Then the rock hit the Yucatan, shook the very ground beneath their feet, and ejected massive amounts of dust into the atmosphere. But it was the aftermath of that catastrophe, not the catastrophe itself, that really changed the world. The skies were darkened for years after the impact, plants were starved for light, the seed bank was largely exhausted in vain, food chains collapsed, dinosaur prey starved, and the irrepressible masters of Earth fell from glory forever. They had filled up the construct, maximized the calorie load on offer while the hot Cretaceous sun poured down on a green ferny earth, grown to gigantic proportions, and when food started coming up short, the ones who couldn't adapt screamed and thrashed about, but perished nonetheless. And, as Paul Stamets says, fungi inherited the Earth.
Our deep ancestors that managed to stay low and out of the way of the violent starving beasts, the ones who were able to adapt their diet to the offerings still available - largely detritus, carrion, and mushrooms I would imagine - survived to pass on their genes. And after about 60 million years, the hominids descended upon the landscape with their predatory binocular vision, their complex brains, opposable thumbs, upright bipedal posture, and an ability to cooperatively exploit the rest of Earth's biota that was previously unknown.
And we got good at it. Too good.
First agriculture and meat animal domestication, then horse power, which greatly increased our ability to work and travel (spend energy), and dairy, which greatly increased the number of calories we could derive from the maintenance of one animal. Villages, cities, mutual politics and religion, which in turn drove an ideology that justified military action against the "infidels" - i.e. pretty much anyone who didn't share our politics and religion. And over time a local culture based on village life, farming, horse power, sky god worship, and expansion, took over where the dinosaurs left off. We are the ones who have now filled up the construct during sunny weather. We're the ones who developed the ability to utilize every energy source on offer, strained all the food animals out of the ocean, and suppressed and murdered anyone and anything in the way. Our mental monoculture has damaged, infested, and destroyed the bulk of humanity's languages, food crops, art and literature, biodiversity, fresh water, and topsoil.
Which is completely natural! We are just another biological population among millions after all. And that's what biological populations do. They consume and expand, and eliminate resource competition, until they overshoot the carrying capacity of their ecosystem. Only this time we had millions and millions of years of ancient solar power stored up in stable, highly portable forms to exploit on the way up. The background human carrying capacity of planet Earth has never been more than one billion. ONE BILLION humans who lived close to nature and within her diffuse energy budget. Those billion humans knew intricately the seasonal patterns and fluctuations of food and medicinal plants, the movements of animals for food and power, had no electricity, no internal combustion engines, no Farmville. They ate what they hunted, gathered, and grew, lived simply, made art and pottery, told stories, went to church and other village rituals, and their energy use didn't even register compared to ours.
Peak oil was our K-T boundary. It was the upper limit on cheap energy expansion. Our population will crash at some point. Whether that's catastrophically, or through a managed multi-generational descent, is anyone's guess. But it will happen. There's nothing out there in the stars that is better than what we have right here. Not for all of us anyway. I like to imagine a small pioneering group of humans soldiering on into the galaxy, meeting other life forms, maybe even finding a planet hospitable enough to live on. But if we can't make it work on Earth, we're not going to make it work on Mars, or Europa, or Titan, or Alpha Centauri's worlds. It's fun to dream about, but it'll never happen.
However, anyone who's read my blog for any length of time knows that I believe there's a silver lining in this story. Those small proto-mammals that were able to adapt survived and went on to fame and riches that even the dinosaurs could have never imagined. Earth's human population will collapse. Wider nature will recover. Dams will break and fish will spawn upriver again. Mature complex forests will regrow. Concrete and glass cities will crumble over time. Levies will fail and floodwaters will rejuvenate bottomland once again. The remaining humans will eat cleaner food and have far less need for pills; obesity, cancer, and diabetes will loosen their iron grip on us. Empires will revert to states, states to chiefdoms, and chiefdoms to tribes. Layer after layer of parasitic bureaucracy will disintegrate. Round-up will be something we do with livestock, not something we spray to kill other living things. Topsoil will accumulate and water will run clean again. Evolution will undergo a flowering event. All of this will happen in an energy descent pattern. Already IS happening.
We're four years into the pattern now, and there's not a damn thing anyone can do to stop it. And that makes what we're doing just that much more exciting to me. We are the advanced guard of planetary restoration. Geoff Lawton would say that we are the weeds that can repair the Earth. All we have to do is be resourceful, adaptive, and stay out of the way of those hungry thrashing dinosaurs.
The last couple of weeks should remind us that we have one job left to do that will not necessarily take care of itself. When nuclear power plants crumble like the rest, radioactivity will severely threaten our chance to make things right. But once again there is hope in the Kingdom Fungi. Many mushrooms in Europe and western Asia were highly radioactive after Chernobyl, but they were able to digest the radioactivity over time. Mushrooms are vanguard species, feeding on death and toxins, dropping spore and attracting insects, which attract birds, which leave manure and seeds that mature into thriving ecosystems, and like the years following the K-T boundary, they will no doubt be major players in the dark uncharted territory of energy descent. I encourage all of you to engage the fungi, form alliances with them, and enhance your food production systems with this much-maligned group of misfits. They saved our asses before and they'll probably do it again. Stamets' books Mycelium Running and Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms are two titles I highly recommend. Be the mushrooms or be the proto-mammals, but the last thing in the world you want to be right now is a dinosaur...
Twenty-five posts and one year of blogging...thank you for being part of it!