Saturday, May 27, 2017

2617. Antarctica Is Beginning toTurn Green Due to Global Warming

By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post, May 18, 2017

Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent’s northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet.

Amid the warming of the last 50 years, the scientists found two different species of mosses undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than a millimeter per year now growing over 3 millimeters per year on average.

“People will think of Antarctica quite rightly as a very icy place, but our work shows that parts of it are green, and are likely to be getting greener,” said Matthew Amesbury, a researcher with the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and lead author of the new study. “Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by humankind, are showing the effects of human-induced climate change.”

The study was published Thursday in Current Biology, by Amesbury and colleagues with the University of Cambridge, the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Durham.

Less than 1 percent of present-day Antarctica features plant life. But in parts of the Peninsula, Antarctic mosses grow on frozen ground that partly thaws in the summer — when only about the first foot of soil ever thaws.

The surface mosses build up a thin layer in the summer, then freeze over in winter. As layer builds on top of layer, older mosses subside below the frozen ground, where they are remarkably well preserved due to the temperatures.

Amesbury said that made them “a record of changes over time.”

Soil samples from a 400-mile area along the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula found dramatic changes in growth patterns going back 150 years.

The Antarctic peninsula has been a site of rapid warming, with more days a year where temperatures rise above freezing. The consequence, the study found, was a four- to five-fold increase in the amount of moss growth in the most recent part of the record.

“This is another indicator that Antarctica is moving backward in geologic time — which makes sense, considering atmospheric CO2 levels have already risen to levels that the planet hasn’t seen since the Pliocene, 3 million years ago, when the Antarctic ice sheet was smaller, and sea levels were higher,” said Rob DeConto, a glaciologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved in the study but reviewed it for The Washington Post.

“If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, Antarctica will head even further back in geologic time…perhaps the peninsula will even become forested again someday like it was during the greenhouse climates of the Cretaceous and Eocene, when the continent was ice free,” DeConto continued by email.

The authors agree the currently observed changes are probably just the beginning. “These changes, combined with increased ice-free land areas from glacier retreat, will drive large-scale alteration to the biological functioning, appearance, and landscape of the [Antarctic peninsula] over the rest of the 21st century and beyond,” they wrote.

The moss growth is still modest compared to what’s happening in the Arctic, where a large-scale greening trend has even been captured by satellite. In the Arctic, there’s now so much plant growth that some scientists are hoping it will at least partially offset the loss of carbon from thawing permafrost beneath those plants.

Those days are probably very far off for the Antarctic, but it’s clear the continent used to be a very different landscape.

“We’re starting back on a journey towards that sort of environment,” said Amesbury. “Certainly, Antarctica has not always been the ice place it has been now on very long timescales.”

Friday, May 26, 2017

2616. Cuba Calls for Universal Health Coverage at WHO World Assembly

By  


“Cuba supports the strengthening of systems geared toward achieving universal health coverage, recognizing that health is a fundamental human right and at the center of public policies for sustainable development,” stated Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda, Cuban Minister of Public Health, during the World Health Organization’s 70th World Assembly plenary session, taking place at the body’s headquarters in Geneva through May 31. 

Morales Ojeda reported that by the end of 2016, life expectancy at birth in Cuba was 78.45 years, while the country also has an immunization program which protects against 13 diseases, and is comprised of 11 vaccines; eight of which are produced on the island, providing for over 98% coverage. 


He also noted that Cuba continues to maintain key indicators which, in 2015, saw the island become the first country in the world to officially eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. 


“The foundations for the National Health System in Cuba were drawn up in 1959, the driving force behind which was the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz,” he stated. 


The Cuban official also commented on the damage caused by the U.S. blockade to Cuba’s healthcare services, which in 2016 amounted to more than $87 million dollars. 


Morales Ojeda once again condemned policies such as the “brain drain” which encourage Cuban professionals, above all those linked to the healthcare sector, to emigrate. Human capital is our most valuable resource. We have 493,000 healthcare sector workers and over 50,000 collaborators offering services in 63 countries, he added. 


Among the challenges currently facing Cuba he noted the country’s rapidly ageing population, non-communicable chronic diseases, low birth rates, and the negative effects of climate change. 


The UN 2030 Sustainable Development agenda provides the opportunity to develop better health systems and improve the population’s wellbeing in an unequal world, stated Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda, noting that political will and collaboration are vital to such efforts. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

2615.Remeasuring Stephen Jay Gould

By Matthew Lau, Jacobin, May 20, 2017
Stephen Jay Gould. Wikimedia Commons.

The day after Stephen Jay Gould died, his obituary appeared on the front page of the New York Times, testifying to his position as the most famous scientist in the United States. His talent for synthesizing ideas and arguments, his work ethic, and — as he would have been the first to note — luck made him famous.

He had not planned to write his monthly column, “This View of Life,” for Natural History for twenty-five years, but, like his childhood hero Joe DiMaggio, Gould became known for this literary streak, which breathed new life into the half-forgotten art of the popular scientific essay, a tradition that dates back to Galileo.

Like Galileo, Gould did more than interpret science for laypeople. He was also a path-breaking evolutionary theorist and a canny political organizer for leftist causes.
Along with his colleague Niles Eldredge, Gould changed the way biologists view the fossil record. His concept of punctuated equilibrium argued that new species emerge relatively rapidly and then remain mostly stable for millions of years. To his more parochial colleagues’ chagrin, Gould partly credited the inspiration for “punc eq” to the fact that he had “learned his Marxism, literally at his daddy’s knee.”

Though he was redbaited for this comment, Gould and Eldredge were speaking as pluralists and historicists not dogmatists. “We make a simple plea for pluralism in guiding philosophies . . . for the basic recognition that such philosophies . . . constrain all our thought.”

Historical context also acts as a constraint on new ideas. Darwin acknowledged the influence of the classical political economy of Smith and Malthus on his theory of evolution. Gould noted that his leftist upbringing and participation in the revolution of the Civil Rights Movement enabled him to recognize the importance of “punc eq’s” patterns of sudden and discontinuous evolutionary change.

Gould also revitalized the study of evolutionary development with his influential historical survey of the subject, Ontogeny and Phylogeny, and made his mark on anthropology by insisting that human evolution looked more like a branching bush with multiple overlapping lineages than a ladder of predictable stages.

Raised in a leftist household in Queens, Gould led his local NAACP’s youth chapter. He displayed his writerly talents early on, when he introduced the Little Rock Nine on their victory tour of New York. “They are tormented by racists down South and autograph seekers here,” he noted drolly. He worried his brave fellow teenagers would not get to enjoy New York City and thanked them for enhancing his high school’s curriculum with the day’s most pressing issues. “No event in my memory ever aroused such interest in the Queens teenager,” Gould told the audience. “No event has ever aroused in him such hatred for segregation and all it stands for.”

While studying at Antioch College, he participated in desegregation efforts in and around Yellow Springs, Ohio. In 1964, a lone barbershop that had resisted desegregation for four years in nearby Xenia briefly became the Civil Rights Movement’s national focal point. Even while studying abroad at Leeds University, Gould fought for progressive causes, working to desegregate dance halls and joining the campaign for nuclear disarmament.

These two facets of Gould’s life regularly intersected. In 1982, he served as an expert witness against “creation science” in McLean v. Arkansas. A year earlier, he had published his most famous political intervention, his prize-winning critique of biological determinism, The Mismeasure of Man.

At its core, Mismeasure argues that the twentieth century’s IQ tests share a desire to justify race and class hierarchies with the nineteenth century’s more primitive measures of cranial features and theories of criminal physiognomy. In both eras, researchers rationalized the status quo with the premise of immutable, hereditary intelligence and the fallacy of reification, which held that intelligence can be reduced to a single number and those numbers used to rank people on a linear scale.

Mismeasure also addresses the issue of confirmation bias — especially racial bias — in the sciences. In the book and an article in Science that preceded it, Gould analyzed nineteenth-century race scientist Samuel Morton’s two sets of skull measurements, one from 1839 and the second from 1849, to demonstrate that Morton unconsciously manipulated his data to prove that Caucasians had greater cranial volumes than other racial groups.

Gould also reminded his readers that eugenics and other consequences of biological determinism remain with us. The United States, nation of immigrants, misused IQ tests to establish quotas on southern and eastern Europeans Jews in 1924 and kept them in effect as millions tried to flee Nazi Germany. The state of Virginia thought it wise to sterilize “idiots” and “morons” until as recently as 1972.

Mismeasure came out just as academia was accepting more women and people of color into its ranks. Thanks to Gould’s polemical style and activist stance, the book almost immediately became canonical in undergraduate curriculum.

Refutation and Vindication
Or rather, it was — until Gould returned to the Times’s headlines in June 2011. “Study Debunks Stephen Jay Gould’s Claim of Racism on Morton’s Skulls,” the article proclaimed. A team of physical anthropologists, led by Jason E. Lewis, had remeasured roughly half of Morton’s skulls and reanalyzed both his and Gould’s findings. They concluded, “[i]ronically, Gould’s own analysis of Morton is likely the stronger example of bias influencing results,” citing important instances where Morton’s work was more accurate than Gould’s. In the most glaring error, Gould inflated the average cranial capacity of Native American skulls by “arbitrarily” leaving out several smaller crania in his reanalysis.

People quickly reacted to the revelation of Gould’s purported bias toward “political correctness.” Writing on his influential blog, anthropologist John Hawks described Gould’s work as perfidious and claimed it “cast doubt on the validity of the scientific enterprise.” Ralph Holloway, a member of the team that reanalyzed Morton and Gould, explained that he “just didn’t trust Gould.” “I had the feeling that [Gould’s] ideological stance was supreme . . . [and] just felt he was a charlatan.”

Far-right “race realists” unsurprisingly trumpeted the news that Gould’s findings had been “refuted.” Even among more measured critics and defenders, a narrative began to take hold: Gould had proved his point, but “it just wasn’t the example he intended.” Morton started to appear more “sinned against than sinning.”

At the end of their article, Lewis et al. wrote, “were Gould still alive, we expect he would have mounted a defense of his analysis of Morton.” This is a virtual certainty: Gould openly acknowledged his errors throughout his career and called “factual correction . . . the most sublime event in intellectual life.” Gould cannot defend himself, but, since Lewis et al. can, it’s curious that they have not responded to more recent peer-reviewed studies that refute key aspects of their work.

Though the Times has yet to report it, more recent evidence suggests that the reanalysis of Morton’s skulls makes computational mistakes that favor Caucasians. And as several studies now show, the scientists did not ultimately challenge Gould’s main claim that the inconsistencies between Morton’s measurements in 1839 and 1849 indicate unconscious racial bias. Moreover, the differences between mean values for all races when corrected were, as Gould originally argued, so small as to be statistically insignificant.

Why hasn’t the Times reported these more recent findings? The answer also helps explain why they and other outlets so enthusiastically reported the criticism against Gould in the first place. As he would have recognized, it’s politics.

Historical interpretation as science
Though no one knew it in 2011, Nicholas Wade, the reporter covering the story for the Times, would publish a widely condemned “race science” book in 2014 called A Troubling Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History. A purported summary of recent research in population genetics that explains cultural differences between white, East Asian, and African civilizations, Wade’s book inspired an open letter of condemnation, which virtually every expert in the field of population genetics signed.

Beyond Wade’s pathetic resuscitation of “scientific racism,” the Gould-Morton controversy has a deeper political dimension. The absence of mainstream reporting on The Mismeasure of Man’s vindication shows how the popular press privileges “hard” science over the “soft” sciences of historical interpretation. Gould himself fought long and hard against this bias, which caricatured paleontologists like him as “stamp collectors.”

Gould wrote his 1989 book, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, in large part to counteract the bias toward experimental science. The Burgess Shale in British Columbia includes the greatest repository of fossils from the Cambrian explosion, the dawn of multicellular life. As Gould’s book notes, scientists working with these fossils radically changed paleontology’s core concepts. Contrary to earlier studies, many of the shale’s fossils do not have known ancestors. This means that life was, in crucial ways, more diverse at the outset of the multicellular period than since. Current species evolved from only a few “lucky” surviving lineages.

Because the work involved “mere” description and no experimental work, the new interpretations did not make headlines. Gould contrasts this with the other great paleontological development of the late twentieth century, the “Alvarez hypothesis,” which holds that dinosaur extinction resulted from extraterrestrial impact.


The impact theory has everything for public acclaim — white coats, numbers, [Alvarez’s] Nobel renown and location at the top of the ladder of status. The Burgess redescriptions, on the other hand, struck many observers as one funny thing after another — just descriptions of some previously unappreciated, odd animals from early in life’s history.

Both discoveries told the same compelling story; both “illustrat[ed] . . . the extreme chanciness and contingency of life’s history,” yet only the “Alvarez hypothesis” made the cover of Time magazine.

The same privileging of “hard” science explains why media outlets picked up the attack on Gould’s analysis but not his subsequent vindication. These reports all emphasized that Lewis et al. had literally remeasured hundreds of skulls in the Morton collection (presumably while wearing white lab coats). As one more recent critique noted, however, “from the standpoint of evaluating Gould’s published claims, the re-measurement was completely pointless.” 

“Gould never claimed that Morton’s [later] shot-based measurements, which is what Lewis et al. compared their new measurements to, were unreliable.” Confirming their bias toward experimental methods, “Lewis et al. are . . . falsifying (their word) a claim Gould never made.” Such a glaring conceptual problem should prompt us, as it would have prompted Gould, to inquire into this supposed controversy’s historical context.

The return of far-right, racist politics was a depressingly predictable consequence of the election of the first black American president. The Obama administration didn’t help matters, as its failure to respond justly to the 2008 financial crisis only further radicalized some segments of the American population. Rebranded as the “alt-right” and “race realists,” this resurgence culminated in Trump’s election and his appointment of white nationalists to top posts.

Only in this climate can Lewis et al. claim without irony that Samuel Morton was a disinterested, objective researcher. This same Morton measured Native American skulls “to ascertain,” as his supporter George Combe put it, if they “perished” because of “a difference in brain between the native American race, and their conquering invaders.” This same Morton sought to prove the polygenist thesis, which holds that the human races arose separately. This same Morton was eulogized in the leading Southern medical journal of his day “for aiding most materially in giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race.”

Gould’s ideas remain vital because today’s reactionary racism isn’t an entirely new development. Rather, it extends the one Gould struggled against throughout his career.
In 1996, he reissued Mismeasure to include new material that debunked The Bell Curve, the biological-determinist bestseller of the early 1990s. In this second edition, Gould situated The Bell Curve in its historical context, arguing that novelty could not explain its popularity. After all, its central arguments had already been discredited on numerous grounds. Instead, Gould argued,


Its initial success must reflect the depressing temper of our time — a historical moment of unprecedented ungenerosity, when a mood for slashing social programs can be so abetted by an argument that beneficiaries cannot be aided due to inborn cognitive limits expressed as low IQ scores.

He would have been saddened, though maybe not surprised, to see this historical moment evolve into full-blown reaction. Mismeasure’s careful recording of how everything from pseudoscientific intelligence testing to programs of forced sterilization were used to maintain racial and class hierarchies gives readers a good idea of what it means to make America great again.

It’s no small task to summarize the diversity of Gould’s three hundred essays for Natural History. From the panda’s thumb to the flamingo’s smile; from the hyena’s genitals to the human male’s nipples; from the little known contingencies of Darwin’s life to the virtual impossibility of intelligent life ever evolving at all, Gould’s essays are as instructive as they are surprising and entertaining.

Tough Hope
But according to Gould, basic themes supported all this and diversity. He was interested in “the meaning of pattern in life’s history[,] . . . the nature of history[,] . . . and what it means to say that life is the product of a contingent past not the inevitable result of simple, timeless laws of nature.” Critics find this emphasis on unpredictability depressing. Does it amount to anything more than saying “stuff happens”?

Gould of course saw it differently. The luck of being here at all should make us more aware of our existence’s fragility and force us to recognize that we have no one to look to for guidance but ourselves.

In Wonderful Life, Gould argued that the evolution of intelligent life represents such a unique and improbable outcome, that, if you started life over at the beginning of the Cambrian explosion, different early organisms would have survived the period’s decimation, and we would never have existed at all:


Homo sapiens, I fear, is a “thing so small” in a vast universe, a wildly improbable evolutionary event well within the realm of contingency. Make of such a conclusion what you will. Some find it depressing; I have always regarded it as exhilarating, and a source of both freedom and consequent moral responsibility.

Gould’s sense of moral responsibility figures in his column’s other main project — what Marxists would recognize as his critique of ideology and what he called “the social implications of the scientific assault upon pervasive biases of Western thought.”

Gould listed four such biases: “progress, determinism, gradualism, and adaptationism.” They persist because they serve as a great comfort to many. Determinism and adaptationism tell us that we are meant to be here and are well suited for survival; gradualism and progress tell us that change occurs in predictable ways. In short, these biases teach us that everything happens for a reason.

As Gould pointed out, even progressive causes like the environmental movement fall prey to these biases’ hubris. Green activists too often assume that the earth is so delicate that we can destroy it and that, therefore, we shoulder the responsibility of saving it. With a New Yorker’s sarcasm, Gould responded, “We should be so powerful!”

He insisted that humans — not the earth — are the ones in danger. But this view does not make climate change any less of a crisis. As he put it:


Our planet is not fragile at its own time scale, and we, pitiful latecomers in the last microsecond of the planetary year are stewards of nothing in the long run. Yet no political movement is more vital and timely than modern environmentalism — because we must save ourselves (and our neighbor species) from our own immediate folly.

With his leftist organizing experience and his awareness of the consequences of human development on our own survival, you might expect that Gould would have devoted numerous columns to the ecological crisis. But he waited, he explained, until he could contribute something more than a repetition of “the shibboleths of the movement.”

In his essay on the extinction of the land snail Partula on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia, Gould argued that we should grieve for the scientist Henry Crampton whose lifetime of dedication to studying Partula on a remote island under adverse circumstances was erased by the unintended consequences of introducing predatory creatures into the environment. Though Gould was also an expert on land snails, as he explains it, the point is that we need a humanistic ecology too, “both for the practical reason that people will always touch people more than snails do or can, and for the moral reason that humans are legitimately the measure of all ethical questions — for these are our issues not nature’s.”

So what would Gould say today, as environmental decimation intensifies and the Trump administration begins to roll back the mostly inadequate steps taken to deal with climate change? A clue resides in Gould’s commentaries following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
He lived in SoHo at the time, and he and his family volunteered tirelessly to support first responders and clean-up crews. Amid so much suffering, we might expect Gould’s writings to turn despondent and pessimistic. But he remained optimistic instead. Why?

Gould staked many of his arguments on the concept of relative frequency, which maintains that, the more something occurs, the more it matters. This idea made punctuate equilibrium significant, because stasis among lineages in the fossil record had high relative frequency but had “previously been ignored as nonevidence of nonevolution.” Gould noticed the high relative frequency of basic human decency in the weeks following 9/11.

After years of misguided wars and an expanded police state, it’s easy to forget that the event’s interpretation was an open question in those days near the end of Gould’s life. “Ground Zero,” he noted, “is a focal point for a vast web of bustling goodness, channeling uncountable deeds of kindness from an entire planet.” The people of Halifax, where he stayed when his plane was diverted during the attacks, had welcomed him and thousands of other stranded travelers.

Gould devoted his final column in Natural History to his grandfather, Papa Joe, who arrived in the United States, by a strange coincidence, on September 11, 1901. Like so many Jewish immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century, his grandfather found work in the garment district of Manhattan, struggled with poverty, but still managed to find his way. “He and my grandmother raised four children,” Gould writes, “all imbued with the ordinary values that ennoble our species and nation: fairness, kindness, the need to rise by one’s own efforts.” Gould argued that the countless ordinary stories like Papa Joe’s “will outshine, in the brightness of hope and goodness, the mad act of spectacular destruction that poisoned his life’s centennial.”

It is tempting to label these remarks as Pollyannaish, but Gould was not naïve. The philosopher in him spoke of the “Great Asymmetry”: one destructive act can undo years of careful effort, but decent people still vastly outnumber their counterparts. At the same time, the veteran political organizer in Gould knew it would take concerted action. His essay on Papa Joe closes:


We will win now because ordinary humanity holds a triumphant edge in millions of good people over each evil psychopath. But we will only prevail if we can mobilize this latent goodness into permanent vigilance and action.

The call for “permanent vigilance and action” under the rubric of “tough hope” in response to the work of reactionary extremists who reject modernity was Gould’s final theme as a public intellectual. With the Left returning to its duty to organize and remembering its roots in the projects of the Enlightenment and modernity, we must commit ourselves to Gould’s legacy of “tough hope.”

Friday, May 19, 2017

2614. There's No Such Thing as a 'Pure' European—or Anyone Else

By Ann Gibbons, Science, May 15, 2017

When the first busloads of migrants from Syria and Iraq rolled into Germany 2 years ago, some small towns were overwhelmed. The village of Sumte, population 102, had to take in 750 asylum seekers. Most villagers swung into action, in keeping with Germany’s strong Willkommenskultur, or “welcome culture.” But one self-described neo-Nazi on the district council told The New York Times that by allowing the influx, the German people faced “the destruction of our genetic heritage” and risked becoming “a gray mishmash.”

In fact, the German people have no unique genetic heritage to protect. They—and all other Europeans—are already a mishmash, the children of repeated ancient migrations, according to scientists who study ancient human origins. New studies show that almost all indigenous Europeans descend from at least three major migrations in the past 15,000 years, including two from the Middle East. Those migrants swept across Europe, mingled with previous immigrants, and then remixed to create the peoples of today.

Using revolutionary new methods to analyze DNA and the isotopes found in bones and teeth, scientists are exposing the tangled roots of peoples around the world, as varied as Germans, ancient Philistines, and Kashmiris. Few of us are actually the direct descendants of the ancient skeletons found in our backyards or historic homelands. Only a handful of groups today, such as Australian Aborigines, have deep bloodlines untainted by mixing with immigrants. 

“We can falsify this notion that anyone is pure,” says population geneticist Lynn Jorde of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Instead, almost all modern humans “have this incredibly complex history of mixing and mating and migration.”

Wind back the clock more than a thousand years—a trivial slice of time compared with the 200,000 years or so since our species emerged—and stories of exclusive heritage or territory crumble. “Basically, everybody’s myth is wrong, even the indigenous groups’,” says population geneticist David Reich of Harvard University.

Tacitus, the Roman historian, reports that in 9 C.E. a member of the Germanic Cherusci tribe called Arminius led a rebellion against the Romans near the village of Kalkriese in northern Germany. Against all odds, the tribes slaughtered three Roman legions in what became known as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.

After Tacitus’s account resurfaced in the 15th century, German nationalists resurrected the myth of Arminius, who is often depicted as a blond, muscular young chieftain and known as Hermann. Hailed as the first “German” hero, he was said to have united the Germanic tribes and driven the Romans from their territory. That was considered the start of a period when fearsome Germanic tribes such as the Vandals swept around Europe, wresting territory from Romans and others.

In the 20th century, the Nazis added their own dark spin to that origin story, citing Arminius as part of an ancient pedigree of a “master race” from Germany and northern Europe that they called Aryans. They used their view of prehistory and archaeology to justify claims to the tribes’ ancient homelands in Poland and Austria.

Scholars agree that there was indeed a real battle that sent shock waves through the Roman Empire, which then stretched from the island of Britain to Egypt. But much of the rest of Arminius’s story is myth: The Romans persisted deep in Germania until at least the third century C.E., as shown by the recent discovery of a third-century Roman battlefield in Harzhorn, Germany. And Arminius by no means united the more than 50 Germanic tribes of the time. He persuaded five tribes to join him in battle, but members of his own tribe soon killed him.

Moreover, Arminius and his kin were not pure “Aryan,” if that term means a person whose ancestors lived solely in what is now Germany or Scandinavia. The Cherusci tribe, like all Europeans of their day and later, were themselves composites, built from serial migrations into the heart of Europe and then repeatedly remixed. “The whole concept of an ethnic German … it’s ludicrous when you look at the longue durée [long time] scale,” says archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. 

After World War II, many scholars recoiled from studying migrations, in reaction to the Nazi misuse of history and archaeology. The Nazis had invoked migrations of “foreign” groups to German territory to justify genocide. “The whole field of migration studies was ideologically tainted,” says archaeologist Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Some researchers also resisted the idea that migration helped spread key innovations such as farming, partly because that might imply that certain groups were superior.

Nor did researchers have a reliable method to trace prehistoric migrations. “Most of the archaeological evidence for movement is based on artifacts, but artifacts can be stolen or copied, so they are not a real good proxy for actual human movement,” says archaeologist Doug Price of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who tracks ancient migration by analyzing isotopes. “When I started doing this in 1990, I thought people were very sedentary and didn’t move around much.”

Today, however, new methods yield more definitive evidence of migration, sparking an explosion of studies. The isotopes Price and others study are specific to local water and food and thus can reveal where people grew up and whether they later migrated. DNA from ancient skeletons and living people offers the “gold standard” in proving who was related to whom.

The new data confirm that humans have always had wanderlust, plus a yen to mix with all manner of strangers. After the first Homo sapiens arose in Africa, several bands walked out of the continent about 60,000 years ago and into the arms of Neandertals and other archaic humans. Today, almost all humans outside Africa carry traces of archaic DNA. 

That was just one of many episodes of migration and mixing. The first Europeans came from Africa via the Middle East and settled there about 43,000 years ago. But some of those pioneers, such as a 40,000-year-old individual from Romania, have little connection to today’s Europeans, Reich says. 

His team studied DNA from 51 Europeans and Asians who lived 7000 to 45,000 years ago. They found that most of the DNA in living Europeans originated in three major migrations, starting with hunter-gatherers who came from the Middle East as the glaciers retreated 19,000 to 14,000 years ago. In a second migration about 9000 years ago, farmers from northwestern Anatolia, in what is now Greece and Turkey, moved in.

That massive wave of farmers washed across the continent. Ancient DNA records their arrival in Germany, where they are linked with the Linear Pottery culture, 6900 to 7500 years ago. A 7000-year-old woman from Stuttgart, Germany, for example, has the farmers’ genetic signatures, setting her apart from eight hunter-gatherers who lived just 1000 years earlier in Luxembourg and Sweden. Among people living today, Sardinians retain the most DNA from those early farmers, whose genes suggest that they had brown eyes and dark hair.
The farmers moved in family groups and stuck to themselves awhile before mixing with local hunter-gatherers, according to a study in 2015 that used ancient DNA to calculate the ratio of men to women in the farming groups. That’s a stark contrast to the third major migration, which began about 5000 years ago when herders swept in from the steppe north of the Black Sea in what is now Russia. Those Yamnaya pastoralists herded cattle and sheep, and some rode newly domesticated horses, says archaeologist David Anthony of Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.

In the journal Antiquity last month, Kristiansen and paleogeneticist Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen reported that the sex ratios of the earliest Yamnaya burials in central Europe suggest that the new arrivals were mostly men. Arriving with few women, those tall strangers were apparently eager to woo or abduct the local farmers’ daughters. Not long after the Yamnaya invasion, their skeletons were buried with those of women who had lived on farms as children, according to the strontium and nitrogen isotopes in their bones, says Price, who analyzed them.

The unions between the Yamnaya and the descendants of Anatolian farmers catalyzed the creation of the famous Corded Ware culture, known for its distinctive pottery impressed with cordlike patterns, Kristiansen says. According to DNA analysis, those people may have inherited Yamnaya genes that made them taller; they may also have had a then-rare mutation that enabled them to digest lactose in milk, which quickly spread.

It was a winning combination. The Corded Ware people had many offspring who spread rapidly across Europe. They were among the ancestors of the Bell Beaker culture of central Europe, known by the vessels they used to drink wine, according to a study by Kristiansen and Reich published this month. “This big wave of Yamnaya migration washed all the way to the shores of Ireland,” says population geneticist Dan Bradley of Trinity College in Dublin. Bell Beaker pots and DNA appeared about 4000 years ago in burials on Rathlin Island, off the coast of Northern Ireland, his group reported this year.

This new picture means that the Hermann of lore was himself a composite of post–ice age hunter-gatherers, Anatolian farmers, and Yamnaya herders. So are most other Europeans—including the ancient Romans whose empire Arminius fought.

The three-part European mixture varies across the continent, with different ratios of each migration and trace amounts of other lineages. But those quirks rarely match the tales people tell about their ancestry. For example, the Basques of northern Spain, who have a distinct language, have long thought themselves a people apart. But last year, population geneticist Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University in Sweden reported that the DNA of modern Basques is most like that of the ancient farmers who populated northern Spain before the Yamnaya migration. In other words, Basques are part of the usual European mix, although they carry less Yamnaya DNA than other Europeans.

Farther north, the Irish Book of Invasions, written by an anonymous author in the 11th century, recounts that the “Sons of Míl Espáine … after many wanderings in Scythia and Egypt” eventually reached Spain and Ireland, creating a modern Irish people distinct from the British—and linked to the Spanish. That telling resonates with a later yarn about ships from the Spanish Armada, wrecked on the shores of Ireland and the Scottish Orkney Islands in 1588, Bradley says: “Good-looking, dark-haired Spaniards washed ashore” and had children with Gaelic and Orkney Islands women, creating a strain of Black Irish with dark hair, eyes, and skin.

Although it’s a great story, Bradley says, it “just didn’t happen.” In two studies, researchers have found only “a very small ancient Spanish contribution” to British and Irish DNA, says human geneticist Walter Bodmer of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, co-leader of a landmark 2015 study of British genetics.

The Irish also cherish another origin story, of the Celtic roots they are said to share with the Scots and Welsh. In the Celtic Revival of the 19th and 20th centuries, writers such as William Butler Yeats drew from stories in the Book of Invasions and medieval texts. Those writings described a migration of Gaels, or groups of Celts from the mainland who clung to their identity in the face of later waves of Roman, Germanic, and Nordic peoples.
But try as they might, researchers so far haven’t found anyone, living or dead, with a distinct Celtic genome. The ancient Celts got their name from Greeks who used “Celt” as a label for barbarian outsiders—the diverse Celtic-speaking tribes who, starting in the late Bronze Age, occupied territory from Portugal to Turkey. “It’s a hard question who the Celts are,” says population geneticist Stephan Schiffels of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.

Bodmer’s team traced the ancestry of 2039 people whose families have lived in the same parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales since the 19th century. These people form at least nine genetic and geographic clusters, showing that after their ancestors arrived in those regions, they put down roots and married their neighbors. But the clusters themselves are of diverse origin, with close ties to people now in Germany, Belgium, and France. “‘Celtic’ is a cultural definition,” Bodmer says. “It has nothing to do with hordes of people coming from somewhere else and replacing people.”

English myths fare no better. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recounts that in 449 C.E., two Germanic tribespeople, Hengist and Horsa, sailed from what is now the Netherlands to southeast England, starting a fierce conflict. As more Angles, Saxons, and Jutes arrived, violence broke out with the local Britons and ended in “rivers of blood,” according to accounts by medieval monks. Scholars have debated just how bloody that invasion was, and whether it was a mass migration or a small delegation of elite kings and their warriors.
An answer came in 2016 from a study of the ancient DNA of Anglo-Saxons and indigenous Britons, who were buried side by side in the fifth and sixth centuries in a cemetery near Cambridge, U.K. They lived and died together and even interbred, as shown by one person who had a mix of DNA from both Britons and Anglo-Saxons, and a genetic Briton who was buried with a large cruciform Anglo-Saxon brooch. Although the stories stress violence, the groups “were mixing very quickly,” says Duncan Sayer, an archaeologist at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, U.K., who co-wrote the study.

The team went on to show that 25% to 40% of the ancestry of modern Britons is Anglo-Saxon. Even people in Wales and Scotland—thought to be Celtic strongholds—get about 30% of their DNA from Anglo-Saxons, says co-author Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust’s Sanger Institute in Hinxton, U.K.

The boom in studies of migration is centered on Europe, where access to ancient remains is relatively easy and cold climates can help preserve DNA. But geneticists are beginning to probe the makeup of ancient people elsewhere. For example, findings from recent excavations in Israel are close to solving a long-standing mystery from the Bible: the identity of the ancient Philistines.

In biblical texts, those “uncircumcised” people are known as the bitter enemies of the Israelites; the name “Philistine” is still a slur in English. They’re said to have lived in Canaan, between present-day Tel Aviv and Gaza in Israel. They ate pork, battled Samson’s armies, and stole the Ark of the Covenant. Goliath, whom David slew with a sling, was a Philistine. But after Old Testament times, the group disappears from both scripture and historical accounts.

To find the Philistines’ origins, researchers have studied artifacts and remains from ancient Philistine cities in Israel. The evidence, including isotopic analysis, shows that the Philistines were a motley crew of immigrants, possibly pirates, who hailed from many ports, bringing pigs from Europe and donkeys in caravans from Egypt. “The Philistines are an entangled culture from western Anatolia, Cyprus, Greece, the Balkans, you name it,” says Maeir, who has directed excavations at the Philistine city of Gath for 2 decades.

Maeir says he thinks that the Philistines soon intermarried with people already living in Canaan instead of going extinct. If so, the loathsome Philistines are part of the ancestral stock for both Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews. Those groups, so full of enmity today, are genetically closely related, according to a study in 2000 of the paternally inherited Y chromosomes of 119 Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews and 143 Israeli and Palestinian Arabs. Seventy percent of the Jewish men and half of the Arab men inherited their Y chromosomes from the same set of paternal ancestors who lived in the Middle East within the last few thousand years.

As techniques for probing ethnic origins spread, nearly every week brings a new paper testing and often falsifying lore about one ancient culture or another. The Kashmiri of northern India do not seem to be related to Alexander the Great or the lost tribes of Israel. Parsis in Iran and India are not solely of ancient Iranian heritage, having mixed with local Indian women, although Parsi priests do descend chiefly from just two men. 
“Ethnic groups in the past and present create an ‘imagined past’ of the longtime and ‘pure’ origins of their group,” Maeir says. But that created past often has “little true relation to the historical processes” that actually created the group, he says. 

So far, the origin stories that appear to hew most closely to reality belong to indigenous peoples around the world. For example, the Tlingit and Tsimshian tribes of British Columbia in Canada and Alaska claim to have lived along the west coast of North America from “time immemorial.” Living tribespeople do descend in part from three ancient Native Americans who lived in the region 2500 to 6000 years ago, according to DNA analyses published last month. Even so, most modern Native Americans are not directly related to the ancient people who lived in the same areas because their offspring moved, were displaced, or went extinct over the millennia, Reich says.

In Australia, aboriginal stories recall even longer connections to their lands, even seeming to refer to times when sea levels rose and fell more than 15,000 years ago. Those claims are among the few that genome studies support. DNA evidence puts aboriginal ancestors on the continent 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. Once the first Australians arrived, they settled in three regions and remained in those discrete homelands for tens of thousands of years, a DNA study published in March suggests. 

But the Aborigines are rare among the peoples of Earth, where migrations have been the norm. Almost always, Reich says, “the idea that the ancestors of any one population have lived in the same place for tens of thousands of years with no substantial immigration is wrong.” 

Back in Sumte in the fall of 2015, the 750 refugees from Syria arrived on schedule. The adults mostly kept to themselves, learning German and taking occasional construction jobs. But their children sang “O Tannenbaum” in a local church at Christmas and their teens ventured out often, seeking cellphone signals in the quiet town.

In the following months, almost all the refugees dispersed to larger towns throughout Germany. In time, some of the young immigrants will contribute their DNA to the next generation of Germans, re-enacting on a small scale the process of migration and assimilation that once played out repeatedly on this same land—and far beyond.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2613. Cuba Issues its First Postage Stamp against Homophobia

By ACN, periodico26.cu, May 12, 2017

Cuba's efforts to visualize and safeguard the struggle for respect for free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity were ratified with the issue of the first postage stamp against homophobia and transphobia in this city.

The ceremony took place at the headquarters of the National Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC by its Spanish acronym) and was attended by its president, Miguel Barnet; Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX by its Spanish acronym), and Rolando Núñez, president of UNEAC Association of Performing Arts.

When referring to the stamp, with the image of Vilma Espín, eternal president of the Federation of Cuban Women, Raúl Lorenzo, president of the Cuban Philatelic Federation, said that this action enhances the country's history and its efforts for full development of all people.

On awareness of respect for sexual diversity, Barnet pointed out the need to eliminate stereotypes and prejudices that curb the well-being of men and women.
The essayist and ethnologist alluded to difficult periods in Cuba for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, and emphasized that "fortunately those obtuse and retrograde minds got in the way.”

Manuel Vázquez, CENESEX deputy director, recalled the cultural gala scheduled for today and the traditional conga for Saturday, as part of the 10th Cuban Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.


This tenth edition of the event focuses on preventing bullying or homophobic harassment in schools, a phenomenon that is manifested in offensive comments, blows, isolation and other discriminatory actions against the victims.

Monday, May 15, 2017

2612. Nature, Labor, and the Rise of Capitalism

By Martin Empson, Monthly Review, May 2017

Capitalism has, to put it mildly, a peculiar relationship with the natural world.1 Karl Marx perhaps summarized it best in the Grundrisse, where he wrote that with the rise of the capitalist mode of production, “for the first time, nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production.”2 In the same section, Marx notes that “capital creates the bourgeois society, and the universal appropriation of nature as well as of the social bond itself by the members of society.”
This instrumentalized relation to the natural world contrasts sharply with the ways that nature was seen and used by earlier human societies. This novel interaction with nature arose from the violent social transformations that accompanied the development of capitalism in Western Europe, and expanded with the spread of that system to the rest of the world. Marx catalogued the many forms of plunder and destruction perpetuated by early capitalism as it remade the world in its image: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation.”3 Capital, he famously concluded, enters the world “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt,” as nature itself is subordinated to the needs of the system.4
In all historical societies, humans have had some form of metabolic interaction with nature. Through our labor, we have always transformed nature to satisfy our needs—indeed, as Marx puts it, the essence of labor is the “appropriation of nature for the satisfaction of human needs”:
Labor is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, thorough his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature.5
Capitalism was a radical break with the past: for the first time, production of basic goods was driven by the accumulation of wealth for its own sake, and not primarily to satisfy human needs. This system of generalized commodity production has also changed us. We are alienated from the natural world, as the products of our own labor are no longer under our own control. Our very perception of nature is shaped by an economic system that treats “the environment” as a collection of commodities to be exploited for profit.
This historical emphasis on our changing relationship with the natural world is not unique to Marxism, or even to the left. The great Whig historian G. M. Trevelyan believed that among other things, social history must be concerned with “the attitude of man to nature.”6 Colonial encounters between Europeans and indigenous populations of the Americas offer a vivid—and bloody—illustration of these changing attitudes. These interactions were, on the whole, enormously destructive for the people and ecology of the Americas. Millions died from disease or military conquest, communities and civilizations were destroyed, and many thousands were enslaved. Despite some European migrants’ vision of a land free from hierarchy and exploitation, the so-called New World rapidly came under the rule of capitalist social relations.7A corresponding change occurred in the ways people understood the land and used its resources.
In her classic book Myths of Male Dominance, the anthropologist Eleanor Burke Leacock studied the changing social structures of the Montagnais-Naskapi people of Canada after the arrival of the French fur trade in the seventeenth century. The Montagnais were an egalitarian, matrilocal society of hunter-gatherers, and their social relations were governed by “generosity, cooperation, and patience…those who did not contribute their share were not respected, and it was a real insult to call a person stingy.” Despite the upheavals the Montagnais had endured, Leacock still found vestiges of a quite different social organization during her twentieth-century fieldwork:
As far as I could see, decision-making on such important issues was a most subtle process—indeed an enigma to the fieldworker schooled in competitive hierarchies—whereby one found out how everybody concerned felt without committing oneself until one was fairly sure in advance that there would be common agreement. I was constantly struck by the…continual effort…to operate together unanimously…in the direction of the greatest individual satisfaction without direct conflict of interest.8
The Jesuit missionaries who accompanied the fur traders to Canada were horrified by Montagnais life, and set about trying to “civilize” the tribe. Within a decade, the old order began breaking down, as the economic base of Montagnais society was transformed. The European market for fur was enormous, and to meet this insatiable demand, traders offered the Montagnais and other indigenous peoples European goods in exchange for tens of thousands of pelts. The communities around the trading stations consequently grew dependent on French tools, weapons, clothing, and food. Filling French orders for fur meant that the Montagnais ceased to be hunters who spent large parts of the year travelling long distances; they instead became sedentary trappers. The collective, collaborative experience of hunting gave way to a more individualistic one, with single people managing traps and reaping the rewards. Before the Europeans’ arrival, the Montagnais had no notion of private property; now the land was divided into individually owned lots. Social relations changed too: under pressure from the Jesuits, the patriarchal European model of family life came to dominate, as women were forced out of their role as producers and men took on the primary task of trapping.
Similar changes occurred everywhere European traders went, as John F. Richards notes in his study of the commodification of animals. For instance, “although the Creeks adapted quickly and successfully to the new incentives of the deerskin trade, they…faced a basic contradiction. Economic and political forces made it imperative that they deliver a maximal number of deer skins every year. They became market hunters linked into the world market who used muskets to avidly pursue as many deer and bear as possible.”9
It is important not to romanticize the life of indigenous peoples before European arrival, lest we slip into old tropes of “noble savages” living in perfect harmony with nature. As Richards notes, evidence exists that in pre-contact times, Native Americans faced with an abundance of prey would kill more animals than they needed, to ensure they got the choicest food.
But this hardly compares with the scale of the slaughter of animals driven by European demand for fur and skins. As Richards puts it: “Once Indians were touched by the stimulus of market demand, any restraints they had previously maintained eroded rapidly. Pursuit of the material rewards offered by the fur traders forced Indians to hunt preferred species steadily, despite declining numbers…. What they became were commercial hunters caught up in the all-consuming market.”10
Even Europeans’ wide-eyed descriptions of the New World often read like catalogues of natural commodities. Thus the explorer Martin Pring, in his 1603 report on the island later named Martha’s Vineyard, seemed to be compiling a kind of shopping list of trees. Centuries of deforestation had made wood expensive in Europe, and Pring recognized the island’s potential riches:
As for Trees the Country yeeldeth Sassafras a plant of sovereigne vertue for the French Pox, and as some of late have learnedly written good against the Plague and many other Maladies; Vines, Cedars, Okes, Ashes, Beeches, birch trees, Cherie trees bearing fruit whereof we did eat; Hasels, Witchhasels, the best wood of all other to make Sope-ashes withall; walnut trees, Maples, holy to make Bird lime with and a kinde of tree bearing a fruit like a small red Peare-plum.11
Letters home from other visitors to the Americas include similar inventories of natural resources. Explorer James Rosier described coastal vegetation in Maine as “the profits and fruits which are naturally on these Ilands.”12
The transformation in attitudes toward nature that followed European arrival in the Americas mirrors that which accompanied the rise of capitalism in Europe. Keith Thomas has pointed out that in Tudor and Stuart times, “the long established view was that the world had been created for man’s sake and that other species were meant to be subordinate to his wishes and needs.”13 By way of illustration, Thomas cites a fanciful early seventeenth-century poem depicting animals as willingly heading off to their slaughter for human consumption:
The pheasant, partridge and the lark
Flew to thy house, as to the Ark.
The willing ox of himself came
Home to the slaughter, with the lamb;
And every beast did thither bring
Himself to be an offering
The separation of the people from the soil, one of the “original sources of wealth,” was a protracted and brutal one. Rural producers were turned into wage laborers. Many were pushed off the land into the growing towns and cities; others were forced to emigrate, often to the frontiers of capitalism in the New World. The remainder lost their traditional rural role, becoming wage laborers, as Marx recognized:
The immediate producer, the worker, could dispose of his own person only after he had ceased to be bound to the soil and ceased to be the slave or serf of another person…the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-laborers appears on the one hand as their emancipation from serfdom…. But on the other, these newly freed men became sellers of themselves only after they have been robbed of all their own means of production, and all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements.14
This new primacy of private property had to be enforced, and in England, Parliament enacted hundreds of new laws to encourage further enclosure and limit shared use of land. Such legislation was needed, as E. P. Thompson noted, because “property was not, in 1700, trenched around on every side by capital statutes.”15 Thompson referred specifically to the notorious 1723 Black Act, which criminalized unauthorized “hunting, wounding or stealing of red or fallow deer [in a forest, common lands, or Royal Park], and the poaching of hares, conies or fish.” The law imposed capital punishment on those found guilty of poaching.16
As the great agricultural trade unionist Joseph Arch noted, the act and other anti-poaching laws went beyond protecting private property to alter the ways that people used the country’s natural resources:
We laborers do not believe hares and rabbits belong to any individual, not anymore than thrushes or blackbirds do…. To see hares and rabbits running across his path is a very great temptation to many a man who has a family to feed…so he may kill a hare or a rabbit when it passes his way, because his wages are inadequate to meet the demands on them, or from dire necessity, or just because he likes jugged hare as well as anybody else.17
The Black Act was part of “making the world safe for English merchants and landlords to increase in wealth and so to contribute to the new power of the English state.”18
As in the Americas—though with far less bloodshed—such changes transformed social attitudes toward nature. Henry Best was an English yeoman farmer who saw his land triple in value through a process of enclosure in the mid-1600s. The author of several works on improved agricultural methods, Best had developed his own system for selling animals at optimal prices. All of this made him “intolerant” of the remaining communal traditions among his fellow villagers, and he refused to contribute to the shared hay stock for winter because “our hay would have been spent in feeding other men’s animals.” Best worked vigorously to ensure that other farmers’ animals did not stray onto his land, even keeping watch in the middle of the night. Deliberately isolating himself from his neighbors, Best represented an early case of the classic capitalist small landholder, driven by the desire to maximize his own profits at the expense of the wider community.19
The parceling up of the land in effect created private property where there was none before, and new restrictions on the use of nature by rural populations formed a foundational part of the new capitalist order, managed and protected by the state. As historian George Yerby writes, “the land was being pinned down, set at a conceptual distance, captured on the page and assessed in theory, rather than simply worked as a continuous, unbroken physical exercise.”20
Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, an anonymous pamphlet circulated by the Diggers in 1648, complained bitterly of the rapid spread of enclosure:
All the Land, Trees, Beasts; Fish, Fowle, &c. are inclosed into a few mercinary hands; and all the rest deprived and made their slaves, so that if they cut a Tree for fire they are to be punished, or hunt a fowle it is imprisonment, because it is gentlemens game, as they say; neither must they keep Cattle, or set up a House, all ground being inclosed, without hyring leave for the one, or buying room for the other, of the chiefe incloser, called the Lord of the Mannor, or some other wretch as cruell as he.
These changes provoked spirited resistance. Anti-enclosure movements threw down fences and hedges, and riots broke out in protest of new land laws. Massed bands of poachers confronted armed gamekeepers in set-piece battles, and communities fought in the courts, in the streets, and in the fields to protect their shared interests. Later the rise of agricultural unions moved the battle away from violent clashes toward the struggle over wages and working hours, but riots and protests were for decades the principal form of mass outrage at what was being done to common people and their land.
The “classical case against the open-field and common,” Thompson writes, “was its inefficiency and wastefulness of time.” He cites a 1795 report complaining that the rural laborer, “in sauntering after his cattle…acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half and occasionally whole days are imperceptibly lost. Day labor becomes disgusting.”21 In Thompson’s view, enclosure and agricultural improvement were “concerned with the efficient husbandry of the time of the labor force.” In towns and cities, urban industry had “time discipline” at its heart, and education served as “training in the ‘habit of industry.’”22 Workers in the new factories and workshops had to be broken from their old habits into new ways of working.
This primary accumulation of wealth, as Marx called it, laid the basis for the development of the capitalist system, and severed traditional ties between the people and the soil, concentrating workers in towns and cities. This process of urbanization and proletarianization also brought with it a new form of time discipline, and the use of “reserve armies of the unemployed” to inhibit workers’ struggles against their employers.
All of this led ultimately to the rise of fossil fuels, which came to dominate British industry in the nineteenth century. This process was neither automatic nor speedy. As late as 1800, only eighty-four steam engines powered cotton mills in England, compared to around a thousand mills run by water.23 John Robison, a professor of philosophy and lifelong friend of James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, complained: “Water is the most common power and indeed the best, as being the most constant and equable; while wind comes sometimes with greater violence and at others is totally gone. Mills may also be moved by the force of steam…but the expense of fuel most undoubtedly prevent this mode of constructing mills from ever becoming general.”24
Nonetheless, steam engines were adopted eventually, despite the high capital costs of plant and fuel and the novel engineering needed. One reason was that they freed mill owners from the natural limits of hydropower; only so many water wheels can be installed over a particular river, and only in so many suitable locations are available. Fossil fuels, cheap and abundant, had no such constraints.
But the main reason that fossil fuels came to dominate capitalist production, as Andreas Malm argues in his recent book Fossil Capital, is that steam power offered “a ticket to the town.” Steam meant that industry could now be located in urban areas where workers disciplined in factory work could be easily hired (and fired). No longer would factory owners be compelled to build homes, churches, and schools in remote valleys. Instead, the slums of Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow became the major sites for mills. In 1833, J. R. McCulloch explained these developments in the Edinburgh Review: “The work that is done by the aid of a stream of water is generally as cheap as that which is done by steam, and sometimes much cheaper. But the invention of the steam-engine has relieved us from the necessity of building factories in inconvenient situation merely for the sake of a waterfall. It has allowed them to be placed in the center of a population trained to industrious habits.”25 Marx wrote that the process of primitive accumulation “conquered the field for capitalist agriculture, incorporated the soil into capital and created for the urban industries the necessary supplies of free and right-less proletarians.”26
That the capitalist mode of production transformed human social relations is universally known, but it served equally to alter the relationship between humanity and nature. The separation between town and country grew, and the concentration of people in new and growing urban areas drove the adoption of new technologies and labor methods. Fossil fuels became the dominant form of energy, further enabling capital to exploit the workforce. Twenty-first century ecological crisis was never inevitable, but it became steadily more likely with capitalism’s global expansion. Understanding the historical processes that gave rise to the Anthropocene will be a vital weapon in the struggle for a sustainable and just world.

Notes

  1. This article is based on two talks, the first given in May 2014 at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the second in November 2016 at the Marx Memorial Library in London, as part of the Raphael Samuel History Center’s History and Environment seminar series.
  2. Karl Marx,Grundrisse (London: Penguin, 1977), 410.
  3. Karl Marx,Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1990), 915.
  4. Marx,Capital, vol. 1, 926.
  5. Quoted in John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 157; Marx,Capital, vol. 1, 283.
  6. G. M. Trevelyan,English Social History (London: Pelican, 1982), 10.
  7. For an excellent description of this process in one relatively small area of North America, see John Tully, Crooked Deals and Broken Treaties (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016).
  8. Eleanor Burke Leacock, Myths of Male Dominance (Chicago: Haymarket, 2008), 71–72.
  9. Richards,The World Hunt (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press), 35–36.
  10. Richards,The World Hunt, 45–46.
  11. William Cronon,Changes in the Land (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983), 21.
  12. Cronon,Changes in the Land, 20-21.
  13. Keith Thomas,Man and the Natural World (New York: Pantheon, 1983), 17.
  14. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 875.
  15. E. P. Thompson,Whigs and Hunters (London: Penguin, 1977), 21.
  16. Thompson,Whigs and Hunters, 22.
  17. Quoted in Horn,The Rural World 1780–1850 (London: Hutchinson, 1980), 181.
  18. Christopher Hill,Liberty against the Law (London: Penguin, 1997), 9.
  19. George Yerby,The English Revolution and the Roots of Environmental Change (New York: Routledge, 2016), 250.
  20. Yerby,The English Revolution, 89.
  21. E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,”Past and Present 38 (1967): 77.
  22. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” 78, 84.
  23. Andreas Malm,Fossil Capital (London: Verso, 2016), 56.
  24. Malm,Fossil Capital, 56.
  25. Quoted in Malm,Fossil Capital, 123-124.
  26. Marx,Capital, vol. 1, 895.