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Wade Frazier

Energy Thresholds

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Hi:

Ed’s death set back some of my plans.  I’ll finish those big picture posts one day, and I still hope to update my big essay this year, and the next posts will be a preview of part of it.  The coming theme is not new, but I will be making it more explicit in my essay update.  Suzana’s book touched on the theme, in that the human line had to overcome an energy threshold to grow its big brains, and Suzana came down on the side of the cooking hypothesis to provide that energy boost.  The book I am currently reading on the Industrial Revolution explored the same dynamic, in that coal enabled England to overcome the energy threshold that limited Third Epoch societies, and English society burst through into the Fourth.  Until England turned to coal, all Third Epoch societies reached the limits of what food and wood could provide, and diminishing returns (and resource depletion) resulted in stagnation and collapse, as those societies ran low on energy.  

This dynamic of life and societies hitting energy thresholds, to either fall back or burst through them, goes all the way back to the early days of life on Earth, a few posts should make this clear, and I’ll be drawing on some of my reading since my last essay update (nearly three years ago (!), how time flies).  Where we are today, in our late-Fourth Epoch, is just another iteration of a very old dynamic.  We will either burst through into the Fifth Epoch, or we might slide all the way back to the bottom of the hill.  

Best,

Wade

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Hi:

It is obvious that I am no materialist.  I know that the materialistic models of consciousness are false, through my experiences, not study or a received teaching.  I am not sure if a mystical awakening is needed for my effort, but materialism is just another false faith.  That said, I have no problem with the idea that life on Earth evolved from non-life, at least as we know it.  I have seen plenty of “channeled” material that said that it was seeded here, but I take that with a grain of salt.  Another hypothesis is that it was seeded here from Martian meteorites, but that hypothesis has that Martian life evolving from non-life on Mars.  

At this time, I like the idea that life first evolved in geothermal vents, either in the ocean or in freshwater environments.  The leading hypotheses make the case for them.  It is definitely mind-boggling to consider that life bootstrapped itself, and cellular membranes, something like RNA, and a means of farming energy from chemicals had to be features of early life.  Enzymes had to be one of the first inventions of life, which speed up reactions by millions and billions of times.  Without enzymes, life as we know it would not exist.  

We still have bacteria that do it how the earliest bacteria did it, and we call them extremophiles today, as they live in environments that complex life can’t live in.  They are extreme, compared to what complex life lives in, in that they are too hot or chemically harsh, but that harshness is what provided the energy gradients that early life was able to farm.  I am speculating a little here, but warmer mixes of chemicals have lower thresholds for reaction, and I am pretty sure that those lowered chemical reaction thresholds were vital to life’s first forming.  Geothermal vents in the oceans and places such as Yellowstone are hot, but more importantly, vent fresh chemicals with lots of potential energy in them, which is what extremophiles feast on.  The first life was chemosynthetic, and was confined to those volcanic vents.  Sure, there were plenty of volcanic vents in the Hadean Eon, but as Earth cooled down, those extremophiles had increasingly limited ranges, until one of them harnessed a new energy source: sunlight.  

Then the range of life greatly expanded, no longer confined to volcanic vents.  But photosynthesis, while farming sunlight, also had limitations in what it could do.  It needed chemicals that could provide electrons, and it took what it could, but the early electron donors were also relatively scarce, which limited where photosynthesis could be performed.  But one day, a bacterium learned a new trick, which was wresting that electron from water.  That was one hell of a trick, as water does not give up an electron easily, but getting that electron from water meant that life could once again greatly expand its range.  That water-splitting bacterium saved Earth’s ocean and made the past few billion years of life on Earth possible.  Without it, Earth would look like Venus and Mars do today.  

Each one of those innovations by life increased life’s energy consumption by orders of magnitude, in fact, many orders of magnitude in those early days of life on Earth.  In my essay update, I will discuss some recent speculations on those early days, and one of them is that when oxygenic photosynthesis appeared, Earth’s oxygen levels might have risen to multiples of today’s, so that the atmosphere might have been 90% or more oxygen, until other life learned how to use oxygen in respiration.  I recently presented diagrams of electron transport chains in my fluoride essay update.  Oxygen is one of the most electronegative elements, which means that it can provide about the greatest electron “suction” to power the electron transport chain.  Complex life might not exist but for the energy that aerobic respiration provides.  Life cleared another energy threshold when aerobic respiration was invented, but it could not have been invented until oxygenic photosynthesis provided the oxygen.  

It seems that complex cells first formed by respiring hydrogen, however.  But there is not much hydrogen in the atmosphere or anyplace else, floating around.  When Earth’s atmosphere became permanently oxygenated, then new forms of life took advantage of it, and another energy threshold was exceeded.  Today, a complex cell burns energy 100,000 times as fast as the Sun produces it, pound-for-pound.  That was the result of several energy thresholds being reached, and then life figuring out a way to burst through it.  That all happened long before the first fish flopped onto land.  Biochemically, the past 600 million years of complex life on Earth have been boring, with virtually all complex life respiring oxygen, splitting water for photosynthesis, and the like.  Once life found what worked best, it went all in, but we can still get windows into the past at volcanic vents, a few places where bacterial colonies won’t be eaten, etc.

Best,

Wade

Edited by Wade Frazier

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Hi:

On life’s energy game, the breakthroughs were about:

  • New places
  • New ways
  • More intensity

New places and new ways were often related.  The new place allowed for a new way, or a new way allowed for new places to be exploited.  More intensity is another way of saying “more power,” or the rate of energy generation/use per unit of time.  New ways led to new places, such as photosynthesis and splitting water to get that electron.  And new places led to new ways, such as when plants and animals left the ocean.  Switching to oxygen for respiration turbo-charged life, as energy generation leapt up by an order of magnitude and more.  

The primary nutrient was often energy, but also, energy made nutrients available.  DNA and proteins have nitrogen as their key ingredient, but nitrogen is inert, unless it is subjected to very high temperatures (about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit), which lightning strikes achieve.  Also, a very energy-intensive enzyme process can combine nitrogen with hydrogen, to produce ammonia.  Until an artificial way to “fix” nitrogen was developed a century ago, the lack of fixed nitrogen was a very real limit on human food production.  

When complex cells were “invented,” with their mitochondrial energy centers, complex life became possible.  Life could stay at the threshold for millions and even billions of years, before it was able to make the breakthrough.  Complex cells were around for more than a billion years before complex life began evolving.  One bacterium is thought to be the ancestor of all life on Earth today.  We don’t have organisms (except maybe somatids  :) ) to show us how life looked before then.  But since then, many different life forms found something that worked, and the environment was still around, so those extremophiles and bacterial colonies still exist.  They found their refugia and still live there.  Nothing has improved on cyanobacteria for three billion years or more.

Life began eating each other early on, with grazing and predation, and life’s arms race was on.  That was largely a zero-sum game, as far as life went.  An ice age seems related to the rise of complex life, with the extremes that it produced.  The first large organisms were animal-like, but that might have been hard to see at times.  

Throughout the journey of life on Earth, new ways often came after the old ways died out, and those directly relate to the ideas of speciation and extinction.  Speciation is about the new, extinction is the dying out of the old, and mass extinctions “cleared the table” for dramatically different ecosystems to appear.  Those old and new ways were always primarily about energy: how to acquire it, how to store it, how to use it.

At about 540 million years ago, the game of complex life was suddenly on, in the Cambrian Explosion.  Ever since, the game of complex life was always, “survive long enough to reproduce.”  

Best,

Wade

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Hi:

One thing that became particularly clear as I studied for and wrote my big essay were how golden ages and mass extinctions often were related, as golden ages often followed mass extinctions, when previously marginal creatures flourished in the wake of a mass extinction, when their predators or competitors died off in the mass extinction.  


There is controversy regarding all mass extinctions, especially what caused them.  One theme that recurred was whether hostile environments or competition from other species caused the mass extinctions.  The Great American Interchange is not controversial, as far as the idea that the more cosmopolitan North American fauna easily outcompeted their isolated South American counterparts, driving them to extinction.  When Europe merged with Asia, a similar turnover happened, and that is controversial, as far as whether it was climate change or competition.  Similar controversy surrounds the rise of dinosaurs.  Many big questions still don’t have definitive answers, if they ever will.  

The Cambrian Explosion also led to the phenomenon of food chains, which aerobic respiration made possibleEverything in the ocean gets eaten, as energy passes through the marine ecosystems.  In the eon of complex life, until the rise of humans, nothing as dramatic as the early energy events happened, such as photosynthesis, aerobic respiration, and the rise of complex cells, but there were still many amazing biological breakthroughs, which were usually energy breakthroughs, and I’ll explore some of those in coming posts, and they were about new ways, new places, and greater intensity.  

Best,

Wade

Edited by Wade Frazier

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Hi:

The first 200 million years or so of the eon of complex life took place in the ocean.  Mass extinctions came early and often, and anoxia was likely a cause of most of them.  An ice age precipitated the first of the Big Five, and like today, most sea life lived near the continents, in shallow seas, to take advantage of nutrient wash-off from the continents.  All organisms die if they lack key nutrients, and energy is the most important of all, as always.  If oxygen levels crashed, those “all-in” aerobic respirators had a hard time, often dying off en masseNautiloids had a superior breathing system, conjoined with their propulsion system, and they have exploited marginal marine environments for hundreds of millions of years, which is why they still exist.  They were early dominant predators, supplanting arthropods, to be supplanted in their turn by fish.  Former dominants pushed to the fringes, or coming from the fringes to dominance, is a key theme of the eon of complex life.  

Nearly 500 million years ago, a seminal event was plants migrating to land.  Land was a radically different environment, and plants (algae) had to make many adaptations to live on land.  They had to grow roots, develop a polymer, lignin, which allowed them to grow tall, solve desiccation and reproduction problems, protect themselves from sunlight’s ultraviolet radiation, and find a way to survive temperature extremes.  About 40 million years behind plants came animals, and arthropods first.  They had to solve some of the same problems that plants did, and most animal genera stayed in the ocean, never finding a way to migrate to land.  Land was a harsh frontier, but once its vagaries could be mastered, it was the greatest boon of complex life.  Land’s biomass dwarf’s the ocean's.  

Complex life had to find new ways to live in new places, and the energy issue was central, as always.  Similar to how oxygenic photosynthesis may have increased the atmosphere’s oxygen levels to multiples of today’s, until life learned to use oxygen in respiration, when forests grew, made possible by lignin, it took 100 million years or so before life figured out a way to digest lignin, with brute force enzymes.  In the meantime, those dead trees formed the coal beds that powered the Industrial Revolution.  Those anoxic events in the ocean formed the oil deposits that we burn with such abandon today.  

Best,

Wade

Edited by Wade Frazier

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Hi:

Similar to how extremophiles found a way to live between the hot crust and cool water, and bacterial colonies found that they could make a living on the shore, and how the first ecosystems were near land, the shoreline was where the fish migration to land began (as arthropods did earlier).  Once again, there is controversy over whether it was freshwater or ocean shores where that migration began.  What they are finding in digs of the late Devonian and early Carboniferous is that estuaries are where the first fish made it onto land, which makes sense, as they allowed easy movement between land and water, and where freshwater met saltwater.  And another theme among paleologists is that marginal organisms broke through into the frontier areas, out of necessity, not some sense of adventure.  It was likely marginal fish, driven to the margins of marine life, which began exploring the shores.  Once they were able to survive on the frontier, brand new energy regimes were possible (new ways and places).  

Early plants reproduced by spores, and they needed wet environments for that, as their reproduction cycle included the step in which the sperm had to swim to the egg.  Similarly, the first fish onto land still reproduced in the water.  So, early plants and land vertebrates had to stay in wet environments, which generally meant close to shore.  The first forests were rainforests, and ferns and horsetails are survivors of those days.  And those swampy rainforests are where amphibians lived in their golden age.  Moving to land was a huge energy windfall for plants and animals.  Land-based biomass is about 500 times as great as ocean-based biomass, and is mainly contained in forests.  

The success of the first rainforests ironically brought on their demise.  Again, it took fungi about 100 million years to learn how to digest lignin, and for those 100 million years, dead trees just piled up in the swamps and were subducted in the formation of Pangaea, which took so much carbon dioxide out of the air that it brought on an ice age, which destroyed the rainforests.  Plants developed seed reproduction in the Devonian, to adapt to dryer conditions, and as usual, it took animals many millions of years later to make similar adaptations, and amniotes appeared, which displaced amphibians as the dominant land animals.  Once seed plants and amniotes appeared, land-based ecosystems in dryer environments became possible, and they eventually blanketed the continents, again colonizing a frontier, for a huge energy windfall.  This theme is going to keep repeating to today’s human-dominated world, as coming posts will show.  

Best,

Wade

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By the end of the Cambrian Explosion, all animal phyla of note were established, and none since then.  The Cambrian Explosion for plants was the Devonian, and their phyla are called “divisions.”  By the Devonian’s end, the basics of plants were set, with roots and leaves being standard features, and trees existed, with their bark, trunks, and branches, and seed reproduction was established.  Cycads and conifers appeared in later divisions, but they were not dramatic changes.  The only dramatic change in plants since the Devonian came about 160 million years ago, when flowering plants appeared.  Flowering plants were unique in that instead of devising defenses against animals, which plants had done for nearly 300 million years to that time, plants decided to partner with animals to lower their reproductive costs, which are always measured in energy.  It was a symbiosis with profound consequences, including the appearance of primates on the evolutionary scene, which led to us.  Nectar and fruit were new energy sources, and land animals adapted to them.  

When new ways or new places were established, there was usually a golden age as the practices spread.  Those golden ages often followed mass extinctions, as the ecosystems were wiped clean and a new way flourished.  The new way may not have been more energy efficient than the former way, but it was able to survive the mass extinction, which exemplifies the tradeoffs between efficiency and resilience.  All life is able to breed with abandon when conditions permit, so golden ages ended with the energy niches filled, and easy living became competitive again.  Over the eon of complex life, the general trend has been away from stationary living to mobile living, which was more energy intensive but provided enhanced survival prospects.  

Archosaurs dominated the Mesozoic, when dinosaurs reigned, and mammals were small, nocturnal burrowers, living in the margins.  Without the catastrophe that ended the reign of dinosaurs, mammals would likely still be living in their burrows, if they would have survived at all.  But when the slate was cleared of dinosaurs, with the exception of birds, mammals rose to dominance, and the Eocene is perhaps the golden age of life on Earth.  Mammals filled the niches that dinosaurs did, but never became quite as large.  There was something about dinosaurs that led to their dominance, and it is a lively controversy today.

Volcanism, and the resultant addition of carbon dioxide to the carbon cycle, has been declining for at least 100 million years, and beginning about 50 million years ago, a 200 million year hot Earth period ended, and Earth cooled into the ice age that we have today, punctuated with relatively warm periods, such as the early Miocene.  The greatest extinction in the Age of Mammals (so far  :) ) happened when Earth cooled off.  The greatest extinction ever happened as a 100 million year ice age ended, and the ancestors of mammals were supplanted by the ancestors of dinosaurs.  

Hot Earth, cold Earth, golden ages, mass extinctions – these are all primarily energy events.  Primates evolved to take advantage of the tropical canopy, dominated by flowering plants and their mother lode of energy: fruit.  During cold periods, the tropical canopies shrank, and conifer forests have been a cold-climate phenomenon since flowering plants took over warm climates.  Africa became a primate refuge during cold periods, and some marginal monkeys left the canopy and became apes, to spread across Eurasia in the Miocene, to once again huddle in Africa when Earth became cool again.  Some prosimians, monkeys, and apes ended up in Southeast Asia as their refugias, where they live to this day, but Africa has been the crucible of primate evolution for a very long time.  The African great apes were fruit eaters, but as the tropical canopy shrank in the trajectory to our current ice age, marginal gorillas became chimps, forced to the rainforest’s periphery, and marginal chimps left the rainforest for the woodlands and savannas of Africa, learned to walk upright, and the path to humanity was set.  Learning to walk upright was an energy breakthrough for the human-line, as it lowered the energetic cost of walking and increased its range.  But it would have stopped there, until the human line began fashioning tools with its free hands, in a way that no animal had done before.  It was a key energy breakthrough that improved their diets (again, an energy dynamic).  A controversy today is how the human line overcame the energy constraints to grow our large brains, which is the key to the human journey.  Without that energy breakthrough, humanity would not exist.  

Best,

Wade

Edited by Wade Frazier

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The evolutionary path to humanity has marginal fish, marginal monkeys, and marginal chimps as our ancestors, and a group of marginal humans conquered Earth.  Those marginal members entered frontiers and flourished.  Flourishing, however, was usually at the expense of what already lived there.  There are some exceptions, such as the Cambrian Explosion, in which the expansion was to truly virgin environments, or when plants colonized land, but more often, it was into lands that had already been shorn of their inhabitants through a mass extinction, such as the Mammalian Explosion, or the expansion displaced the previous inhabitants, often driving them to extinction, such as when North and South America met.

The expansion of humanity meant the extinction of most large land animals, as well as all other human species.  There was only so much energy to go around, and dominant humans took all that they could, as they were an irresistible force that had never been seen on Earth before.  Achieving new energy thresholds could be highly destructive.  Somebody or something usually paid for those golden ages.  It took about 50,000 years from humanity’s exit from Africa for the complete conquest of Earth, and in the few places conducive to it, another energy threshold was reached.  Where the easy meat had been rendered extinct and the plants conducive to it, women domesticated plants, and the Third Epoch began.  The early Third Epoch was another golden age, and for those societies that became matrilineal, they were the human journey’s most peaceful preindustrial cultures.  All golden ages ended, however, as they ran out of the easy energy, through resource depletion and competition.  

While the formation of civilization was peaceful in the pristine instances, that never lasted long.  Men rose to dominance again, women’s status universally declined, as they became the broodmares of agrarian economies, mass warfare made its appearance, and all early civilizations collapsed as they burned through their energy supplies, which were arable land and wood.  For the next several millennia, human civilizations rose and fell, as they bumped into their energy ceilings, which were determined by how much solar energy could be wrested from the land, in the form of wood and food.  Civilization’s energy methods were never sustainable, in a pattern that lasts to this day.  But several centuries ago, a marginal island nation, which would have collapsed back into obscurity, as it was completely deforested, turned to coal out of desperation, and the Fourth Epoch was born.  It was the greatest energy threshold in the human journey so far.  Of course, the Fifth Epoch will dwarf it, but tapping the power of fossil fuels was epochal in scale.  The surplus energy of today’s Fourth Epoch in the USA is about 25 times, per capita, of that generated in the late Third Epoch, and because that surplus energy largely runs machines, each American has the equivalent of hundreds of slaves working on his/her behalf, and those machines perform more than 99.9% of all work in the USA.  That is why the average American lives a richer life than Earth’s richest human of three centuries ago.  

Best,

Wade

Edited by Wade Frazier

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For both ecosystem and civilization collapses, a common hypothesis is that multi-tiered energy systems are inherently unstable, and once they have gone on long enough, they become vulnerable to collapse, like a house of cards.  

Plenty of recent analyses discuss how energy consumption has peaked, and that the day of reckoning looms, as we have reached our energy limits.  But when new energy sources are tapped (breaking through the threshold), golden ages follow.  To return to the idea of new ways, places, and greater intensity, the early Third Epoch was all about that.  Once plants became domesticated, the Neolithic Expansion began, where those horticultural practices became the basis of the migration, which drove hunter-gatherer men from the gene pool.  It happened in the Bantu Expansion thousands of years later, and also seemed to happen when horticulture spread into North America from Mesoamerica.  Hunter-gatherers got pushed to the margins, but they harried sedentary peoples, and after animals were domesticated, pastoral raiders attacked the settled communities, as they sought to benefit from the energy surplus of civilization’s intensely worked grain cores.  Sometimes they overthrew the settled peoples’ elites, establishing themselves as the new elites (Genghis Khan, for instance), but more often were able to get “tribute,” which was a form of protection racket.  

The global economy today is dominated by rackets.  While we live in a world of scarcity and fear, these dynamics will continue, if global civilization survives.  The only solution that I see is abundance, which will necessarily be based on energy abundance.  Then the Fifth Epoch will arrive, as a new energy threshold will be reached and breached.  

Best,

Wade

Edited by Wade Frazier

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Hi:

The first civilization arose in a familiar venue: an estuary, where freshwater met saltwater, and where both met the shore.  There has been controversy for thousands of years on just how and why civilization formed, and there is a recent entrant to the fray who argued that it was all elite coercion.  That recent entrant argued that disease depopulated the early civilizations, and that civilization collapse did not mean population collapse.  I am pretty dubious of those assertions, the author liberally citing a book that is borderline libelous does not help his case, and the author is an admitted neophyte to the field.  However, I am onboard with the idea that the so-called “grain cores” were a mother lode of energy never seen before, and civilizations were built on them, although the potato seems to have been the primary staple of the South American civilizations, although maize was elite food, so the “grain core” idea has merit in South America, too.  

However, that mother lode of energy never lasted all that long.  Deforestation and agriculture, especially plow agriculture, has never been a sustainable basis for civilization, and rising and falling civilizations characterized all places where civilizations appeared.  To be sure, agriculture increased Earth’s carrying capacity, for humans at least, by orders of magnitude, and humanity always bred to the limits of the energy regime.  In that way, humans were no different from any other organism, always breeding to the limits of the nutrient supply, and energy above all others, as usual.  The first exception ever is the Industrial Revolution, with its demographic transitionHumanity’s fertility rate has fallen in half in my lifetime, which is incredible.  

So, the ephemeral phenomenon of civilization appeared and disappeared over several millennia, as they all bumped into the energy threshold and collapsed.  Epidemic disease did play a role, a collapsing civilization did not necessarily mean a collapse of the region’s population, but I think that that was the exception, not the rule.  The Nile Valley was the most reliable food producing region on Earth, as the Nile’s annual flood imported silt and washed away the salination.  But it also had rising and falling civilizations, based on the grain harvest.  Also, where civilizations appeared were generally not where the crops were domesticated.  They were imported and had their day in the sun, for a time.

The ice age soils of Europe were more resilient than the southern soils of the Fertile Crescent, but civilization is also relatively new in Europe, so it has not had thousands of years of abuse to turn it into a desert, as happened in much of the Fertile Crescent.  

The book I am currently reading, on the English Industrial Revolution, which was the only pristine instance, is illuminating regarding the early classical economists and the Industrial Revolution.  The Industrial Revolution was happening as they wrote, but none of them understood what was happening.  It took another century before people began to understand what had happened.  Those economists not only ignored the realities of early “primitive accumulation” (it was coercive theft, as usual), but they did not understand that coal energy had allowed England to break through that energy threshold that had constrained all Third Epoch civilizations to that time.  If England had not turned to coal (and a century later, Europe), it would have been just one more collapsed civilization that ran out of energy.  

My big essay will be my life’s magnum opus, and I will be updating it, like a college textbook, until I no longer am able to, which I hope is at least 30 years away.  A one-man show can only do so much, and for years, I have been planning to significantly revise my Industrial Revolution chapters.  There will be more on the transformative effects of the Industrial Revolution, and a little less on elites.  It won’t be a huge change, but it will be significant, and more additive than subtractive.  

Best,

Wade

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I show in my big essay, regarding the Industrial Revolution, that it did not come from nowhere.  New energy technologies appeared with civilization, such as the sailboat.  Several millennia later, Greeks invented the watermill and windmill.  While Romans used the watermill, its use really took off in medieval Europe, especially during the High Middle Ages.  By the time that Christopher Columbus sailed into history, watermills produced the work of many millions of people in Europe and reduced the “need” for slaves.  Europe achieved the technical feat of turning the global ocean into a low-energy transportation lane, and thereby conquered Earth.  The oceangoing sailing ship was history’s greatest energy technology to its time.  England rode that wave to industrialization.  

England began its path to industrialization in earnest in the mid-1500s, but iron smelting quickly consumed the forests.  England soon invaded Ireland, to steal its remaining forests, and soon thereafter, England invaded North America, which had Earth’s greatest intact temperate forests.  It was a huge energy windfall, which England exploited to the limits.  The natives never stood a chance.  Europe’s conquest of Earth is history’s greatest crime.  The Western Hemisphere was about 90% depopulated in the first century of the conquest, but the Spaniards were not intentionally genocidal, as they needed slaves to get the work done, although they were profligate in their use of slaves, working them to death in the mines and plantations, and raping the women was the favorite Spanish pastime, which led to the huge mestizo class in Mexico, for instance, which Hitler thought was no way to build an empire.  The English, however, coveted the land more than the labor, and exterminating the natives was a goal from the beginning, and carried through to the American expansion, which Hitler used as his model for “settling” Eastern Europe.

Early in my days of study, after having my clock cleaned during my first stint with Dennis, I began learning the real story of Columbus’s feat, of how my great nation was really “settled,” and how I lived in an empire that pretended that it wasn’t one, although that pretense has slowly been abandoned.  If not for my ride with Dennis, I wonder how much I would have truly understood, or even wanted to know.  I can’t overemphasize the value of awakening.  

The introduction of coal into the English economy allowed it to break through the energy ceiling of Third Epoch economies, which was limited by annual amounts of photosynthesis.  Coal was more important for smelting iron than for running machines in the early days of industrialization.  Wind and water power were competitive with coal until about 1850, well more than a century into the Industrial Revolution.  Other than pumping water out of coal mines, the rise of machines used the power of water before the power of coal, and later, electricity and oil.  I have written plenty about the explosion of coal use in England, but the numbers still boggle my mind, and those were just the baby steps of industrialization.  In that book I am reading, it makes the explosion in coal use very plain, although it also gives due credit to improving farm productivity.  

Between 1600 and 1800, English farm productivity more than doubled, as measured by harvest per acre.  Between 1520 and 1800, the English population more than tripled.  Between 1560 and 1860, English energy use went up by a factor of five, per capita, and nearly 30 times on a total basis, and the rise in energy use per capita, which defines peoples’ standards of living, was more than 100% due to coal.  The use of other energies per capita actually declined during that period, and coal provided 92% of England’s energy in 1860.  Energy consumption per capita in Italy, which was representative of Europe as a whole, was a fifth of England’s in 1860, or about what England’s was in 1560.  England exploded out of the chute via industrialization, leaving the rest of the world far behind, and that is why England, a tiny island nation, built the first global empire.

The invasion of North America was a huge energy windfall for England, with its intact forests, and later, its political descendant, the United States, discovered and plundered vast hydrocarbon deposits, and it rode that wave to becoming history’s richest and most powerful nation.  It was all about energy and remains so to this day, as the USA inflicts oil-control genocides across the world, overthrows oil-rich governments, etc.

But in England, the ability of the ruling class to inflict violence on their subjects was stunted in the aftermath of the English civil wars, and as Uncle Noam has written, it was then that the ruling class decided that in order to maintain control, they had to control what people thought, which began the era of scientific management of the masses’ minds, and the careers of people such as Ed Bernays became possible.  Uncle Ed specialized in deconstructing the brainwashing techniques used in the USA.  

Best,

Wade

Edited by Wade Frazier

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Hi:

So, here humanity sits today, on the greatest energy threshold of all.  Do we get over the hump, or slide all the way back down to the bottom of the hill?  While the Industrial Revolution has been the greatest economic boom in the human journey, by far, the fuel for it is quickly running out.  When Drake drilled that oil well in 1859, there were a little over two trillion barrels of conventional oil in the ground, and humanity has burned through about half of it so far, and it will all be long gone in this century, at present rates of consumption.  The so-called fracking boom in the USA, to make us “energy self-sufficient” – an Orwellian term if there ever was one – is just one more instance of scraping the dregs after the easy energy was plundered.  The tight oil, tar sands, and other unconventional sources of oil being mined in North America are of poor energetic quality, with low EROIs.  Humanity is an energy windfall opportunist extraordinaire, and plundering one energy source to exhaustion, to move on to the next source, has been the human way ever since the Founder Group left Africa and drove the large animals and other human species to extinction.  In the Third Epoch, it was forests and soils, and in the late Third Epoch, a rising Europe caused the human journey’s greatest demographic catastrophes as it plundered entire continents, as well as killing off most of the world’s whales.  

Not only is the oil quickly running out, but so are the natural gas and even coal and uranium.  For somebody like me, what is mind-boggling and very difficult to know, emotionally, is that the means to forever abundant and environmentally harmless energy has existed in Earth for longer than I have been alive, but the global elite have sequestered that technology in history’s greatest cover-up, which is conjoined with the ET cover-up.  What my friend saw was likely mostly developed from “captured” ET craft.  

The USA reached Peak Oil in 1970, and the first oil crisis of 1973-1974 meant the slow decline of the American standard of living ever since.  I was raised in a golden age and cannot complain, but watching the needless decline of industrial civilization has not been easy for me, as we invade oil-rich nations and slaughter millions.  It is time for some of us to wake up and do something.  :)  

With this post, I will wind down my energy thresholds thread for now.  There is a lot more to say on this vitally important subject, but it is time for other topics and tasks.  My biography project on Uncle Ed will last for months or years more, and if I am lucky, I will make the essay update this year.  

Best,

Wade

Edited by Wade Frazier

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Hi Krishna:

Yes, interesting paper, and it will go into my essay update.  Wrangham is in good company, on the fire angle of human evolution.  My grandmother and many other relatives went to Western Washington, and my nephew does today.

Yes, industrialization allowed England to win the imperial sweepstakes, but it also used its position to enslave peoples and commit genocide.  Kind of like how the USA uses its superior economic muscle to enslave much of the world.  Using their economic upper-hand to further exploit the world’s peoples was and is evil.

I can see people arguing that free energy would result in some kind of global slavery (or strip-mining the planet, or even more destructive wars), but I think that the opposite will happen, which is why free energy has been suppressed like it has been.  Godzilla knows full well that free energy means the end of his reign.

As a coda to my energy threshold posts, peoples bumped up against the energy thresholds of their epochs, and there were three general outcomes.  Take Australia.  Once the easy meat was gone, but the kangaroo could not be hunted to extinction, big game hunting remained the dominant form of production, and they never developed plant domestication, and stayed in “Type A” societies.  They stayed at a pretty steady-state limit of what the Second Epoch energy level could sustain.  When mammoths were driven to extinction, mammoth villages went with them, so there were also Second Epoch “collapses.”  

Once some Second Epoch societies broke through to the Third Epoch by domesticating plants, the practice spread, and it led to civilization in almost all instances, especially the four pristine ones.  Civilization rode atop intensive farming, mainly of grain, but deforestation and intensive farming of the soils was never sustainable, and all early civilizations collapsed.  They bumped up against the limits of Third Epoch societies, and then collapsed back down to subsistence practices, while the hinterlands of the civilizations were abandoned.  Those collapses were not pretty, full of warfare, famine, and the like.  Epidemic disease probably contributed, at least in the Old World.

England bumped up against that Third Epoch energy ceiling, but was also using wind and water power at a level that previous Third Epoch societies did not, and when they turned to coal, especially for smelting iron, the Fourth Epoch was born.  How they achieved it, when previous civilizations didn’t, has been an enduring controversy, but there is no doubt that without the power of coal (and later, oil and gas), the Fourth Epoch was not possible.  No peoples could industrialize on wood.  

Best,

Wade

Edited by Wade Frazier

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