Free energy has been a scarce commodity throughout evolutionary history on earth. Even plants and phytoplankton compete for access to sunlight and nutrients. Dissipative structures employ various defensive measures so as not to be an easy target in providing relatively free energy to predators. Free pools of energy have a tendency to be used-up quickly. Much energy is embedded within the organic tissues of ecosystem species which have evolved to consume each other for nutrition. There is great variability in the offensive and defensive attributes they possess which has led to a proliferation of forms.
The Eastern Box Turtle has excellent armor which can make this potential meal more trouble than its worth for many predators. A similar strategy has been taken by the mollusks such as clams, but their thick shells have been penetrated by the rasps of oyster drills, small snails that attach and create a small hole through which soft tissues are accessed. I am unaware of any species that can drill through a turtle or tortoise shell, but mankind’s technology has imitated that found in nature and large rasping drills penetrate thick rock shells covering the black fossil nutrition below ground.
Human ancestors inhabited a landscape of relative scarcity with predatory ability carefully balanced against other species ability to defend themselves. Free energy in excess of that allowing survival of two offspring was not readily had in the environment. There was life, struggle, balance and eventual death, sometimes with more than two offspring, sometimes with one and sometimes with none.
Humans, enhanced by their evolving social and communicative behaviors, began to access more of the energy formerly beyond their reach including wood for fire and large herbivores unable to cope with human/dog pack hunting. What once was adequately protected through co-evolution of offensive predatory and defensive herbivore behaviors and body plans, became accessible energy, not necessarily with tools, but with novel coordinated hunting strategies. Fire was also likely used as a defensive adaptation to be used against nocturnal predators. An increase of net energy within human social groups allowed human numbers to expand, but success meant decimation of herbivore populations and a consequent fall in human numbers due to being too successful. Lotka-Volterra population dynamics kept any population from rising too high.
The greatest expansion in human numbers and complexity likely took place when much larger gradients were exploited to augment the human diet, including the soils and agriculture. Instead of relying upon transfer of energy from plants to herbivores to humans, it was possible to short-circuit the flow and transfer plant energy directly to humans. At this point the energy flow was great enough to support temple building, primitive information development, some specialization in occupation. These cultures grew and regressed as the conditions for successful agriculture came and went over time. The exhaustion of nearby soils may also have limited population in a manner similar to the Lotka-Volterra dynamics, soils that were not washed away having an opportunity to regenerate following agricultural use.
Even though agricultural civilizations collapsed, the information systems were often preserved and flourished in other areas where new growth emerged. The Latin language and alphabet of Rome was preserved in the priestly class of the Catholic Church which was in the practice of transcribing religious texts and creating illuminated manuscripts. Eventually, with increasing net energy, those using such language would begin to describe the world in a semi-scientific manner, recording observations along with drawings and artistic impressions. The written language, the emergent DNA of technological civilization, although used for religious purposes, soon found itself describing the secular world and being employed to describe the dimensions and processes in the production of useful items such as tools. Once the information/human/tool nexus had been made, it was only a matter of time before energy began to flow more readily as the written information could be disseminated and populations be trained to read and utilize it. The craftsman economies soon gave way to the cellular, organized environments of the modern factory where tools could be made systematically. With sufficient energy from fossil fuels, the complexity of the modern factory and supporting society could be maintained to maximize output of tools and related items.
The ecosystem was defenseless against the new tools of man and more areas were annexed for agricultural use. But not until the tools were invented to access fossil fuels and the invention of the steam engine did the human technological experiment begin to snowball into what we see today – an overwhelmingly massive technological malignancy. The wealth of organic biological molecules, first utilized to feed an expanding population of mankind and then fossilized molecules to feed man’s tools, were pumped and mined and brought to the surface to react with oxygen. With the advent of the internal combustion engine we could create complex tools that were energized by combustion, not entirely dissimilar to the combing of glucose with oxygen to form ATP. One of those tools, the chain saw, is pivotal in harvesting the now defenseless trees which were initially hacked with axes and crosscut saws. Locomotives could also be used distribute the wealth that was now open to human harvest. Having been trained by evolution to struggle and compete for scarce energy, we could use our new fossil fuel energy harvest to invest in tools to harvest the now defenseless ecosystem. Sailing ships and harpoons to kill whales, nets to capture fish, saws to down trees, guns to shoot anything that moves. And so we grew like a cancer, out of control, because we were, and we still are, out of control, harvesting all of nature’s gradients to feed through the multiplying conduits of technological civilization.
Two technological humans with simple tools for harvesting the wood gradient.
Through the mechanisms of capitalism, early surpluses were hurriedly invested in new ventures like the Hudson Bay Company established in 1670 in England to seek opportunities for growth in Canada, a metastatic expansion facilitated by French explorers. Growth and becoming rich with the realized surpluses was civilization’s primary activity.
Stock certificate for investment in the Oil Creek Rail Road Company, to transport newly found oil in Pennsylvania – 1866.
Plentiful surpluses were reinvested again and again in search of returns and growth. Everyone wanted a piece of the action in building and owning the technological juggernaut which was very effective at conversion of energy and resources into technological products. Eventually the ownership stocks and bonds came to be valued and traded on exchanges. The primary determinants of value were growth, dividends and interest.
Humans at work on the floor of Casino Carcinoma.
Cancer inducing cellular human RNA work at trading floors around the world dealing in ownership of various cancerous cell lines (companies). The more malignant and metastasizing the company, the more it’s stock is desired because of the energy and resources it can bring the owner.
Various companies advertising at Times Square, New York. Each company or cell line wants to expand maximally and as quickly as possible. In fact, their stockholders demand it and by law management is obligated to “maximize” profit and growth.
Recently, the cancer may have reached the limits of its growth as the amount of debt required to spur growth is greatly in excess of the amount of growth that results from the investment. The surplus returned from investment is not a surplus at all, but a loss. Due to the cost of looking for a needle in a haystack and the fact that most fossil fuels are heavily defended by thousands of feet of water, polar cold, a massive overburden of rock, or are of poor energy content, the fossil fuel predator (oil company) may soon stop spending energy trying to find and develop them at a loss. This means that society is left with what it is already feeding on, which won’t last long. Like a fox eating the last rabbit, things seem fine now, but when the last meal is digested and gone and further hunting returns less than the amount of energy expended finding it, there is a critical problem. Even today in technological societies, the body (society) is being starved to divert energy to finding and retrieving energy, at a loss. Starvation eventually ends with an emaciated body (society) followed by death and decomposition.