Thursday, June 09, 2016
The writing in this magazine could be improved here and there, but overall a great effort to communicate climate change concerns.
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Included in this issue:
Climate-Change Reality Check
Climate Swells Slums
The June audio version is available here.
The July issue of "Trillions" will focus on the vital topic of democracy: how to get it back and make it better than ever.
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Tuesday, June 07, 2016
Biblical history: Hebrew myths coopt a shared memory of all non-african descendents of a group of ancient Africans that crossed the Red Sea 85,000 years ago?
by Stephen Oppenheimer (2003)
Although other intelligent apes, including several Paranthropus species, continued to walk the African savannah from 2.5 million years ago, it is humans - genus Homo - with whom we are concerned. Humans represented a new evolutionary concept in a number of ways, not only with their enlarged brains, mixed diet, and smaller teeth, but in their adaptive behaviors, including the making of the first shaped stone tools by the very earliest human species.
If we take Homo habilis as the prototype, then Homo erectus was the line-defining human - the Model T Ford of the new genus. Even more successful than the Model T, they dominated the planet for a million and a half years. With a sad, wary face, a flat nose, and, initially, a rapidly growing brain, Homo erectus was just like us from the neck down. They had stone tools - simple retouched pebbles at first, but later more sophisticated hand-axes. Their African progenitor Homo ergaster was the first human to leave Africa, 1.95 million years ago, to become the Asian Homo erectus. The latter were slightly smaller than ourselves, and rapidly spread to the Middle East, Russia, India, the Far East, and Southeast Asia, carrying with them their so-called 'pebble-tool' technology. There are controversial claims that the smaller predecessor on the tree Homo habilis also made this leap at the same time. There is better evidence, however, that all subsequent human species made it out of Africa at the first available interglacial warm-up between ice ages.
The Y chromosome, like the patrilineal surname, passes down virtually unchanged from father to son. Every now and then occasional mistakes in the copying process occur, and these mutations can be used to estimate the time frame in which the two individuals share a most recent common ancestor or MRCA. (http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Y_chromosome_DNA_tests) The X-Chromosome also passes from mother to child. But there is one additional piece, that passes from mother to child, the mitochondrial DNA, an ancient and critical vestige of our proto-existence in the deep past as single-celled life forms.
The Adam Gene
by Stephen Oppenheimer (2003)
Analogous to the maternally transmitted mtDNAresiding outside our cell nuclei, there is a set of genes packaged within the nucleus that is only passed down the male line. This is the Y chromosome, the defining chromosome for maleness. With the exception of a small segment, the Y chromosome plays no part in the promiscuous exchange of DNA indulged in by other chromosomes. This means that, like mtDNA, the non-recombining part of the Y chromosome remains uncorrupted with each generation, and can be traced back in an unbroken line to our original male ancestor.
Y chromosomes have been used for reconstructing trees for less time than mtDNA has, and there are more problems in estimating time depth. When these are solved, the NRY method may have a much greater power of time and geographical resolution than mtDNA, for both the recent and the distant past. This is simply because the NRY is much larger than mtDNA and consequently has potential for more variation.
Yet Y chromosomes have already helped to chart a genetic trail parallel to the mtDNA trail. At the major geographical branch points they support the story told by mtDNA: they point to a shared ancestor in Africa for all modern humans, and a more recent ancestor in Asia for all non-Africans. In addition, because men’s behaviour differs in certain key ways from women’s, the story told by the Adam genes adds interesting detail. One difference is that men have more variation in the number of their offspring than women: a few men father considerably more children than the rest. Women, in contrast, tend to be more even and ‘equal’ in the number of children they have. The main effect of this is that most male lines become extinct more rapidly than female lines, leaving a few dominant male genetic lines.
Another difference is in movement. It has often been argued that because women have usually travelled to their husband’s village, their genes are inevitably more mobile. Paradoxically, while this may be true within one cultural region, it results in rapid mixing and dispersal of mtDNA only within that cultural region. For travel between regions, or long-distance intercontinental migrations, by sea for example, the burden of caring for children would have limited female mobility. Predatory raiding groups would also have been more commonly male-dominated, resulting in increased mobility in the Y chromosome.
The Eve Gene
by Stephen Oppenheimer (2003)
To say that we get exactly half of our DNA from our father and half from our mother is not quite true. One tiny piece of our DNA is inherited only down the female line. It is called mitochondrial DNA because it is held as a unique circular strand in small tubular packets known as mitochondria that function rather like batteries within the cell cytoplasm. Some molecular biologists say that, aeons ago, the mitochondrion was a free-living organism with its own DNA, and possessed the secret of generating lots of energy. It invaded single celled nucleated organisms and has stayed on ever since, dividing, like yeast, by binary fission. Males, although they receive and use their mother’s mitochondrial DNA, cannot pass it on to their children. The sperm has its own mitochondria to power the long journey from the vagina to the ovum but, on entry into the ovum, the male mitochondria wither and die. It is as if the man had to leave his guns at the door.
So each of us inherits our mtDNA from our own mother, who inherited her mtDNA intact from her mother, and so on back through the generations – hence mtDNA’s popular name, ‘the Eve gene’. Ultimately, every person alive today has inherited their mitochondrial DNA from one single great-great-great-. . .-grandmother, nearly 200,000 years ago. This mtDNA provides us with a rare point of stability among the shifting sands of DNA inheritance. However, if all the Eve chromosomes in the world today were an exact copy of that original Eve mtDNA, then clearly they would all be identical. This would be miraculous, but it would mean that mtDNA is incapable of telling us much about our prehistory. Just knowing that all women can be traced back to one common ancestral Eve is exciting, but does not get us very far in tracing the different lives of her daughters. We need something with a bit of variety.
This is where DNA point mutations come in. When mtDNA is inherited from our mother, occasionally there is a change or mutation in one or more of the ‘letters’ of the mtDNA code – about one mutation every thousand generations. The new letter, called a point mutation, will then be transmitted through all subsequent daughters. Although a new mutation is a rare event within a single family line, the overall probability of mutations is clearly increased by the number of mothers having daughters. So, within one generation, a million mothers could have more than a thousand daughters with a new mutation, each different from the rest. This is why, unless we share a recent maternal ancestor over the past 10,000 years or so, we each have a slightly different code from everyone else around us.
After the line of modern humans diverged from the lines of other large, intelligent, tool-making and scavenging ape-men (such as Homo habilis who was distinct 2 million years ago) in East Africa over 160,000 years ago, mitochondrial DNA evidence from the mothers (and newer evidence from the fathers’ Y-Chromosome) has outlined the journey which all modern humans have taken in populating south-Saharan Africa from 160,000 years ago through 135,000 years ago, four groups of hunter-gatherer people traveled east to the woodlands near the mouth of the Red Sea, south to the grassy/arid Cape of Good Hope, west to the Congo Basin and the Ivory Coast, both heavy rainforests at the time. All carried the 1st-generation mtDNA “L1”.
by James Randerson
Three fossil skulls from Ethiopia, recovered at the village of Herto, have been revealed as the oldest human remains yet discovered. The 160,000-year-old finds plug an important gap in the fossil record around the time our species first appeared, providing confirmation that Homo sapiens originated only in Africa. They have been given their own subspecies - Homo sapiens idaltu.
Herto Man migrated east of the Nile River from 135,000 to 115,000 years ago north along the grasslands at the edge of the Red Sea and across its open gateway to the Levant’s Fertile Crescent. The line died out 90,000 years ago due to a drop in global temperature and desertification of the entire area.
by Stephen Oppenheimer (2003)
The image of Out-of-Africa Eve has been reconstructed from one of the best-preserved Skhul remains from the Levant; her features reflect a robust build typical for that period, a relatively narrow skull and a broad upper face. These features, but not always her associated behavior, differ from those of her neighbors – the Neanderthal.
The hypothesis that early modern humans were not successful in their first attempt to adapt to the Levant and adjacent parts of Europe and western Asia refocuses our attention on the differences between the Middle Paleolithic Upper Paleolithic modern human adaptations as clues to later humans' adaptive radiation. The presence of well-entrenched Neanderthal populations in the Levant, effectively blocking the major land route out of Africa, may have been a major stimulus to the development of Upper Paleolithic adaptations by modern humans along the Northeast African "frontier."
NEANDERTHALS & THE MODERN HUMAN COLONIZATION OF EUROPE
The fate of the Neanderthal populations of Europe and western Asia is veiled in mystery, but the veil is slowly lifting. Following at least 200,000 years of successful adaptation to the glacial climates of northwestern Eurasia, they disappeared abruptly between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago, to be replaced by homo sapiens sapiens – modern humans.
The emergence of genetic science in the past decade has thrown light on the situation. The mitochondrial DNA sequences from actual skeletal finds of Neanderthals were radically different from those of all known present-day populations, proving that very little interbreeding between local Neanderthals and the intrusive modern populations in Europe.
There is some evidence to suggest that this did take place, as stated by Alan Rogers, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Utah, in his article ‘The record of our past is written in our parasites’.
Questions concerning exactly how and when modern humans arose from their primate ancestors are amongst the most intensely debated topics in evolutionary biology. Fragmentary fossils and patchy genetic data provide key insights but fail to address a key question - did modern and archaic human species come into direct contact? Not only did they meet, but our ancient human relatives brought with them an unwelcome side effect - their head lice!
Parasites can be used as unique markers to investigate host evolutionary history, independent of host data. Here we show that modern human head lice, Pediculus humanus, are composed of two ancient lineages, whose origin predates modern Homo sapiens by an order of magnitude (ca. 1.18 million years). One of the two louse lineages has a worldwide distribution and appears to have undergone a population bottleneck ca. 100,000 years ago along with its modern H. sapiens host. Phylogenetic and population genetic data suggest that the other lineage, found only in the New World, has remained isolated from the worldwide lineage for the last 1.18 million years. The ancient divergence between these two lice is contemporaneous with splits among early species of Homo, and co-speciation analyses suggest that the two louse lineages co-diverged with a now-extinct species of Homo and the lineage leading to modern H. sapiens. If these lice indeed co-diverged with their hosts ca. 1.18 MYA, then a recent host switch from an archaic species of Homo to modern H. sapiens is required to explain the occurrence of both lineages on modern H. sapiens. Such a host switch would require direct physical contact between modern and archaic forms of Homo.
However, all genetic traces of this interbreeding were subsequently eliminated from the European gene pool. The mtDNA suggests that the initial evolutionary separation of the Neanderthals from the populations which eventually gave rise to the genetically modern populations reach back at least 300,000 years. This is supported by fossil evidence from Africa and Europe.
As well as genetics, another vital tool used for identification is the study of the patterns of culture and technology associated with the initial dispersal of anatomically and genetically modern populations across Europe. We call this period ’Aurignacian’, or Upper Paleolithic, broadly within the time range of 40 to 35 thousand years Before Present [BP]. It heralded a sudden flowering of modern cultural behaviour, manifested by complex and carefully shaped bone, antler and ivory tools, far-travelled marine shells, personal ornaments, and rock art – both abstract and figurative. This Aurignacian display is conspicuously absent from the preceding Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthal communities of the region. It is an archaeological watershed which correlates with populations of anatomically modern humans.
But, can we identify substantial and anatomically distinctive specimens of human skeletal remains with Aurignacian technologies? Yes: the Pestera cu Oase Cave in Romania [AMS 35,000yr BP], Ksar Akil in Lebanon [40,000 yr BP], Kent’s Cavern in Devon [31,000 yr BP], Les Rois in western France [32,000 yr BP] and Mladec in the Czech Republic [35,000 yr BP].
So, populations that were fully anatomically modern were present in Europe and the Near East within the Aurignatian period –around 30,000 years BP. Genetic studies show a dispersal of fully modern [ie. African-derived] patterns of DNA across Europe probably up to 50,000 years BP.
Archaeological research shows a dual pattern of colonization by anatomically modern populations across Europe, along two different routes.
1. ‘Aurignac’ – a broad arc of western, central and southeastern Europe and the Near East, marked by a range of distinctive tool forms – scrapers, blades, and split-base bone and antler spear-head forms. Known as ‘classic’ Aurignacian.
Main sites: Bulgaria – Bacho Kiro & Temnata : Lebanon – Ksar Akil
2. ‘Mediterranean’ – along the Mediterranean coast of Europe, from northeastern Italy to the Atlantic coast of northern Spain. Known as ‘proto’ Aurignacian. Different pattern of technology – small carefully shaped bladelets, for spears and arrows.
Both routes foreshadow the later spread of the earliest agricultural Neolithic communities.
And what of the interaction?
The pattern implies inevitable and numerous episodes of contact and interaction between the expanding populations of modern humans and the indigenous Neanderthal populations across Europe. There is the appearance of a number of modern features of Aurignacian technology among some of the final Neanderthal communities. Recent ethnic contact situations, regardless of the respective cultural and cognitive capacities of the two populations confirm such patterns of behavioral interaction and technological transfer. So does that mean the Neanderthals had the same brain capacity? This is still controversial, and further research is required. Despite some interaction, the likely scenario would have been one of direct competition for space and resources between the two populations. Our use of the new technology and our organizational abilities – through complex linguistic and symbolic communication - would have been advantageous, especially whilst the climate at this time was experiencing rapid oscillations.
5,00 year later, at 85,000 years ago humans migrated east out of Africa a second time, this time over the Gates of Grief – the reef-strewn mouth of the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aden.
by Stephen Oppenheimer
Single Mitochondrial DNA Line - Out of Africa
L3 b, d, e and f stayed in North Africa, alongside their ancient ancestors the L2 who stayed in sub-Saharan Africa and L1 a, b, c, d, e & f who continued to fill south, central and east Africa.
All other L3 Mitochondrial Eve lines crossed the Red Sea at its craggy mouth during an ice age when the waters were 400 feet lower and reduced the water depth to about 150 feet, and peopled the entire Eurasian continent from the place where cool grasses were then plentiful in the Yemen highlands: L3 m & n settled in India, L3 m being the dominant group both there and further away in East Asia. From India, a small L3 n population dispersed to Europe (L3 n1a & b) and also pushed on into East Asia (L3 a, i & n8). Smaller groups of N-descendants (L3 r & w) found niches in the Indian subcontinent alongside their numerous M-relatives, and spawned proto-Europeans (L3 i, w, x) and eventually the R-group sired large populations of Levantines and Europeans after the ice age meltdown (L3 h, j, u, t , v) with half the hardy U-group successfully then reentering India. The N-descendants also included moderate numbers of east Asians (L3 a) while the later descended R-group eventually spawned twice as many East Asians (L3 b & f) as their L3 a relatives. By 80,000 years ago the beach-combing migration had reached Southeast Asia. By 75,000 years ago Indochina and western Indonesia, then still connected by land bridges, were settled on the way to Borneo and coastal China around 68,000 years ago. The low water mark 68,000 years ago would also have facilitated island-hopping to Australia at that time. Meanwhile the Toba explosion at the Indonesian super-plume wrought unimaginable destruction centered on the Indian Ocean, but caused a six year world-wide nuclear winter and launched a thousand-year ice age with global homo sapiens sapiens population crashing to less than 10,000 adult people at the low point! Why is it that our collective memory focuses so much on floods when clearly the most devastating event in modern human history was a volcanic eruption? Perhaps so few people survived the thousand year winnowing that the better remembered (and less shockingly destructive) progressive ice age meltdown with its many successive flooding events had an easier time finding its way into oral histories that became our mythic legends, and none who lived through the Toba experience cared to ever retell, relive or even mention those dark years again!
Generations are shown above
The figures above represent the 15 surviving African maternal mitochondrial lines older than 80,000 years. From those fifteen lines only one mitochondrial line would, over many generations, become the Out-of-Africa Eve line, or the common ancestral mother line of the rest of the world. This random selection and extinction process is called genetic drift because the original mix of lines has drifted towards one genetic type.
by Stephen Oppenheimer
by Stephen Oppenheimer
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by Stephen Oppenheimer (2003)
A uranium date of 67,000 years was reported, but has been questioned on the basis of its exact location in relation to dated geological strata. In December 2002, a Chinese group headed by geologist Shen Guanjun reported their reinvestigation of the stratigraphy of the cave and dating of the skull (extending to several neighbouring caves) and claim it should be placed in a time bracket between 70,000 and 130,000, and not less than 68,000, years ago. The skull was found in a so-called intrusive breccia, a secondary flow of debris containing jumbled material of different ages. From their paper in the prestigious Journal of Human Evolution, the lower date bracket of 68,000 years seems solid, since it comes from multiple date estimates of the flowstone above and covering the breccia. (A flowstone forms when flowing water deposits calcite down a wall or across a floor.) Their preferred dating of 111,000–139,000 years ago based on unstratified fragments of flowstone and calcite within the breccia seems more speculative.
Tuesday, February 02, 2016
Birth to Death
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Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Closer than HorizonIt's the end of 2015, and Houston's traveled "T-plus 27" years past the outside estimate for how long humans may safely extend fossil fuel exploitation before stemming a tide of climate change that increasingly threatens modern civilization plus uncountable animal and plant species with disaster and near-extinction.
Around 1978 Exxon's own excellent internal science staff formulated an estimate with only five to ten years remaining at expected global emissions curves to define an alternative path away from fossil fuels. Well it's taken longer than desired, but with this year's Paris climate accord in hand the whole world now stands united to attempt this major course correction together.
Portland, Oregon and surrounding Multnomah County have followed a joint climate action plan since 1993, now in its fourth installment. Other places started a bit later, and many have yet to begin their first such project. Unfortunate for locals, Houston, Texas in billing itself the Energy Capital of the World to its peril equates that title with fossil hydrocarbon exploration and production. This excerpt downloaded yesterday from the Portland, Oregon local government Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) web site gives energy industry leadership pause:
"In November 2015, Portland City Council passed two new resolutions, signaling local resolve to move away from fossil fuels. The first resolution, passed on November 4, opposes oil trains carrying crude oil from rolling through Portland and Vancouver. The second resolution directs City bureaus to identify how to use the City's authority to restrict the development and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure (other than infrastructure like pipes to serve direct end users.) Resolutions are not legally binding on their own. Any legally binding code changes will come back to City Council for consideration at a later date.
The new resolutions build on a history of action:Consider that Portland has a 20-plus year lead embracing climate action, and we have reason to expect other US cities and counties will enact similar measures quite rapidly as part and parcel of a national contribution toward global fossil fuel emissions reductions of 80% by 2050. What would this mean for Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, and for surrounding Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties?
- Reduce direct use of fossil fuels: The City has been systematically working to reduce fossil fuel use in Portland for more than 20 years, as detailed in four successive climate action plans. This most recent decision reflects the commitment of Portland’s leadership to stay the course, rather than a radical departure from past practice.
- Don't invest City financial resources in fossil fuels: In September 2015 City Council passed a resolution that adds fossil fuel companies to the City’s "do-not-buy" list of corporate securities.
- Reduce fossil fuels in our electricity supply: The City continues to partner with clean energy advocates and allies to make it easier for renewable energy development to take place in Oregon. BPS has run programs to help residents and businesses go solar, like Solarize Portland, and has piloted new program ideas like crowdfunding for solar on community buildings. BPS has played an active role in supporting state legislative and regulatory proceedings that advance clean energy, like the Renewable Portfolio Standard."
The status of diversification in the Houston-area economyAnyone that lived through the 1983/86 crash in Houston can easily recall to this day what over-reliance on a single fuel to support the regional economy felt like when boom turned to bust. The CEO of Shell Oil Company walked away from a Kingwood mansion and threw in the keys.
Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (from BLS)Here's a look at the nation's post-war unemployment history.
The 1983 economic crisis became just as pronounced as the 2008 financial meltdown from which we still recover at a national scale.
- Financial Services: almost 7 percent of all employees worked in almost 13 percent of all establishments earning over 12 percent of total wages. Average weekly wage was $2,433.17, or 182% of the county average.
- Aerospace: with just ten employers that provided 3,131 jobs earning $6.4 million in weekly wages, the business of outer space made up a mere quarter percent of the Harris County total. Average weekly wage was $2,051.26, or 153% of the county average.
- Biotech: with a lower location quotient (LQ) of only 0.75, biotech actually appeared underrepresented in Harris County with only 56 establishments supplying 742 jobs earning $1.2 million in weekly wages. This industry supplied four hundredths of a percent of Harris County's total wages, leaving plenty of room for growth. Average weekly wage was $1,672.63, or 125% of the county average.
- Rice Milling: a mature Harris County industry with a whopping 6.71 L.Q., provided 184 jobs in just seven establishments offering $254,621 in weekly wages, which is only one hundredth of one percent of the county total. Average weekly wage was $1,383.81, or 103% of the county average.
- HVAC: the air conditioning industry in this hot and humid land had L.Q. of 1.62 where 212 establishments provided 7,382 jobs offering $9.4 million in weekly wages, which is about one-third percent of county total wages. Average weekly wage was $1,273.90, or 95% of the county average.
- Coffee Bean Roasting: a recent startup industry in Harris County, green coffee roasting maintained 490 employees in eleven establishments offering $605,325 in weekly wages, which amounted to an embryonic two hundredths of one percent of county total wages. Average weekly wage was $1,235.36, or 92% of county average.
- Medicine: an average-paid Medical Center with lower-wage supportive services like ambulance drivers and home health care workers, combined to offer $188 million in weekly wages (6.74% of the county's total) to 178,819 workers (8.6% of the county total) spread over 8,706 establishments. Thus averaged, a weekly wage of $1,053.47 was 79% of county average. The gigantic and expending size of the Texas Medical Center hinted at a large and growing population in the Houston metro area, Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land was the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the United States and second-largest in Texas with a population of 6,313,158 in 2013 and 6,490,180 in 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau's most recent mid-year (ACS 1-Year) estimates. Considering the size of population served, the medical profession in Harris County still has a location quotient of only 1.27, meaning it has ballooned but only to 27% larger than the average medical industry of a US metropolitan city.
- Finally, with over three times the L.Q. average, Harris County's innovative Bus and Rail Transit industry employed 3,120 workers in 12 establishments offering a total of almost $3 million in weekly wages, between one and two tenth's percent of the county total. Average weekly wage was $910.45, or 68% of the county average, marking this the lower-wage industry among the big ones in the Houston area.
- implementing ever more efficient co-generation solutions wherever the remaining fossil fuel budget may be burned.
- right-sizing petroleum production for almost exclusively closed-loop feed stock and not so much direct-burn fuel purposes.
- becoming a serious supplier of pure carbon buckyball lubricants and nanotube fiber stocks as sequestering develops a non-fossil-fueled ability to retrieve and split CO2 from ambient air.
- partnering with the private aerospace industry to create prodigious amounts of pure hydrogen and oxygen to fuel ever cheaper launches and deeper space ventures, and on the side power embedded fuel cells and entire trains of self-driven hydrogen cars on land, rail and in the air.
- mitigating existing ship channel properties to redevelop the land for future-trade post-Panamax business, especially if asteroid mining begins to pay raw-materials dividends.
- hugely retooling and reinvesting in future base-load energy options such as modular breeder reactors and eventually magnetically-constrained slow fusion direct electric and heat production.
- exploiting that intense nuclear energy and supplementing it with abundant alternatives to create a stream of custom hydrocarbons (boutique fuels) from seawater and feed stocks.
- partnering with the public to mainline carbon-fee dividends to customers' checking accounts.
- participating in a tremendous new public-private partnership to develop free energy as public good, perhaps distributed underground from a safe, secure superconducting spine that will traverse the center of North America from Hudson Bay to Houston.
- taking ownership of whatever the OPEC oil states may leave to private oil majors after they have predominantly purchased winners of competition in advanced bio-fuel industries.
- final development of identified fossil fuel reserves but only within Earth's limited remaining carbon budget, and in order of most economical-ecological exploits first - the rest will remain in solid earth reservoirs.
- eventually, and this is really looking ahead, making good on those space company partnerships to transport valuable new bulk hydrocarbon resources from Jupiter's moons for safe delivery to a carefully carbon-neutral future Earth.