Paul Ehrlich describes how human culture evolved

Biologist and author Paul Ehrlich talks about the single biggest step forward in all of human history.

Paul Ehrlich: We started building a complex culture before we split into human beings and chimps, maybe seven million years ago.

Paul Ehrlich is a biologist at Stanford University.

Paul Ehrlich: At first, our culture evolved very slowly. We had had the same kind of stone tools for hundreds of thousands of years.

Ehrlich wrote the 1960s classic The Population Bomb – and more recently, a book called The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment. It’s about how humans came to dominate our planet. Ehrlich said that as human culture itself evolved, so did our power to shape and reshape the planet.

Paul Ehrlich: Sometime – and it’s controversial – between 50 and 100 thousand years ago, there was a culture that’s sometimes called ‘the great leap forward,’ or the cultural revolution, where suddenly, instead of just having stone tools, we began to get fine needles, and obviously sew good clothes, and do the cave art that’s so famous in Lascaux, and so on. So that changed our culture dramatically.

Fast-forward to about 10,000 years ago and humans start to practice agriculture.

Paul Ehrlich: That was the time where it became possible for one family to grow enough food to support several families. And so the agricultural revolution, maybe, was the single biggest step in that whole course. Otherwise, we’d just be like another big mammal operating on the planet.

Jorge Salazar