How did humans get so smart?

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There is no evidence that they did, but abundant evidence that they didn’t. One example of this is found in how business in the US handle the inevitability of future rising costs of energy, and along with this collection of individual behaviors, the way the free market, the most intelligent and powerful of human activities, optimizes our economy.

It is interesting to see how often proof of the non-existence of anything like a Free Market (anywhere) and proof that humans should stop taking credit for being an “Intelligent Large Brained Hominid” come together. Over the last few weeks, we see a similar story mentioned on the news every now and then: Some company or another is having a hard time because they deliver something (flowers, pizza, etc) and with the cost of fuel going up they are now in trouble. Then you see this guy complaining about the cost of gas and behind him is a fleet of five year old trucks. None of them are flex fuel. None of them are hybrids. None of them are small. They all identical, as in, the assumption is that all activities all trucks do all the time are the same, so having a few smaller vehicles would never work.

Obviously, a fleet of large identical gas-powered boxes was not purchased with any consideration of energy efficiency whatsoever. Not only that, but most companies seem to be about the same. It isn’t even like the 50 percent or so of companies that deliver stuff in the US and bought efficient vehicles are going to survive and the other half, the morons who bought fuel hogs, will go out of business. No. Everybody did the same exact stupid thing, and they will all pass their costs on to the rest of us and annoy us by whining.

OK, I know that I’m exaggerating slightly, but only slightly. Locally, the Geek Squad drives tiny cars (though not hybrids). There is a beer delivery truck of sorts, in Saint Paul that is run entirely by pedal power. If you want beer, you get on the truck and start pedaling. I’m sure, or at least, I hope, there are other examples. Know of any?

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53 thoughts on “How did humans get so smart?

  1. I’ve noticed UPS has a lot of different sized vehicles, down to a mini-van used for saturday and rural deliveries.

  2. Benton, not really. Have you ever been to Japan? The average delivery vehicle in Japan is about the size of the smallest in the US. And they do have large vehicles as well, as needed. Also true in Europe (well, the few cities I’ve been in) but to a somewhat lesser degree. Oh, and South Africa.

    The US does not have small anything.

  3. There’s a teeny-tiny UPS vehicle in one of their commercials, smaller than a SmartCar. But I’m pretty sure a commercial is the only place you’ll see it in the U.S. (It’s shown as operating in Venice, IIRC.)

  4. Amy: Ah, Northampton! Well within my former territory. Only in Northampton would there be a truly green real estate agent. Glad to see you are getting a commuter rail, but rather shocked to see that there are commuters. Has the town sprouted suburbs?

  5. IDH, you are mentally ill and need help.

    But I will address your first comment: Bullshit. That big-ass trucks are often needed is true but irrelevant. A big-ass truck can be made that is more efficient (and/or uses flex fuel, for instance). A point that I did not make in the post but should have: No one in any of these news stories that I’m watching ever mention the part about the trucks being more efficient. That’s just me. The news reporters, the truck owners, no one ever says “Well, maybe next time you’all buy a truck for your flower deliver service, you’ll be more motivated to buy a more energy efficient one.”

    We need to slap a two dollar a gallon tax on all gas, right now, for ten years. Smart decisions will not be made unless they are forced.

    Oil is a fossil fuel and anthropogenic global warming is real.

    I’m all for socialism. I think the state should build/maintain/operate roads, police, fire, armies, cable, Internet shopping carts and your ass.

    Why am I being so snarky? Because this is a post about human intelligence and how there is not much of it. And we’re seeing .. oh, never mind..

  6. The building I work in was made only 6 years ago, but hasn’t the slightest nod to energy efficiency. Window frames are aluminum and cover up with ice on the inside during wintertime. Hallways have hundreds of soffit light bulbs with manual switches. Rest rooms and classrooms have manual switches. Even if they were set to 2 hours they’d still save a buttload of energy. And the cooling system, which works with chilled water, uses electric re-heaters to “trim” the room temperature.

    At least the University is buying a variety of different vehicles. So people can use economical ones when full-size ones are not necessary.

    IDH, I heard that black helicopters are reading the microchips implanted in your teeth at birth. Better wrap them in tinfoil.

  7. I like this “naturally made” thing being a reason that oil is unlimited. I had always thought that oil was made by elves and they are dying out and that is why we are nearing peak oil.

  8. “The solution is simple. Everywhere there is oil, DRILL THE HELL OUT OF IT. If we could increase production of oil by 200 percent this year, it would flood the market and bring down the price.”

    Yeah, I knew it was all a commie conspiracy.

    Too bad the idiot IDH proves your hypothesis stated in the first sentence of your post.

    What an asshat…

  9. “Galli and colleagues used the Mako computer cluster in Berkeley and computers at Lawrence Livermore to simulate the behavior of carbon and hydrogen atoms at the enormous pressures and temperatures found 40 to 95 miles deep inside Earth. They used sophisticated techniques based on first principles and the computer software system Qbox, developed at UC Davis.

    They found that hydrocarbons with multiple carbon atoms can form from methane, (a molecule with only one carbon and four hydrogen atoms) at temperatures greater than 1,500 K (2,240 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures 50,000 times those at Earth’s surface (conditions found about 70 miles below the surface).”

    yes, there is possibility of hydrocarbons forming…70 MILES down. Good luck with the drilling equipment..

  10. The US does not have small anything.

    Then how come they have to go around threatening smaller countries? *rimshot*

  11. The guy not only has a weak connection to the realities of natural histories, he has also a very tenuous relationship with the realities of the market place.
    I live in an area directly dependent on gas production (North Peace) and you know what happens when the gas or oil price goes down – drum roll please, just wait…..drilling schedules get delayed, investment in developing new fields will be put on the back burner.

    The problem with the kind of “conservatives” this IDiot represents is they understand neither a socialist system, nor do they have a clue what communism means, nor do they have a concept how markets and capitalism works.

    It clearly shows in any of the ludicrous rants I have seen from teabaggers

  12. The United States is the largest consumer of energy in the world by far. The rest of us, who are just now starting to develop, would also need lots of energy now. So, there was X usable energy in the world before, used by Y people(mostly in the developed Western world). Now Y has increased significantly, and X not so much. I agree that the whole world should go into best practices in energy consumption; but it will not make much of a difference if the US doesn’t significantly cut its consumption. Long story short: guys, get over your energy addiction!

  13. It can be easier, in a big, dense city. In Toronto, there’s a decent public transport system, with connecting commuter trains and busses to nearby cities. There are programs to make sure all streets have sidewalks. There are bike-locking stands on the street and bike lockers in some subway stations. Major streets get bike lanes, which encourage the timid to ride. About 8 – 10% of Torontonians bike or walk to work. That’s made a lot easier because there are condos and apartments downtown, so people can move close to work. On New Year’s Eve, a distillery rents the subway so it’s free all night.

    One person in the neighbourhood delivers diapers by bicycle, using a bike trailer.

    We have some office buildings that have computer-controlled lighting, which dims when there’s more daylight and strengthens when it gets dark. One building pipes in daylight using prisms or optical fibres.

    Quite a few people who live downtown don’t buy cars. We have two clubs for renting cars; you buy a membership, pick one up from the nearest lot, and drop it off at any other designated lot.

    People will only save gas if the prices rise.

  14. Don’t take Japan as a goal, while they use small cars because they generally like smaller stuff and parking areas are tighly regulated, every building in tokyo has the air conditioner running non-stop, even the the stores with open doors, with a 40°C outside temperature and 15°C inside temperature. 😐

    Here in germany, the post offices use mostly bigger cars and small trunks for delivery, I think because most of them are so regional that they can’t affort a big fleet, so they have only one or two cars.

    your title is a bit baity for a rant 😛

  15. Scidog: Coffee and bikes are married in and to the culture of South Minneapolis. There are several links, including Scallywags in Seward which has been buying bikes for Rwandan coffee farmers, and Angry Catfish on 42nd and 28 which does bike-based coffee delivery. Cycle Twin Cities has a bit more on this:

  16. Sidd: Exactly. No new construction in the US that is not geothermnal. Local zoning laws that restrict solar (and this is common, apparently) have to be changed. The implementation of a smart grid. Rollin blackouts using the smart grid. A simple tax on electricity per-use rate that is used to subsidize the purchase of accounts that use only wind to make the wind slightly cheaper (on a regional basis perhaps) and the construction, in ideal geological settings, of next-gen nuclear power. Etc.

  17. A change in the zoning regulations is needed to allow people to live within walking distance of where they work. Many small businesses could mix quite well with housing, potentially reducing travel times by their staff by an hour or more each day.

    However, I think the only thing that will really discourage North Americans from burning their way through the earth’s oil supply (yes, I know others are not innocent either) would be a doubling or quadrupling of prices.

  18. Greg: “Rollin blackouts using the smart grid.”? Seriously? It’s nice of you to say it. But I don’t think that people in the US who have been used to 24×7 electricity supply will tolerate cuts in the power supply. It’s all very well when you never had the comfort in the first place, but you can’t habituate people to a luxury(and it is a luxury when compared to the majority of the world population) and then take it away from them. I know this from personal experience here in India: we were originally staying in an area in our city where there would regular power cuts for several hours. We got used to it. We didn’t mind it too much. And then we moved to another area where there is almost uninterrupted power supply 24×7. And then in one particular summer, since the load was too much, they started having power cuts. We had some serious problems adjusting to it. And this just after one year of the luxury after a lifetime of being ingrained to power cuts. Now imagine an American having a lifetime of uninterrupted power. People would take to the streets.

  19. FlexFuel is not a good solution for reasons other than what IDH said. It’s not hard to find how much natural gas is needed in the currently used process of creating ethanol, a figure that in many cases exceeds the GHG savings of using it. That’s not even mentioning the diesel fuel needed to plant, spray and harvest the corn/wheat used for the ethanol.

    Contrary to IDH’s statement, with a properly tuned engine E85 produces more power (due to the very high octane rating) than gasoline (but not in flexfuel vehicles), although there is a significant loss of fuel mileage.

    Although many businesses such as contractors will need trucks (water heaters don’t fit in a hatch very easily, and mileage is a fairly minor charge on the bill), small delivery businesses can easily get by with very small vehicles. Unfortunately, many delivery people (particularly pizza) require that something arrives quite quickly, and provides no significant subsidy for a smaller car(paying 100 bucks a month more in gas is cheaper than car payments), meaning those delivering often are forced to drive whatever they are able to. It is only the case of fleet vehicles for small delivery where this can become a significant factor.

    Also, it is likely that a fleet discount for purchasing the same trucks drives the purchase of similar vehicles as you describe, which is why it is likely more economcial than purchasing a more diverse fleet.

  20. IDH, in my years in the oil business, I never met one person (well, maybe a roughneck or two) who believed in abiogenesis of petroleum. I heard about such people, but as a practical matter, they were mythical creatures. Such people could be entirely competent at their jobs, 90% of them could probably function just fine if they believed in a flat Earth, but that doesn’t make them right. Regardless of how it is made, all successful petroleum exploration is based on the assumption that oil and gas supplies are fixed and finite on the scale of human lifetimes, and are not being replenished at any significant rate.

  21. Shorter IDH: “I use my free will to repeat Republican talking points!”

    I’d like to amend Markita Lynda’s description of Toronto – I’m a Torontonian as well and I put in close to 200k some weeks on my bike. While I’m sure things are much better for cyclists here than in many cities, it’s no cycling paradise. Our new mayor managed to convince a plurality of voters that bike lanes, vehIcle taxes, and a proposed congestion charge constitute a “war on the car”; a prominent politician flat out got away with murdering a cyclist and was defended in the press while the cyclist was vilified; and drivers routinely cut you off, park in bike lanes, and generally act like they alone have a right to use the road.

    Plus, in spite of the non-car infrastructure Markita described, plenty of people will say “But of course you need a car to live here!”, which I find just baffling. Sure, some people do for some things, but a lot of the time what people really mean when they say that is “If I didn’t drive everywhere I might have to exert myself/get a little sweaty or dirty/have to sit next to a stranger on the subway/expose my children to people who aren’t exactly like me/acknowledge that the world doesn’t revolve around me and my convenience” and that just ain’t happening as long as gas costs less than $2/litre.

  22. Richard [26]:I agree, that and changing the way housing prices work. In Minneapolis you can’t build a new development if you don’t consdider mixed-use, and if you build more than a certain number of units, a certain number must be donated to something like the land trust or made into something like “section 8” (or whatever is current). The exact way this is done can be quite creative, but the city does not let (most developers most of the time) get away with faking it. It is not enough, but it is something.

  23. Sid: Yes, seriously. Maybe not rolling blackouts, but certainly power-off at various times. I’ve lived with that, as have you, and we both know it’s not so tough. It is easily adapted to. And, the psychological effects of it would be immensely helpful.

    This really is adjust or die time. Therefore, I’m advocating for adjust. You are correct that it won’t easy. Doesn’t matter, though.

  24. It’s not hard to find how much natural gas is needed in the currently used process of creating ethanol, a figure that in many cases exceeds the GHG savings of using it.

    It is not hard to find out because anti “alternative energy” forces have made sure everyone knows about it. Ethanol can be produced more efficiently. Also, the raw efficiency is not as important as the carbon footprint. That is still not good, but it can be improved and needs to be improved.

    But it needs a market and distribution system. But we can’t have that if we convince ourselves it can’t work.

    Regarding the actual technology of flex-fuel, present or potential, I’m happy to stand corrected on that. I don’t know enough about it to have a strong opinion.

    The private/small delivery system can be reconciled with the fleet advantage. If the free market can’t handle it (which apparently it can’t) it can be regulated: Delivery vehicles for things like pizza simply need to be 50 mpg (or whatever). A service that leases small hybrids and smart cars at a good price will emerge.


    Fed Ex, UPS, AT&T, Verizon, and Pepsi have joined the DOE clean fleet program. The goal is to cut petroleum use by 2.5 billion gallons by 2020.

    Nice goal and it may actually be doable.

    Fortunately, the rest of the world is ignoring ID Human and his ilk. BTW: I’m sorry that small vehicles are crap. Maybe if everyone started buying them, then car companies would be motivated to improve them and keep the price the same. Or better yet, why not buy a motorcyle? Or ride the freaking train? nevermind… all that’s wrong with America in one big lump.

  26. @ #26 Richard Simons – In principle, yes, but in practice lax or essentially no zoning regulations, as is the case in many Texas cities, leads to more sprawl that is hideous and unsustainable. I do think that careful rewriting of zoning regulations could encourage sustainable mixed use, but if developers and other business interests are in charge, then there will simply be more strip malls, empty office buildings, massive parking lots, and sprawling neighborhoods with vacant and half-built houses. The medical center where I work was built forty years ago at what was essentially the semi-rural outer edge of the city; now it’s in the middle of an inner suburb. I live in an inner suburb so I can be close to work, but most of my colleagues live much further out.

    I agree that gas prices should be higher in the US. Even with the current price increases, I’ve noticed no changes in the driving habits of those with loudly vibrating wankmobiles, which are usually gas-guzzling pick-up trucks, SUVs, or muscle cars. This should become a hobby (sociopathy?) that’s too expensive for just about anyone to maintain.

    While visiting friends in the UK, I noticed that general contractors and landscapers manage just fine with vans and light trucks that are much smaller than those in the US. You couldn’t even get a Ford F-250 anywhere near many houses and back gardens in central London or Cambridge, for example. I suspect that part of the apparent “need” for large trucks and vans in the US might be attributable to the size of our asses and beer guts.

  27. CherrryBombSim: “IDH, in my years in the oil business, I never met one person (well, maybe a roughneck or two) who believed in abiogenesis of petroleum.”

    You don’t listen to the same all night AM radio talk stations IDH listens to!

  28. “BTW: I’m sorry that small vehicles are crap.”

    says who? What did you use to come u with that statement?
    I had a Honda civic purchased used for almost 10 years.
    Indestructible till my son used it.
    Buy some Asian products. Or buy German engineering.
    I have driven both, but drive small and mid size Fords lately.
    Focus and Escape. Almost as good. A little less cost, and I really appreciate four wheel drive where we live.

  29. “You couldn’t even get a Ford F-250 anywhere near many houses and back gardens in central London or Cambridge…”

    Or Bristol. But here in Calgary, there’s a large group of 25-50 year-old downtown workers who would experience severe hardship if they couldn’t drive around in a F250/350 4×4, preferably diesel (the crewcab version indicates above-average testosterone levels). They need a CAPABLE VEHICLE to haul their laptops back and forth to the office. A garden-variety SUV doesn’t cut it.

  30. I have worked with someone who was a stout believer in spontaneous generation. That was entertaining, although we never managed to convince him otherwise.

  31. Of course Stephanie, when he feels that his substitute phallus is threatened he has to respond as if his real one was. It sounds like he has found out the hard way what alcohol does to such things and he has projected it onto his substitute phallus too, even the one he wants but can’t afford.

  32. BTW, I drive what I want. I use the light bulbs I choose. I run my air as cold as I like.

    And I will spend every waking hour trying to increase the degree to which you and your kind are regulated and taxed.

    I don’t even know Bill Ayers

    I went to his school. No kidding.

  33. I enjoyed Intlligently designed Human’s post, the way the idiocy starts small and escalates. I suspected he was dumb when he starts by pointing out that some people have a bona-fide need for a large vehicle – missing the point that the article is about pizza delivery services. I was fairly sure of it when he mentioned a 42-mile commute to work.

    And that line “I choose of my own free will to drive a truck” -lol. As if the fact that you choose of your own free will to do something dumb or antisocial makes it ok. I suppose he might also “choose of my own free will” to litter. Or to hold his head underwater for three minutes. We can only hope.

    And then got even better. Commies! Unlimited Oil!

    I also enjoyed very much the typo in his handle.

  34. @Intelligently Designed Human. I disagree with what you say and I will tax the ***t out of your right to say it. But seriously… thank you for taking the trouble to write good English with good spelling etc. It’s a basic courtesy so often missing on comment threads.

    Greg Laden thinks you’re a sick puppy. That’s cruel. Your facts make me gasp and stretch my eyes but they’re no worse than some of your critics on this page who use the unconvincing “but everybody knows that’s not true” argument. From this side of the Atlantic it seems that all Americans are brainwashed by TV. It’s nice to meet someone with different ideas, VERY different but…

    Here in South Africa Nissan has the X-trail, a SUV with incredible off road capability. Crosses any terrain as long as one wheel has grip.

  35. a prominent politician flat out got away with murdering a cyclist and was defended in the press while the cyclist was vilified;

    He was defended because the cyclist was a drunken lunatic who was attacking him[1] at the time. Or do you think he should have sat there so as to more clearly make himself and his wife victims?

    Calling it a murder is flat out wrong, unless you want to claim it as a death during the commission of another crime[2]. But in that case, you run into the problem of trying to charge someone for murdering himself.

    [1] For those who don’t know the story, it is important to note that the car was a convertible with the top down.

    [2] IIRC, aggravated assault is on the list of crimes where if a death is a reasonable outcome and a death occurs, (through any cause), the death is a 1st degree murder.

  36. Well!

    There is an interesting point about overtaxing or over-regulating a commodity: it will find its place in a black market. So the light bulb mafia might be coming. Wolframistsas.

    Here in Portland we do have pizza delivery by bicycle…they have cute little wagons. It’s just downtown though.

  37. “Intelligently Designed Human”, by his own utterances, is proved to be an oxymoron.

    One reason the big three car companies, which used to dominate the US market, no longer do so, is because their mileage is/was so bloody awful.

    One reason so many Americans drive Asian and European cars(and Chrysler is owned by FIAT) is that they get much better mileage.

    The other issue is that many Americans seem to think they have a constitutional, or Dog-given, right to an unending supply of cheap petrol/benzine/gasoline. If that were ever true, it is now impossible, due to the increased resource demand caused by the economic rise of India and China.

    You will either have to improve fuel efficiency, or accept drastically more expensive fuel. We have basically run out of cheap, easily-extractable, oil. There is more out there, but it is much harder/more expensive to get at. The chances of oil going below $75-90/barrel in the future is kinda low.

    You could try buying diesel-engined cars, but when I lived in the USA, it was quite difficult to find diesel pumps. I am not sure of the exact figures, but diesel cars make up some 50% of new car sales in Europe. Because it makes sense.

  38. @Macturk

    Diesel engine cars are a great idea. Down here in the deep south diesel pumps are almost everywhere gas pumps are. The problem is not avilability of real diesel (not biocrud), but the EPA over-regulating stuff.

    Ford used to have the 7.3 liter diesel in the F250 and F350 trucks. They were wonderful engines that rarely gave problems. They have more than plenty of toque and useful pulling power. However, Ford had to scrap that engine becuase of ecofascist regulations in Washington. The scrapping of that engine that worked well and di not need a replacement led to the 6.0 Powerstroke diesel which was nothing more than a large piece of shit under the hood of a truck. This thing was always giving problems. My brother who was a auto tech at a local Ford dealership said that the 6.0 liter engines that Ford was forced through ecofascism to come up with, gave more problems in one months time than all of the 7.3 liter engines that was ever made combined.

    Eventually Fird scrapped this useless husl of an engine and developed an all new 6.4 liter Powerstroke diesel. So far it has proven worthy.

    The point of this story is that Ford lost uncounted millions of dollars and thousands of hours to this endeavor simply because some wackjob ecofascist in washington wans to redistribute wealth and uses the name of the environment to do it. Theye should be put in solitary confinement for life in antarctica with only a candle to keep them warm.

    Ecofacsist regulations have caused more probems than anything else. We should regulate the regulators. In other words, fire them, reverse their regulations and live life.

  39. Let me clarify. When I wrote about diesel-engined cars in the European context, I mean vehicles with a maximum capacity of 3.0 litres. I would regard a 7.3 liter diesel as something suitable for a small trawler.

    And why reinvent the wheel? Renault, Citroen, VW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, etc, all have a range of proven diesel engines.

    The issues are more about labour union objections, bureaucratic obstacles, taxation, NIH syndrome, and dirty US diesel fuel(this may have changed).

    As for the US corn-based ethanol program, it should be scrapped immediately. It is a taxpayer funded boondoggle, with highly dubious environmental credentials. If you want to ethanol as a fuel, buy sugarcane-derived ethanol from Brazil.

  40. idh @ 55:

    {list of destructive actions that will serve no purpose nor conserve anything}

    Serious question. At what point did conservatism transition from actual attempts to conserve things into simple-minded bullying behavior? Or was it always thus?


  41. MacTurk, I don’t think it is necessarily a good idea to buy fuel made thousands of miles away. We can make fuel effectively, cleanly, and efficiently in the US middle (probably how efficient depends on exactly where). The current program is a great example of why things need to change, but it simply has to change. Corn is probably a bad idea, but honestly, it does not grow here naturally, despite what it looks like!

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