#30 Around the Campfire; The Population Explosion in a Nutshell

Adapted from Man Swarm by Dave Foreman

Forty years and three billion Men ago, conservationists and most everyone else understood that we were in the middle of a population explosion.  Today, it seems that many conservationists and most other folks don’t give it much thought.  If we ask “Why?” much of the answer is that we’ve let ourselves become sure that our population explosion is over.  Why, some even worry about populations dropping.  But take another look at the first line: Forty years and three billion Men ago. In 1974, world population snapped the four billion wire.  We will snap the seven-billion wire in another month or two if we haven’t already.  So, while we were talking ourselves into believing that the population explosion had been stopped, we crammed another three billion of us onto Earth and took over millions and millions of acres of wildlife homes.  With this little slice from Chapter One in my new book, The Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife, I’d like to show you that the population explosion is not over in any way, that in truth it is even worse than we thought.

I was spurred to put this edition of “Around the Campfire” ahead of the “Steps to Rewild the Appalachians” thanks to the lame-brained special section on Population in the 29 July 2011 issue of Science. If anyone needs a hint that even our brightest are blind to the upshots of ongoing growth, this issue of Science should be more than enough.  Their writers seem to think that Man’s growth happens only in a world of Man, that there is no tie between it and the Sixth Great Extinction.

From Chapter One, Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife:

 

Sixty-five thousand years seems like forever, yet it is a finger-snap in geological time.  Maybe our handicap comes from having a lifespan of only seventy or so years.  But walk with me as I slog back 65,000 years.  Then there were more than ten kinds (species) of great apes: in east and southeast Asia, two kinds of orangutans, two or more kinds of Homo erectus offspring, and tiny little folks (Hobbits) on Flores and other islands; in Africa, two gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and likely two hominin kinds, one of which was becoming us—Homo sapiens; and, in Europe and western Asia, Neandertals. Also, in central Asia, another kind of Homo, not us and not Neandertal. Of the species in this great ape clade, who do you think was fewest?

It was likely our forebears.  Genetic and other scientific work shows that there were fewer than 10,000 of the elder Homo sapiens living 65,000 years ago—maybe only 5,000. Fifty thousand years later, we had spread out of Africa to Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas.  Only Antarctica and a few out-of-the-way islands were yet without us. In a few more thousand years we were building yearlong settlements and starting to grow wheat and lentils.  We had already brought some wolves into our packs and would soon tame goats and sheep.  Some little desert cats would tame us.  Our tally had climbed to a million or so by then, about ten thousand years ago.  By that time, our nearest kin—the three to six other Homos—were gone, and we likely had much to do with their going.  The Sixth Mass Extinction was going full tilt with the killing of big wildeors wherever we newly showed up.

Another way to look at it is that 50,000 years ago, there were more tigers than Homo sapiens. More gorillas, more chimpanzees, more orangutans, more blue whales, more jaguars, more white rhinos….  Today, for every wild tiger on Earth, there are two million human beings.

Please click on the attachment below to read the entire “Campfire.”

 

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Kathryn - August 25, 2011

Definitely agree with your comments about Science; they did seem to skirt the issue of population and loss of biodiversity. Thanks for the excerpts of the book, as well! Sounds fascinating!

In a related note, we at Izilwane recently published on the Sixth Great Extinction. It definitely connects with these themes: http://www.izilwane.org/the-sixth-great-extinction.html

Izilwane is an online media platform that examine the way human beings see themselves in nature; we combine anthropology, environmental sciences and conservation in an effort to change our perceptions about our role in the natural world. Thanks for your time!

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Michael M - September 26, 2011

While I depend upon peer-reviewed literature for news, trends, statistical facts, and consideration of conclusions, it is clear over 5 decades that, as Mr. Foreman is well aware, almost all employed scientists base their considerations and conclusion on the sole or primary concern for our species.
A problem, and not an advantage, with this in the light of clear overbloom or population overshoot, is that in no way are we directly endangered at present. Genetically we are quite diverse, a wild population, and so can face normal catastrophic decline quite well. Such decline is inevitable in the face of such severe overbloom.
Our technology has prevented proper decline from occurrence, and is ever-stronger. The result of this has become clear: When decline does occur, we will already have extinguished a great proportion of vertebrate and larger invertebrate life.
In refusing to live in small groups which would not eradicate functional ecosystems, we have already taken this path inexorably. A great reason other social species such as the wolf avoided mass plagues was exclusivity of small populations. The reproductive strategy and natural strictures of that species kept it within ecological bounds, and resulted in certain useful adaptations which assisted in the coevolution and health of other species, in several ways not well-described or subjects of focus, but nevertheless quite clear.

We have been out of balance for far longer than recorded history.
We are endlessly invasive, destroying all ecosystems we encounter:
1) In North America, even the much vaunted association with the horse began to seriously destroy ecosystems, and without mechanized technology would have changed utterly the vertebrate life over a time only slightly longer than that which we did take.
2) The use of explosive projectile weapons has effectively doomed all possible target species as soon as large-scale government changes.
3) Extraction or invention of poisons has also by itself doomed entire intact ecosystems to extinction, as soon as regulation and restriction diminishes or ceases.

4) Importantly, Anthropocentrism itself runs counter to any effective description of intelligence. Whether evolved genetically or socially, any prioritized exclusive self-concern within an overbloomed species cascades into the ecological destruction suggested; a consciously active solipsism leads to temporary increase sufficient to magnify this destruction to magnitudes which scientists almost universally refuse to contemplate, even though obvious.
We are, perhaps, prisoners of the culture into which we are born. It is highly, highly doubtful that any organism can or will abandon its cultural milieu. It only evolves or is extinguished.

Individuals do not evolve – you merely focus upon traits already inherent. I also deeply doubt that individuals can readjust their own priorities without the ecosystem around you having changed enough to eradicate the ability to depend upon those other traits which cause and will repeatedly cause a similar end.
Ur lies under the sand. Chichen Itza is visible only because of constant destruction of the jungle around. Worst of all, Easter Island is forever degraded, until our species has long disappeared, although for a time it was certainly thought paradise.

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