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Survival in 21st Century: eagles and humans share much in common

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Back the 1960s when humans spread DDT onto the air, land and water, America's great symbol of freedom, the Bald Eagle, raced toward extinction. At the time, Rachel Carson wrote her brilliant book Silent Spring. Thankfully, our government formed the "Environmental Protection Agency" that outlawed the use of DDT in the United States.

Ironically, Chevron Corporation kept manufacturing it. They sold it overseas, where unwitting citizens of the world injected it, and still do in 2009, into their eco-systems with devastating results. Over all, humans manufacture over 82,000 chemicals that they inject into the natural world with little understanding of long term consequences. Additionally, Mother Nature cannot break them down naturally--thus those chemicals affect every living cell on this planet that comes into contact with them.

In this ongoing series of interviews with Dr. Jack Alpert, we hope to bring you greater understanding of what humans, plants and animals face in the 21st century. Visit www.skil.org.

"What can eagle survival strategies tell us about our own?" asked Alpert. "Eagles have survived for 100s of thousands of years simply by letting natural selection make each successive generation stronger. The strongest eagles protect territory from other eagles and this allows them to reproduce while lesser eagles do not. The richness of food of available territory limits the number of eagles."

Alpert added, "Humans have more complex survival strategies and population controls."

1) While eagles are hunter and gatherers and live at subsistence, humans have social operations that provide well-being above subsistence.

2) Fossil energy, and resources not allocated or allocated to other species within the territory, combined with technology allows greater population and even greater well-being above subsistence than could exist without them.

3) Because humans can live above subsistence, some can live higher than others. Which means improving an individual's well-being can be accomplished by using new technology and or previously untapped resources -- or redistributing the resources already used by other humans.

4) Humans, like eagles, still are constrained by the world's production systems, waste management systems, and fossil energy and water reserves. With improvements in technology, with the exception of regional failures, human population, and total human footprint has ever increased. Many individuals continue to raise their personal well-being.

"Today this description of human existence is changing," said Alpert. "Humans can place large enough demands on these territorial factors that, for example, forests, fisheries, and soil are not replacing themselves at the rate humans are using them. Natural recycling systems cannot absorb human wastes as fast as humans can create them. And fossil fuel and water reservoirs are being emptied. Man's territory is, in effect, shrinking.

"Either average, well-being or population must decline. The mechanisms to achieve this reduction are not pretty. Today a billion people live very close to subsistence. If their supporting resources get any smaller they die.

"This first billion, in remote places, may die quietly. But the second billion to face reduced well-being will not. The second billion will have already watched the first billion starve when their labor no longer fed them, the riots, the attempted migrations, the killings at the borders. The second billion will know their own fate before it arrives.

"Social conflict will erupt. Groups will divert resources from supporting lifestyles to defending themselves from other groups. Groups will mount offensives to maintain their deliveries of dwindling resources.

"This will leave fewer resources to support the group. Well-being will slide downward, triggering more rounds of conflict... more scarcity... and more conflict.

"The logical end of this death spiral is civilization's collapse. The human system will lose part of the social operation that allowed life above subsistence. Human population numbers fall until a residual number can be supported with the remaining social operations, technology, and resources.

"It is hard to understand how zero population growth will avert these tragedies. Even the below replacement birthrates that have resulted from economic forces in developed countries will not reduce population fast enough to avert these tragedies. Solving this view of the human predicament will require rapid population decline -- the kind created by parenting only one child.

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Frosty Wooldridge Bio: Frosty Wooldridge possesses a unique view of the world, cultures and families in that he has bicycled around the globe 100,000 miles, on six continents and six times across the United States in the past 30 years. His books (more...)

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