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Tony Grist

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Been There, Done That.... [Dec. 8th, 2009|11:08 am]
Tony Grist
There's a cave in the rock of Gibraltar, facing the sea, where the very last group of Neanderthals lived. Tony Robinson has a new programme about the history of climate change- and he took us there last night to show us how a species very like our own got wiped out by the weather. It was very sad- poor old Neanderthals- but there was an upside too, because- while the Neanderthals were being thinned out by successive ice ages to the point where they were no longer viable- our human ancestors were riding out the bad weather in the Russian steppes, building huts out of mammoth bones and digging deep pits to serve as larders for mammoth meat. They were also making the world's first art- or at least the first art that has survived- in the shape of those wonderful, big -bellied, full-breasted "Venus" figurines.

The Neanderthals didn't do art. They didn't do trade either. We know this because the objects we find in their settlements were all sourced locally. Human settlements, on the other hand, are full of objects sourced from hundreds of miles away. This is almost certainly a factor in our survival and their demise. We had developed a "social brain"; they hadn't. They lived in isolated small groups; We lived in communities that communicated and interacted and exchanged goods, information and technology.

It's because of things like this- because we're clearly such a resilient bunch- that I refuse to get hysterical about climate change. We've coped with it before; we'll cope with it again. Our earliest ancestors migrated from the forests and grasslands of Ethiopia to the frozen steppes of Southern Russia and not only dealt with the radical change of environment but thrived. Maybe the earth is warming, maybe we're helping the process along, but whatever we do or don't do now this is a volatile planet we're living on and change is bound to come- if not tomorrow then the day after tomorrow- and if we've got half the spirit our ancestors had we'll adapt and make a go of it.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sovay
2009-12-08 04:35 pm (UTC)
Maybe the earth is warming, maybe we're helping the process along, but whatever we do or don't do now this is a volatile planet we're living on and change is bound to come- if not tomorrow then the day after tomorrow- and if we've got half the spirit our ancestors had we'll adapt and make a go of it.

I think it is worth taking note of climate change not because I fear we will not survive it, but because it is one thing to be a resilient species and another to ensue the extinctions of those around you.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-12-09 09:56 am (UTC)
I'm not persuaded that there's much we can do. If the earth is warming up it could well be due to entirely natural processes beyond our control.
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2009-12-08 04:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you for voicing this positive note. I have always believed that change is normal on this planet. As a child someone told me that we were at the end of the last ice age, and that the Earth was warming. That was over fifty years ago. If the Earth can warm up it can also swing the other way - over time. It already has, several times.
I do agree, however, that greenhouse gases are hazardous to our health, and much more immediately than global warming would seem to indicate. Therefore, I do my little bit to keep my carbon footprint low.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-12-09 10:09 am (UTC)
Human beings have existed on this planet for something like 200,000 years. During that time there have been several ice ages. The temperature is always fluctuating. There was a particularly warm spell during the middle Ages.

I'm not convinced human activity makes much- or any- difference.
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[User Picture]From: petercampbell
2009-12-08 06:31 pm (UTC)
I'm a bit sceptical about climate change hysteria, mainly because I feel we lack the historical perspective to judge whether it's really our behaviour that's causing it. Though I feel a bit embarrassed expressing that opinion when so many of the climate change naysayers are rabidly right wing scumbags.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-12-09 10:10 am (UTC)
It's a little tiresome how what should a matter for cool scientific debate has become a ding-dong battle between right and left.

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[User Picture]From: qatsi
2009-12-08 09:14 pm (UTC)
Homo sapiens (the second word being sometimes questionable) will make it through, but probably not the nine billion of us there are forecast to be by the middle of the century.

I would highly recommend James Lovelock's The Revenge of Gaia if you haven't read it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-12-09 10:13 am (UTC)
I read his first Gaia book.

Nine billion is an awful lot of people.
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[User Picture]From: silverhawkdruid
2009-12-09 03:34 pm (UTC)
It was a very enjoyable programme, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.
I agree that we don't need to get hysterical about climate change, but owning to our share of causing it above and beyond the natural shifts is important, to my mind. We can all make small changes that can add up to a big difference in our footprints without too much trouble, and making a bit of effort to change our attitudes and behaviour towards looking after this planet is better than just shrugging our shoulders and leaping over the cliff. :-) After all, a large proportion of humankind, not to mention the animal population will not survive dramatic climate change, so wouldn't we want to do all we can to slow it down if that is possible?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-12-09 04:44 pm (UTC)
You and I may keep our carbon footprints small, but will China call a halt to its industrial development? Will Gordon Brown turn round and decide Heathrow doesn't need a third runway after all?
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[User Picture]From: silverhawkdruid
2009-12-10 10:26 am (UTC)
It's the politicians that worry me. If they won't commit, what chance do we have?
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