I propose that fire made our evolution possible. While there’s no scientific evidence for that hypothesis, we know that our life isn’t possible for long without it. If combustion suddenly stopped happening, how long would we last? That’s become our species survival test.

Consider an analogy to our situation. We hear a roar, but the river upon which we float is wide and smooth. It’s not like some malevolent entity is plotting to throw everyone on the raft over a cliff. We’re about to discover danger in the lay of this land.

The real precipice we face is the steep slope between how easily our planet’s chemistry and temperature can shift into escalating greenhouse effect to how difficult it is to shift back. It’s not as if some malevolent entity designed the universe so that advanced life tends to evolve on planets hovering between ice age and greenhouse conditions. Or built the universe so that physical and chemical processes favoring ice move at geologic speed, and those favoring greenhouse events can go a million times faster and self-reinforce. Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere by processes in geologic time frames, weathering of rock and sequestration in sediments. Carbon dioxide is returned in fast processes such as wildfire, volcanic eruption, methane hydrate breakdown, and fossil fuel combustion.

“We are now burning in one year the equivalent of one million years’-worth of plankton deposits as fossil fuel,...

The Fabulous History of Phytoplankton and Why Our Species Depends o...

It’s not as if some evil spirit designed animals so that a second source of energy, mastery of fire, was necessary for big brains and sentience to emerge.

That’s just the lay of this universe.

The odds have been stacked against us all along.

We co-evolved with fire. That second source of energy, beyond food, made Homo Sapiens a possibility. But plant fuel has limitations. Once a culture has denuded it’s continent for firewood, soil washes away, life gets too hard to support a developing civilization. Mastering fossil fuel solves that problem and makes globalization a possibility. But fossil fuel has catastrophic limitations.

Throwing carbon, which had been sequestered underground, back into the air a million times faster kickstarts positive feedbacks which can’t be turned off, changing albedo from melting snow and ice, burning forests in a drying climate, decreasing phytoplankton productivity and dissolving animal shells in hotter acidifying oceans (which slows sequestration), raising levels of water vapor (a greenhouse gas), and melting methane hydrate.

It’s not fair that processes which push planetary chemistry/temperature toward anoxic/hot conditions are both self-reinforcing and exponentially faster. Fairness is a social trait. Physical laws don’t answer to society.

It’s not fair that we need a second energy source, and none is an easy replacement for fire.

In short, planets which can support carbon-based advanced life forms which evolved using fire mastery are planets far from equilibrium. They can easily and rapidly transition into chemistry/temperature regimes hostile to that life.

We’ve been taking fire mastery for granted, failing to realize at the gut level both its significance to our evolution and the inherent danger that entails. Energy is not an externality for us, any more than food is.

Many have wondered why there’s no evidence of other advanced civilizations in the Milky Way. The Great Silence can now be seen as a warning. Given the planetary chemistry and physics we’re discovering here on Earth, our predecessors probably failed to grasp that very fleeting opportunity, at the height of their fossil fuel civilizations, to decarbonize. Once the feedbacks rev up, we sentients lose control. End of story.

Tags: The Great Silence, coevolution with fire, evolution of sentience, fossil fuel

Views: 111

Replies to This Discussion

Ruth, I like your response, especially "we live in a Dominator culture rather than a Partnership Culture" and the ramifications that flow from it. Also, "Illusion of Innocence resembles willful ignorance."

Philip, Yes indeed, “People like to laugh.” Did your black friend you told lives close to Lynchburg, laugh?
Richard Wright and James Baldwin give vivid images of their life and challenges. I would add Ralph Ellison, and Piri Thomas who made big impressions on me.
My hunch is you are not a fool. You have unique experiences, had some challenges, found ways to feel included and have stories to tell. We are listening.

"Dominator Culture.'  I like that term better than the 'Patriarchal' bias of Feminism.  The wives and mothers and sisters and daughters of the Dominator Culture...nice that the initials are 'DC', isn't it?...are as much or more of the problem than the men.  The men of the lower classes are just as much oppressed as the women.  Class structure...even acknowledging that exists at all...is still a Radical idea. Why I reject Libertarianism and Randian Objectivism out of hand.  The poor aren't poor because they are morally deficient or demon possessed...that was the version of Libertarianism was taught as a Charismatic Christians.  Poor people weren't just lazy and morally deficient, they were possessed by a demon keeping them poor and as soon as they shed themselves of this demon they will automatically rise to the higher economic levels.

Libertarianism is a way of making rich people feel morally superior to the poor they feed off.  Or, as Eli Wallach puts it in The Magnificent Seven (watch Akiro Kurasawa's The Seven Samurai, first to understand the deeper meaning of the movie):  "If God didn't want them sheared, he wouldn't have made them sheep."

Me, I'm more of traditional Marxist.  I reject revolution as a way of bringing in the changes the world needs.  I think the history of the 20th Century is more than enough field testing of this idea to prove it not just false, but dangerously so.  Then again, I don't believe as Marx did in the inevitability of history.  In another post I made I refered to Hari Sheldon's idea that the history of the world and the nations and empires we are currently divided by can be put into a mathematical theory that will allow prediction of the future.  Once we have established where we are going without intervention, then a system of planned introduction of memes at key points into the human consciousness can amelioriate the process, avoid Armageddon and reset the course of history to a more ameniable destination.  

A body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  Until acted upon by an outside force causing a change in direction.

History is a body in motion.  Attempts at changing the direction of history have all failed in the past precisely because the 'force' applied to make a change in direction is and has traditionally been violence.  

A gun can't bring freedom, it can only take freedom away.  See how fast the Enlightenment has faltered and failed and is breathing its last in our generation.

Just as Neo-Conservatism has reinvigorated the Radical Underground Right and brought these bastards into a position of power based solely on violence whose goals can only be achieved through violence we need to fight back with a Neo-Enlightenment.  New ideas, new expressions of old ideas, the controlled introduction of memetic force into the world.

The best thing Ayn Rand ever said...and much of what I've learned from her and Libertarism still has value...is man has two choices:

"Money or the gun."

Money is leading us to Global Capitalism.  What game theory calls a 'non-zero sum' game in which each side wins as opposed to a zero-sum game in which one side wins and the other loses.  Rand's problem was rather than trust her own theory...as Marx should have done...she has been usurped by the people who believe in the gun and in violence because Global Capitalism is leading us in a direction they are resisting with the very tools Rand disdained and rejected.

Take the dreaded 'outsourcing of American jobs to foreign countries."  This bug-a-boo propaganda straw man is foolishnesss that goes against history and, thusly, can only be imposed by the gun.  

How can you 'outsource' jobs from one country to another when history is inexorably leading us to Global Capitalism?  If you believe in Capitalism then why would Global Capitalism be a threat? Only if what you really believe is National Capitalism imposed by force just as National Socialism imposed by force failed and with such spectacular results and horrifying consequences.

Global Capitalism does not see Third World countries or the lower classes as enemies to be fought against, but rather as markets to be exploited.  It is the triumph of Capitalism Vs Socialism that has ended in the intermingling of the two.  Whose the bad guy now?  China.  Why?  Not because they are Socialists, but because they are Capitalist.

Laissez faire capitalism produces nations and empires when limited to a single economic system of a single country.  But when applied globally it destroys empires and countries and brings us into world that neither Rand nor Marx had the foresight to envision.

OK Philip, I agree the poor are not poor because they are deficient; it is because they are poor. They seem unable or prevented from getting a foot on a ladder. Rich people are not superior because they are superior; it is because they believe they are superior and hold tightly to the reins to keep their privilege. I also under your attraction to Marxism; it has compelling reasons it presents viable options. I also agree that violent revolution requires a high cost and tends to get taken over by new dominators. My ideal is to have all people included in the market system by growing crops and making things to trade with US but US tariffs closes down developing countries participation. 

USA unilaterally sent work to near-slave labor leaving those workers no better off than they had been and locked into jobs with long hours, poor working conditions, and few benefits. If the jobs had improved the lives of those who produced the goods and services, then they would have become a market for our goods and services. To impoverish our workers and foreign producers is not doing what needs to be done.

When I was in China, and I wandered around for a month with an interpreter. I saw very few other caucasians in places I went (this was in the 1980s) and they wanted to trade with me. They had goods, they wanted to trade, and they treated me very well. Kind, caring, hospitable, welcomed me into their homes and showed me how they did things. I have utmost confidence they will be good trading partners when they get fair prices that give them discretionary funds to spend on our goods.

I perceive laissez faire capitalism as using unfair and unscrupulous trading practices. If we had level playing fields, and if workers in developing countries could make a "living" then I would not object. But with banking and financial institutions exploiting them, they don't have a chance. When they borrow money for their little clothing manufacturing, or assembly of electronic equipment, for example, the interest rates eat up their profits. they can't get ahead.

Please tell me what you see that needs to be done. I want to see China and Africa flourish with fair trade and equitable banking processes; how do you see that taking place.     

"I want to see China and Africa flourish with fair trade and equitable banking processes; how do you see that taking place."     

The short answer is slowly and without heroes.

The even shorter answer is "I don't know." 

Judging from just a brief preview on Amazon and the public library, there are people who know a lot more than I do on the subject.  

I'll write more on what I do know, perhaps on a different thread or blog post.  How about "What Would Phil Jarrett Do To Save the World?" for a subject?

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