Friday, December 7, 2012

The human animal

There's a common theme among doomers that we are going to go the way of all animals that outstrip their resource base. We have the classic example of St. Mathew Island. Reindeer were introduced on the island as an emergency food supply. Having no natural predators on the island and an abundant food source, their population exploded. Then it collapsed and eventually they all died out. Some believe this is the future of man.

Malthusian theory predicts that humans will pretty much go the way of the reindeer of St. Mathew Island. A more modern take on Malthus is that we've been able to vastly increase our population due to the stored up energy in fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are finite so the catastrophe will get us sooner or later.

In spite of the St. Matthew Island reindeer providing a real world example of a Malthusian catastrophe, I have hope for humanity. We have the real world example of Cuba's response to having its oil cut off after the collapse of the USSR. They totally reorganized their society and changed their agriculture, economy, transportation and even the national diet. True, they had a couple of lean years, but they survived.

So that's the difference between reindeer on St. Mathew Island and humans on the island of Cuba? Humans can change. We don't like to. Few will change until they really have to, but we can adapt.

That's not to say humans always adapt. The Vikings on Greenland died out at the same time the Inuit were thriving. The Vikings, for whatever reason, did not decide to live like their more successful neighbors.

Culture and religion can be funny things. Imagine you belong to a religion that forbids you from eating a certain animal, say rabbits. The origin of the ban may have been logical. Perhaps the region had a high incidence of tularemia or other rabbit disease. Avoiding rabbits at all costs would make sense. Now lets say your tribe of non rabbit eating humans now lives in Australia, which is overrun by rabbits. Your tribe's normal food source fails and all that's left to eat is rabbits. Do you change your culture and religion and starve or do you adapt?

Okay, so that's a bit of silly hypothetical example. What if you are an American who was told that the “American way of life is non-negotiable,” -Dick Cheney. You might as well say the ban on eating rabbits is non-negotiable. Are we reindeer or humans? Are we willing to change and live or stay the same and die?

We can choose to change. Thanks to this wonderful age of person to person communication, we can quickly and easily share what works. It could be an Instructable on DIY power or a YouTube about urban gardening. Millions of people can now share solutions in an open source manner. We can put our brains and opposable thumbs to work.

The problem is that most of our leaders are reindeer. They've done very well for themselves doing the same old same old and are invested in the current systems. If they see a Malthusian die off coming, their plan is not to prevent it but to be the last human with the last cheese sandwich. The lesson is to not wait for your leaders to lead. Find your own solutions and share them. Don't let reindeer thinking trump human thinking.



  1. I think it's too late... the peoples of the world are being led like lambs to their own slaughter by political figures who are only interested in their own survival and funnily enough, well it's not funny really, people in the western world have lost the will to REALLY protest... We really need to take no notice of the more and more regulations government bureaucrats put in place on a daily basis and become more adept at civil disobedience. We need to say NO! Enough is enough... but are there enough people who will stand up. I don't think so...

    1. On my good days I hope that enough people wake up fast enough to make a difference. It will probably take a good slap across the face for people to notice.

  2. The extremists on the left and the right are preventing logical solutions to our ills.
    Obviously we must transform our energy production means or have a huge die off.
    Must we always get slapped in the face in order to pay attention ?

    1. Divide and conquer. I'm afraid we will have to get slapped in the face first. I bet plenty of people were slapped in the face with hurricane Sandy. Quite a few have figured out how much on their own they are.

  3. That's the problem with "leadership". People have given it away to a very few "leaders", so now all they know how to do is to be led. Those who are their own leader will survive. The rest, well, they are being led over the cliff...

  4. No theory is true that doesn't consider consider the Lord.