When humans began to raze forests and use the resultant soils to raise crops, they were working their way down through the food chain, no longer harvesting ecosystem detritus but destroying entire ecosystems literally at their roots for short-term human benefit. That practice eventually turned forest ecosystems into deserts. As this essay will survey, that was a rampant problem in all early civilizations. Eventually, humans learned to reach even further back into the ecological horizon as they began burning energy stores that were hundreds of millions of years old; was first and second. They were burned a million times as fast as they were created. In all instances, humans were releasing sunlight energy that had been captured and stored by organisms. In the 20th century, when humans began using nuclear fission, they were going even further back in time and harvesting energy stored via billions of years ago. With each new energy source, humans were harvesting older, more concentrated energy sources, which released far more energy than the previously used source. In each instance, humans plundered the energy source to exhaustion. Humans have not lived in “harmony” with nature since they learned to control fire.
In the earliest days of life on Earth, it had to solve the problems of how to reproduce, how to separate itself from its environment, how to acquire raw materials, and how to make the chemical reactions that it needed. But it was confined to those areas where it could take advantage of briefly available potential energy as . The earliest process of skimming energy from energy gradients to power life is called respiration. That earliest respiration is today called because there was virtually no free oxygen in the atmosphere or ocean in those early days. Respiration was life’s first energy cycle. A biological energy cycle begins by harvesting an energy gradient (usually by a proton crossing a membrane or, in photosynthesis, directly capturing photon energy), and the acquired energy powered chemical reactions. The cycle then proceeds in steps, and the reaction products of each step sequentially use a little more energy from the initial capture until the initial energy has been depleted and the cycle’s molecules are returned to their starting point and ready for a fresh influx of energy to repeat the cycle.
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The human nuclear family was a change from ape social organization, which gave more males an opportunity to procreate, but it is also an economic institution, as have been extended families and the like. Family and clan organization . What will happen to family structures with FE and abundance? Bearing children is hard on a woman, and it is difficult to imagine a population explosion with FE and abundance, as women will have better things to do than become baby factories. Maybe the human population will significantly decline in a continuance of today’s , but even if it rose, since humanity will not place a burden on Earth’s ecosystems, it would not matter as it does today.
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Also, just as no fundamentally new body plans appeared after the Cambrian Explosion, modern ecosystems seem constrained by body size. Body sizes have similar “slots,” and body sizes outside of those slots are relatively rare. However, successful innovation usually happens at the fringes. The fringes are where survival is marginal and innovations carry a high risk/reward ratio. Most innovations fail, but a successful one can become universally dominant, such as those biological innovations that are considered to have happened only . There have been countless failed biological innovations during life’s history on Earth, many of which might have seemed brilliant but did not survive the rigors of living.