How humans telling stories causes climate change

Humans, homo sapiens our unique genus and species is remarkably different from any other creature on Earth. We cross oceans and setup limited liability corporations, tame animals and breed crops. We’ve altered the climate of the planet through our activities. We’ve altered the Earth’s ecology and are the only species to have escaped the food chain. All these things happened because something flipped genetically in Homo Sapiens, giving us the ability to tell stories. This development set up the sixth extinction event in the history of the earth that’s happening right now. Throughout earth’s history rapid (on the scale of millions of years) climate change causes species to go extinct. Human storytelling is what sets us apart from the food chain; it’s also the cause of climate change and mass extinction. In this lighthearted essay we’ll dive into the history of our species and planet Earth up to the present day. Buckle up.

🕒 Time

So Earth is hella fucking old. Here’s a timeline of some notable events we’ll explore more in the next section:

  • 335 million years ago: Giant landmass called Pangea formed. All continents are “together as one”™
  • 210 million years ago: First mammals
  • 245–66 million years ago: Dinosaurs 🦕 This time is called the Mesozoic Era, it’s further broken into the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods.
  • 175 million years ago: Pangea begins to break apart
  • 66 million years ago: Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-T) extinction event. Asteroid hit earth eliminating 80% of all species.
  • 55 million years ago: First monkeys 🐵
  • 30 million years ago Modern continents pretty much formed. 🗺️
  • 6 million years ago: Last common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees 💔
  • 2.5 million years ago: Genus Homo comes into existence, uses stone tools ⛏️
  • 2 million years ago: Genus Homo spreads from Africa to Europe and Asia. Different species within the genus Homo evolve. 🐒
  • 500,000 years ago: First Neanderthals
  • 300,000 years ago: Genus Homo is using fire on a regular basis 🔥
  • 200,000 years ago: First Homo Sapiens evolve in East Africa 💪
  • 100,000 years ago: Homo erectus goes extinct ❌
  • 70,000 years ago: Cognitive Revolution 💡
  • 70,000 years ago: Homo denisova goes extinct ❌
  • 45,000 years ago: Homo Sapiens settle Australia 🇦🇺. Australian megafauna extinct ❌
  • 40,000 years ago: Homo Sapiens settle Europe 🇪🇺. Neanderthals go extinct ❌
  • 16,000 years ago: Homo Sapiens settle Americas 🇺🇸. American megafauna go extinct ❌
  • 13,000 years ago: Last different species from us in our genus (Homo Floresiensis) goes extict ❌
  • 12,000 years ago: Agricultural Revolution 🌾
  • 500 years ago: Scientific Revolution 🔭
  • 200 years ago: Industrial Revolution 🏭

🕺 Are we human or are we dancer?

For the last 10,000 years our species, Homo Sapiens has been the only species of human (genus Homo) around. The rest have gone extinct. Homo denisova and Neanderthals were close enough genetically to interbreed with Homo Sapiens but otherwise are extinct. How did Homo Sapiens beat out all the other species of human. What makes us so different?

🤝 Teamwork makes the dream work

The first humans that lived millions of years ago specialized in cracking marrow from bones after other animals made the kill. Though we used rocks as tools to crack open bones we were still solidly in the middle of the food chain. During the Cognitive Revolution 70,000 years ago Homo Sapiens began to create imagined realities similar to how we do today. Once an idea for a concept exists it cannot die only move forward. Instead of being able to communicate “I am hungry” or “there is a mammoth over there” we could bind together and recognize the mammoth is our tribe’s spirit animal and fire is actually a spirit who interacts with nature’s other forces. This jump to fiction allows Homo Sapiens to create imagined realities that exert force on the world. Homo Sapiens store information about relationships. We gossip. In a band of fifty humans there are 1,225 one on one relationships and many more group dynamics. Our language and species has a unique ability to convey info about things that do not exist at all. Fiction enables us to imagine things collectively. We can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. Large numbers of strangers in the millions can cooperate by believing common myths that exist in the collective imagination. It’s a truly stunning superpower that’s allowed us to stand out.

📚 Resources:

  • If you’re at all interested in human evolutionary history I’d recommend Sapiens as a must read and starting point.
  • To learn more about Homo Sapiens impact on the environment I recommend The Sixth Extinction book.
  • This article has a pretty disturbing rendition of what a Neanderthal might have looked like, but is otherwise a solid read.

Engineer, writer and community organizer. I built Employbl to help candidates get jobs in the Bay Area:

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