PART ONE: PRIOR MASS EXTINCTIONS
4.5-billion years ago. A cloud of stellar dust revolves around a single star. The cloud congeals. A new planet is born. Much later, its inhabitants will name it Earth and its star the Sun. Barren and toxic, the planet cannot support life.
4.3-billion years ago. A rogue-planet, later to be called Theia, collides with the new planet. A giant piece of molten matter hurtles into space. Much later, Earthly inhabitants will name the ejected, congealing mass the Moon. This new, lunar satellite with its orbit around the new planet stabilizes the orbit of the latter around its unitary star, the Sun. With the subsequent formation of tectonic plates and the presence of water, the new planet begins to become habitable, allowing the Age of Invertebrates to dawn.
Initial creatures are simple — soft-bodied, unicellular. They remain essentially so for another 3.7-billion years. Dividing to reproduce, they generally create exact copies of themselves generation after generation after generation. Some species survive relatively unchanged until today(1).
550-million years ago. An inescapable, cosmic pressure towards increasingly high and more complex organization, a kind of anti-entropy, creates the first, multi-cellular organisms. The rest of the tale becomes history — mainly pre-history.
Once living organisms become multi-cellular, survival becomes increasingly precarious — for individuals and species. With the dawn of multi-cellularity, the new planet hosts an addition to the repertoire of reproduction.
For the new, more complex organisms with their more complex, heterosexual differentiation into female and male, the process for the life-cycle becomes birthing, maturing, reproducing, dying. Heterosexual reproduction allows for rapid differentiation of species — one from another, so evolution accelerates for predators to find prey and for prey to escape predators. Sudden, brutish termination of life becomes a way of life.
Termination of life comes in many forms. The most devastating is a major mass-extinction whereby a disastrous environmental or biological event destroys a substantial portion of all living creatures — animal and plant; predator and prey. In addition, minor, less devastating extinctions continually add to the ever-present risk of a major one.
Mass-extinction. Happened before. Happening now.
Evolution of Animals
Species come. Species go.
Fully 99% of all species ever existing have gone. Currently, there may be as many as 14-million species remaining. Ah, but for how much longer?
Notes & References
1. The term, species, represents a concept both of classification and evolution. Darwin himself was skeptical of the concept; yet, clearly there are reproductive separations between groups of animals and plants. Accordingly the term and the concept have operational value. See, for example, “The Evolutionary Truth About Living Fossils”. American Scientist 102: 434-443 (November 2014).
PART TWO: CHANGE AND COMPLEXITY
540-million years ago. Arachnids, some of large proportions, evolve with hard exoskeletons. Many are fierce predators, including giant scorpions.
500-million years ago. The Age of Vertebrates dawns in the form of fish. Early species have no jaws. With their evolution, killing becomes even more brutish.
450-million years ago. The first, major mass-extinction occurs followed by a second a few million years later. We know not a great deal about either. Changes in climate, possibly related to volcanic activity, may have been a factor, if not the cause. Volcanoes were and are the primary source of atmospheric pollution and a major source of climatic change, secondary only to the dynamic relationship between Earth and Sun.
400-million years ago. Insects evolve. Jawed, fleshy-lobed fish venture from their aquatic habitats. The Age of Amphibians dawns. The new species flourish in numbers and grow in size. They will rule for 70-million years until the Age of Reptiles.
350-million years ago. The first reptiles appear. Laying eggs with hard-shells, unlike their amphibian predecessors, they no longer are slaves to bodies of water. Consequence? The new species flourish in numbers and grow in size, displacing amphibians.
Geologically, the continents join, forming a single super-continent — Panagaea. Of note, consolidation of the separate continents into one super-continent could occur again sometime during the next 300-million years from today.
Forests of conifers appear. Large, mammalian-like, reptilian herbivores roam the Earth in huge numbers.
250-million years ago. A third mass-extinction occurs. The cause? A massive drought covering Pangaea. The drought will last millions of years.
The extinction exterminates 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates. Consequence? The Age of the Dinosaur — an era that will last 180-million years. Predatory dinosaurs exterminate many other species of reptile and prevent the small mammals that have evolved from flourishing in numbers and growing in size.
65-million years ago. Another major mass-extinction occurs about the time that a large asteroid collides with Earth. Whether that event is the sole cause remains today a point of contention. Whatever the case, the extinction exterminates all non-avian dinosaurs as well as all other flying reptiles. Consequence? The Age of the Mammal — an era lasting to the present. For how much longer?
Climatic changes come. Climatic changes go. Recent contributions by us humans? Puny by comparison.
530-million years ago. Oxygen-levels are 70% of those of today. There is no terrestrial life.
300-million years ago. The temperature is 80% of that today. Oxygen-levels are 40% those of today. They will rise by the time that the Age of Reptiles dawns.
250-million years ago. The temperature has risen to 160% warmer than that today. Desertification increases over Pagaea then decreases.
240-million years ago. The temperature decreases to 140% of that today. Desertification ends. The climate becomes warm and humid.
Anatomically Modern Man (AMM)
The exact time when the earliest, direct progenitors of Anatomically Modern Man (i.e., Homo sapiens) appear remains uncertain — perhaps as long ago as 4.5-million years; some experts claim only 2-million. The origin of our nearest, now-extinct cousin, however, does not occur until sometime around 150,000 to 260,000 years ago. It comes in the form of the now-named Homo neanderthalis, the Neanderthals, after Joachim Neander (1650-1680). Much later will come the problematic classification known as Cro-Magnon. Then the current AMM — us.
Of note, both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons have larger cerebral capacities than AMM but are less encephalized. Size alone is not the determining factor in intellectual function. Also of note, it appears that AMM interbreeds with both our cousins, and genetic remnants thereof remain within us.
By 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals largely have disappeared, unable to adapt to climatic change and competition with Homo sapiens. By 10,000 years ago, Cro-Magnon disappear.
Precisely, when does AMM actually appear? The answer remains controversial. Perhaps, as remotely as 70,000 years ago; perhaps, as recently as 40,000. Whatever the case, we Homo sapiens will remain until the present. For how much longer?
About the time of the extinction of Cro-Magnon, the earliest, human villages appear. Actually, the first structures are religious temples around which villages form. Contrary to the notion of many an atheist of today, firstly a temple then a village. That chronological order confirms the importance of religion throughout the history of human civilization
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” -Shakespeare: Hamlet
See “If Not For Thee” at . . . http://nationonfire.com/ .
It is not until approximately 5,000 years ago that complex, human civilizations, such as the Egyptian, begin to appear. Thereafter, spread of civilizations and increase in human population becomes parabolic.
Consequence? Disaster for most other species.
PART THREE: THE CURRENT MASS EXTINCTION
10,000-years ago. Agriculture appears. The human population is approximately 5-million.
3,000-years ago. Humans number 200-million.
200-years ago. Humans number 1-billion.
Now. Humans number >7-billion.
35-years from now. Humans will number 9.5-billion — should humans still exist.
Since 1800 AD, the consequences of the parabolic increase in human reproducing have been disastrous upon the environment and upon many of its species. We humans have exterminated thousands of other species; such as the Dodo and, more recently, a variant of the White Rhinoceros. Even more devastating, we intentionally have despoiled the environment, destroying the habitats of many other species; thereby, exterminating the creatures that lived therein.
The recent epidemic of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever illustrates the extent and consequences of destroying natural habitat. The epidemic began in Guinea, where the irresponsible natives had destroyed 82% of the rainforest to use marginally productive land for agriculture. The consequence had been increasing contact between remaining fauna and natives with increasing transmission of microbes between the them — microbes such as Ebola.
Will Ebola strike again? Most likely. In 1975, there have been 22 outbreaks. In 1995, 315 victims were diagnosed with 254 dying. The most recent outbreak already has infected almost 30,000 victims diagnosed with 11,000 dying.
Tragically, we have become the great exterminators. In fact, we have begun the next major mass-extinction. Very likely, it will include our own.
“Poetic justice!” a misanthrope might say.
One consequence of a mass-extinction is disruption of the existing food-network. Typically, there are many, nutritional connections among various species of animals and plants. Whereas the topography of the participating species may change over time, the basic structure of the networks remains essentially similar — that is, until a disastrous event occurs. Should we destroy our own, current food-network sufficiently, doing so alone very well may cause our own mass starvation.
During the last ten years, we have been witnessing an extinction of honeybees, for example. Insects represent an important link in the reproduction of many flowering plants. Honeybees represent an important element in that link. Should the extinction continue, the consequence will be an unfavorable, horticultural and economic impact for agriculture.(2, 3)
100-years from now. Given current trends, we humans shall have exterminated all currently threatened species.
250-years from now. Given current trends, we humans shall have exterminated 75% of all species existing today. Two hundred-fifty years might seem a long time to us; paleo-biologically, it represents an instant.
Will such a mass-extinction as a consequence of destruction of habitats, other species, and food-networks come to pass? Probably not.
Why not? The bad news? Because, given current trends, beforehand we humans shall destroy ourselves and all other aerobic forms of life in an increasingly-likely, nuclear holocaust. The good news? Anaerobes, nevertheless, probably will survive.
A man-made, nuclear holocaust will constitute the greatest mass-extinction of all time. Let us not forget, with regard to nuclear weapons, many military experts believe that the inescapable consequence of tactical, nuclear warfare is strategic, nuclear warfare. A single, nuclear explosion properly placed could emit an Electronic Magnetic Pulse that would paralyze all electronic devices in this country. Our response? Its consequences? Meanwhile, we play politics with homicidal lunatics.
Notes & References
2. Tracy, T: “Honeybee Crisis Worsens As Summer Die-Offs Mount”. The Wall Street Journal, 13MAY2015, page A3.
3. The origin of honeybees remains uncertain; however, they are not native to North America. Extermination of honeybees in North America, possibly as a consequence of using insecticides, is, nevertheless, one example of a worldwide phenomenon of extermination affecting numerous species. See, for example, “New Disease Emerges as a Threat to Salamanders”. American Scientist 103: 6-7 (January 2015).
PART FOUR: ALTERING COURSE
Altering Course Voluntarily
It might seem logical that we humans with our relatively massive brains should have sufficient intelligence to move upwards sociologically, away from the simple paradigm of predator-prey. Not so.
In fact, perverting the benefits of science and technology, we have raised killing from simple survival to complex art. From physical science, nuclear weapons. From chemical science, lethal toxins. From biological science, virulent pathogens.
As a species, we represent the best of the best and the worst of the worst. We can describe the cosmos from the macro to the micro. Conversely, we can twist every human good into a human evil.
So, given our human proclivities, desirable and undesirable, can we stop ourselves from self-extermination? Can we ourselves alter course? Not likely.
Why not? Several reasons including the following:
Firstly, our insatiable sexual appetite, especially human males’. We humans are the most hyper-sexual animals on Earth.
Human males notwithstanding, the human female is the only animal with breasts, not simply teats — breasts to attract the human male. She is the only female that does not come into season reproductively but has menses, which essentially makes her sexually receptive all the time. She is the only female that is sexually receptive while fully pregnant.
The consequence of normal, heterosexual behavior is reproduction. For us humans, the current consequence of our heterosexual behavior is massive over-population. The consequence of massive over-populating is war.
Secondly, we have become too intelligent by half. Our cognition can modulate our behavior as can our emotion. Unfortunately, usually emotion overpowers cognition. Cognition then becomes the tool of emotion rather than vice versa. Think then act becomes feel then act.
Thirdly, our cognitive capacities have allowed us to concoct ideologies — often misguided, reflecting invalid assumptions combined with mysticism and superstition. Typically, ideologues attract other ideologues; thereby, forming a group of like-minded, misguided, occasionally highly destructive fools reinforcing each other socially. For us humans as opposed to cats, social reinforcement functions as a powerful consequence.
Fourthly, we often bring our actions under the control of antecedents and short-term consequences rather than of long-term consequences; frequently generating volatile, maladaptive behavior. We destroy our own environment wholesale, for example, while talking about a wholesome tomorrow.
Whatever the problems with environmental destruction, the fundamental, controlling factor is over-population — itself a consequence of our hyper-sexuality. Were we, as a species, to control our reproductive behavior and lower the population towards 1-billion, many of our most intractable problems nationally and internationally would evaporate.
“Fat chance!” a misanthrope might say.
Fifthly, we have turned the word, humanitarianism, into a suicidal obscenity. How? We encourage those who should be reproducing least to reproduce most. We send medicine and food, for example, to sub-Saharan Africa without imposing responsible reproductive behavior on the part of the recipients.
Consequence? The urban population there will triple by 2050.
Consequence? Impoverished misery will out-breed foreign aid.
Consequence? Over-population is spilling out of Africa, launching an unarmed invasion of Europe and elsewhere.
Consequences? The end of Western civilization —the same civilization that allowed the unarmed invaders to survive in the first place; the same civilization that gave mankind most of the scientific and technological advances it enjoys today; the same civilization that created the context for the parabolic rise in human population. Meanwhile, Euro-Caucasians themselves are becoming a threatened “species” in their own lands with their leaders paradoxically celebrating the demise of their own kind and themselves.
“Ah, but won’t science and technology resolve the problems that we have used them to create?” an optimist might ask.
Unlikely! The science and technology required are the science and technology of human behavior; which, for the most part, we have rejected individually and societally.(4) The odds of our changing this unfortunate, self-defeating stance in time seem remote, given that it requires forsaking short-term rewards for enjoying long-term ones.
Such delay of gratification is a virtue. Virtue counters sin; recall the seven, deadly sins. Typically, virtues become formidable challenges. Finally, virtue among those ruling is even less common than among those being ruled.
Altering Course Involuntarily
Can some force external to ourselves stop our own self-extermination? More likely than our altering course voluntarily. How?
Pestilence represents one example. A pandemic could accomplish that which we refuse to accomplish ourselves. One of the several strains of Ebola-virus, which continue to mutate, could acquire the capacity for airborne or mosquito-borne transmission, for example, then create a worldwide pandemic exterminating 70-90% of the human population. We humans are not the only exterminators.
“The light of life is insufficiently bright to overcome the darkness of reality.” -Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970)
After such a plague would run its gruesome course, what? Would its survivors have learned from the catastrophe; thereby, proving Remarque wrong? Conversely, would its survivors return to their old, self-destructive ways; thereby, proving Remarque correct?
Which way would you bet your life? After all, each election here in these United States of America, as a citizen you do just that — bet your life. Behavior does have its consequences. (www.inescapableconsequences.com).
Notes & References
4. Freedman, DH: “The Perfected Self”. The Atlantic, pp. 42-52 (June 2012).
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