Conclusion -- Eric R. Pianka


© Eric R. Pianka

The driving force behind all living entities is Darwinian natural selection, or differential reproductive success. Unfortunately, natural selection is blind to the long-term future -- natural selection rewards just one thing: offspring. It is a short-sighted efficiency expert. Individuals who leave the most genes in the gene pool of the next generation triumph -- their genetic legacy endures, whereas those who pass on fewer genes lose out in this ongoing contest. Sadly, natural selection favors overpopulation and may thereby lead to extinction.

Some humans, like Roman Catholic Justice Antonin Scalia with his nine kids, unfortunately the most successful from the perspective of natural selection, combine greed with breeding and have obscenely large families. Earth simply doesn't have enough resources to support all of us in the life style to which we'd like to become accustomed. Moreover, resources such as food, land, and water, are finite, whereas human populations are always expanding, steadily reducing per capita shares. People are encouraged to think that resources are ever expanding when the opposite is actually true. We are in a state of total denial about the overpopulation crisis -- instead of confronting reality, people only want to relieve its many symptoms, such as shortages of food, oil, and water, global climate change, pollution, disease, loss of biodiversity, and many others. Overpopulation is a near fatal disease that cannot be cured by merely alleviating its symptoms. "Take an aspirin, get a good night's sleep, and come back in the morning." Unless we wake up, face reality, and reduce human populations, we are in for a world of hurt and even greater human misery. Of course, eventually, our population must and will decrease, but we could lessen the upcoming misery by taking action now. Most people are unlikely to be proactive and are much more likely to procrastinate until they are forced to react. Empty shelves in supermarkets may be needed to wake us up!

Unfortunately, too many other people ignore or remain oblivious to impending problems, continuing to consume, waste, and propagate (some, such as the infamous Duggar family "19 kids and counting" of TV fame, are literally breeding like bunny rabbits, and are actually proud of it!). Rather than be celebrated on TV, such greedy breeders should be treated as criminal social pariahs, ostracized from society, because they are stealing other's rights to live, let alone reproduce.

If, as Garrett Hardin (1974) has suggested, those who do have a conscience and who do care about the future state of the planet choose to leave fewer genes than those who don’t care, in time humans will evolve into uncaring humanoids devoid of conscience. Indeed, this insidious process has already begun. James Lovelock once predicted that as we approach the finish line of our limited time on Earth, only about 100,000 people will be crowded together squabbling over resources inside the Arctic circle -- if so, many will be Catholics and many will carry surnames like Duggar and Scalia!

Humans could have been real stewards of Earth and taken care of all its many denizens, microbes, plants, fungi and animals. If we had used our ability to think and care, we could have been God-like. Instead, for a short-sighted and selfish transient population boom, we became rapists and the scourge of the planet. We wiped out and usurped vast tracts of natural habitat. We ate any other species that was edible and depleted many of Earth's multitude of natural resources. In a single century, humans burned up fossil fuels that took millions of years to form. We ouled the atmosphere, despoiled the land, and poisoned the waters, making the planet virtually uninhabitable even to ourselves (Pianka 2012).

Despite our many shortcomings, we are smart, smart enough to recognize that we have instincts, and smart enough to control those instincts, but we just don't care enough even to try. The disparity between what humans could have been versus what we actually became is tragic and unforgivable. If only people would live up to their full potential -- all it would take is using our brains to think, care, and try.

The bottom line is clear: our economic system based on continual growth must be replaced by a sustainable system where each of us actively chooses (or is forced) to leave the planet in the same condition that it was in before we were born. This will require major changes in our lifestyles. We won't be able to move around so freely (airplanes, cars, cell phones, and the internet will all become things of the past). In addition, humans will have to be more spread out, living without big cities. Before it is all over, we are going to have to limit our own reproduction, un-invent money, control human greed, revert back to trade and barter, and grow our own crops, among other things.

Last updated 12 September 2014 by Eric R. Pianka