Saturday, October 22, 2016

2479. Book Review: Fossil Capital

By Irma Allen, Ecologist, April 27, 2016

We all know that coal and steam vanquished over water power in Britain's - and the world's - industrial revolution, writes Irma Allen. But as Andreas Malm sets out in his fascinating new book, the deciding factors in that victory were the unconstrained mastery over people and nature that coal provided mill owners. And so the model was set for the fossil age that may only now be coming to an end.

Coal-fired steam was divisible, privately operable and amenable to concentration. It did not rely on the vagaries of natural cycles, such as weather. It was a prime mover that could be 'whipped up by its master' taming both nature and bodies.

If global warming is the "unintended by-product par excellence", as the opening of Andreas Malm's potent new book states, what is it a by-product of?

The obvious answer is the burning of fossil fuels. But, why do we burn them at all and how did reliance on these substances come about?

Understanding the emergence of the 'fossil economy' - one in which economic expansion and fossil fuel consumption are united, resulting in an accelerating quantity of atmospheric CO2 - demands a return to history 'eyes wide open'. As the book asks, "how did we get caught up in this mess?”

According to his thesis, British industry's switch from waterwheels to coal-fired steam engines in the 19th century is the fundamental turning point upon which the climate crisis hinges. Understanding why this occurred goes to the "roots of global warming" as it reveals the vested interests of 'business-as-usual' today.

The canary in the coal mine warns of unseen danger - Malm's warning is that a false understanding of climate change history is leading to flawed diagnosis, so failed remedies. Echoing her approach, it is no wonder Naomi Klein endorses the book as "essential reading”.

Dismantling of two main theories
Malm builds his argument gradually in quasi-detective fashion, applying Marxist critique to received wisdom. In doing so, he persuasively dismantles two theories, or 'storylines' as he tellingly calls them, which currently dominate on-going political and public reckoning of fossil economics.

The first is the 'Ricardo-Malthusian paradigm'. According to this story, steam arose as a response to scarcity of good watering holes at which to quench the thirst of continued industrial expansion of Britain's cotton mills. Rational actors, so this line of thinking goes, saw the logic and economic competitiveness of the steam engine straight away and set about installing the new technology to the benefit of society.

An intrinsic human pyromania - a love affair with fire - perhaps further spurred our fossil addiction. Malm, however, finds that the transition from water to steam actually "took the form of a protracted contest" without a clear winner over a number of decades. Contrary to wide-held belief, James Watt's patenting of the steam engine in 1784 was not the inevitable start of the industrial revolution.

Early trials with steam engines in manufacturing ended badly, and most mill owners were uninterested years after its invention. This was because water was free and abundant, coal was expensive, while steam engines had frequent technical malfunctions and could even explode. Furthermore, water power was often more efficient than steam.

All this flies in the face of classical economic thinking. What, then, forced the leap?
In answering this, Malm critiques a second, increasingly dominating, storyline - that of the 'anthropocene narrative'. This holds that humankind as a unified category has become a geological agent of environmental change, ushering in a new geologic epoch we must simply now manage, adapt to, or even make the most of, as some 'eco-modernists' insist.

The anthropocene camp blames the human species as a whole for global warming. Yet Malm shows that inequality and differentiated responsibility are central to its history, and it is time to confront that.

Industrial capitalism and the revolution
The early 1820s saw the first structural crisis of industrial capitalism. This was repeated in 1837 and again in the hyper-depression of 1841-2, creating waves of social unrest. In 1824 the Combination Laws, which made strikes and unionization illegal, were repealed.

The "mighty energies of the masses" were awakened. Large-scale protests over poor pay and working conditions were the result over the following two decades, just as industrial capital was struggling. The Chartist movement, seeking rights and a voice for workers, emerged in 1836. Britain was brought to the brink of "all-out revolution", in Malms's words. Industry was petrified. It was during this struggle between workers and capitalists that steam power was adopted.

Colonialism as a backdrop is not touched upon, although its machinations on distant shores would have fed into these tensions and vice versa. Malm's theory, however, is that steam arose out of very specific social relations in Britain "as a form of power exercised by some people against others." It offered a way to subordinate and control unruly labour that was refusing to cooperate.

In the cotton industry, striking spinners could bring factories to a standstill. In Preston, for example, all thirty factories came to a grinding halt when 650 spinners walked out in November 1836. Weavers, although home-based, also contributed to the malaise. Under conditions of worsening pay, due to rising urbanization and the low-skilled nature of the work, weavers were resorting to embezzlement - retaining a portion of the stock to sell on the black market.

Whereas in the industrial heyday this was an annoyance, under crisis conditions this was intolerable for capital. The solution to both was to install Iron Men (self-acting machines) and Power Looms in the factories - run on steam. This was further resisted by workers who feared knock-on implications for employment leading to a general strike in 1842 and 'Plug Riots' that literally 'pulled the plug' on steam engines.

Proletarian "steam demonology" battled the "steam fetishism" that increasingly preoccupied bourgeois fantasies. Yet by 1850 both steam - and capitalists - had won. Chartism had collapsed, and capitalism entered a period of "sustained renaissance". Natural and social power became fused.

The lure of coal
Still the choice of coal, rather than water, as a source of fuel was not inevitable. At one point, large-scale engineering projects to construct artificial waterpower through levees and reservoirs were proposed. But this required coordination and inter-reliance between mill owners - something competitive industrialists were not keen on.

Coal-fired steam was divisible, privately operable and amenable to concentration. It suited capitalist desires well. A number of additional aspects contributed to coal's pull. It offered spatial and temporal benefits over water. Freed from location by rivers, factories could be sited more centrally in cities, where urbanizing population growth offered cheap workers "trained to industrious habits”.

Steam powered by coal did not need to rely on the vagaries of natural cycles, such as weather, either. It was a prime mover that could be "whipped up by its master" taming both nature and bodies. The invention of high-pressure steam was the last nail in the coffin for waterpower - the steady expansion of coal-fired steam the result.

All these were accumulating "moment(s) in the emergence of the fossil economy". Whilst it would have been useful to have a greater analysis of how these aspects intersected, each chapter provides a compelling overview of these eye-opening trends.

The quest for wealth caused climate change
The fossil economy was never a 'species-wide project' nor a democratic endeavor. The root of climate change is shown to lie with the power of some to put the private accumulation of wealth above all else. In particular, Malm argues that historical blame for climate change points at Britain.

More accurately, and more in line with a differentiated class analysis, he ought to say blame lies with Britain's capitalists (and their supporters). Even more specifically - a handful of white British men appear to have pulled the levers. So, is climate change a man? as an article in this paper once asked, or a white British capitalist male? Malm does not speculate, but the implication is there.

In 1850, the year which marked the near complete shift from hand looms to power looms and thus the birth of the fossil economy, Britain "emitted nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as the US, France, Germany, Belgium combined. It emitted a thousand times more than Russia and two thousand times more than Canada.”

Sweden's footprint was on a par with the latter. Today, the US and China, which gets its own later chapter, are of course competing for the title of total contributions to global warming, but Britain still ranks fifth in the world.

There is a sense of future reckoning ominously looming when he states that "the more coming generations are forced to upgrade the significance of matters of carbon, the more sharply will the British exception stand out and its history attract interest." He reveals his own cards perhaps too much when he says that Britain should be smeared "in the soot it has bequeathed to humanity.”

Yet if environmental justice is to be taken seriously - and climate negotiations have been careful to avoid just that - he has a loaded point. His tract serves to blow open the myth that the human species are but one equal category. In the early twenty-first century, the poorest 45% of humanity generated 7% of current CO2 emissions, while the richest 7% produced 50%.

How can we declare the 'anthropocene' a neutral concept in light of this? Its politics of distributing equal blame are both laid bare and dismantled. In this human climate-change farm we are all equal, we are led to believe. But Malm shows that some are more responsible than others. How to resolve this is something he does not venture to tackle.

Future steps
What next? The book's lessons for how we consider current discourse around the diffusion of renewable energy technologies today is striking. As is pointed out, we often hear that renewables are not competitive enough - that the market must decide. Yet if the fossil capital theory is correct, this is not how technological change occurs.

Technology serves social ends. To force the transition, we must challenge the power structures preventing this shift from happening. Malm rounds off the book with a look at how a renewable economy will only occur if it is planned and implemented against private interests whose investments are sunk in fossil capital.

Equally, to meet emissions reductions targets we'd need a "planned economic recession" tantamount to a "war on capital". This is not about waiting for socialism, but a pragmatic, though uncomfortable, proposal to solve our present day mess.
Reworking a familiar refrain, Malm concedes "it has become easier to imagine large-scale intervention in the climate system" - by which he refers to business-as-usual attempts at geo-engineering - "than in capitalism”.

Resolving this paradox would be the work of a miracle, he says - but humans are the only ones capable of conjuring it up. With our eyes now wide open, we better get on with it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

2478. Bill McKibben: Recalculating the Climate Math

By Bill McKibben, New Republic, September 22, 2016

The future of humanity depends on math. And the numbers in a new study released Thursday are the most ominous yet.

Those numbers spell out, in simple arithmetic, how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet. In other words, if our goal is to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do?

Here’s the answer: zero.

That’s right: If we’re serious about preventing catastrophic warming, the new study shows, we can’t dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any more pipelines. Not a single one. We’re done expanding the fossil fuel frontier. Our only hope is a swift, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy from the fields we’ve already put in production.

The new numbers are startling. Only four years ago, I wrote an essay called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” In the piece, I drew on research from a London-based think tank, the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The research showed that the untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas identified by the world’s fossil fuel industry contained five times more carbon than we can burn if we want to keep from raising the planet’s temperature by more than two degrees Celsius. That is, if energy companies eventually dug up and burned everything they’d laid claim to, the planet would cook five times over. That math kicked off a widespread campaign of divestment from fossil fuel stocks by universities, churches, and foundations. And it’s since become the conventional wisdom: Many central bankers and world leaders now agree that we need to keep the bulk of fossil fuel reserves underground.

But the new new math is even more explosive. It draws on a report by Oil Change International, a Washington-based think tank, using data from the Norwegian energy consultants Rystad. For a fee—$54,000 in this case—Rystad will sell anyone its numbers on the world’s existing fossil fuel sources. Most of the customers are oil companies, investment banks, and government agencies. But OCI wanted the numbers for a different reason: to figure out how close to the edge of catastrophe we’ve already come.

Scientists say that to have even a two-thirds chance of staying below a global increase of two degrees Celsius, we can release 800 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere. But the Rystad data shows coal mines and oil and gas wells currently in operation worldwide contain 942 gigatons worth of CO2. So the math problem is simple, and it goes like this:

942 > 800

“What we found is that if you burn up all the carbon that’s in the currently operating fields and mines, you’re already above two degrees,” says Stephen Kretzmann, OCI’s executive director. It’s not that if we keep eating like this for a few more decades we’ll be morbidly obese. It’s that if we eat what’s already in the refrigerator we’ll be morbidly obese.

What’s worse, the definition of “morbid” has changed in the past four years. Two degrees Celsius used to be the red line. But scientists now believe the upper limit is much lower. We’ve already raised the world’s temperature by one degree—enough to melt almost half the ice in the Arctic, kill off huge swaths of the world’s coral, and unleash lethal floods and drought. July and August tied for the hottest months ever recorded on our planet, and scientists think they were almost certainly the hottest in the history of human civilization. Places like Basra, Iraq—on the edge of what scholars think was the Biblical Garden of Eden—hit 129 degrees Fahrenheit this year, approaching the point where humans can’t survive outdoors. So last year, when the world’s leaders met in Paris, they set a new number: Every effort, they said, would be made to keep the global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees. And to have even a 50–50 chance of meeting that goal, we can only release about 353 gigatons more CO2. So let’s do the math again:

942 > 353

A lot greater. To have just a break-even chance of meeting that 1.5 degree goal we solemnly set in Paris, we’ll need to close all of the coal mines and some of the oil and gas fields we’re currently operating long before they’re exhausted.

“Absent some incredible breakthrough in mythical carbon-sucking unicorns, the numbers say we’re done with the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” says Kretzmann. “Living up to the Paris Agreement means we must start a managed decline in the fossil fuel industry immediately—and manage that decline as quickly as possible.”

“Managed decline” means we don’t have to grind everything to a halt tomorrow; we can keep extracting fuel from existing oil wells and gas fields and coal mines. But we can’t go explore for new ones. We can’t even develop the ones we already know about, the ones right next to our current projects.

In the United States alone, the existing mines and oil wells and gas fields contain 86 billion tons of carbon emissions—enough to take us 25 percent of the way to a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature. But if the U.S. energy industry gets its way and develops all the oil wells and fracking sites that are currently planned, that would add another 51 billion tons in carbon emissions. And if we let that happen, America would single-handedly blow almost 40 percent of the world’s carbon budget.

This new math is bad news for lots of powerful players. The fossil fuel industry has based its entire business model on the idea that it can endlessly “replenish” the oil and gas it pumps each year; its teams of geologists are constantly searching for new fields to drill. In September, Apache Corporation announced that it has identified fields in West Texas that hold three billion barrels of oil. Leaving that oil underground—which the new math shows we must do if we want to meet the climate targets set in Paris—would cost the industry tens of billions of dollars.

For understandable reasons, the unions whose workers build pipelines and drill wells also resist attempts to change. Consider the current drama over the Dakota Access oil pipeline. In September, even after pipeline security guards armed with pepper spray and guard dogs attacked Native Americans who were nonviolently defending grave sites from bulldozers, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called on the Obama administration to allow construction to proceed. “Pipeline construction and maintenance,” Trumka said, “provides quality jobs to tens of thousands of skilled workers.” The head of the Building Trades Unions agreed: “Members have been relying on these excellent, family-supporting, middle-class jobs with family health care, pensions, and good wages.” Another union official put it most eloquently: “Let’s not turn away and overregulate or just say, ‘No, keep it in the ground.’ It shouldn’t be that simple.”

She’s right—it would be easier for everyone if it weren’t that simple. Union workers have truly relied on those jobs to build middle-class lives, and all of us burn the damned stuff, all day, every day. But the problem is, it is that simple. We have to “turn away.” We have to “keep it in the ground.” The numbers are the numbers. We literally cannot keep doing what we’re doing if we want to have a planet.

“Keeping it in the ground” does not mean stopping all production of fossil fuels instantly. “If you let current fields begin their natural decline,” says Kretzmann, “you’ll be using 50 percent less oil by 2033.” That gives us 17 years, as the wells we’ve already drilled slowly run dry, to replace all that oil with renewable energy. That’s enough time—maybe—to replace gas guzzlers with electric cars. To retrain pipeline workers and coal miners to build solar panels and wind turbines. To follow the lead of cities like Portland that have barred any new fossil fuel infrastructure, and countries like China that have banned new coal mines. Those are small steps, but they’re important ones.

Even some big unions are starting to realize that switching to renewable energy would add a million new good-paying jobs by 2030. Everyone from nurses to transport workers is opposing the Dakota pipeline; other unions have come out against coal exports and fracking. “This is virtually unprecedented,” says Sean Sweeney, a veteran labor and climate organizer. “The rise of ‘climate unionism’ offers a new direction for the labor movement.” And if it spreads, it will give Democratic politicians more room to maneuver against global warming.

But to convince the world’s leaders to obey the math—to stop any new mines or wells or pipelines from being built—we will need a movement like the one that blocked the Keystone pipeline and fracking in New York and Arctic drilling. And we will need to pass the “Keep It in the Ground Act,” legislation that would end new mining and drilling for fossil fuels on public land. It’s been called “unrealistic” or “na├»ve” by everyone from ExxonMobil to the interior secretary. But as the new math makes clear, keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the only realistic approach. What’s unrealistic is to imagine that we can somehow escape the inexorable calculus of climate change. As the OCI report puts it, “One of the most powerful climate policy levers is also the simplest: stop digging.” That is, after all, the first rule of holes, and we’re in the biggest one ever.

This is literally a math test, and it’s not being graded on a curve. It only has one correct answer. And if we don’t get it right, then all of us—along with our 10,000-year-old experiment in human civilization—will fail.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of the climate group @billmckibben

Thursday, October 20, 2016

2477. For These Americans, Clean Water Is a Luxuary

By George McGrow, The New York Times, October 20, 2016

LOS ANGELES — Most Americans take safe water for granted: Turn the tap, and there it is. But recent protests against the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota are a reminder that some Americans still worry every day about having enough clean water to survive.

As events in Standing Rock and Flint, Mich., capture national attention, long-running water emergencies fester in near-total obscurity elsewhere across the country, many of them on native reservations.

Nearly 24,000 Native American and Alaska Native households somehow manage without access to running water or basic sanitation, according to 2015 figures from the Indian Health Service, living in what my organization calls “water poverty.” About 188,000 such households were in need of some form of water and sanitation facilities improvement.

Perhaps the worst case is on the sprawling Navajo reservation in the Southwest, home to about 170,000 people.

I found this out only inadvertently, though I run Digdeep, a nonprofit group focused on improving access to clean water in some of the places you might expect: South Sudan and Cameroon. But not in the United States.

In 2013, a woman called our office to make a sizable donation, with the stipulation that we spend it in the United States. I told her that her gift would be better spent in the developing world, but she was adamant that we use it on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico.

So I drove the 10 hours from my Los Angeles home to Thoreau, N.M., part of the Navajo Nation. The reservation is the country’s largest, covering parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

There, I was greeted by Darlene Arviso, a Navajo known as “the water lady.” I rode with her in a 3,500-gallon tank truck, and we delivered water free to 10 households across the arid high-desert plateau.

The first home we visited belonged to Lindsay Johnson. The house had no running water or electricity; a car battery powered the TV. Ms. Arviso took out a hose and everyone grabbed cups, bowls, buckets and barrels to store the water.

There’s not much water in the high desert — and much of what’s there is bad. Large parts of the reservation lack any water-supply equipment. The low population density makes building a water distribution system economically unfeasible. Tribal members rely on surface water and shallow aquifers, many of which have been poisoned by uranium mining.

Ms. Arviso explained that because of high demand for her service and the remoteness of the Johnson home, she is able to deliver only 400 gallons of water to the family each month. That amounts to less than three gallons of water per person, per day. (The typical American uses about 100.) The Johnsons use the same water to wash dishes and their hair, and finally pour what’s left into the toilet tank. They invariably run out of water before Ms. Arviso’s next visit.

Benjamin Lewis, a retired miner, lives 30 miles from the Johnsons. Before Ms. Arviso began delivering water, Mr. Lewis relied on a water trough meant for sheep that is supplied by a well pumped by a windmill. That water tested positive for uranium in 1976. More recent tests have been positive for nitrites. Some neighbors still use the sheep tank in emergencies.

While about 6 percent of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in water poverty, the problem is not confined to the reservations. About a half a million American households lack basic plumbing amenities like hot water, a tap or toilet, according to the Census Bureau. As in Flint, they are disproportionately poor and minority.

In the Coachella Valley, southeast of Los Angeles, for instance, low-income and undocumented farm workers living in trailer parks endure open sewage ditches and contaminated drinking water.

I visited one of the worst of these parks, Duroville, before a federal court closed it in 2013. More than 4,000 people lived in a park built for 500. Tenants complained that they were forced to pay their landlord up to 30 percent of their income for delivery of drinking water that made them sick. While most of these families have been resettled, similar conditions persist in the nearby localities of Thermal and Mecca.

Pockets of water poverty exist in nearly every state, particularly in rural Appalachia and New England, and in the “colonias” along the border with Mexico.

These conditions shouldn’t persist. Even relatively inexpensive and simple solutions can have a profound impact.

In Thoreau, we optimized Ms. Arviso’s delivery route, outfitted a second water truck and hired a new driver, doubling the delivery capacity for only $64,000. Last winter, we began installing cisterns and electric pumps for 204 homes; when the project is finished, hot water will flow from taps and showers at a cost of less than $4,000 per household. This spring, we will break ground on a 1,500-foot-deep well close to the Johnsons’ house, expanding water delivery to more homes.

Ending water poverty in the United States will require a concerted effort. Nonprofits can play an important role by working with communities to develop low-tech, low-cost solutions. These programs should be managed with the communities to ensure they are sustainable. Federal and state government should focus on water-supply and sanitation projects with the goal of making these local programs unnecessary someday.

With dedication and money, water poverty on the Navajo Nation could be eradicated within a decade. That would be a powerful start.

George McGraw is the founder and executive director of Digdeep.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2476. New Insight into First Farmers

By Carl Zimmer, The New York Times, October 17, 2016
A fossilized skeleton of a human who was buried beneath a floor in a family home in Ain Ghazal, a 10,000-year-old farming village in Jordan. Credit C. Blair/The Ain Ghazal Archaeological Project.

Beneath a rocky slope in central Jordan lie the remains of a 10,000-year-old village called Ain Ghazal, whose inhabitants lived in stone houses with timber roof beams, the walls and floors gleaming with white plaster.

Hundreds of people living there worshiped in circular shrines and made haunting, wide-eyed sculptures that stood three feet high. They buried their cherished dead under the floors of their houses, decapitating the bodies in order to decorate the skulls.

But as fascinating as this culture was, something else about Ain Ghazal intrigues archaeologists more: It was one of the first farming villages to have emerged after the dawn of agriculture.

Around the settlement, Ain Ghazal farmers raised barley, wheat, chickpeas and lentils. Other villagers would leave for months at a time to herd sheep and goats in the surrounding hills.

Sites like Ain Ghazal provide a glimpse of one of the most important transitions in human history: the moment that people domesticated plants and animals, settled down, and began to produce the kind of society in which most of us live today.

But for all that sites like Ain Ghazal have taught archaeologists, they are still grappling with enormous questions. Who exactly were the first farmers? How did agriculture, a cornerstone of civilization itself, spread to other parts of the world?

Some answers are now emerging from a surprising source: DNA extracted from skeletons at Ain Ghazal and other early settlements in the Near East. These findings have already challenged long-held ideas about how agriculture and domestication arose.

What’s more, the new data are showing that early farmers would leave a tremendous mark. People from Ireland to India trace some of their ancestry to people who began growing barley and wheat in the Near East thousands of years ago.

“It’s a part of the story of civilization that we’re just beginning to understand,” said Iosif Lazaridis, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School.

Altering False Impressions
The agricultural revolution changed our species and our planet. As bands of hunter-gatherers began domesticating plants and animals, they quit the nomadic life, building villages and towns that endured for thousands of years.

A stable food supply enabled their populations to explode, and small egalitarian groups turned into kingdoms sprawling across hundreds of miles.

Agriculture originated in a few small hubs around the world, but probably first in the Fertile Crescent, a region of the Near East including parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. The evidence for full-blown agriculture there — crops, livestock, tools for food preparation, and villages — dates back about 11,000 years.

In the 1990s, archaeologists largely concluded that farming in the Fertile Crescent began in Jordan and Israel, a region known as the southern Levant. “The model was that everything started there, and then everything spread out from there, including maybe the people,” said Melinda A. Zeder, a senior research scientist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

But in recent years, Dr. Zeder and other archaeologists have overturned that consensus. Their research suggests that people were inventing farming at several sites in the Fertile Crescent at roughly the same time. In the Zagros Mountains of Iran, for example, Dr. Zeder and her colleagues have found evidence of the gradual domestication of wild goats over many centuries around 10,000 years ago.

People may have been cultivating plants earlier than believed, too.

In the 1980s, Dani Nadel, then at Hebrew University, and his colleagues excavated a 23,000-year-old site on the shores of the Sea of Galilee known as Ohalo II. It consisted of half a dozen brush huts. Last year, Dr. Nadel co-authored a study showing that one of the huts contained 150,000 charred seeds and fruits, including many types, such as almonds, grapes and olives, that would later become crops. . A stone blade found at Ohalo II seemed to have been used as a sickle to harvest cereals. A stone slab was used to grind the seeds. It seems clear the inhabitants were cultivating wild plants long before farming was thought to have begun.

“We got fixated on the very few things we just happened to see preserved in the archaeological record, and we got this false impression that this was an abrupt change,” Dr. Zeder said. “Now we really understand there was this long period where they’re playing around with resources.”

Many scientists have suggested that humans turned to agriculture under duress. Perhaps the climate of the Near East grew harsh, or perhaps the hunter-gatherer population outstripped the supply of wild foods.

But “playing around with resources” is not the sort of thing people do in times of desperation. Instead, Dr. Zeder argues, agriculture came about as climatic changes shifted the ranges of some wild species of plants and animals into the Near East.

Many different groups began experimenting with ways of producing extra food, which eventually enabled them to start a new way of life: settling down in more stable social groups.

DNA Breakthroughs
Enter the geneticists, who have long wondered if they could help solve the riddle of agriculture’s origins with DNA from human remains discovered in places like Ain Ghazal.

Ancient genetic material can survive in skeletons for thousands of years, sometimes even hundreds of thousands of years. Scientists have been able to reconstruct entire genomes of ancient humans and extinct relatives like Neanderthals.

But a number of attempts to get DNA out of skeletons in the Near East failed. It looked as if the conditions in the region were too harsh for ancient DNA to survive.
“Genetically, the Near East was terra incognita,” said David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School.

It isn’t any longer. In two recent studies, geneticists including Dr. Reich used new methods to fish out enough DNA from the bones of the first farmers to figure out their relationship to other people. A team of researchers based at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, reconstructed the genomes of four early farmers from the Zagros Mountains whose bones date back as much as 10,000 years.

Dr. Reich and his colleagues — including Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Dublin, and Dr. Lazaridis of Harvard — recovered genetic material from 44 sets of remains around the Near East. Their haul included DNA from early farmers in Iran, as well as from bones from another site in the Southern Levant like Ain Ghazal. Dr. Reich’s group discovered even older genetic material from hunter-gatherers in the region, from as far back as 14,000 years ago.

The new results all point to the same overall conclusion: The first farmers in each region were the descendants of the earlier hunter-gatherers. What’s more, each population had its own distinct ancestry, going back tens of thousands of years.

They were as different from one another genetically as the Europeans and Chinese. And these groups remained distinct through the agricultural revolution as they changed from hunter-gatherers to full-blown farmers. “It was quite surprising to see how different these groups were from each other,” Dr. Lazaridis said. “It was more extreme than anything you could have imagined was going on.”

Dr. Reich and others argue that the findings show that people around the fertile crescent became farmers independently. “It’s not like you had one Near Eastern population that developed farming that expands and overruns all the others,” he said.

One Birthplace, or Many?
Archaeologists have welcomed the new results from the geneticists. But for now, they are interpreting the data in different ways.

Dr. Zeder said that ancient DNA supports a scenario where farmers across the Fertile Crescent independently invented agriculture, perhaps repeatedly. But Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard, argues that full-blown agriculture evolved only once, and then quickly spread from one group to another.

He points to the increasingly precise dating of archaeological sites in the Fertile Crescent. Instead of the southern Levant, the oldest sites with evidence of full-blown agriculture are in northern Syria and southern Turkey. That’s where Dr. Bar-Yosef thinks agriculture began.

In other parts of the Fertile Crescent, he argues, people were just toying with farming. Only when they came in contact with the combination of crops and livestock, and the technology to manage them — what scientists call the Neolithic package — did they permanently adopt the practices.

“You just map the dates” of the sites at which the evidence for farming is found, he said, “and you see it’s always later as you get away from the core area.” The new genetic results simply show that this farming technology spread through the Fertile Crescent, but that the populations sharing it did not interbreed.

The new research also shows that even after agriculture was established across the Fertile Crescent, people remained genetically isolated for thousands of years.
“If they were talking to each other, they weren’t intermarrying,” said Garrett Hellenthal, a geneticist at University College London who collaborated with the Gutenberg University researchers.

But the DNA research also shows that this long period of isolation came to a sudden and spectacular end.

About 8,000 years ago, the barriers between peoples in the Fertile Crescent fell away, and genes began to flow across the entire region. The Near East became one homogeneous mix of people.

Why? Dr. Reich speculated that growing populations of farmers began linking to one another via trade networks. People moved along those routes and began to intermarry and have children together. Genes did not just flow across the Fertile Crescent — they also rippled outward. The scientists have detected DNA from the first farmers in living people on three continents.

“There seem to be expansions out in all directions,” Dr. Lazaridis said.

Early farmers in Turkey moved across the western part of the country, crossed the Bosporus and traveled into Europe about 8,000 years ago. They encountered no farmers there. Europe had been home to groups of hunter-gatherers for more than 30,000 years. The farmers seized much of their territory and converted it to farmland, without interbreeding with them.

The hunter-gatherers clung to existence for centuries, and were eventually absorbed by bigger farming communities. Europeans today can trace much of their ancestry to both groups.

The early farmers in what is now Iran expanded eastward. Eventually, their descendants ended up in present-day India, and their DNA makes up a substantial portion of the genomes of Indians.

And the people of Ain Ghazal? Their population expanded into East Africa, bringing crops and animals with them. East Africans retain ancestry from the first farmers of the southern Levant — in Somalia, a third of people’s DNA comes from there.

Dr. Reich hopes to learn more about the early farmers by obtaining samples more systematically from across the Fertile Crescent. “It’s not easy to come by these unique and special specimens,” he said.

But he is pessimistic about filling in some of the most glaring gaps in the genetic map of the Fertile Crescent. No one has yet recovered DNA from the people who lived in the oldest known farming settlements. And it’s unlikely they’ll be trying again anytime soon. To do so, they would have to venture into the heart of Syria’s civil war.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2475. A Majority of Millennials Now Reject Capitalism, U.S. Poll Shows

By Ehrendfreund, The Washington Post, April 26, 2016

In an apparent rejection of the basic principles of the U.S. economy, a new poll shows that most young people do not support capitalism.

The Harvard University survey, which polled young adults between ages 18 and 29, found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism. Just 42 percent said they support it.

It isn't clear that the young people in the poll would prefer some alternative system, though. Just 33 percent said they supported socialism. The survey had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.

The results of the survey are difficult to interpret, pollsters noted. Capitalism can mean different things to different people, and the newest generation of voters is frustrated with the status quo, broadly speaking.

All the same, that a majority of respondents in Harvard University's survey of young adults said they do not support capitalism suggests that today's youngest voters are more focused on the flaws of free markets.

"The word 'capitalism' doesn't mean what it used to," said Zach Lustbader, a senior at Harvard involved in conducting the poll, which was published Monday. For those who grew up during the Cold War, capitalism meant freedom from the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes. For those who grew up more recently, capitalism has meant a financial crisis from which the global economy still hasn't completely recovered.

A subsequent survey that included people of all ages found that somewhat older Americans also are skeptical of capitalism. Only among respondents at least 50 years old was the majority in support of capitalism.

Although the results are startling, Harvard's questions accord with other recent research on how Americans think about capitalism and socialism. In 2011, for example, the Pew Research Center found that people ages 18 to 29 were frustrated with the free-market system.

In that survey, 46 percent had positive views of capitalism, and 47 percent had negative views — a broader question than what Harvard's pollsters asked, which was whether the respondent supported the system. With regard to socialism, by contrast, 49 percent of the young people in Pew's poll had positive views, and just 43 percent had negative views.

Lustbader, 22, said the darkening mood on capitalism is evident in the way politicians talk about the economy. When Republicans — long the champions of free enterprise — use the word "capitalism" these days, it's often to complain about "crony capitalism," he said.

"You don't hear people on the right defending their economic policies using that word anymore," Lustbader added.

It is an open question whether young people's attitudes on socialism and capitalism show that they are rejecting free markets as a matter of principle or whether those views are simply an expression of broader frustrations with an economy in which household incomes have been declining for 15 years.

On specific questions about how best to organize the economy, for example, young people's views seem conflicted. Just 27 percent believe government should play a large role in regulating the economy, the Harvard poll found, and just 30 percent think the government should play a large role in reducing income inequality. Only 26 percent said government spending is an effective way to increase economic growth.

Yet 48 percent agreed that "basic health insurance is a right for all people." And 47 percent agreed with the statement that "Basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that the government should provide to those unable to afford them.”

"Young people could be saying that there are problems with capitalism, contradictions," Frank Newport, the editor in chief of Gallup, said when asked about the new data. "I certainly don't know what’s going through their heads.”

John Della Volpe, the polling director at Harvard, went on to personally interview a small group of young people about their attitudes toward capitalism to try to learn more. They told him that capitalism was unfair and left people out despite their hard work.

"They're not rejecting the concept," Della Volpe said. "The way in which capitalism is practiced today, in the minds of young people — that's what they're rejecting."