The revolution that worked

July 21, 2013

There is an unspoken taboo among paleoanthropologists against calling what made us human a social revolution – and Christopher Boehm’s work has broken through that taboo, CHRIS KNIGHT of the Radical Anthropology Group argues in this guest post. Knight is  responding to Steve Drury’s extended review of Boehm’s recent book, published by People & Nature earlier this month.

Boy practising archery

A young boy of the Hadza tribe of Tanzania practices archery skills. Photo: University of Pennsylvania

I was disappointed to read Steve Drury’s review of Christopher Boehm’s recent book, Moral Origins. It’s bewildering to find a reviewer getting the wrong end of the stick quite so consistently and comprehensively. Steve writes:

The germ of Boehm’s approach is that human social behaviour is dominated somehow by genes and that it evolved in a dominantly Darwinian sense through the increased fitness that he believes its various aspects conferred. This is the approach of sociobiology, which plays down or ignores the influence on human behaviour of an individual’s social environment, including culture and each individual’s mark on society and culture.

When I read this, I could hardly believe my eyes. After all, Boehm is widely recognised among anthropologists as an eloquent opponent of genetic Read the rest of this entry »

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No. Morals really are not written in our genes

July 8, 2013

How did prehistoric humans become moral and altruistic? And how have those attributes been damaged in the history of hierarchical societies?

Cave paintings in Patagonia, Argentina

Cave paintings in Patagonia, Argentina

In a review article for People & Nature, STEVE DRURY disputes the claim by social anthropologist Christopher Boehm that morals were at root genetically determined and argues that culture and social relations are the crucial factors. He surveys discussions among anthropologists, archaelogists and biologists on how humans became “human”, and offers a Marxist interpretation. Read on here


Hotter and hotter, stormier and stormier

July 4, 2013

The meteorologists’ conclusions about global weather in the decade 2001-2010 were published yesterday, and they make uncomfortable reading: the 2000s was the warmest decade since modern measurements began in 1850, and the world experienced “unprecedented high-impact climate extremes”.

A report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) showed that the global average temperature in 2001-2010 was 14.47°C – that is, 0.21°C hotter than in 1991-2000. Every year of the 2000s, except 2008, was among the ten warmest years on record.

The WMO’s report demolishes claims by climate science deniers that scientists’ main conclusions about the dangers of global warming are put in question by the slower-than-expected pace of year-by-year temperature increases in 2001-2010.

Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in an interview on this web site (conducted before the WMO research was published) rebutted those claims – and the WMO report is striking for the way that it underlines (with triple, thick red lines) Anderson’s points that:

Average temperature rises were slower than in the 1990s, but the trend is unchanged. “Natural climate variability, caused in part by interactions Read the rest of this entry »


Stop tailoring global warming scenarios to make them “politically palatable” – leading climate scientist

July 3, 2013

The reality about the greenhouse gas emissions cuts needed to avoid dangerous global warming is obscured in UK government scenarios, climate scientist Kevin Anderson has said.

The most important measurements, of total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, are pushed into the background – and scientists are pressured Chimniesto tailor their arguments to fit “politically palatable” scenarios – Anderson told a Campaign Against Climate Change conference in London on 8 June.

The government’s scenarios assume that rich countries such as the UK will reduce emissions by some distant – and effectively meaningless – future dates, Anderson explained to more than 200 trade unionists and environmental activists at the conference.

Between conference sessions, Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre, the UK’s leading climate change research organisation, and professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, gave this interview to People & Nature. Read the rest of this entry »