Sumerian city-states engaged in irrigation, which raised the water-tables. When the water table in those waterlogged soils reached the surface, the soils turned white with salt, especially with the high evaporation of those hot lands, and it would no longer support crops. The only solution was to stop irrigating and let the land go fallow as the water table fell, but the population pressures did not allow for it, so the process inexorably created saline soils, silt-filled canals due to upland deforestation, and today those Sumerian cities are all buried in silt in a desert. Eridu was a seashore city, and today its ruins lie more than 200 kilometers inland. But before silt and salt wrecked that civilization, many seminal inventions appeared. The appeared in . Gravity took a ship downstream, and wind power helped it move back upstream.
The rest of this chapter will trace many important preindustrial developments which helped set the stage for the Industrial Revolution, which is humanity’s fourth and most recent Epochal Event. But until the last few centuries in Europe preceding the Industrial Revolution, the basics among all civilizations did not appreciably change. Agriculture provided a local and stable energy supply that allowed for sedentism, forests were removed to make way for crops, and domestic animals were used to provide labor and/or flesh products, while their manure helped replenish soil nutrients depleted by agriculture. Virtually everywhere that agriculture appeared, so did civilization, with varying levels of urbanity. Elites dominated all civilizations, and they almost always invoked either a divine nature or divine sanction to justify their status, and they always engaged in conspicuous economic consumption. Cities situated on low-energy transportation lanes, which were almost always bodies of water, exploited forested and agricultural hinterlands, which were worked by peasants and slaves, while cities housed professionals and the elite. Forests and agriculture provided the primary energy supply of all preindustrial civilizations, which was usually supplemented with the products and services of domestic animals. All preindustrial civilizations were steeply hierarchical - economically, socially, and politically – and the means of production provided small surpluses that supported a small elite and professional class. Fighting over resources and plunder has been the primary predilection of all civilizations for all time, except for a very brief interlude at the beginnings of .
In the Fertile Crescent today, the ruins of hundreds of early cities are in their self-made deserts, usually buried under the silt of the erosion of exposed forest soils. As the Mediterranean Sea’s periphery became civilized, the same pattern was repeated; forests became semi-deserts and early cities were buried under silt. Before the rise of civilization, a forest ran from Morocco to Afghanistan, and only about 10% of the forest that still existed as late as 2000 BCE still remains. Everyplace that civilization exists today has been dramatically deforested. Humanity has since agriculture began. The only partial exceptions are places such as Japan, but they regenerated their forests by importing wood from foreign forests. North America and Asia have been supplying Japan with wood for generations. As civilizations wiped themselves out with their rapaciousness, some people were aware enough to lament what was happening, but they were a small minority. Usually lost in the anthropocentric view was the awesome devastation inflicted on other life forms. was only a prelude. Razing a forest to burn the wood and raise crops destroyed an entire ecosystem for short-term human benefit and left behind a lifeless desert when the last crops were wrenched from depleted soils. In the final accounting, the damage meted out to Earth’s other species, not other humans, may be humanity’s greatest crime. Humanity is the greatest destructive force on Earth since the , and our great task of devastating Earth and her denizens may be .
Energy is the master resource of all organisms, all ecosystems, and all economies. When a civilization centralizes its energy consumption, which were food and wood in preindustrial civilizations, to a central city, and it has to keep expanding farther and farther from that city to obtain that energy, the is going to reduce the EROI of those increasingly distant energy resources, and hence reduce the . Also, the practices of and agriculture provide short-term agricultural yields, but the wood would be almost instantly used (about 90% of the wood imported to Rome was burned, which was the typical ratio for ancient cities). The soils became eroded, depleted, and often abandoned as the land could no longer support farming, partly because the entire process made the land more arid. If they could import water to irrigate (usually a rare situation), that could help ameliorate the process, but it took more time and effort and made it more difficult. There were no accountants, scientists, or engineers monitoring and measuring the process, but all of those dynamics would reduce the system’s EROI and surplus energy and make it less resilient, so it was vulnerable to disruptive shocks.
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In 112 BCE, Rome against the last resistance in Northern Africa, but the war displayed signs of internal corruption in the Roman Republic, where . Military conquest, with its resultant spoils of plunder, quickly became the Roman way. Rome eventually became a huge parasite that provided almost nothing of value to the world while sending its soldiers to distant lands to conquer and rape them, and plunder routes into Rome’s maw covered vast distances. During the height of the Roman Empire, about 50 million imperial subjects were exploited to essentially feed the capital city’s residents, of which . As the Republic became more far-flung and dominated the Mediterranean’s periphery, soldiers began having more allegiance to their generals than the Republic, and that situation contributed to the civil wars that ended the Roman Republic and began its status as an empire.
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After as little as a half-million years of bedraggled survivors adapting to ice age seas, the ice sheets retreated and the oceans rose. The of the time may have also changed, and upwelling, anoxia, and other dramatic chemistry and nutrient changes happened. Those dynamics are suspected to be responsible for the second wave of extinctions. There also seem to have been .Atmospheric oxygen levels may have fallen from around 20% to 15% during the Ordovician, which would have contributed to the mass death. Seafloor anoxia seems to have been particularly lethal to continental-shelf biomes, possibly all the way to shore. It took the ecosystems millions of years to recover from the Ordovician-Silurian mass extinction, but basic ecosystem functioning was not significantly altered in the aftermath, which is why a has been proposed as a more significant extinction event. The were laid down by the . Most oil deposits were formed in the era of dinosaurs and the processes of oil deposit formation were similar; they were related to oceanic currents. When currents came to shore via the bottom and the prevailing winds blew the top waters offshore, it became a and anoxic sediments could form. When the winds blew onshore and left via the bottom, the waters became clear and are known as nutrient deserts. The oscillation between nutrient traps and nutrient deserts can be seen in oil deposit sediments. In the mid-20th century, Soviet scientists revived an old hypothesis that oil was , a variation of which was also championed by , but improving tools and investigation invalidated those hypotheses. No petroleum geologists today seriously consider the abiogenic origin of hydrocarbons. Oil sediment formation events seem related to mantle and crust processes that created high sea levels and anoxic events, and the last great one was in the , which formed more than 10% of the world's oil deposits.
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In the late Jurassic, armored stegosaurs and first appeared and used an ornithischian defensive strategy that ceratopsians also developed in the early Cretaceous, which reached its peak with in the late Cretaceous. Today’s is the mammalian equivalent of , but today’s rhinos do not have to face anything as fearsome as , although the most successful predators in Earth’s history, humans, .