Citizen Action Monitor

Is Humanity Inherently Unsustainable? Pt 7/13: Over-populating. Over-consuming. Over-eating.

No 24, Posted by fw, June 15, 2010

In Pt 6 of my Bill Rees’ blog series, the professor provided evidence to affirm that humanity is inherently unsustainable. We have, he alleges, made ourselves unfit for purpose on this planet; consequently, natural selection will remove us.

In this post, Pt 7, Rees considers more evidence of humankinds’ destructive influence on the planet. He weighs the damning significance and implications of two biological drivers, or tendencies, that humans share with every species. The following selected transcribed excerpts are drawn from Part 4 of the You Tube video, which you can watch below at the end of this post, or on You Tube at UBC Ecologist Bill Rees Part 4.

The biological drivers: genetic ‘presets’

“Let’s then look in detail at the drivers I’m talking about. Human beings as I said are evolved species just like any other. Unless or until constrained by negative feedback, all species’ populations will: Expand to fill all the potential habitat accessible to them; and Use all available resources (in the case of humans, ‘available’ is determined by contemporary technology).”

Over-populating. Over-consuming. Over-eating.

Over-population“Every species has two tendencies that humans share. The first is the tendency to expand and to fill all the potential habitat. What do you think is the species, the large-scale vertebrate species, with the largest geographical range on the planet? It’s sitting in your seats. We are just much better because of our intellect, our cumulative memetic endowment at exploiting the habitats on this planet. So that no habitat that is even remotely capable of sustaining human life does not have it. We are there in numbers in every habitable landscape on earth. And, we will, like other species, use up all available resources.”

“A lot of people have problems with this because they’ll point out this or that indigenous culture that has not destroyed its habitat. And I would argue that in the case of humans whether or not we are able to use all the resources is technology-dependent.”

Born to shop

“How many of you own a credit card? Not only will humans use up all available resources, when you run out of resources you will invent one called a piece of plastic which enables you to use up even more resources that don’t yet exist. This is a predisposition.”

“How many of you have gone to a buffet, eaten your fill and said ‘That’s it. This is the last canapé I’m going to touch’? And within three minutes you’re back there almost unconsciously – you’ve done this haven’t you? Then: ‘Damn it! I wasn’t going to do that.’ Well, guess what’s working? That little reptilian brain stem just trying to stuff you because under primitive conditions you wouldn’t leave food lying around. It would rot. There was an advantage to cramming yourself as full as you could when you had the food available and packing it in for those lean times.”

Who has the food problem?

“It is by no accident that the rich people on this planet have among their numbers about a billion people who are obese. Precisely because they cannot keep their fingers out of the cookie bowl. We will use the available resources to which we have access. There are another billion people who are malnourished at the other end of the income spectrum. All of which is just to illustrate a simple point: we’re no different from other species. We’ll use all the habitat and we’ll consume all the resources.”

Are we already pressing up against the limits of earth’s carrying capacity?

Testing the Limits to Growth

“Different species have different strategies by which to propagate themselves. Some do so by having an inordinate growth rate or potential growth rate. They tend to have short lives, prodigious reproductive potential, and no parental care whatsoever.”

“[Humans are] a way over at the other end of the spectrum. We [tend to have relatively] long lives, relatively large, low reproduction rates, large degrees of parental care, and high survival rates to maturity. [Our reproductive strategy] is to press up against the carrying capacity of our habitats. This was Malthus’ great insight: humankind will press up against the carrying capacity of the food limits, whatever it might be, of their habitat.”

“[At first] this is exponential growth but as we approach the capacity of our environments the population growth rate will decline because of resource depletion, pollution of the environment, the over-crowding, and other symptoms of this nature.”

March 7, 2011 UPDATE: I have recently discovered that a full transcript and mp3 audio recording of Rees’ lecture is available on The Radio Ecoshock ShowClick here to access these free downloads.


End of Part 7


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