Gelada baboons give us insight into the history of domestication

When I think about the history of human evolution, I always feel a twinge of regret that our sibling human species didn’t survive to grow with us. The more I learn about the rest of the biosphere, the clearer it is to me that we’re just one among many species, each with a lineage as ancient as our own. As the original Grand Poobah would say, I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule, along with the ancestries of my dog, my cat, and that damned fly that got in here somehow. As with the dogs, and cats, and flies, we did not evolve in isolation. We were not always the only species on the planet with our kind of intelligence, and I think it’s sad that, for whatever reason, the rest of humanity didn’t manage to survive and thrive alongside Homo sapiens.

The painting shows a shirtless man wearing something like a kilt, talking to his son. The man's hair and beard are dark, the boy's hair is light blonde. The father is holding a stone hand ax, and pointing to it as his son looks. It appears to be a lesson in how to make a hand ax. To the sighted eye, their proportions and features are a little odd, and the label in the top corner tells us that while they're not Homo sapiens, but rather Homo neanderthalensis.

A man showing his son how to make a hand ax, H. neanderthalensis, by Tom Bjorklund

There’s also hope for the future though. While I will almost certainly never live to see another high-tech life form interacting with humanity, there’s always a chance that other people will. I understand that I’m being seriously optimistic here, but I think that if human civilization manages to last for tens, or hundreds of thousands of years, we’re both likely to encounter other intelligent life, and we’re likely to develop a society that’s not going to consume itself with xenophobia upon that encounter.

That vague hope is part of why it made me so happy when my wife sent me this article that I had missed back in June:

In the alpine grasslands of eastern Africa, Ethiopian wolves and gelada monkeys are giving peace a chance. The geladas – a type of baboon – tolerate wolves wandering right through the middle of their herds, while the wolves ignore potential meals of baby geladas in favour of rodents, which they can catch more easily when the monkeys are present.

Basically, the monkeys allow the wolves to become part of the herd, and to use that as a way to surprise unwary rodents. Good behavior is enforced by the geladas, of course, and if you compare sizes in this picture, it’s clear that the only way wolves can do anything in that herd is if the monkeys allow them to.

The image shows grassy scrubland, mostly in shades of green, with some brown and white where non-grass plants are growing. A herd of gelada baboons are going about their business. They're loosely scattered, all doing their own thing, and there's a wide array of sizes, from babies smaller than cats, to the fully grown adults. There's a single Ethiopian wolf near the bottom of the picture, and it's about the same size as the adult monkeys, and smaller than one male in the top right corner of the picture.

If left alone, where will this relationship end up? Could this be the beginning of a relationship like our own with dogs? I have no idea, but I really, really hope this is still going on, and going strong by the time I die. It seems unlikely at the moment, but hey, what are we fighting for?

Today I’m fighting for literate baboons that ride wolves.

 


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Vertical Farms and Automation

So here’s a topic I haven’t touched on in a while – as we’re getting off of fossil fuels, I think we should also invest in indoor farming infrastructure, particularly in cities. A well-run indoor farm can recycle water, keep out pests and pathogens, and generate a constant level of food production year-round. That production can be maintained regardless of temperature or drought, and without the need for anything like the level of pesticides and herbicides used in modern industrial agriculture. More importantly, it’s a way to grow food in population centers, which would dramatically increase a city’s resilience to all sorts of disasters. Fortunately we are seeing an increase in the indoor farming industry, so we may be closer to that slice of the future than most of us expect:

I noticed a couple things while watching this video. [Read more…]

Amphibian Extinction: Climate change isn’t the only problem

For scientists studying life on this planet, the question is no longer whether global warming is having an effect, but rather how much it’s affecting a given ecosystem. With that understanding, it’s not hard to jump to the conclusion that a given problem is due to the rise in temperature, and the changes that follow from that. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into more than once, and it’s not just a problem because I want to speak the truth. It’s also a problem because it’s important to remember that while the destabilization of the global climate is possibly that most dangerous side-effect of human activity, we’re causing other problems as well. [Read more…]

What is a species worth? Turtles in decline around the world

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time wandering around in some of the forests and wetlands in the greater Boston area. One of my earlier memories was seeing a snapping turtle crossing the newly paved Minuteman Bikeway.

Somewhere between kindergarten and second grade, I was walking down a stream near my school, using a stick to help balance as I went. I poked it down into a dark pool against the bank, and something grabbed my stick and gave it a good jerk. There’s something special about the shiver of startlement that runs over you when you realize that in that alien world, just on the other side of the stream’s surface, there’s something watching you. Something as strong as I was – maybe stronger – had just seized hold of my stick, and I couldn’t get it back until whatever creature was lurking below let go.

Thinking on moments like that, it’s easy to see how legends would spring up of water spirits who attack the unwary. [Read more…]

Corporations are not friends, my people.

The point has been made that if corporations are people, then their behavior is downright psychotic. Case in point, CSX Railroad actively obstructed Lumberton, NC’s efforts to prepare for Hurricane Florence. They needed to put down a sand berm across a CSX track as part of the effort to stop the town from flooding. The response?

Not only did CSX refuse to allow the city to build the berm, it also threatened to take legal action if the city did, multiple people with knowledge of the situation told HuffPost. It wasn’t until local officials petitioned Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to intervene that they were able to begin construction of the makeshift wall late last week.

CSX has come out with a couple different reasons for this. The first was the claim that the sand would damage the tracks. As we all know, while railroad tracks all have magical spells on them to prevent damage from flooding, sand is another matter entirely. It’s coarse, andrough, and irritating, and basically, corporations are Darth Vader is what I’m saying. During his whiny Haydn Christianson phase, not the murder-cyborg with the James Earl Jones voice – that part comes later when the workers try to stand up for themselves.

The image shows a vast warehouse or underground cavern. White lights on the ceiling create a glow in the misty air. Three trains

We are altering the deal. Pray we don’t alter it any further.

[Read more…]

Facebook is not your friend, and it might be your enemy.

Do not trust billionaires. Do not trust big corporations. Both owe their existence to a lack of concern for human wellbeing. Whatever their PR teams say, do not look to them for salvation, and do not expect them to have your back when the going gets tough.

The 2016 election gave many Americans a new awareness of the dangers of propaganda. In particular, we had our eyes opened to the ways in which aspects of our daily lives, like Facebook, can be used like puppet strings to control the unwary. Don’t forget that – Facebook was one of the tools used to influence the election and give us President Donald John Trump.

Facebook, of course, ran a spin campaign to convince everybody that they weren’t to blame. It’s currently seen as important for corporations to be viewed as “the good guys”. Facebook announced that they were very, very sorry for their support of propaganda, and that they would be fact-checking things now, so it would all be OK. You may be shocked to learn that all does not be OK. [Read more…]

And of course, it’s not just FEMA…

The GOP is also looting the Coast Guard to find their genocidal ambitions.


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The spite of rich men: GOP takes millions from FEMA to feed ICE

The obvious take on this would be to say that the Republicans are cutting off their nose to spite their face. They took ten million dollars from FEMA to increase their immigrant/refugee concentra- detainment center program. That would be giving them too much credit. The GOP, regardless of who its base might be, is a rich people’s party dedicated to the greed of rich people. They’re not cutting off their nose, they’re cutting off the nose of their constituency, to spite the scapegoat they tell their constituency to hate. The GOP loses nothing by destroying this country, so long as they keep making money, and their propaganda keeps working.

So far, it looks like the voters who keep the GOP in power have been willing to endure quite a lot of hardship if the people inflicting it have an (R) after their name. I hope Hurricane Florence won’t be as disastrous as expected, but if it is, I wonder if any Republican voters will take a second glance at the way their hero de-funded FEMA to pay for family internment.


If you found this post useful or enjoyable, please share it, and please consider becoming a patron over at my Patreon page. Your donations make this blog possible, and even as little as one dollar per month adds up to make a difference. If you feel you can afford more than that, you can get access to all sorts of other content and perks! Your patronage allows me to put more of my time and energy into making this blog a useful resource. Thanks for reading!

 

Crying wolf after the sheep are dead: A message to journalists

I want to talk about the reporting on a paper that was recently published in Earth System Dynamics, and about the “act now before it’s too late” message. The paper reports on some work done modeling our climate’s behavior, how it might respond to different scenarios, and what has to be achieved to avoid the 2 Degree mark. Most of the paper is over my head, so I’m not going to try to pick it apart, but the way it’s being talked about seems like a problem to me.

For anybody who has spent time following the talking points and strategies of climate deniers, anything published these days with an “x years left before it’s too late!” model headline should raise at least an eyebrow, if not an alarm bell. We’ve been hearing these stories for a long time now, and that’s a problem. I get why individual politicians, pundits, and reporters might think it’s a good line, but it has been over-used.

We don’t have 10 years to stop the planet from passing 2 degrees Celsius. I don’t think we had 10 years in 2008. 1998? Probably.

[Read more…]