Do you ever feel, when you are working on solving environmental or social issues, that your foot has been nailed to the floor and you just keep going around in circles? Ever wonder why, despite years of programs and piles of money, we are still working on the same problems? Why they get worse rather than solved? Somewhere in what we are doing there is a 20 penny nail holding us back.
Usually, when one observes a particular effect multiple times, a cause can be extrapolated. Sometimes when extrapolating the cause one can arrive at the wrong conclusion. This is often a result of the extrapolation being shaped and directed by incorrect assumptions and beliefs. So, when one runs an experiment aimed at changing the cause, and the end result is the same effect observed before the experiment, one can conclude that either the experiment was flawed and didn’t change the cause, or that the cause isn’t really the cause. We almost always conclude the former, but after multiple attempts perhaps we should consider the latter.
In my ramblings about paradigms and change I brought up the natural law describing how food and population growth are linked. This provoked some immediate responses. Humans, for reasons like compassion, community, evolution, intelligence, morality, etc, could not possibly be governed by natural law. We are above the tooth and claw, survival of the fittest, law of the jungle that reigns in Nature. It was immediately assumed that what I was talking about was a return to the caveman ways of kill or be killed, abandoning all that was great and fine about human civilization. Or that I was proposing starvation as a method of population control. Neither assumption could be further from the truth, but neither was surprising. Our cultural paradigm holds that Nature is a dark and violent place where life is snuffed out without reason. Only the strongest, fastest killer survives. That’s why we only have lions on the savanna, tigers in the jungle, and sharks in the ocean. They are the best. Except, it’s not true. Nature is full of creatures, living side by side in balance. Yes, things get eaten. Yes, it is sometimes violent. Very rarely is there mass starvation (except in areas where we have mucked up the system). The various creatures on the planet have managed to live together, sustainable, for millions of years. They do this without government, wars, committees, or programs. The real question is HOW. How can these dumb plants and animals manage to live with out destroying each other or the planet, while we, with our big brains, our ability to reason, use tools, communicate, etc., have brought about global crisis in less than 10000 years?
It’s simple (that doesn’t mean its going to be easy for us to do). At this point I am going to talk about a natural law. Please refrain from flailing about with your 20 penny nail until I am finished. There is a law that all of these creatures live by and we don’t. The law is this. Meet all basic life needs from the resources in your home range and return those resources to the resource pool when you are finished with them. Basic life needs are food, water, and energy. Everything is returned as “waste”, including the shell we call a body. This waste feeds the other members of the community who share your home range. It is cycled through myriad iterations of life in the community, eventually returning to you or your offspring as food. The wolf, the bison, and the grass (and the thousands of other creatures living in the prairie) are all built from the same resources. They are all different expressions of that community. The resource pool limits how much life can exist in that community. Food is the limiting factor. Food limits by suppressing conception, not by starvation. (There are lots of studies to show this, none of them done on humans, but many done on mammals.) Where we have crashed the system is we built a culture based on growth. We take all the resources in the area where we are and return nothing. If we need more to continue growing we take all the resources from somewhere else. And that brings us to where we are not. We dig deeper, reach further, and take more to continue our growth. (Reminds me a lot of cancer) If we were to start shifting to a natural model, where we met our basic needs from local resources and returned those resources to that local community to continue the cycle, we would be taking a giant step toward survival of our species on this planet. If we turned our creativity to that task, rather than to finding ways to keep digging deeper and reaching farther to fuel growth, we just might survive to see the best of human potential. To do it we are going to have to get that 20 penny nail out of our foot, changing our pair of dimes for a new way of thinking.