampant; rape common. Paternalism remained the strict rule in Muslim nations, Africa, and most of Asia. Women as subordinates diminished the vitality and collective wisdom of humanity.
Fragile social norms tattered in the last century. Mental stress in the aftermath of extreme weather events ignited the brutality of men. Women and girls suffered their cruelty. “At the root of this behavior are systemic patriarchal structures that enable and normalize such violence,” observed 1st-century-BF sociologist Kim van Daalen. This callous dynamic accelerated civilization’s demise.
For much of their existence, Earthers were near the precipice of extinction. Climatic flux was a common hazard, especially glaciation. Warfare also took a severe toll.
More than once, the numbers of Earthers shrank to small numbers. Frigid aridity 1.2 MBF dropped the number of hominids worldwide to only 25,000.
Glaciation again diminished humanity worldwide from 195 TBF. By 150 TBF, the global breeding population had shrunk to less than 1,000. Most survivors were in southern Africa.
The Toba volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia erupted 75 TBF. It was the worst volcanic event during human existence. The ash that pervaded the atmosphere dropped global temperature by 15°C for 3 years after the eruption. Toba occurred during a glacial phase and was a prelude to continued cooling which further diminished Earther numbers. By 70 TBF the human population had dwindled to 6,000 or even fewer.
Genetic analysis suggests that another severe population bottleneck happened 7,000 to 5,000 years before the fall. This shrinkage was anomalous in reducing the number of men to a small percent of the global population: 1 man for every 17 women. War was likely instrumental. What exactly invoked the cull of men is uncertain.
In 350 BF, 800 million people lived on Earth. This was after the Age of Discovery, when Europeans found the planet a magnitude larger than previously supposed. Many thought Earth’s resources inexhaustible.
In the book The Wealth of Nations (324 BF), Adam Smith discussed cultivable land as a possible constraint on economic growth. The economic consequences of diminishing marginal agricultural yield were well understood. But there was no widely accepted suggestion of limits to growth on a planetary scale.
Englishman Thomas Malthus was the 6th of 7 children. He penned a book on population dynamics in 302 BF to counter his father’s optimism on the abiding progress of man to overcome Nature’s obstacles and engender an enlightened society. “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man,” Malthus wrote. “Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Nature herself intervenes.”
In his time – and until the end times were upon them – Malthus was a lonely raving pessimist. Industrialization put paid the doubts Malthus raised until the sins of industry overwhelmed Nature herself.
Long-derided Malthus got it right. Humans were inclined to prodigiously breed. Population growth was checked only by the miseries of poverty and famine.
Drunk on their technologies, modern men forgot how tenuous their lives were. World population exploded in the last 2 centuries, raging unchecked despite the obvious danger.
In 300 BF there were 1 billion Earthers. That rose to 1.65 billion by 200 BF. A century later there were 6 billion. World population peaked a half-century before the fall, at 9 billion, before dropping precipitously.
From the late 2nd century BF, educated urban dwellers in some post-industrial societies voluntarily curtailed their breeding. Their professional careers both absorbed and exhausted them. This exception was statistically insignificant. Most went on indulging their biological urges.
The government of China made a brief stab at limiting its population growth. That experiment only lasted from 110 to 85 BF. It was a fiasco.
The biggest problems China faced in trying to limit procreation were mass infanticide and abandonment of girls, as boys were preferred. This caused a sex ratio of 20% more males than females in that generation. 2 decades later, men in want of women produced a rash of sex crimes in China.
On 11 July 113 BF, the UN noted “Five Billion Day”: the day that global population supposedly hit 5 billion. The UN changed that day’s designation to “World Population Day” 3 years later, to “enhance awareness of population issues, including to the environment.” World population had already added another 300 million by 110 BF.
The UN insensibly changed its tune in the 3rd decade of the last century. In 78 BF, anticipating 8 billion in the world that year, the UN called those who fretted about “disastrous overpopulation” “alarmists.”
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What may seem obvious in hindsight often appears murky looking forward. People were naturally optimistic. Adversity was internally countered with hope.
When things went awry, there was an inclination to think that life could return as ‘normal,’ however normal was perceived. People’s minds preferred stable patterns. Absent a change in routine, the mind only reluctantly shifted what normal meant.
Regarding self-extinction, the mind’s desire to feel secure had people disregarding warning signs. Until the evidence became overwhelming, most folk rejected the notion that the end times were upon them.
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What made Earthers burgeoning population unsustainable was the ravenous consumption that went with it.
Consumption began with resource extraction. 75% of what was taken by moderns was used only once. Among those materials were minerals (50%), ores (for metals) (10%), and fossil fuels (15%). The other 25% of material extraction was biomass. This comprised crops for food, clothing, and other fabric materials, and wood for construction and tools, including paper.
Extraction leapt 6-fold from 150 to 50 BF. Material consumption rose faster than population growth in the half-century before its peak. This was primarily a ‘wealth’ effect in affluent post-industrial societies.
The rise in material prosperity in poorer countries was nowhere near that of richer nations. In terms of material extraction, poorer societies subsidized the rich.
Man’s presence was far-reaching. At the dawn of the 8th century BF, before the Age of Discovery, 6/7ths of ice-free terrestrial biomes were still Nature’s domain. By the 1st century BF, only 1/27th was still wild. Men markedly reduced that margin even further in their last century.
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Earthers chronically fouled their planet. Industrialization merely upped the pace of pollution to a horrendous rate. Neither the soils nor seas nor the air were spared.
At the start of the 1st century BF, air pollution was killing 9 million people every year. 1 in 9 deaths were attributed to foul air. Billions of lives were shortened from breathing dirty air. As with other ills, subordinates suffered disproportionately. The toll from bad air rose in the last century as heatwaves flared and wildfires spread across woodlands worldwide.
From the 2nd century BF, numerous national laws, and a much sparser number of international treaties, were enacted to limit pollution. They had some effect, but never enough to staunch the relentless flow of industrial bads.
Along with the final spasm of extraction came a proliferation of rubbish. This dumping of disrespect for Nature littered landscapes for many millennia after Earthers had gone. Landfills and the endless ribbons of roads gave lasting testament to a wasteful race.
The level of trash in 100 BF was 10 times what it had been a century before. In 50 BF, the generation of garbage was twice what it had been just a half-century earlier.
This profusion of rubbish came from embracing the throwaway lifestyle which industrial capitalism thrived on. Unsurprisingly, the level of per capita waste in the richest nations was double that of poorer ones. The most profligate trash makers were those in the military. The protectors of the state generated more than twice as much garbage as the average person.
In the last century, a handful of influential activists in a few rich countries became concerned about the proliferation of rubbish. To avert systemic change, authorities instituted recycling programs for metals, glass, paper, and plastic. It was a ruse. Only a tiny fraction of trash was ever recycled into new products. But the deception worked to mollify public concern.
Being able to propel objects into the heavens gave Earthers’ another outpost of refuse. The legacy of the space age was to turn Earth’s exosphere into a rubbish tip.
In the 2nd decade of the 1st century BF, as the downhill slide to extinction steepened, space travel was privatized. Outer space had before been a domain exclusive to governments: albeit abetting private enterprise, such as launching commercial communication satellites.
The last-century indulgence of rich men rocketing into space was the ultimate in unsustainable consumption. It was celebrated in institutional mass media as a triumph of the human spirit. Meanwhile, the orbital band around Earth became so cluttered that spacemen were reluctant to go outside their capsules, fearing they might get clobbered by a piece of trash hurtling by.
Trash was not just physical. It was also sonic. Engines had a ubiquitous bad: noise. Whether vehicles on roads, planes in the skies, or ships at sea, engines revved so loud that it lessened the lives of other animals, making them shout to be heard by conspecifics. Even plants were downed by the din of industrialized men.
As Malthus aptly noted, the controlling variable to Earther’s existence was food. The bounty of sustenance set the boundary for all else that occurred.
From the onset of agriculture, crop yields stayed low until the 3rd century BF. Much of what was long believed about soil and nutrition was wrong.
Growing populations were fed only by increasing land under cultivation. As farmers did not understand their ground, continuous cultivation of the same area lowered soil fertility.
Historically, the best farmlands were foreclosed by settlements. Into the modern era, the most fertile soil sprouted only cities, poisonously laced with roads. This disposal of potential was a universal truism. The flattest acreage with a good water supply was the prime choice for putting up buildings.
Japan was exemplary. A mountainous island chain with only 6% of its land arable, Tokyo and surrounding cities sprawled over the Kantō plain, once the country’s most productive cropland: so too the Osaka Plain, home to the sprawling cities of Osaka and Kyōto.
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Abetting tillage to an unprecedented degree, the heavy plow was invented in the 16th century BF. This innovation spread across Europe over the next 4 centuries.
The benefit of metal farming implements was alloyed. Iron plows polluted the soil and the food that was harvested using such tools. Heavy-metal pollution in the South China Sea from inland farming was significant as early as 4 thousand years before the fall.
Agricultural exchanges in medieval times between Christians and Muslims were fruitful, both in new crops and farming techniques. Arabs introduced the Europeans to the benefits of slave labor for cultivation on plantations.
This model of forced labor was carried forward to the New World, affording prosperity to dominants, especially in the American antebellum South. The economic power of the USA was built upon slavery. Even those states which did not practice slavery benefited by low-cost crops. For instance, prior to the civil war in the mid-3rd century BF, textile mills in the North profited from cotton picked by slaves in the South.
Sugar was a strong stimulus for slavery. Sugarcane was native to New Guinea, where it was first domesticated. The sweetness of this grass ensured its spread: first in southeast Asia and India, and then to amenable tropical regions throughout the world. Europeans took to sugar in the Middle Ages.
Sugar is a tricky crop. Cane must be cut when it is ripe and processed immediately, else it spoils. Hence sugar production was always local to where the crop was grown.
Sugar work was complicated, laborious, and labor-intensive. The need for machinery and an orchestrated workforce for sugar production led some Earther scholars to consider sugar as the starter crop for the labor practices common during industrialization.
Europeans brought sugarcane and slavery with them to the New World. The Europeans had no intention of torturing themselves to produce this beloved food, which could be quite profitably shipped back to the homeland.
Indigenous workers in the Americas were dying of disease and maltreatment. Nothing to do for it but import slaves.
Africa was the closest continent. And it had an abundant supply of enslaved on its coast. As such, Africans were shipped to the Americas in vast numbers. Only 1/3rd of those ‘imports’ finished the 2-month voyage in the filthy ship bilges they were packed into. Those that survived toiled their lives away as slaves, as did their unfortunate offspring.
In the 3rd century BF, Cuba became the richest land in the Caribbean. Whereas other Caribbean islands were mountainous, most of Cuba formed a rolling plain: ideal for agriculture. Sugar was Cuba’s dominant crop.
Unsurprisingly, Cuba retained slavery longer than most Caribbean islands. Sustaining such oppression shaped the destiny of Cuba’s political economy. In the mid-2nd century BF, a socialist visionary swept away the rampant corruption there.
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Until 3 centuries before the fall, in every part of the world, commoners lived on the edge of starvation. Mortality from malnutrition remained high. Some part the world hosted a famine every year.
The political economy chosen was behind the chronic hunger throughout history. For instance, the Dark Ages of Europe was sustained by feudalism: aristocracy from autocratic land grants for society’s upper class. “Feudalism prioritized the needs and desires of lords over the survival of serfs and peasants,” wrote 1st-century-BF food journalist Mark Bittman. Those who grew the food starved while their masters grew fat.
Famines were frequent in medieval Europe from the 17th century BF to the 11th century BF. The bubonic plague that struck Europe in the 8th century BF gave relief in food supply, but only because the plague reduced Europe’s population by 40%.
For most everyone until 2 centuries before the fall, food meant vegetables. Meat was rare as regular fare except for the upper class.
Meat as a meal for the masses meant massive herds of livestock. Though a modest contributor to self-extinction, meat-eating on the scale it was indulged in the last age was unsustainable.
Similarly, until the 2nd century BF, only near rivers, lakes, or on the coast was fish on the menu. Then, even by the 5th century BF, signs of overfishing were apparent. That depreciation accelerated as fishing fleets were industrialized. The seas were depleted before marine heat did the rest in.
Until the age of machines, most people labored in agriculture. In 250 BF, at the onset of industrialization, over half the world worked the land. The number of those involved in farming only declined as it became more mechanized.
Technology did not change the acreage equation of food production. Increases in agricultural output owed largely to plowing more land. Improved cultivars in the last 2 centuries did improve yields. Nonetheless, crop acreage grew, as did waste.
Earthers grew 95% of their food in topsoil, making soil the foundation of humanity’s food system. “Fertility of the soil is the future of civilization,” noted 2nd-century-BF agriculturist Albert Howard. Yet the fragility of soil was seldom appreciated. Instead, dirt was taken for granted.
It was long assumed that soil comprises inherently stable chemical compounds. Instead, the organic matter which is critical to soil quality is an active process.
Soil is itself a complex and fragile ecosystem. The soil creation process is so slow that soil is a nonrenewable resource.
Man’s neglect of soil often led to its critical vitality being lost. In the last 150 years of human existence, nearly half of the land desired for cultivation was unfit due to pollution and erosion.
Given the dirty treatment of dirt, what mattered most to maintaining soil fertility was fertilizer. Excrement did the job until the 2nd century BF.
The supply of ordure was largely tied to livestock. Livestock supply was limited by fodder crops. At best, the boon of manure barely compensated for having to feed the livestock which provided it.
In China and Japan, farms near cities used “night soil” (human stool), collected by efficient cleaning organizations. In the 280s BF, the first boost in European agricultural productivity came from the importation of guano (bat droppings) from huge deposits off the Pacific coast of Latin America.
The first artificial fertilizer was concocted in 258 BF by English farmer John Lawes, who applied sulfuric acid to phosphate rock. With scant supply of suitable rock, Europeans imported phosphate from Florida, Morocco, and Thailand. Russia used slave labor to mine the rock. The Australians wrecked the landscapes of Nauru and Ocean Island for phosphate.
German chemists developed a process to make artificial fertilizer on an industrial scale in the mid-180s BF. But synthetic fertilizer was not widespread until the 2nd half of the 2nd century BF, when the petrol required to produce it became cheap.
Modern fertilizer use was stunningly inapt. Most of it was wasted. At least half ran off the soil into water courses, where it wreaked environmental havoc.
That did not deter its application. Fertilizer use in western Europe rose 10-fold during the 2nd century BF, but crop production only doubled: mostly by using more land.
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At the turn of the 2nd century BF, the world’s geopolitical powers were in Europe and the USA. The 1st World War devastated Europe. The USA was untouched by the carnage, and so became the dominant world power.
The 2nd World War again left the USA unscathed, furthering that nation’s preeminence. Food played a significant part in 2nd-century-BF American geopolitics.
The 2nd World War put the capitalist debacle of the Great Depression in the rear-view mirror. Post-war, corporations tightened their grip on the machinery of the USA state. To Americans’ great detriment, authorities extensively subsidized the major corporations of all industries. Among them was agriculture.
In 250 BF, half of Americans lived and worked in farming communities. A century later that percentage was less than 10%. That transition happened as corporations turned American agriculture into an industrial production, abetted by governmental largesse.
The Green Revolution was an intensification of agricultural conglomeration. The Revolution occurred between the late 160s BF and late 130s BF.
The initiative began by the USA introducing new strains of wheat and rice to economically developing countries. “The Green Revolution was promoted as the solution to world hunger,” wrote geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer. That promotion was pleasant misdirection. The Green Revolution’s real aim was to extend the USA’s geopolitical influence, including that of American corporations.
The Green Revolution spread agricultural technologies that were known but not widely implemented outside industrialized nations. These included higher-yield cultivars, modern irrigation techniques, synthetic fertilizer, and biocides. The idea was to turn farms into factories, with plants as the slave labor – though indigent farm workers also figured in.
Prior to the Green Revolution, many developing countries struggled to feed their burgeoning populations. India was exemplary. Famines were frequent in India from the 150s BF to the 120s BF. Most of the population starved or were malnourished. The Indian government fostered this disaster by not providing financing or adequate compensation to family farmers for their labors.
In terms of sheer productivity, the Green Revolution was a success. Cereal production more than doubled 140–115 BF.
But the externalities of the Green Revolution were extensive. Finer farming through chemistry proved a chimera. The short-lived productivity boon of the Green Revolution was spent as its ersatz alchemy exhausted the soil. In the end, the Green Revolution became another example of political false advertising.
By the end of the 2nd century BF, nearly 40% of Earth’s land surface was given over to agriculture. That figure rose further in the 1st century BF.
The folly that fed humanity emitted 1/3rd of man-made warming emissions. “Expansion of land area used for agriculture is a leading cause of biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the tropics,” explained ecologist Ben Phalan in the early 1st century BF.
As Malthus predicted, the greater abundance of food in the developing world provoked a burgeoning birth rate. World population increased 32% in the quarter century of 140–115 BF: from 3.3 to 4.85 billion.
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Food quality declined in the last century and a half before the fall. This degradation had 2 causes: the industrialization of food and consumer choice.
1st, foods became less nutritious. This downshift owed to selection and industrial processing.
Phytonutrients were the vast array of compounds – over 25,000 – that conferred health benefits in their consumption. “Eating fruits and vegetables without phytochemicals is like drinking the empty calories of a can of soda,” observed 1st-century-BF nutritionist Jed Fahey. Alas, phytochemicals typically had a bitter taste, so growers selected varieties that were sweeter but less nutritious.
Grapefruit exemplify. White grapefruit is high in naringin, a bitter phytonutrient with anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, and anti-cancer properties. Pink & red grapefruit achieve their sweetness in large part by having substantially less naringin.
Florida was the grapefruit capital of North America. In 115 BF, Florida sold 27 million boxes of white grapefruit, and 23 million boxes of the colored varieties. 30 years later, Florida growers shipped twice as many colored grapefruit as they did white ones. 3 decades later, white grapefruit were scarce in produce markets.
The seeds called “grains” were fruits. Grains were some of the most widely consumed foods. Though considered a grain, corn was really a vegetable.
In much of the modern world, wheat was the grain most gobbled. Wheat exemplified how Earthers processed the nutrition out their food.
The bran of a wheat berry is its fibrous outer layer. Eating bran was healthy exercise for the microbes that performed human digestion. The most nutrient-rich kernel was termed the germ.
Taking away the bran and germ leaves wheat a starchy endosperm. The endosperm comprises the bulk of the berry: carbohydrates that don’t deliver much nutrition.
The nutrients in the bran and germ are embedded in oil. That oil can go rancid, ruining the flour by which humans ate wheat. Hence, flour from whole wheat was viable for only a limited time.
Turning wheat into a commodity with a long shelf life required removing most of its nutritional value. Which is exactly what happened.
Deception was leavened into modern commercial bread. The empty calories of white bread were marketed as “building strong bodies 12 ways.” All 12 ways were from synthetic supplements.
Refining rice underwent a similar process: immortalizing the food by robbing it of its nutritional value.
The 2nd way that foods became less nutritious came from what people chose to eat. When they could afford to, people ate more meat and milk products. Neither food was good for the body.
Milk is a mammal’s first food. Mother’s milk is the natural diet of infants. For children, breast feeding conferred health benefits that lasted a lifetime.
Among mammals, only humans drank milk past infancy. The common milk that people consumed came from cows. Cow’s milk had 3 times the protein of mother’s milk. Like all animal protein, milk metabolizes acidically. Calcium, an excellent deacidifier, was drawn from bones to neutralize cow milk’s acidifying effect.
The result of swilling milk was disrupting the digestive system and robbing the body of calcium. Yet cow’s milk was advertised, with government approval, as being calcium-rich and highly nutritious. The deceit derived from touting the chemical ingredients of milk while ignoring how milk was digested and affected the human body.
Moderns consumed more industrially processed foods and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. Created for addictive taste appeal, processed foods had excessive sugar, salt, empty calories, and nutritionally dubious additives. “The food industry became the junk-food industry,” remarked Mark Bittman.
People were excessively fond of sweets. Refined sugar was a major culprit in creating chronic health problems.
To keep their profits sweet, the food industry ladled ever more sugar into their products as the 1st century wore on. They did so because the taste buds of consumers, as their health deteriorated, were desensitized to sweetness.
Processed foods also had a higher environmental impact than nutritious ones. Processing foods to lower nutritional value wasted water, energy, and materials, especially in its packaging. The truly modern Earther food was wrapped in single-use plastic.
Evidenced by their dietary habits, most moderns appeared to know little about nutrition, nor cared to learn. Obesity soared worldwide in the last century, as did chronic diseases from self-induced malnutrition.
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The Green Revolution’s sole focus was the business of food supply, which was only half of the hunger equation. Food security – people’s access to food – stayed shaky for neglected subordinate tribes throughout the world.
There was more than enough food for everyone. The problem was distribution. The quarter of the world’s population that lived in industrialized countries ate half the food. Even in those countries, hunger was commonplace.
The poorest countries exported their food to the richest. Plutocratic control guaranteed chronic food shortages and bouts of famine in poor nations.
This was nothing new. Selective undernourishment had been on the political agenda since history began. “Hunger has always been political,” remarked 1st-century-BF agricultural ecologist Gordon Conway.
In the USA – one of the wealthiest nations – 15% did not get enough to eat, including 25% of the children there. Those who went hungry were in subordinate tribes. Dominants threw out half of the food they had foraged in supermarkets.
“We have the means to wipe hunger and poverty from the face of the Earth,” proclaimed American ruler John Kennedy in 137 BF. Those means were never applied. Aside from measly handouts, governments were indifferent to those in need.
In the early 1st century BF, over 1/3 of the food produced globally was wasted. Meanwhile, 1/3rd of the world’s population went undernourished.
Despite the widespread scarcity of sustenance, food was typically treated as a disposable commodity. That cavalier attitude heightened noticeably in wealthier nations toward the end of the 2nd century BF. “In one day, a supermarket can easily throw out enough to feed over a hundred people. Supermarkets will deliberately overstock because they believe that shoppers like to see full shelves, which give the illusion of infinite abundance,” commented 1st-century-BF ecologist Tristram Stuart.
People in rich nations were egregiously wasteful with their food supplies. Britons threw away 720 million edible eggs in 82 BF. “In poor countries, food loss is primarily due to the lack of storage and transport; while in wealthy nations, food waste is a result of profligacy and inefficiencies toward the end of the food supply chain,” the UN reported that year.
Because of the inefficiency inherent in the disorganized market system, the massive level of food waste equaled the production acreage of land under cultivation. Half of the food grown was not eaten.
The bounty of the seas was also wasted. Even as fish stocks plummeted, ships threw away seafood that was not what they were fishing for. Chucking away catches of edible species was routine. Sardines were not appreciated in some European countries, and so were discarded. Meanwhile, fleets from other countries went out to catch sardines.
Governments ham-handedly attempted to limit overfishing. The result was greater waste. If a vessel hauled in more than its quota, it threw back the rest. 75% of the fish thrown back perished. All told, at least half of what was caught was jettisoned.
Shrimp was an extremely popular seafood. For every kilogram of shrimp caught, over 10 kilos of marine life died.
Like other food waste, blemished fish were discarded. 30% of the fish caught never made it to anyone’s plate.
Less than a decade after Mao Zedong seized power, China suffered a horrendous famine from his erratic governance. Some 50 million Chinese starved between 142 and 138 BF.
Xi Jinping survived those distressing days. When he became China’s commander, Xi instituted a web of edicts to eat “in a civilized and healthy way.” China was the only nation to have a food waste policy.
Food prices in much of the world jumped dramatically in 93 BF. The extensive hunger sparked riots in over a dozen countries. A few regimes in Muslim nations were toppled in subsequent years from civil unrest initiated by the food crisis. That episode of widespread food riots was a harbinger of the decades that followed.
Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine in 78 BF. Both countries were significant grain exporters, including to poorer nations in Africa and Asia. World food prices markedly leapt that year, mostly from national hoarding. Such jumps in food prices became regular events as the fall approached.
Crop yields fell in the last century from a confluence of causes, including heat, extreme weather events, and soil exhaustion. Financial speculation worsened the situation. World food stockpiles diminished.
People eating more meat aggravated the problem of food supply. By the 2nd decade of the last century, livestock were eating more grain than people.
The global food situation sorely deteriorated in the half-century before the fall, as international trade broke down. Famine was an unceasing plague, especially in the poorer countries where hunger had been a chronic problem. In 78 BF, David Beasley, head of the UN food program, foresaw “global destabilization, starvation, and mass migration on an unprecedented scale.” Yet no concerted campaign was conjured to avert that fate.
Starvation took a severe toll in the last century. As it had been during much of their existence, hunger was a leading cause of death during Earther demise.
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Man labeled as noxious those life forms which were imagined as lessening crop yield. Plants not intended which sprouted alongside those sown were weeds. Insects and other creatures considered as downing plant productivity were damned as pests.
To counter these conceived threats, men employed biocides: chemicals meant to selectively deal death to small animals (pesticides) and weeds (herbicides). Biocides had been applied since agriculture took root.
Biocides were invariably bads: fouling the soil and taking lives beyond weeds and pests. Biocides were selectively banned only after their death toll had been proved severe.
The plying of pesticides started in antiquity. Farmers in Sumer dusted sulfur on their Mesopotamian crops 5 millennia before the fall. Contemporaneous Indian texts mention using poisonous plants for pest control.
Ancient Romans slayed insects by burning sulfur. Weeds were treated with salt.
By the 7th century BF, toxins such as arsenic, mercury, and lead were applied to crops to kill pests. In the 400s BF, ants were fed a mixture of honey and arsenic.
Organic pesticides were also employed. Beyond their ample use as produce, plants were long treasured as both medicine and toxin.
Pyrethrum, derived from chrysanthemum flowers, was used as an insecticide from 2500 BF. In the Middle East, pyrethrum long served as a lice remedy. The locals called it Persian powder.
The rise of modern pesticides began during the 2nd World War, when a variety of killer formulas found favor. Among them was DDT. These synthetic biocides were products of USA government-sponsored research.
Potent pesticides were quickly adapted to civilian use when the guns stopped in 155 BF. The triumphalist rhetoric used to describe the war effort was readily translated into the need to fight and win the war on weeds and pests. An American herbicide advertisement in 154 BF read: “Get rid of weeds – now that chemistry has developed an easy, economic method for their destruction.”
These new toxins were inexpensive and enormously popular. Americans were especially enthusiastic, as they were naïve in their love of modern technologies, and in their view of economic growth as “progress.” Common was the mistaken assumption that increasing agricultural output was by definition good – and that this bounty was inextricably tied to modern techniques, including the application of biocides.
The popular American publication Saturday Evening Post published an article on 23 October 146 BF which read: “Airplanes swoop over a field leaving a trail of vapor, engaged in chemical warfare against crop-destroying pests. You’ll also see spray machines squirting selective chemicals which kill weeds but don’t harm the crops.” That vapor was DDT.
Lulled into a false sense of security about “better living through chemistry,” people liberally applied pesticides to “sterilize” their habitat of pests. In the 3 decades following World War 2, pesticide use in the USA leapt 10-fold.
DDT was a colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless biocide. DDT was first synthesized in 226 BF. Its insecticidal activity was discovered in 161 BF.
The American military extensively sprayed DDT in Europe and the Far East during World War 2. They marveled at its lethal potency. When the war ended, DDT garnered vast application, celebrated as “the atomic bomb of the insect world.” The praise was on-point. DDT and other synthetic pesticides wreaked their havoc by ripping apart atoms. “The damage caused by the ionization of atomic fallout and by chemical agents are the same,” noted 2nd-century-BF chemist Americo Mosca.
2nd-century-BF biologist Rachel Carson published a seminal book on biocides in 138 BF, titled Silent Spring. “Since the mid-1940s [150s BF], over 200 basic chemicals have been created for use in killing organisms descried as “pests.” These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes – nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the “good” and the “bad,” to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil – all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the Earth without making it unfit for all life?”
Carson targeted DDT as an especial threat. DDT was readily absorbed into soils, where it actively exposed itself to organisms for decades. DDT worked its way up the food chain, thus incrementally adding to its toxicity on larger predatory animals. DDT was carcinogenic to humans.
The USA government’s agricultural agency fought against forbidding DDT. But Carson’s exposé of DDT’s death-dealing made a public impression that politicians dared not ignore. DDT was banned in the USA in 128 BF, a decade after Silent Spring was published.
DDT continued to be used in Africa and South America to thwart insect-borne diseases, such as malaria. Some countries, notably India, continued to apply DDT to crops until their agriculture utterly failed.
Chemists in the 5th century BF extracted nicotine sulfate from tobacco leaves as an insecticide. But the lethality of nicotine only found copious appreciation from the 110s BF, when pesticides known as neonicotinoids were profusely employed. Neonicotinoids were among the 2nd wave of synthetic biocides.
Neonicotinoids worked by mimicking neurotransmitters: putting nerve cells into terminal overdrive. Though especially deadly to insects in minute quantities, this mechanism debilitated all animals.
Like DDT, neonicotinoids unleashed an insidious pandemic of biocidal damage. Pollinators were pummeled. The loss of pollinating insects by the early 1st century BF abetted plummeting crop yields. Yet neonicotinoids kept being applied in increasing quantities.
A significant fraction of the temporary gains in harvests during the Green Revolution were attributed to biocides. This encouraged their extensive use.
By the early 80s BF, over 4 million tonnes of biocides were applied annually. China was one of the most intensive users, as was Japan.
In fact, biocides made scant difference in crop productivity: only an estimated 8% at most. Meanwhile, “pests” and “weeds” adapted to overcome the chronic toxins.
The impact of pesticides was incalculable. They begat the mass extinction of insects. As insects were critical to the viability of all terrestrial biomes, their diminution was a harbinger.
By the end of the 2nd century BF, the post-war chemical revolution was an entrenched institution. Synthetics of all sorts pervaded modern life. Most were produced using petroleum.
The externalities of chemical syntheses were crippling. Autism, retardation, and other developmental diseases soared in the last century. This diminishment owed to various pollutants, including biocides just to grow food.
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The furless apes of Earth still had pelts on their heads and pubic parts. Especially for women, having attractive hair was an aesthetic concern for over a hundred thousand years. Early combs were made from animal bones and wood.
The word plastic derived from the ancient Greek verb plassein: to mold or shape. Plastics had that facility thanks to their molecular structure as a robust carbon polymer. Long, flexible molecular components (monomers) repetitively bond into a polymer. These polymers may be fiddled as desired. A plastic may be flimsy or stiff, depending upon its chemical composition and thickness.
Synthetic plastic replaced many natural plastics: some just before the source expired. Among natural plastics were the tusks and shells of animals.
Combs illustrate the dilemma. Combs were made from cattle horns for centuries. But ranchers stopped bothering to dehorn their bulls. Combs made from ivory were exquisite. Ivory demand drove elephants to the brink of extinction. Likewise, the shell of the hawksbill turtle had been another favorite for combs. The hawksbill too was taken to the brink.
Looming shortages in natural sources spurred the quest for synthetic plastic. Invented in 193 BF, Bakelite was the 1st man-made plastic. Bakelite was conceived to substitute for shellac, which had been coming from the sticky excretions of the female lac beetle. It took 15,000 beetles 6 months to produce a pound of shellac.
Electricity as a power source started in the early 2nd century BF. The contemporaneous discovery that shellac made an excellent insulator for electrical wires saw shellac’s demand skyrocket.
Plant cellulose was the raw material for the earliest plastics, including celluloid. But petroleum and natural gas proved a cheaper source of the hydrocarbons that comprise plastic. So it was for Bakelite and beyond.
The extensive use of petrol plastics began in the 150s BF. Plastic was precious because it could be fabricated in infinite ways: from films to fabrics to sturdy solids.
Since the invention of bronze 6,000 years earlier, no other substance had as much impact on material production as plastic. The comparison between bronze and plastic was ecologically telling. Bronze had a much longer life and was recyclable.
The thought of recycling plastic did not even enter into the minds of those enthralled by this prodigious wonder. In 145 BF, the popular American magazine Life celebrated the dawn of “throwaway living” thanks to disposable plastics.
Most of the plastic produced was used only once before being thrown away. Only a minuscule fraction of all plastic produced was recycled.
Plastic production went from less than 1 million tonnes in 155 BF to 600 million tonnes in less than a century.
Unsurprisingly, plastic pollution became a severe global problem. Rivers, canals, and beaches became clogged with plastic debris. Massive plastic deposits formed in the world’s oceans, corralled by currents. Soils were contaminated with plastic, affecting crop production.
Countless billions of creatures died from plastic. Marine animals were snared in discarded fishing nets. Degrading plastic had an alluring scent, resulting in fatal indigestion. Plastic underwent physical and chemical transformations as it broke down, increasing toxicity.
Plastic waste permeated the most remote places on Earth, including the deepest ocean trenches and polar caps. By the early 1st century BF, degraded plastic – microplastics – permeated the drinking water and food people ate. Humans contaminated their own blood and cells with plastic.
For all the damage done by plastic, it was a fraction of the rubbish problem. Only 10% of the solid waste discarded was plastic: such was the scope of trash capitalism produced.
No effectual countermeasures were taken to plastic pollution. “A lot of these chemicals and materials are necessary for our lives now,” noted ecologist Carney Almroth in 78 BF. For its convenience, plastic killed billions of creatures.
From prehistoric times, men routinely killed animals as “game.” That term – game – indicates the joy men felt killing for sport. As larger animals were harder to “bring down,” they were especially prized. Trade begat slaughter for profit.
Hominids roamed through Africa and Eurasia for millions of years. Homo erectus and his fellows felled large numbers of large animals with the flint implements they had crafted. Mammoths, elephants, elk, hyenas, and bears were among them. The lion lasted in Europe until classical times.
Over 90% of the sizable animal species which inhabited Australia went extinct 40 millennia before the fall, after the arrival of men who hunted them down. Several of these were large marsupials unique to that continent.
The mastodon was a huge, hirsute beast with a trunk and fearsome tusks. Mastodons lived in the Americas for millions of years. Men encountered mastodons after they arrived on the continent 26,000 years before the fall. 15,000 years later, the mastodon had been hunted to the brink of extinction. A flash freeze finished them off.
The mastodon was but 1 of 35 genera of large American mammals which went extinct in this epoch. Other doomed megafauna included saber-toothed cats, large llamas, massive muskox, and giant ground sloths.
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Mammals stayed small for 10 million years after the mass extinction event that downed the dinosaurs. This gave birds, the direct descendants of dinosaurs, a window of opportunity.
Small herbivorous birds flew to occupy the islands of Madagascar (from Africa), Mauritius (from India) and New Zealand (from Australia). Once there they upsized, becoming too big to be overtaken by the local small predators. Gaining girth weight put getting off the ground out of reach. Being earthbound made them easy pickings when men arrived.
Madagascar was a large tropical island that separated from the landmass which became India 88 MBF. While Madagascar lingered off the east coast of Africa, the Indian subcontinent continued to the northeast, crashing into Asia. Madagascar’s long isolation allowed a wide variety of unique animals and plants to evolve.
Men arrived on Madagascar 1200 BF. They slaughtered the animals which they did not domesticate into livestock. Elephant birds were among those killed off. In the millennium that followed, wanton deforestation drove mass extinction in Madagascar.
Moa in New Zealand suffered the same fate as other flightless birds in the late 9th century BF. 1,500 settlers managed to wipe the moa out in short order.
The Dutch took possession of Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island, in 502 BF. Within 64 years, men had extinguished a fearless, flightless bird, from which came the cliché: “dead as a dodo.”
Early European settlers in North America frequently commented on the countless number of graceful blue pigeons that filled the skies. “There are wild pigeons in winter beyond number or imagination, so thick that they have even shadowed the sky from us,” remarked one the first settlers in Virginia.
Apart from hawks and eagles, passenger pigeons lacked natural predators. These birds were omnivores: eating berries, seeds of all sorts, worms, and small insects. The bounty of Nature let passenger pigeon populations grow to vast numbers.
These pigeons were surprisingly vulnerable to humans. As a female laid only 1 egg a year, losses were not readily replaced. Nesting in immense colonies and migrating in huge flocks rendered the birds easy to attack by murderous beasts.
Native Americans captured passenger pigeons in large nets. By the 470s BF, European settlers were doing the same.
The scale of slaughter was limited until the early 220s BF, when railroads linked the Great Lakes with New York. Then it took only 50 years – supplying cheap meat to the East Coast – to wipe the passenger pigeon out: a bird that once numbered in the billions.
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There was a relentlessness to man’s casual carnage of wildlife. In the last century of civilization, many thousands of animal species were listed as “endangered” before slipping into oblivion. The listing was mere homage.
The toll of mass extinction was far beyond the meager reckoning men belatedly noticed. The tallied statistics of slaughter did no justice to the insouciant snuffing of life that occurred on a legendary scale. It was as bad as the Great Dying: the mass extinction event 252 MBF that had previously overshadowed all others.
The knitting together of economies afforded luxuries which would not otherwise been economical. Albeit unevenly, globalization enriched its participants.
Even in the machine age, labor accounted for 3/4ths or more of the cost of a product. Squeezing out profits by keeping costs low, companies sought to manufacture where labor was cheapest.
Thanks to unionization, workers in the USA had become accustomed to comfortable living in the decades following the 2nd World War. Though extensive poverty still lurked underneath, that country had a sizable middle class, as well as an exceedingly rich upper crust.
American corporations were at the forefront of offshoring: relocating labor-intensive activities to a foreign country where workers could be paid a pittance. Offshoring was the economic inverse of slavery: moving to where labor was cheap rather than importing cheap labor.
Neighboring Mexico was initially favored by American corporations in the early 120s BF, when the trend began percolating. Finished products were shipped back into the USA for sale.
Rich European countries followed the USA’s lead in offshoring to cut labor costs: thus the knit of modern globalization was sewn.
Toward the end of the 2nd century BF, the industrially developing Far East became a favored offshoring region. By the 1st decade of the 1st century BF, China had become the world’s foremost factory. Offshoring crowned China as a great global power in the 7 decades before world civilization collapsed.
Offshoring weakened a nation while strengthening the country that received the work. Workers in the offshoring country lost their jobs and income. Over time, the skills of the labor pool in the offshoring nation withered. This dynamic was influential in the decline of the USA and the rise of China.
While Earth tends to icehouse, hothouse itself was not a detriment to abundant life. Dinosaurs were most prolific when Earth had no ice on its polar caps.
Mass extinction happens with abruptness, whether by changes in climate or geophysical upheaval. Extensive pollution might also snuff life on a massive scale, as it did in the Earther extinction event.
The doom of dinosaurs occurred when a pair of huge bolides slammed into central America and off the coast of west Africa. Each of these fireballs was around 9 kilometers wide.
The collisions produced the most powerful earthquake ever. Impact shock waves coursed through Earth, catalyzing massive floods of basalt and volcanic eruptions on the other side of the planet.
The thermal result was rapid cooling. Dust and soot darkened the skies for nearly 2 years. 5 years after impact, Earth’s atmosphere had chilled 26°C. The soot came from raging wildfires. Underneath the American strike point was a rich reservoir of volatile crude oil, with extensive forests nearby.
Unlike the instant icehouse which did dinosaurs in, humans went out rocketing to hothouse. The dynamics of chemistry meant that humanity’s thermal destiny began in the oceans. Water warms more slowly than air. The breath of Gaia is such that atmospheric heat settles into the seas.
The oceans absorbed 93% of the warmth from greenhouse gas emissions. It took 4 to 3 decades for this vast reservoir of marine heat to equilibrate into the atmosphere. The thermal transfer rate sped up as the world got warmer. The upshot is that doom was baked in before common folk took global warming seriously.
Earth has temperature-sensitive ocean and atmospheric currents. These currents seasonally set weather and occasionally delivered extreme events. The global warming that ensued in the wake of industrial pollutants altered those currents to striking effect.
Storms, floods, and droughts worsened because atmospheric currents stagnated, generating greater intensity. Tornados multiplied and strengthened in biomes which had been subject to them, such as the central and southern USA. So too tropical cyclones on the other side of the world.
The polar vortices were atmospheric currents around Earth’s poles. When strong, the vortices constrained cold air from straying from the poles. These vortices weakened seasonally before global warming altered their dynamics. As the climate warmed, cold air containment became more erratic.
In the early 1st century BF, a sporadically weakened Arctic polar vortex brought frigid winter weather events to the northern hemisphere. Similarly, Australia suffered “polar plunges” when the Antarctic vortex unseasonably lapsed. By the mid-60s BF, these raging cold spells had ceased, as polar frigidity had turned tepid.
Climate change in the 1st century BF had profound pronouncements. Patterns of precipitation intensified as Earth warmed. Biomes tending to aridity dried out whereas those prone to rain were drenched. This water redistribution was calamitous.
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Earth is a watery world. At the start of the 1st century BF, oceans covered 71% of Earth’s surface and held 97% of the planet’s water. 2% was frozen in glaciers and ice caps.
Less than 1% was freshwater. And, until the last century, only 32% of that water was liquid. The rest was frozen: locked up in glaciers and ice caps. All told, only 1/10,000th of 1% of total water on Earth was accessible by plants and animals. In essence, the supply of freshwater was fixed.
Freshwater was essential for all life on land. Before human overpopulation and industrialization, Earth had an abundance of freshwater. By the 2nd century BF, freshwater had become a precious commodity, as humans were polluting it far faster than its resupply. Still, men wasted water as if there were an endless supply.
By the last century, over 2/3rds of the freshwater bodies around the world had been sorely fouled. Groundwater too was dangerously laced with toxic contamination most everywhere.
Economic development depended upon water. Food production and industrial manufacture relied heavily upon freshwater use. These industries took 80–90% of the water consumed.
As with all resources, waste was a matter of financial wealth. People in industrialized nations used 10 times more water at home than those in lesser-developed countries.
By the fall, in many places, Earthers had exhausted their water supply. Some of the worst water shortages were in the most heavily populated countries: India and China. In the end, the death toll from lack of drinkable water exceeded that of famine. Over half of Earthers died in the last century from nothing to drink or eat.
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California was on the west coast of the USA. At the onset of the 1st century BF, 75% of California’s precipitation fell in the northern part of the state. Much of it was winter snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Meanwhile, 75% of the water consumed was in central and southern California.
As such, the Californian economy relied upon an extensive system to porter water south. Without this transport, the Central Valley would have been a grassland rather than one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions. And southern California would have been too parched to populate.
California’s Central Valley comprised 13.7% of the state’s land mass. Covering less than 1% of the country’s cropland, the Central Valley grew 8% of America’s food.
That productivity depended upon massive irrigation. In the early 1st century BF, 17% of the irrigated land in the USA was in the Central Valley.
The intensive agriculture heavily contaminated the groundwater with fertilizers, biocides, and animal wastes. Oil extraction added to the befoulment. The supposed potable water in the Central Valley was not safe to drink.
“Drought is the new normal,” announced California ruler Jerry Brown in 86 BF. The state had got a goodly portion of its water supply from the nearby Colorado River, but that too was near exhaustion.
The state continued to dry out, as did the Colorado River. By the end of the 70s BF, California was rapidly depopulating.
A selfsame dynamic affected other habitats which had been abundant suppliers of food to millions of people. Among them was the Po Valley in northern Italy.
The Po Valley was the drainage basin of the Po River. The Po was Italy’s longest river.
The Po River was fed by snowmelt from the Cottian Alps, which bordered southeast France and northwest Italy. The river flowed east, ending in a delta that dumped into the Adriatic Sea. The city of Venice sat in that delta.
The Po Valley had been inhabited for some 800,000 years. The valley had initially been a refuge from glaciation.
Extensive cultivation in the Po Valley first occurred between the 12th and 9th centuries BF, during a lukewarm climate phase in Europe. Woodland clearance and wetland drainage transformed the natural landscape.
The Po Valley had the advantage of evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year – until the last century. In the 70s BF, drought dried the Po Valley like California’s Central Valley.
The Po Valley also had some of the worst air pollution in Europe. “The Po Valley is unhappily situated for atmospheric pollution in terms of climate and geography. Wind is rare and there are frequent and prolonged episodes of climatic inversion. This means that the air is still,” explained 1st-century-BF Italian environmentalist Damiano Disimine.
From the 2nd century BF, marine species were eliminated at twice the rate of land animals. This initially owed to excessive exploitation and egregious pollution. Then extreme ocean warming took its toll.
Like the extravagant wasting of freshwater, Earth’s oceans were treated as if they were an infinite toilet. By the 2nd decade of the 1st century BF, sea bathing was no longer safe at the world’s beaches.
Ships were always the cheapest, fastest way to move cargo over long distances. Most of the world’s populations lived in coastal areas, and on waterways, for this very reason. Shipping had been the means of global exploration and was the lifeblood of economic globalization in the industrial era.
By the early 1st century BF, over 60,000 colossal ships crisscrossed ocean trade routes. Their propellant was the filthiest petrol: so foul that its use on land was outlawed. The 16 largest ocean cargo ships produced as much sulfur pollution as the entire global fleet of cars. Atmospheric sulfur results in acid rain.
Ship exhaust affected local weather. Chemical agitation intensified thunderstorms above busy shipping lanes.
Large marine mammals were regularly run over by trade ships. The noise of ocean vessels disrupted and shortened the lives of nearby sea creatures.
Much of the world’s oil was transported by ship. Oil spills of all sizes were a regular feature of ocean shipping. Those areas polluted by such a spill did not recover for a century or more. Shipping dotted the oceans with death.
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Coral were colonial marine invertebrates. Individual polyps grew together to form colonies by excreting stony exoskeletons which anchored them to the seabed.
Coral provided the base for reefs which often extended for many kilometers. These reefs were critical buffers preventing shoreline erosion, and thus stabilized their habitat. Further, by their absorption of carbon dioxide, coral reefs helped regulate global temperature.
Coral reefs sat mainly in shallow seas sporting warmish waters. These reefs were sensitive to light, temperature, and water acidity (pH). It took millions of years for Earth’s coral reefs to grow to their peak at the onset of the 2nd century BF.
A keystone species is one that has a disproportionately large effect on the health of its habitat. Keystone species play a vital role in creating and maintaining an ecological community.
Coral reefs formed one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. Though they occupied less than 0.1% of the world’s ocean surface at their peak, coral reefs were home to 25% of all marine species. That set coral among the most significant keystones on Earth. Many modern societies relied upon the seafood bounty provided through coral reefs.
The largest coral system was the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of eastern Australia. It was extinct by 72 BF. Ocean warming, acidification, pollution, and deliberate devastation killed all coral reefs less than a decade later.
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Coral reefs were just one facet of marine extinction. Men mercilessly fished the seas as fiercely as their technology allowed. “Until the 20th century [2nd century BF], the stocks of fish in the vast oceans of the world seemed to be inexhaustible. There was no attempt to limit catches. All effort was put into maximizing exploitation,” wrote English historian Clive Ponting in the early 1st century BF.
As with other environmentally destructive initiatives in the last epoch, the USA was an early promoter of overfishing. Sensing the political struggle, other countries responded in kind.
Fisheries first began collapsing in the late 3rd century BF. Under American encouragement, this accelerated after the 2nd World War. From the early 1st century BF, latecomer China enthusiastically furthered fishery decimation. Robbing the sea of fishes had a domino effect on sea birds and other life that had relied upon healthy oceans.
By the early 60s BF, the seas were spent. Fishing harvests were a tiny fraction of what they had been a century before, when 1/3rd of the world had already been fished out.
Marine warming, acidification, deoxygenation, and chemical pollution extinguished sea life. The final straw was loss of plankton, which humans had not bothered to monitor. The result was catastrophic. By the fall, Earth’s oceans were amid an unprecedented mass extinction event, from which recovery would not begin for nearly a million years.
The omnivore hominin body never adapted to mammal meat as a healthy food source. Further, meat incurred additional burdens beyond its consumption.
Zoonosis was a disease caught from other vertebrates. 60% of the infectious diseases people were subject to derived from eating the meat of land animals. Zoonotic diseases were difficult to control because of their animal reservoirs, viral ones especially so.
Viruses constantly self-evolve in their pursuit of perfecting parasitism. Further, they trade tips on how to infect, become more contagious, and other tradecraft.
Bats had a uniquely impervious immune system. As such, bats were a prolific incubator of zoonotic viruses. Bat’s ability to harbor viruses afforded the viruses time to reside and concoct greater contagion before heading out to infect other animals.
A cold was a disease centered in the breathing system. The “common cold” was among the most frequent contagions people suffered. Rhinoviruses and coronaviruses were responsible for the common cold.
Well over 200 viral strains evolved to cause colds, most of them rhinoviruses. Only 7 strains of coronavirus infected people. ‘Corona’ referred to a protein complex on the surface of the virus which was thought to resemble a regal crown.
Humans first encountered coronaviruses from eating contagious cattle, roughly 3 centuries before the fall. Later outbreaks of new coronavirus strains occurred from eating infected animals.
China had an outbreak of a viral zoonosis called SARS in the winter of 98 BF. SARS was an acronym for “severe acute respiratory syndrome.” CoV1, the 6th cold coronavirus, caused SARS.
SARS had high mortality rate: around 11%. But CoV1 was not very contagious. By the summer of 96 BF, SARS had run its course.
It was a brief trial run. The CoV virus was not done.
The cold called covid was first discovered at the end of 81 BF at a meat market in Hunan, China. CoV2, the mutant daughter of CoV1, caused covid. The animal that introduced V2 to humans was never established.
V2 was a saltation from its predecessor. For starters, V2 was far more infectious and contagious. This partly owed to ramping viral load and expelling contagious bits before causing symptoms in its victims (asymptomatic transmission). People who weren’t sick were unsuspectingly spreading V2. Covid was also much milder than SARS. That helped its spread.
In its inevitable pandemic, V2 had bided its time. Thanks to international air travel, the virus had spread throughout the world months before its coming-out party in Hunan.
A doctor at the Wuhan hospital hit hardest in the initial outbreak said he and colleagues suspected the virus was highly transmissible within a month of its public emergence, weeks before Chinese authorities admitted it. That bureaucratic inertia meant that covid got a good head start in China. Once in gear, the government imposed severe, extended lockdowns to try to stop covid contagion.
China was unable to staunch V2. But, through disciplined measures, China bettered other nations in tamping down viral spread.
Every other nation in the world got months of advance warning that their own covid epidemic was coming. Rather than prepare, governments diddled.
Then the real folly kicked in. Rich Western nations panicked when covid hit them.
Europe was supposedly a functioning supernational government: the European Union (EU). Yet, filled with dread over an unstoppable cold virus, EU coordination was utterly absent. Each nation went its own way: most to ill effect.
The senseless response to the covid pandemic was to shut down the global economy. Governments crushed their nation’s vitality with mobility and social restrictions. Yet scant protection was provided for those most vulnerable to covid: in care homes and those imprisoned by the state. Further, governments failed to provide decent advice and supplies for at-home treatment.
The lockdowns and other measures that China imposed were impressive expressions of totalitarianism. If such determination had been applied to eliminating the sources of industrial self-extinction, humanity would have survived.
Covid restrictions emanated from chronic government ineptitude. Even in the richest nations, healthcare systems were fragile. In the first waves of covid, hospitals were overwhelmed. Some governments confessed that restrictions were imposed in the hope of averting healthcare system collapse.
The prudent response to the covid pandemic would have been to prepare, protect the vulnerable, and otherwise let the virus run its course. That strategy was never considered. Modern men narcissistically prided themselves with the delusion that they could control Nature.
V2 transmission was almost entirely airborne. This route of contagion was clear early on. But it took virologists months to catch on. The sophistic belief that V2 spread by contact resulted in widespread compulsive surface cleaning, to no effect. Meanwhile, the virus merrily went about its business.
V2’s mildness was apparent shortly after its appearance. V2 had scant effect on those in good health. Healthy children were unaffected. At worst, V2 caused a modest cold.
By contrast, those who had not kept themselves healthy might be subject to severe covid. This was a vast majority of adults and far too many children.
At that time, 4 of 5 adults in affected nations were grossly overweight: 2 in 5 obese. In the first 2 years, covid killed 5 million.
It was not the virus that proved fatal. Instead, errant immune systems turned on their own bodies. Terminal covid was an auto-immune disease, caused by a negligent lifestyle.
Mask-wearing was mandated. Vaccines were quickly developed. Nothing thwarted V2. Instead, the wily virus swiftly guided its evolution to become even more contagious and milder. Mass vaccination only raised the bar for V2 to overcome, which it quickly did.
Deglobalization began with the inept response to the covid pandemic. Governments throughout the world pared their economies down to essentials for a year. Unemployment and attendant poverty soared. Lockdowns and restrictions in 80–79 BF shuttered global commerce and migrations.
Restrictions lasted less than 2 years. Then they were abandoned as futile. The panic subsided into resignation.
The pandemic wound down in the spring of 78 BF, after most everyone had encountered V2. The virus remained endemic, with occasional waves of new variants of V2.
V2 culled some of the unhealthiest from the global population. 5 years after the covid pandemic hit, per capita healthcare expenditures in many nations were lower than what they had been before covid struck.
Governmental reaction to the covid pandemic deepened festering societal divisions. Libertarians protested the restrictions which illiberals imposed. Citizens generally became more cynical of their government, as commanders chronically misinformed, and whatever was done was ineffectual.
The covid pandemic showed authorities as asinine in their floundering to manage Nature’s dynamics. The inept response by governments to the covid pandemic heralded self-extinction.
The economic scars of covid social restrictions were considerable. The just-in-time global supply chain which had been developed over decades showed its inherent fragility. Unseen in the rich world for 4 decades, politically pausing globalization set the world on a path of chronic inflation, with effects which rippled on until the end of world civilization.
Authorities seemed to learn little from the covid pandemic. Foremost, healthcare systems were not improved. Many left the health profession after the stressful experience of governmental negligence and abuse by patients during the first years of the covid pandemic.
Covid was exemplary of a larger trend in the last century. Habitat disruptions from warming and changes in precipitation patterns aggravated the incidence of many zoonoses. Weather events brought people and morbific organisms together. For instance, floods raised the risk of encountering water-borne pathogens. Parasites enjoyed Earthers extinguishing themselves.
Earther’s demise reflected political will. The horrific wars of the 2nd century BF were incited by elected governments. The unrelenting drive to self-extinction was egged on by the wealthiest democracies. One need only glance at a political map of the modern world – splintered into hundreds of nations – to realize that the disciplined cooperation necessary for survival would elude Earthers.
The gyre that ended humanity was an incremental procession. The roads upon which horse-driven wagons had traveled for millennia became highways for motor cars which spewed their damaging exhausts into the skies. Nonexistent was the modern commander who had the vision to stop adoption of a technology which provided convenience but doomed future generations.
Theft from the next generation was government policy. Accumulating sovereign debt via deficit state spending was universal. Especially in democracies, politicians stayed in power by doling out money that wasn’t theirs to spend.
That is not to say that the end times could not have been put off. Egregious pollution was allowed despite being recognized for what it was.
It was abundantly apparent by the early 2nd century BF that humanity was on an unsustainable path. The courage it would have took to avert the inevitable did not appear.
The reckless Roaring Twenties in the USA came to a crashing halt in 171 BF. The Great Depression ensued.
That prolonged depression came from unbridled capitalism. Its malaise lingered through the 160s BF. No systemic cure was attempted. Instead, the world’s rulers fumbled for a decade before embarking on another destructive folly.
A tipping point is a critical moment in a complex gyre which produces an irrevocable change. For men, that year was 160 BF, when the commanders of wealthy nations engulfed the planet in a 2nd World War. Global air surface temperature shot up in 160 BF as factories geared up for mass destruction. From then there was no turning back from trends that propelled the world of men to self-immolation.
Instead of making the 2nd World War the “war to end all wars,” men more tightly hewed to militarism. Extensive nuclear bomb tests explosively showed contempt for peace. Military budgets only declined for a few years after the 2nd Great War before rising again.
The continuing trend of militarism did not abate. Instead, conflicts in the 1st century BF accelerated man’s demise. Men went out awash in war: combat that changed only in severity since fisticuffs were first considered a way to settle disputes.
In their own ways, road building, industrialization, urbanization, and biocides expressed unrelenting war on Nature. Even those supporting this endeavor noticed that it could not be sustained. By 141 BF, the American oil industry was aware that the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels was a global threat.
In 135 BF, an advisory committee informed USA ruler Lyndon Johnson: “Pollutants have altered on a global scale the content of the air.” Summarizing the findings, the head of the American oil industry research institute foretold, “Time is running out.” Nothing was done.
Formed in 132 BF, the Club of Rome was an informal league of scientists, economists, businessmen, and political leaders who pondered pressing global issues. Its focus sharpened the next year.
In 131 BF, UN ruler U Thant worried that humanity was running out of time to address its chronic problems. Nations “have perhaps 10 years left in which to subordinate their ancient quarrels and launch a global partnership to curb the arms race, to improve the human environment, to defuse the population explosion, and to supply the required momentum to development efforts. If not, these problems will have reached such staggering proportions that they will be beyond our capacity to control.”
On the heels of U Thant’s lament, in 128 BF, the Club of Rome issued its 1st report, titled The Limits to Growth. The authors optimistically concluded: “It is possible to alter growth trends and establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future.” Yet this “brain trust” gave no roadmap for transition.
The Club’s report was in the realm of environmental economics. Though the desecration of Nature had been a concern to astute observers since antiquity, environmental economics only secured an academic niche in the 130s BF. Of principal concern to environmental economists were the consequences from failures in the market system.
The UN burnished the illusory glow of “sustainability” in a report published in 113 BF: “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The business of capitalism always was exploitation. As such, sustainability was framed in how much extraction and damage Nature could take before men passed the tipping point into irreversible self-extinction. Sustainability was never more than academic speculation.
Sustainability was a shifting sand. Population level, resource extraction rate, environmental degradation, and biospheric dynamics (e.g., global warming) all factored in. The sustainability graph dramatically highlights how quickly Earthers extinguished themselves, with no pause in their drive to self-extinction. Their fall was precipitous.
Not accounted for in the graph is the societal breakdown which transpired in the last few decades, as world civilization crumbled. Fittingly, the death of comity was the final nail in the coffin of humanity.
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Fossil fuel companies understood their contribution to self-extinction. In 109 BF, Shell Oil released a publicity film which acknowledged the “possibility of change too fast for life to adapt without severe dislocation.”
But the rulers of fossil fuels quickly realized that such a dire message would result in an unprofitable dislocation for themselves. Their mission was to make money, not save the planet. So, the oil industry dug in their heels with denial. In 103 BF, Mobil Oil advertised: “Let’s face it: the science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil.” That corporate stance stuck in plutocratic states, even after the United Nations warned that time was running out.
A summit held in Paris 85 BF brought forth pledges from 195 nations to curb emissions. Those promises were meager yet went unmet. Repeated international climate summits in the decades that followed resulted in more vows only met in the breach.
In the 1st century BF, China was the largest producer and consumer of coal, which it used to generate electricity. In 80 BF, China promised to reduce its coal habit. But expediency won out. China’s economy slowed owing to its response to the covid pandemic. In 78 BF, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said that sustainability should not come at the expense of “normal life.”
This sentiment – fidelity to expediency – echoed worldwide. States repeatedly backpedaled from their pledges to abandon fossil fuels. Contemporaneous with China’s coal decision, the USA ramped its petrol production to counter a tiny rise in the price of oil.
The European Union had vowed to lessen Europe’s warming emissions. On that they would not backtrack. But there was no way that Europe was going to meet that promise. So, in 78 BF, the EU reclassified methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as environmentally benign (“sustainable”). EU ruler Ursula von der Leyen stated the priority: to “protect our single market and industrial supply chains from disruptions.” Such expediency made a mockery of addressing global warming.
Public alarm over self-extinction did not erupt until the mid-70s BF, when it was already far too late. This owed to studied ignorance.
By the late 2nd century BF, the continuing cruelty of an exploitative political economy and indifference by authorities to injustice, poverty, and suffering made reading the news a dreary experience. The situation only worsened in the 1st century BF, as reports of civil discord, pollution, and catastrophe became more frequent and disheartening.
Many gave up on reading newspapers. “People need to have something to believe in. People need to have a sense of possibility,” said 1st-century-BF journalist David Bornstein.
But the function of news was to inform, not appease. Bornstein’s sentiment was symptomatic of the lack of fortitude common among peoples in post-industrial nations.
There was a widespread sense of entitlement among the middle and upper classes. Though aware of the massive desecration of Nature, very few changed their habits of unsustainable consumption. “Enjoy it while it lasts” was the tacit logic. Meanwhile, those in the lower class struggled as they had throughout history.
Therein lay the core problem of democracy, which relied upon an informed electorate as a platform for choosing apt leaders. In the last century, as the global situation grew more dire, political regimes stayed conservative because electorates preferred the false promises of politicians pledging to bring back “the good old days.”
Despite the extensive litany of destruction, the unfolding mass extinction event was invariably labeled “climate change.” Extreme weather events around the world increased in frequency and intensity: heat waves, wildfires, flash floods, drought, dying crops.
Yet global media still bubbled with cautious optimism. There was time for remedy. Incremental countermeasures might suffice. So-called “green” technologies were fawned upon, especially solar panels and electric cars.
A bold few suggested systemic change to the global political economy. Such prophetic radicalism went nowhere.
The death toll ratcheted into a higher gear in the 3rd decade of the last century. Even then, most people simply did not think self-extinction possible. Those concerned with the possibility still considered it a distant prospect.
The only real hope of averting self-extinction would have been to recognize the nature and scope of the dilemma and systemically address it. Instead, people invested in ignorance and fantasy.
Authorities hid their nation’s polluting emissions. They did so by tacit agreement among the most polluting countries, notably the USA, China, India, and Australia. As the methane example illustrates, Europe joined in.
Pledges to do something substantive about global warming were based upon falsified data. This deception was noted by UN head António Guterres in 78 BF: “Government and business leaders are saying one thing but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic.”
The gap between reported and actual emissions grew alongside public alarm. By 75 BF, reporting of warming emissions was at least 1/3rd less than actual.
The successful campaign to species suicide was spearheaded by conservative politicians, abetted by corporate media. They deceived and a gullible public believed. The result was inaction until it was far too late to effect a cure.
The corporate press was beholden to the status quo by dint of being owned by those who profited from keeping things as they were. They used trickery to mislead their readers: reporting events yet understating the apparent trend. Even into the late 70s BF, corporate media stuck to the theme that there was hope for a better future. This concerted deception made the collapse of civilization seem sudden to hapless humans comforted by their conformity.
From the late 2nd century BF, climatologists employed mathematical models to track the pace of global warming. They consistently projected less warming than what occurred. This serial conservatism owed partly to relying upon rigged data, partly to the models, and partly to the modelers themselves.
As computers grew more powerful, climate models evolved to greater complexity. This afforded a better handle on dynamics. But models still underestimated feedbacks among climate factors, and thereby the pace of change and harshness of events.
For instance, what was going on in the upper atmosphere affected the rate of polar melt as well as the severity of storms, floods, and droughts worldwide. But modeling the stratosphere took cracking computations that taxed even the most powerful machines. As such, climate models understated what was happening at the poles and the increasing toll of destructive weather events.
In the early 1st century BF, polar ice was melting at twice the rate predicted. The underestimate owed to the perspective employed. Satellites in space were being used to monitor the extent of changes at the poles. This aerial view missed massive melt from underneath, relentlessly chewing away at glacial foundations. As such, climate models did not sufficiently factor in basal thaw, including the feedbacks inherent in that gnawing dynamic.
Climate models were the crystal balls which affected public policy: especially from the 70s BF on, as the economic knocks of global warming became more pronounced. Politicians had enough to deal with without predictions of impending demise breathing down their necks. To those in power, doomsaying was damnable.
Modelers considered a wide range of scenarios. Whereas models’ worst-case projections more closely corresponded to what happened, modelers chose more moderate predictions as likely. Climate modelers seemed loath to upset their paymasters with alarming forecasts. John Fyfe was typical of climatologists when he cautioned in 80 BF that “it’s a bit too early to get wound up” about global warming. Being blasé was jolted away 2 years later.
78 BF was a watershed year in extreme weather events. Heat waves, wildfires, storms, floods, and droughts hit hard around the world. Glacial ice was melting at a startling pace. This prompted climatologist Joerg Schaefer to say: “All of the predictions are way too conservative. The change will be much faster.”
The pollution and waste which propelled self-extinction were inherent to plutocratic capitalism. Rulers knew that they were murdering humanity but did it anyway. Even when tens of millions were dying annually from the consequences, the drive toward demise stayed stuck in high gear.
“Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all,” marveled English economist John Maynard Keynes in the early 2nd century BF. Mankind propelled by myopic selfishness could not possibly have a happy ending.
The pressing global dilemma necessitated a coordinated reversal in the political economy which was driving humanity to a dead end. What happened instead was ineffectual.
From the 2nd decade of the last century, politicians felt rising pressure to address “climate change.” Much lip service was paid but no remedy proffered. The covid pandemic had already shown with how little wisdom the world was governed. Plutocracy retained its grip.
The sensible response to save humanity was sustainable socialism. That turnabout was untenable.
The time horizon for politicians in democracies was whatever the local election cycle was. Staying in power was paramount. That meant expediency always trumped solution.
Nationalization and dictatorial rule were tried several times in the modern epoch. The only autocrat to artfully pull it off was Josip Tito of Yugoslavia, in the mid-2nd century BF. Tito’s objective in crafting a command economy was to make Yugoslavia prosper. He did so through increased industrialization. Tito was no role model for how man might overcome its chronic overexploitation of Nature.
By contrast, Cuba exemplified a country wobbling in the right direction. Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 141 BF. He dictated for the next half-century, during which the country economically and socially struggled. The USA, a natural trading partner, kept an embargo against Cuba because of Castro’s socialism.
Castro embraced environmentalism, though he never managed to forge an economy which was ecologically sustainable. Continuing political dissent suggests that Cuban society never accepted Castro’s vision. Castro’s heavy-handed governing style did not help his cause. After Castro died, Cuba inched back toward a market system as the nation economically and socially struggled.
In the last century, Xi Jinping of China could not have been better poised to shift that state toward survival. He demurred from the Herculean task, confining himself to measures which entrenched his power and expanded China’s geopolitical influence.
A few nations making the ‘right’ move was never going to be enough. To “save the planet” would have required a global effort of economic restraint, along with systematic and systemic coordination. Such an endeavor was not beyond man’s capacity, but it was well outside their willingness to try.
Voters in democracies continued to elect conservative governments through the 70s BF. Rather than sensibly lead the way, politicians managed their constituents’ myopia by appealing to sentiments which kept the status quo entrenched. Exploitative capitalism continued its dominion.
The very idea of rejecting capitalism for state-run socialism was beyond the pale for majorities in electorates, even those who would have greatly benefited from it.
Conservatism was a stolid political bedrock of inertia. Its foundation was a stiff mixture of selfishness, fear, gullibility, hopeful ignorance, and belief in plutocracy.
The USA was exemplary in its deep distaste for equitable societal management. The dominant tribe of ill-educated whites feared usurpation of their station from those they had long oppressed. The dominance of American conservatism only broke in a wave of panic toward the middle of the last century.
From the early 60s BF, around the world, the bitter fruits of capitalism were met with growing public clamor for radical action. This global revulsion owed to youth whose futures had been robbed, and a mounting death toll, which was over a hundred million people per year by the close of that decade.
Strident protests against the system for self-extinction were first met with brutality by police. That changed in the 50s BF, as minions of the state realized their predicament: trying to protect the power of an unsustainable status quo. The breakdown in civil order spelt collapse.
Humans lived during an era of low sea levels, unmatched for 190 million years. Global sea level rise noticeably began in 237 BF, just as industrialization was starting. The lift first owed to warming water. The rise was then augmented by glacial melt.
Marine expansion was inexorable. Soaring global warming in the last century accelerated it.
Rising seas increasingly flooded ocean islands and continental coastal areas. East Asia and the southern Indian subcontinent were the worst affected.
Founded in 32nd century BF, the city of Venice, Italy, was built upon 118 small islands in a shallow lagoon. The islands were separated by canals and linked by over 400 bridges.
During the Middle Ages, wealthy Venice was an intercontinental trade hub, the 1st international financial center, and a locus of exquisite art and music. Venice was the most beautiful city Earthers ever built. Beset by worsening floods in the last 2 centuries, submerging Venice was abandoned in the mid-1st century BF.
Dozens of coastal and island cities sank faster than the rate of sea level rise. That owed to groundwater draw dropping elevation.
Jakarta, Indonesia, was home to 10 million people in 80 BF. By that time, its air quality was among the worst of national capitals in the world. Considering how unbreathable air had become in many places, this was one mean feat. But bad air was not what did Jakarta in.
Jakarta was sinking 25 centimeters per year as its people unsustainably drew water from underground aquifers. This, combined with rising sea levels, sank Jakarta.
The Indonesian government did not try to save Jakarta. Instead, in 74 BF, the capital was moved to a newly built city on another island over 1,000 kilometers away. Like Venice, Jakarta was abandoned by the mid-1st century BF.
Island cities were not alone in being inundated. Coastal cities in China and India were done in by storm-induced flooding.
Warmer air holds more water vapor than cooler air. Wind-driven storms aside, rainfalls became increasingly intense, flooding low-lying areas. A perennially popular locale for settlements, flood plains earned their name in the last century. Water saturation was compounded by an urban heat-island effect: concrete-laden cities warm the air around them, urging fierce rainstorms.
Numerous cities in the south China coastal province of Guangdong were lost to flooding. Guangdong had been a maritime trading center since antiquity. By the late 2nd century BF, Guangdong had also become the most populous province in China.
Mumbai was a city on the west coast of India, facing the Arabian Sea. Mumbai began in the 25th century BF. In 255 BF, this archipelago of 7 islands artificially became a single landmass via landfill.
By the last century, Mumbai was the 2nd-most populous city in India. Thanks to unchecked pollution, Mumbai’s air was barely breathable.
The Mumbai monsoon season ran between June and September. The city often flooded then from the 2nd century BF on. Tropical storms repeatedly pummeled Mumbai with increasing intensity in the last century. Flooding became chronic. Mumbai was abandoned mid-1st century BF.
On the opposite side of India from Mumbai was the Bengal biome: a flood plain facing the Bay of Bengal. Fed by the Ganges and other rivers, this lush, tropical region was the largest river delta in the world. Bengal comprised coastal east India (West Bengal) and Bangladesh.
Bengal had been populated for hundreds of thousands of years. By the 1st century BF, people were crammed into dense seaport cities.
Storms and flooding worsened in Bengal in the last century. As a result, some 250 million people there were displaced or died prematurely by the end of the 30s BF.
Cities on the east and southern coasts of the USA were increasingly battered by storms and attendant flooding. Among others, the southern cities of New Orleans and Miami were abandoned by mid-1st century BF. The economic collapse of New York City in the late 40s BF owed partly to storm damage and flooding.
In the last 8 decades of Earther existence, island nations throughout Oceania were repeatedly pummeled by increasingly severe storms. Once episodic, flooding became chronic.
Hundreds of Polynesian islands with sizable populations were cleansed of human habitation by 65 BF. A modest rise in sea level by that time brought “king” tides which deposited salt water inland, making groundwater undrinkable and salting vegetation to death. Seasonal cyclones of increasing intensity further made such islands uninhabitable. Many Polynesians migrated before then.
Sea levels rose for hundreds of millennia after the fall. The oceans swallowed thousands of islands and overran low-lying continental shelves. Sea levels peaked at a height last seen 50 million years earlier. Along with climate, high sea level affected biomes worldwide, and subsequently the evolution of the animals and plants which survived the Earther mass extinction event.
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Heating Earth’s oceans put pressure on its nether regions. The upshot was tremorous and volcanic. “Water largely initiates and fuels volcanic eruptions,” explained 1st-century-BF volcanologist Dan Rasmussen.
Eruptions and earthquakes became more frequent in the last century, and even worse in the millennia that followed Earther’s demise.
Geophysical violence ruined the habitability of numerous Pacific islands. Japan was one of them.
Japan spanned an archipelago of 6,852 islands, with 5 main islands. It was densely urbanized.
Japan sat on or near the boundaries of 4 tectonic plates. The most active was the Nankai Trough, a subduction zone just south of the Tokyo region. In the trough was the Kumano Pluton: a huge boulder that amplified the turbulence of marine heating.
Unsurprisingly, Japan had a long history of earthquakes and huge waves known as tsunamis. Tsunami is Japanese for “harbor wave.”
Japan was wracked by quakes and tsunamis before world civilization collapsed. The resultant infrastructure destruction accelerated the demise of that country.
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In the finale of humanity, Earth’s biomes turned adverse. Bursts of extreme heat intensified. Polar ice profusely melted. But the hotting up was the worst in the tropics. Drought, wildfires, and severe storms added to the thermal toll.
Dust alters biomes. Dust affects cloud formation. Dust from north Africa and Arabia intensified monsoons in India. For thousands of years, iron-laden dust from the Sahara Desert in north Africa fertilized the Amazon basin and the nutrient-poor wetlands of south Florida.
1st-century-BF desertification created vast fields of dust. Sandstorms worsened in the last century, taking many lives in north Africa, the Middle East, central Asia, and China.
Refugee migrations from wars and political repression were a historical continuum. These worsened in the last century. What supplemented the refugee waves were people fleeing inhospitable habitats, water shortages, and famine.
Indecency by authorities in coping with refugees added to the death toll and societal breakdown. Nationalism and racism (by dominant tribes) begat isolationism when it came to migrants, who were often refused or otherwise herded into the purgatory of detention camps.
Global food yields peaked in the early 1st century BF. Crop failures and outright depopulation on a mass scale became regular events from the late 70s BF. Heatwaves, drought, flooding, and storms all played their part.
As California exemplified, projects to preserve water supplies or relocate were scattershot and haphazard, even though there was advance warning for at least a half century before the problem became critical.
The human population of the Middle East – the cradle of Western civilization – peaked around 80 BF at ~412 million people. By 70 BF this region was roasting year-round. 2 decades later, by 50 BF, 70% of the population had succumbed. The rest migrated or died off within the next quarter-century.
The Indian subcontinent comprised India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In the century and a half before the fall, the region’s people tripled. Population peaked at 1.8 billion people around 65 BF. 20 years later, the population had halved. In the last years, fewer than a million survived, in remote areas at higher elevations (the Himalayas).
The Indian subcontinent followed the thermal arc of the Middle East, albeit abetted by incredible levels of air and water pollution, especially in urban areas. Torrid heatwaves assailed the Indian subcontinent from the early 1st century BF.
In the 70s BF, huge mountains of garbage near Delhi, India’s capital, spontaneously combusted during scorching heatwaves. The fires started in methane pockets from organic decomposition. These towering infernos burned for weeks, releasing huge clouds of noxious smoke. Other cities in India also had such rubbish fires.
Storms and drought also took their toll on Indian cities, as did freshwater shortages in many areas. Meanwhile, coastal areas went underwater.
India was the 3rd biggest contributor to global warming, behind the USA and China. Even toward the mid-1st century BF, India made scant reduction in coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions. And the state persistently lied about its environmental circumstance.
India’s government was indelibly corrupt. It engendered religious violence (Hindu on Muslim), maintained casteism, and spent exorbitantly on armaments, all the while leaving most of its people impoverished.
As in many other nations, India’s fall was marked by riots and brutal police reaction. On its way out, India tore itself apart with savagery. It was a vicious terminus for a country that began with strong spirituality.
The USA also met a violent end. After extensive rioting over shortages, the nation collapsed into a brief civil war which more resembled serial massacres. A militaristic minority – right-wing whites – were heavily armed. They coalesced into roving gangs. The last survivors scrounged packaged foods and drank bottled water until disease or starvation took them.
Europe’s end was more sedate. Though societally significant, rioting played a minor part. Governments lasted longer in Europe than in the USA. Unsurprisingly, the disciplined northern nations fared better than southern Europe, which descended into terminal chaos.
In the last 2 decades, only a few island nations managed to sustain a semblance of civility. New Zealand was one of the last places where Earthers lived that way.
Neighboring Australia, chronically mismanaged and ecologically abused, succumbed earlier. Its last settlements were in coastal areas at higher elevations, and in Tasmania, the large island south of the main continent. As with much of the still-habitable world, crop failures were instrumental in Australia’s demise.
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Earther’s end was death by a thousand self-imposed cuts. What made their extinction inevitable was institutional inertia: hewing to an unsustainable political economy. Plutocracy ruled until money lost its power. Humanity choked on its own conservatism.
Humanity’s last, best hope to overcome its terminal malaise was education: the key opportunity which altriciality afforded. Instead, Collective wisdom dimmed. Western societies exemplified loss of acumen. Rationality had played a larger role in public discourse during industrialization, from the mid-3rd century BF. Use of words associated with logic rose, such as “determine” and “conclusion.”
This rise in reasoning reversed from the 110s BF, when emotive statements, such as “feel” and “believe,” revived as parlance. “This change accelerated around 2007 [93 BF], when the frequency of fact-related words dropped, while emotion-laden language surged: a trend paralleled by a shift from collectivistic to individualistic language,” observed 1st-century-BF sociologist Marten Scheffer.
The civilization of men was a thin veneer. Despite the guise of democracy, nations held together not by consensus, but by the state’s implicit threat of violence against those who contravened its command. When disorder became the norm, the power of the state evaporated.
The collapse of institutions worldwide resulted in rapid decimation. The spasm of violence that attended governments losing their grip cost over a billion lives. This was a sordid refraction of how civilizations had first formed: subjugation under the threat of death.
Scattered pockets of people who lived in high latitudes survived the demise of civilization for a few decades. Many of them were autochthones. They had lived close to Nature and were fortunate to be in a habitat that still offered clean water and a food supply, including the ability to grow crops. Many of these survivors lived in remote mountainous regions.
From a geological perspective, Earther’s manufactured mass extinction event was sharp and short. Though there was a momentum of unsustainability from antiquity, men wiped themselves out with their industrial advance in a mere 3 centuries.
Earthers drove many other animals extinct as they were doing themselves in. By the fall, many land animal populations were down 99% from what they had been only 3 centuries earlier, before industrialization accelerated the demise. The marine death toll was even worse.
Earther’s engine of pollution died when the machines fell silent. Lowered albedo and increased volcanic activity extended the warming effect. But, within a half million years, tropical biomes were again becoming tolerable.
As with other mass extinction events on Earth, plants were not as severely affected as animals, and their recovery quicker. The return of vibrant land animal life took much longer to get into swing: nearly 1 million years. Considering how severe the loss of life had been, recuperation was remarkably swift.
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The passing of man ended a planetary plague. Hominids were survived by their cleverer cousins: rodents, the first mammals. In the pecking order of animals, Earth reverted to a semblance of its situation before dinosaur demise.
Only 4 groups of terrestrial vertebrates evolved on Earth: amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. The outlier was the one with feathers and wings, and a brain unlike any other. The birds of Earth are a highly distinctive animal.
Avians were an adept adaptation from larger dinosaurs. They emerged in their refined form 160 MBF, following 50 million years of experimental evolution.
Birds became itty-bitty by skipping the juvenile growth spurt that gave dinosaurs their girth. Like hominids, birds descended via neoteny.
In size, avians appeared a reversion back to the earliest dinosaurs, who were quite small. Miniaturization afforded flight and the novel opportunities that went with it.
Birds were sorely hit by the Earther mass extinction event. Destruction of their habitats and food supplies downed birds to scant species in small numbers. But they endured.
The rejuvenation of birds was a phoenixity. Avian adaptability was their redemption.
The radiation of birds in the post-Earther era was an echo of post-dinosaur radiation, 65 million years earlier. The avian species that survived recovered and evolved. There was a flurry of new birds and mammals to take advantage of the hospitable habitats that plants were providing.
The absence of men allowed the widespread revival of robust flightless birds. The secret of their success owed in large part to what men lacked: restraint, and a conviviality that let them live peaceably together in grand flocks.