Carry On Move-On, and keep it nonviolent

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Sorry I haven’t put up a transcript for this week’s Bare Bones Biology, because — my computer is in the hospital. Oh no, you say, you should have backed it up!! Oh yes, I say, I thought I did, but that automatic backup software didn’t back it up. I will get a copy of the disk from Stevo and put it up before next week (I hope) and meantime, I’ve been watching my little pond ecosystem slowly die in the drought.

You know, about 50 years ago when I was taking ecology and studying a beautiful little ecosystem along a river at UC Davis, I thought in my dissociated moments that it might be interesting to watch and record the result of human overpopulation. But – no, I thought. It won’t happen in my lifetime.

HA! Check out Crash Course on Youtube if you want to understand exponential growth.

And then I thought — after I wrote my report — who would there be to read it? A vision of Professor Salt pops into my mind. He was a nice man and a good professor, but – – –

The answer is that human societies have crashed under population pressures quite a number of times in the past and it has already been recorded. For example, read COLLAPSE by Jarrod Diamond. It’s not a slow thing in my pond; these fish were all alive the day before I took this picture, and the water is not that much different today from yesterday, and it seems not to have been a slow thing in past human events. That’s what is meant by a “tipping point,” when all the factors TOGETHER, climate, temperature, food energy, water, all that and more, in their interacting effects, are outside the limits of tolerance of (whatever species) — And yet people keep telling me “it’s always been the way it is and it always will be.” The fact is the whole earth ecosystem is a living entitity that is always changing in response to the environment. The internal environment in this case.

But wait — that’s what I’m trying to tell you. The law of gravity, the second law of thermodynamics, the law of cause and effect. They are not changing. They are what make life possible on this earth. If they change, life is not possible. If they don’t change, then our life is not possible unless we abide by the natural laws, and the best way to do that is to understand the natural laws — not pretend they don’t exist or are under our control..

Questions Answered

• What is your stance on overpopulation?

My stance is not relevant. Measurable facts are what we need to understand problems, whenever they are available. It is not difficult to know these facts. After we understand the problem, then we can have opinions about how to fix it. The basic problem is a balance of how much food is available and how many living things need it to eat. This can easily be measured. The person I know who has done the best job of measuring is Lester Brown (because he has been doing it for about 40 years and because he is honest).

• How can we stop it?

Overpopulation is a very complex problem to stop. Again, Lester Brown may have the most balanced view, because he tries to measure all the different factors that need to be addressed. I say balanced view because he studies many parameters: food resources, non-food energy resources, climate change and other problems that are brought about by an imbalance in the ecosystem. But we will need information from all fields of research to bring the problem under control in time. Apparently some people don’t want to control the problem, because there is one thing we could do tomorrow that would have a dramatic positive effect, and that would be to make birth control available to all women and men and families who want it. At the present time we are withholding this technology from the people who need it. Other kinds of solution would take longer and might be too late.

• Should we slow down birth rates?

If we don’t slow down birth rates, then they will slow down anyway beause the population will be reduced by war, starvation, genocide and epidemics. Providing birth control for people who can’t afford children or don’t want them would be very, very much kinder than killing them with war and genocide or letting them die in famines and epidemics. Those are the options — because this is a problem that is controlled by the ecosystem and neither humans nor the economy are more powerful than the ecosystem. We can’t change the natural laws that control the ecosystem, and if the ecosystem dies then everything inside it also dies.

The problem is very simple:

a) All food for humans and for all animals and for all ecosystems and also for all plants and most micro-organisms comes from photosynthesis. Only plants and green bacteria can do photosynthesis. They can make food for themselves. Every other living entity in the earth ecosystem must eat plants (or eat something else that eats plants or green bacteria) in order to stay alive. This is a good system as long as you have more photosynthetic organisms (producers) than you have of non-photosynthetic organisms (consumers).

b) The problem arises when you get more consumers than producers, and that is where the world is right now. From then on, something has to die so we can eat. For about the past 50 years it has been other species dying so we can use their portion of the available food. Now we are at the point where we are beginning to kill of each other and the plants. That’s when starvation begins because the plants make our food. The climate change question is similar. Photosynthesis makes oxygen. Eating and digesting food makes carbon dioxide, and it’s a cycle. I can send you a handbook that explains in more detail if you want it. Or you can download from this blog on the right side, Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook. The earth has a circulatory system of oxygen and carbon dioxide that must stay in balance. The circulatory system basically runs by the climate. Or is the climate. When that gets out of balance, the ecosystem will react. Just as any living thing will react when its physiology gets out of balance. It will try to not die. One of the important things that will then happen is that a lot of the plants will die because they are adapted to the balance we did have. It is the plants that make our food. We do not get food from oil wells or from the sun or from the wind, and we can not make food. (Because of the natural laws of thermodynamics that is also explained in the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook.)

• How could we slow down birth rates?

Answered above.

• Is a bigger population hurting the economy? Is it helping it?

That question is not relevant to the problem. It is a question economists like to ask so that we will not be thinking about the real food resource problem. The economy has no power in this relationship. The ecosystem has the power. The economy is inside the ecosystem. The economy cannot make food, and neither can it change the laws of nature that keep us all alive. A bigger population is hurting the ecosystem very badly and if the ecosystem crashes we will all die and there won’t be any economy.

• Why is population often so centered? For example 8 million people in NYC.

This is not my kind of question, though I know it is partly a result of overpopulation because when people lose their homes from any kind of disaster they will tend to go to cities. If they had a little farm and they got their food from the farm, and they lose it – then they have no food and go where they hope to get a job.

Overpopulation causes starvation, genocide, war, disease — and global warming is melting the ice. So a lot of people are losing their homes. Melting the ice, for example, means people lose their land for two reasons. One is that the oceans get higher, so for example Bangladesh and some islands and Florida and some other places are getting smaller because the water is higher. Another reason is that the mountain glaciers are the source of the great rivers of many continents. If the rivers stop running and the deserts take their place, then the people will have to go away because the plants will die and the farmers can’t grow food anymore.

• What do you estimate the worlds population will be at in 2025?

This is not relevant. Why would we want to wait around to find out?

• Will birth rates slow down?

There are no valid statistics on this because this has never before happened to humans. However, all normal organisms make more babies than can survive. That is one of the natural laws. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that humans are abnormal in this respect.

But we can guess. A standard growth curve for most species is exponential, so long as plenty of food is available. That means the population doubles in shorter and shorter and shorter intervals until the food runs out. Then the population stops increasing. Then it crashes. The reason it stops increasing is because of war, famine, disease, genocide, etc. In mice and rats, some of the animals become crazy and start killing infant mice and rats.

The difference between humans and mice and rats is that humans have a brain that can understand what is happening and we have birth control technologies that we are not making available to the people who need it. So right now is the time we should be using both.


I heard that the Saint Mother Theresa used to pray for four hours every morning.
I heard (on tape) the Dalai Lama say that he does his meditation practice four hours every morning.

Is there a difference (humanly, I mean), is the human person doing a different thing when meditating than when praying? I doubt it. I’ve been told, when I tried to understand what we mean by meditation, because I wanted to do it, and every description seemed to be different. I was told: “There are many different kinds of meditation.”

“What?” I asked. “What are they?”

I think one of them is prayer.

Lately I’ve spent some time watching videos for a “book review” (OK, video review) group study.

I think television is also a form of meditation.

If so, we are in bad trouble, because the mass media are mostly teaching us art of suffering and how to cause suffering in the world.

Sister Joan

After Tucson, we must bring conversations ‘into the light’
By Joan Chittister
Created Feb 01, 2011
by Joan Chittister [1] on Feb. 01, 2011
• From Where I Stand [2]

The country is in a new kind of national simmer these days, the boiling point of which may well determine the social climate of this country for years to come. All the signs are clear.
For the first time in history, the President of the United States has raised the nature of civil discourse to the level of a State of the Union address. Assembled for that speech, many members of the Congress of the United States sat together, intermingled, as if they really were all cooperating citizens of the same country.

And after having been shot through the brain in a face-to-face assassination attempt, Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ medical condition, though now upgraded to “Good,” will nevertheless, her doctors say, take “months of physical therapy” for her to reach a state of ‘new normal.’

We have, it appears, a country that has abandoned civility while it extols democracy, is mired in polarization at its highest levels and calls that politics, and is provocative and dangerous to both public figures and citizens alike and says we can’t imagine how those things happen.

I suppose it’s possible to conclude that things could be worse and to simply go on business as usual. In fact, many people do, apparently. But around the edges and in the shadow of it all, in personal conversation and in public gatherings, the unsaid is being said. Old topics, once considered closed, are surfacing again.

Why? Because some events are, by nature, “illuminating.” And we have just had one of those events.

Giffords, the target of an assassination attempt, and the numbers of people who were killed in her stead and the even larger number of people who were wounded and lived but who will never again be quite the same persons as they were before the event may never be able to forget those topics. Nor will we. One way or another: either because we face the issue or because we don’t.

An “illuminating event” is one that has more meaning to it than is at first apparent. It brings multiple issues into focus at one time and shines the light of the soul on issues too often kept in darkness. Because of an illuminating event, the relationship between a number of apparently unrelated issues are unmasked in one fell swoop. The attempted assassination of a public official in the United States of America has done that. Clearly, this event has much to teach us all.

First, language matters: I have written in this column before now about my concern for the level of discourse — if you can call it that — pervading cyberspace, poisoning the minds of children, and demeaning whole segments of society. Name calling and baseless accusations have become commonplace in recent years. The global anonymity of the internet, unlike any other media, has, it seems, released all the demons of the heart into the atmosphere — without accountability, without substantiation, without boundaries.

Assassinations of the spirit are now the coin of the realm. They are a kind of media lynching: People, so much easier to destroy than good arguments, are being hung out to dry in front of all our faces in the dark of the night by ghosts without bodies and speakers without faces. It’s one thing to pollute the air, the water, and the soil of the planet but it is far more dangerous to pollute the human soul with attacks of random violence against bullied school children, against public figures who think differently than we do and against social groups of whom we do not approve. .

In the name of “free speech” the freedom to assassinate is being worn as a badge of democracy. And it happens on the best sites on the internet, including this one.

As a result, the United States is toxic. There was a time when slander and libel were legal offenses. Now there is too much of it to even begin to tame. We have come to the point where we pay television and radio hosts to do it bigger and better than their competition, in fact. Masking as ‘journalists’ they talk over answers to the very questions they themselves have just asked.

Why? Because it brings more of the same kind of people to the site, that’s why. Because people listen to it, that’s why.

If we really wanted such an atmosphere to change, we would deny it oxygen. But, according to the polls, these programs prosper and with them the polarization temperature of the nation rises. What can we possibly expect in a social climate like this but violence in a tinder box?

So, while we’re sitting around blaming left, right and center for the attack on Giffords, maybe we better start with ourselves.

Second, the mentally ill are human beings who find themselves in an environment with too few laws to protect them from themselves. In two cases of which I have personal knowledge, two young people attempted to admit themselves to their local mental health center for help and were sent home and told to call someone “if they felt the same way tomorrow.” By tomorrow, one of those young men had killed himself, the other had killed his girlfriend and two of their three small children as well as himself.

No law required short-term admission and observation so long-term help never arrived.
While a panel of citizens and officials discussed the effect of hate radio and attack language on public violence, one of the official speakers himself called Gifford’s shooter, a man with mental problems, “a monster.”

But the mentally ill are no more “monsters” than any people with communicable illnesses — they are simply mentally ill. Ask the families who love and try to care for these people day after day.

Third, yes, the tiresome old alibi “guns don’t kill people, people do” is at least true on one level. But it fails pitiably on others: What people kill people? Should all people be allowed to have guns? Shouldn’t licenses be renewed regularly in the way we do driver’s licenses? Should professional references be expected?

What was needed at Gifford’s assassination, a national representative said, was “just one more gun.” Really? And then what will we do when every argument or difference of opinion becomes a shoot out?

From where I stand, the interesting thing is that most of us outside Giffords’ district in Arizona may never have heard her name before this. But after this, her name will mean a number of different things to us all.

Unless we insist that these conversations continue — out of the darkness and into the light that has illuminated them — we may all be hurt by any one of them at any time: the verbal attacks, the mental illness or, it is clear, even the guns.

[Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister is a longtime contributor to NCR. Her Web column, From Where I Stand, is found on the NCR Web site: [3].]

Emphasis mine. I say we all have already been hurt by the verbal violence before and after this event. (LL)

A major foundation of Buddhism is that all actions bring about results. Whatever we do, whether or not we are thinking about what we do, whatever we do is a choice that will take our lives in one direction or another. That is also a major foundation of science. Actions have consequences — the action doesn’t care willynuts about our intentions — the consequences are the ressult of our actions, not our thoughts.

That being the case, and unless someone can offer a better idea, if we want ANYTHING, I believe we should learn to understand the chains of cause and effect that prevent us from obtaining it, and then figure out how to deal positively. Or even if we don’t want anything, I believe it is our responsibility to understand as best we can how our actions affect the future. And stop just plucking mind-candy out of the hands of imaginary gods to tide us over the sleepless nights until the shit hits the fan.

Simple Math

Tell me if I’m wrong, but here is how it seems to me. Speaking of Religion.

All the one-God religions (I know nothing about the multi-God religions) the one-God religions all give us the hook of immortality if we will nurture our positive human values. And they threaten us with various punishments if we honor our more disagreeable human values.

Buddhism too.

The corpotechnosystem, on the other hand, offers us immortality if we will buy their stuff, including their “I win/you lose” ethic that serves their need to grow-grow-grow until everyone is fighting over the available resources.

Given the probabilities, you are not likely to win in spite of the most humongous lie of all.* So which sounds more like fun and the most useful ethic? Spending one’s whole life trying to not be a loser, and probably failing or at least feeling like a failure? Or spending one’s life working together with others to build a more humane culture? In case you are the rare person who doesn’t care about immortality, the math is the same, because the rewards and punishments are built in to each of these ethics, in this life, or that of your grandchildren. Oh. Maybe that is immortality? 🙂
*”Everyone is or can be a winner.” Good grief, even three-year-olds know better than that. In a win lose/culture NOBODY can be a winner unless a bunch of other people are losing. Bad odds.