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escrito por nada

escrito por nada
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November 22
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I've lived a good life studying people and gathering wool. My apologies to the Spanish speakers among us. My screen name might have better been "escrito para nada". Anyway you say it I'm not getting paid for writing.

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AUGUST 14, 2012 3:54PM

Mammoths, Language, Genetics and Hope

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It’s been unseasonably cool and rainy here.  In the middle of August we are leaving the doors open during a time that the house is typically closed with the air conditioning running.  Last winter was warm and spring came early.  So, is this evidence of global warming?  Not necessarily.  Weather is not climate change.  Weather change is to climate change as a bad week on Wall Street is to a worldwide depression.  The difference is a the presence of e trend, not just over days or weeks, but over quarters in the case of the market and decades in the case of climate.

Whether or not, and to what degree, humans are responsible for the current climate change, it is definitely happening.  The area where we live in Northeast Georgia (the state not the nation) has historically been firmly in gardening zone 7 with even Atlanta being part of zone 7.  We are at the edge of gardening zone 8 now, and may already be there.  What will happen to us?  What will happen to Homo sapiens as a result?  It’s hard to predict.  One possibility is that we will become extinct.

Evidence of mass extinctions has been observed at multiple times in earth’s history.  There have been 5 or 6 in the history of the planet.  The causes include volcanism, impact events, climate change, sea level change, and fluctuations in atmospheric oxygen levels.

Obviously, these causes are interrelated. For example, Toba, a giant volcano in Indonesia, erupted about 73,000 years ago creating a huge ash cloud that blocked sunlight.  As a result, the earth’s temperature dropped about 9 degrees.  Nine degrees may not sound like much, but such a change is huge.  Homo sapiens almost became extinct as a result.  We went from a population of tens of thousands to a handful of individuals.  It was a squeaker.  So, the earth’s temperature fell.  What effect would that have?  For one thing the temperature at and near the poles would be sufficiently lowered to create glaciers.  Glaciers trap huge amounts of water.  Sea levels drop.  The predominant vegetation changes from forest to savannah.  Savannahs favor large grazers.  Large grazers favor large predators.  Lions and tigers and bears, Oh No!

Woolly Mammoths largely became extinct about 10,000 years ago, but some lived until as late as about 4000 years ago.  No one know exactly what happened.  Maybe it was a change in vegetation due to the beginning of the current interglacial period.  Maybe it was disease.

“The last glacial period was the most recent glacial period within the current ice age, occurring in the Pleistocene epoch, which began about 70,000 and ended about 12,500 years ago. The glaciations that occurred during this glacial period covered many areas of the Northern Hemisphere, and have different names, depending on their geographic distributions: Wisconsin (in North America), Devensian (in Great Britain), Midlandian (in Ireland), Würm (in the Alps), Weichsel (in northern central Europe) and Llanquihue in Chile. The glacial advance reached its maximum extent about 18,000 BP. In Europe, the ice sheet reached northern Germany.” Wikipedia

Genetic studies show that about 50 – 60,000 years ago our ancestors did something new.  They began to move from Africa.  One group migrated from the south eastern portion of Africa moving up the continent, across into Southeast Asia, ultimately settling in Australia.  Another somewhat later group moved across to Europe and on into Asia.  The rate of movement was spectacular.  Within 35,000 years that migratory group had populated all of the European and Asian continents.

So, what caused the sudden movement?  The eruption of Toga marked the beginning of the current ice age.  (We are in an interglacial period of this ice age.)  Remember that that happened 10,000 years earlier.  There are a number of theories about the impetus for the migration out of Africa.

Richard Leakey has a theory that our ancestors developed language at that time thus providing the tools for communicating ideas and concepts.  Perhaps.  Remember that Chimpanzees, our nearest cousins, have no language but seem to cooperate fairly well.  Gorillas within a band follow the direction of the leader, and those directions are not spoken.  Even wolves cooperate in a fairly complicated way during a hunt.  Most social animals have worked out a system of communication.  But, it could have been language.

Another theory has to do with a receptor for dopamine, one of the signal transmitters in the brain.  Some individuals have a variation of the DRD4 gene that has been called the “Adventure” gene or the “Migration” gene.  Individuals with that gene are drawn to novelty.  They want to try new things, are less startled by the new, and calmer in the face of danger.  Demographics show that individuals with that variant gene are about twice as common in Europe as Africa.  Four times as common in North America and six times as common in South America.  Why is this gene so common?  Genetic mutation only increases in frequency if the change produces some advantage to the population.  The effect may be a disadvantage to individuals, but advantageous to the group as a whole.

Moving must have been a good thing.  Perhaps the savannah dried up in East Africa making a hunter/gatherer’s existence harder.  Certainly living in multiple areas of Earth would favor the chance of a group surviving if war, or famine, or disease wracked another area.

Individuals with this gene frequently get diagnosed with ADHD.  Loving novelty, though, they may become researchers or entrepreneurs.  Low tolerance to risk may make them mountain climbers or animal trainers.  Low tolerance to risk can get you killed, but get the group more land or a woolly mammoth.  I'm fairly sure that I have this gene.  I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

So, maybe it was a mutation.

Recently David P. Goldman (“Spengler”) has predicted mass extinction of humans for a most interesting reason.  Goldman studies demographics.  What he has noticed is that the birthrate has been dropping not just in Europe but among Arabs.  Particularly, it has dropped in countries where there is a high rate of education among women, coupled with an aging population and decreased opportunity for occupation.  Goldman imagines that this fall in birth rate is due to despair, a loss of hope, a loss of faith in a benevolent creator.  This lack of hope and vision of a loss of family and culture results not only in individual suicides, but in suicide bombings.  A culture that thinks it will become extinct, no matter what, may start a war that will end in mutual destruction.

Goldman is a secular Jew who writes from a Judeo-Christian perspective.  He may be right about the lack of hope.  However, mass extinction may result from multiple causes.  The population of earth is 7 billion now.  It is projected to double by 2050.  This doubling does not take into account food and water shortages, drought, war with a country with nuclear weapons that sees its glory days as the cultural center of the mid-east at an end. A people who produced Omar Khayyam, ornately beautiful mosques and the concept of the zero may decide they have nothing to lose against nations that want to subjugate and humiliate them by assuring mutual destruction.

I think that Goldman sees the collapse as being more like a loaf of bread that has simply risen too high, collapsing in the middle after the influence of the yeast runs out.

One thing is certain; there is no “out of Africa” option.  We occupy every area of earth.  Migration to a distant star is not an option.

In the meantime I’m going to look backward as anthropologists and geneticists work to figure out how we got to where we are.  Backward is a lot more beautiful than forward.

Woolly Mammoth extinction: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11000635

Mass extinctions: http://dsc.discovery.com/earth/wide-angle/mass-extinctions-timeline.html

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I know, I know this is boring stuff. There is nothing about politics, sex, scandal, or recipes.
That's ok. You referred to Mr. "Dim Pahst."
I went to a climate change talk a couple of years ago and the presenting scientist said the earth went from Ice Age to a temperate climate in just 4 years. That's data that scares me.
My parents moved here to be near us 13 year ago. My dad was an avid, and very skilled, birder, so I began driving him around to look for birds. He passed away two years ago, but in little more than a decade, we had observed an unmistakable change in migration dates and patterns, and in both species new to this area and species abandoning this area. Several ecosystems intersect here, and we saw consistent evidence that species were moving both northward and upward in elevation. The potential to continue doing that is not unlimited, obviously.

In the past decade, I've also watched drought and pests destroy of the western conifer forests, which were huge carbon sinks.

You're right, spring came early this year, and fall will be early too. This year, the seasons have shifted by about a month. The plums I usually pick at the end of September, if an early frost doesn't get them first, are already done. That's a good thing, but the flip side is that the amount of water required to keep my garden alive has nearly doubled. That, too, is not a survivable change, especially since our precipitation has been trending steadily downward. Our late winter storms don't come.

I could go on and on, but I'm wasting space because I'm only agreeing with you. It's frightening, and I am truly afraid it's not reversible, even if humankind wised up today.
Not boring to me. Science and human evolution are never boring to me. Rated.
BTW: Have you read "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared M. Diamond? Brilliantly written book you might find interesting.
I find this very interesting. And I agree about Jared M. Diamond's book.
Given our proven ability to adapt, cooperate and innovate, I'm hoping that we come to consensus and quit arguing about meaningless crap like money and politics and focus on coherent distribution of resources. With a bit of luck we can figure it all out and reduce our overpopulation and wasteful consumption through common sense and natural attrition in a few generations and within a century or so we can find some kind of sustainable balance... remember we can't "Save the planet." As you point out the planet's did just fine before we hiked out of the Savannah and it'll do fine long after we're gone. Our choice is whether or not we can manage to "Save our asses."
High Lonesome, that is interesting about the birds and not surprising.
I was an avid birder at one time. My eyesight won't allow it now. I've tried learning identification by call. It's harder for me, but fun. What I have noticed that Flickers and Screech Owls that both visited her haven't been around the last couple of years.
Deborah and britney, I have Diamond's book on tape. He is brilliant. He makes many of his points in a talk on TED.com.
jmac, I hope your optimism is warranted.

Goldman's book is "How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is dying, too)". He predicts that 9/10 languages in the world will be dead in the next 200 years among other startling visions of the future. I found his book interesting, but suspect that some of his predictions reflect what he wishes would happen.
[r] wow, I loved this. I suspect I am an ADHDer among other categories. loving novelty yes, and low tolerance for risk. what does that mean. not liking it or being easier with it? hmmm. Louis Leaky was the Leaky of Dian Fosse fame? When I saw Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth I couldn't sleep that night. Funny how we all get back into boiled frog mode even after a profound consciousness raising. Many in Green Party are VERY environment conscious. I wish the Greens could get a chance at bat in the political game but money money money controls people and the agenda! best, libby
We got the brains to solve our problems. Unfortunately the driving engine that determines what the brains pay attention to are emotional concerns that were useful at one time (presumably, tho at least written history is a mess), but lethal now.
LibbyLiberal ~ You are right, it should have read "high tolerance to risk". What scares others is less scary to the "migration" folks. And, Myriad, we aren't well equipped for our high tech society. We still act like we are hunting and gathering, acting on emotion, acting like tribes, and ignoring what reason tells us.