All Hail Our Microbial Overlords

Keystone species theories identify certain species that are keystones to a particular ecosystem. Typically the function of a keystone species is to limit the numbers of a species that will degrade the ecosystem if allowed to increase it’s population unchecked. It is clear that homo sapiens are one such destructive species. There is no question that homo sapiens downgrade ecosystems wherever they become numerous.

But homo sapiens are a complex species, and factors that have limited human population growth historically are numerous. However, if one were to identify a single group of organisms that have typically performed that function, that role would primarily fall to microorganisms, namely viruses and bacteria. These are the predators that have most commonly kept human populations in check, historically.

Human population has increased exponentially since the advent of vaccines and antibiotics, and this explosion in human population has been accompanied by what is now, very clearly, a mass extinction event, loss of biodiversity and a downgrading of ecosystem that is planet wide and rivals any of the mass extinctions in the history of Planet Earth.

Before anyone starts yelling and screaming, I am not pining for the days when the average human life span was between 30 and 40 years and childhood mortality was 46%, as was the case before the advent of effective vaccines and antibiotics. Humans have gifts that no other species on the planet have: the ability to store and pass on knowledge and the ability to create, use tools and create tools to make still more powerful tools. We have the ability to become our own keystone species, and it is something we need to do, if we are going to restore our own planetary ecosystem.

No I am not advocating genocide and mass murder. But I am advocating population limits and control. If we are truly going to restore our planetary ecosystem and make it an ecosystem that can sustain life for the long term, we need to come to terms with our sheer numbers. We need to understand that population control is our responsibility, not the responsibility of God or gods. Either that or we need to learn to live with a permanently downgraded ecosystem.

2 thoughts on “All Hail Our Microbial Overlords

  1. Rant begins:

    A paradigm shift in procreative sexual behaviour, world wide? I would say an extinction level event is far more likely. Putting aside overcoming religious objections and setting aside the more draconian methods that have been employed in countries like China, there’s a massive list of pre-requisite changes if you want people to be able to address base instincts for progeny.

    Before you can start, you’d first have to address worldwide access to comfort levels of food, water and shelter, followed by the slightly more abstract need to feel “safe.” Look to countries with declining birth rates (like Canada) and you’ll find two things in common: they all have high GDP and limited to no violent strife–look within those countries and you’ll find the population is densest where there is less wealth and safety.  Look again, and I will bet you’re going to see a post pandemic spike similar to the baby boom post WWII, and for the same reasons: an instinctual desire for progeny in the aftermath of strife.

    Although we as a species possess the ability for abstract thought, that ability to think beyond the needs of the moment is a wholly secondary function. Ever tried to study when hungry? ever found you just don’t care about the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs until you’ve finished the sandwich? the same applies to procreation– the feeling of need for children is stronger when your basic needs are not met–sounds paradoxical but it’s true.

    To even begin to move people in the right direction, you’d have to solve for famine, access to clean drinking water, housing, war, and inequality (racial, sexual, religious to name a few).  With that done, you then have to effectively raise the global education level to the point where you can present the problem to the masses in a way they can a) understand it and, b) accept that it’s within their power to fix.  Then you’d still have to abstractly overcome a base instinctual drive to procreate as a perceived necessity of human survival, while at the same time overcoming the cultural norms that have been ingrained for generations who lived through poverty and strife.

    That’s all before you can even get people looking as group at the concept of who should or should not procreate (but let’s leave that aside as that’s just a ticking bomb…)

    A fundamental shift in behaviour away from procreational sex is so far down the list of global changes required to save the species from itself as to be all but impossible. We are in a greed/resource hoarding based social structure–the more you have the greater your perceived  societal value (dead wrong but it is the current paradigm that needs to be overcome).

    Don’t get me wrong–you’re 100% correct in your assessment– the planet does not have the carrying capacity for the number of humans present, let alone an exponential growth curve. That’s even if every square inch of arable land was devoted to sustainable agriculture to feed just the human population (sorry folks, that also means everyone goes vegan in order to survive).

    That primary requirement, the base of the needs pyramid, that’s the global challenge. To fix that, you first have to fix greed. In a finite resource field, the social acceptability/desirability of acquiring “more stuff” than everyone else around you, the near global equating of the abstract of monetary wealth with societal value? That’s the paradigm shift that comes before the realization that hey, I don’t need to have children to be a “good” member of society.

    Rant over

  2. The above doesn’t qualify as a “rant”.  That is exactly the kind of discussion I am hoping for here.

    No question we don’t want to go down the authoritarian road that China chose when dealing with over population.  Education is important.

    No question as well that the problem of over population won’t be solved until we solve problems like world hunger and equitable wealth distribution.  Another issue is capitalism itself which is predicated on infinite and unsustainable growth.

    And no, before anyone else starts yelling and screaming, I am not advocating communism.  It is safe to  say that was a failed experiment.  But our economic systems and structures absolutely do need to evolve.

Leave a Reply