Bare Bones Biology 096 – Climate Change V

We can not help the earth maintain a habitable climate by growth, either of the corposystem or of the population because it is not possible to cure any problem by doing more of what caused the problem in the first place. You cannot cure alcoholism with more alcohol. You cannot cure the biological reaction to too much growth by growing more.

The whole of life and all its parts consists of processes that work together to form networks of cycles. The most amazing thing about life is the way all these interacting networks stay balanced. Well, most of the time they stay balanced. If they aren’t balanced the result is sickness or some sort or death. Mostly the balance is maintained quite literally by the availability of the resources. Does that sound familiar? Yes indeed, it sounds just a little bit like classical economics. Not the modern Ponzi economics, but the old fashioned kind where – if you didn’t have carrots, you didn’t sell carrots, and you didn’t eat carrots.

If you don’t have enough resources, for example, if the earth is not capable of making enough food energy to feed all the people – then the delicate balance among all the networks becomes unbalanced. If there is not enough to eat, then people die. If that unbalance leads to shortages, climate change, economic downturns, war, any kind of difficulty – then you can not cure the difficulty by doing more of what caused the unbalance. You can’t cure Ponzi economics by more Ponzi economics because sooner or later you run out of the resources that are necessary to keep the whole scheme growing

You can’t cure climate change by pouring more toxic compounds into the climate, either from people eating and breathing or from corporations and other machines eating and breathing the products of the earth until there are not enough resources left to provide the food energy to drive the interacting networks of nature that keep us alive.

We know these things are facts. And yet we have come to the point where our knowledge about genuinely omnipotent realities is no more respected than your next-door-neighbor’s uninformed opinion. This is too bad, because the technologies to prevent a dreadful end are now available while we are fiddling around with the same technologies that have been causing our problems in the first place.

And while we are talking about these things, let’s consider a couple of more false assumptions that run along the same lines.

1. That there is no climate change, but there are too many people in some other parts of the world, and so if we build a fence around the United States and keep everyone else out we will be OK. This one boggles the mind. You can’t fence out climate change. The earth’s climate goes all the way around the earth from the top to the bottom and all around the middle parts. No fences will stop air.

2. That overpopulation doesn’t exist, apparently it can’t exist (how do they prove that?), and we would be better off to save every human cell. Then, every person will have a better life. We have measured the facts (for example), and they tell us that the earth is losing both its resilience (because of species extinctions) and its sustainability (by what I will refer to as overgrazing). From here on out, if we continue to grow, the more people we have on earth, the more people will suffer starvation and genocide and war and similar fates as the economy crashes because we are running out of resources. Bottom line, if there is not enough to eat, then we cannot provide the good life for more people, and we need to find a solution that will work before more people are victimized by our growth ethic.

3. Then the other side of the coin is the phrase I just heard yesterday again, that there is plenty of food on earth to feed everyone, it’s a re-distribution problem. You know I have heard that old saw my whole long life, and we have more than doubled in numbers of people during that time. Furthermore, every time we destroy another species in our efforts to feed humans – every lost species is a broken link in one of those networks that function to keep the earth alive and healthy.

Bare Bones Biology 096 – Climate Change V
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available later this week
here and at http://BareBonesBiology.com

Recommended References: Post Carbon Reader, PCI.org; Networks, by Barabashi; Beyond Ethics by HH The Dalai Lama; Bare Bones Ecology free download on my blog.

BBB088 – Evolution and Creation https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/
BBB022 – Population https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2010/09/19
Earth Policy – http:// http://www.earth-policy.org/

Bare Bones Biology 084 – Imagine

This is the last in the series describing what I think are the bottom line requirements to grow a better future for our human lives within this living earth ecosystem. It’s been tried before, with varying levels of success, and other people are proposing other, equally serious recipes for our future welfare. We’ll look at a few of them later. First I want to summarize.

Compassion and basic scientific knowledge should be applied to our interactions with each other and with all other living things including the ecosystem. To do this we should each, as individuals, first try to separate out the immutable facts from our personal opinions, and if they don’t line up we should try to figure out why not.

Second, we each need to understand the basic requirements for life, the fact that life is the whole earth ecosystem, so far as we know, and that we are a subunit of that life. A living thing (which is not the same as ”life”) can be defined as an entity, either an ecosystem or a part of the ecosystem that carries within itself the genetic information that is required to drive all the functions of its life. The functions of life consist of cycles of interactions within the entity and between entities at all the multiple levels of complexity.

We are not the director of this symphony of life. The whole ecosystem does not revolve around humans, any more than the whole solar system revolves around the earth. We don’t even really know how it works. Only that it does. And that it operates according to the laws of physics, primarily, as well as other natural laws that we cannot change. Humans cannot improve on the nature of nature, but we can do a lot of harm to ourselves if we unbalance the functions of life and reduce the resilience of the ecosystem. The term resilience refers to the capacity of the ecosystem to rebalance itself.

And third, we must understand that the universal law of cause and effect operates no matter what we choose to do. We cannot change it with our technologies. The commonest inquiry that I get is: “What can I do?” or “What would you do?” (to fix things.)

The answer is that there is nothing on earth that we can do to change the universal law of cause and effect. That means, if the earth is now overpopulated and we are using more natural resources than are available – then that’s the way it is and we cannot change that fact because the cause is back in our history somewhere and we cannot change history.

That does not mean you should be sitting on your keester enjoying TV when there are things you can do to change the history of the future generations, so that they will not be worse off because of us being here sitting on our keesters watching TV.

We cannot avoid the crunch that is coming. But right now is the time to build a version of human society that could bring to the future something better than a corrupt corposystem that sucks the life out of life. That seems to be the culture we will grow unless we pluck up a little pluck, stop being afraid of words, learn how to LISTEN to people who are not exactly like we are, or like we think they should be, and collaborate, starting today in every small way that we can, to build a future for us all – no matter what happens next.

I’m saying that I think the minimum requirement to grow a viable, sustainable human social structure is that the citizens must be educated in the skills of: practical compassion applied to problem solving; the nature and needs of a healthy ecosystem; a rule of law that recognizes the conflicting human values at the individual level and the level of the whole.

Bare Bones Biology 084 – Imagine
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio will be posted later at
WWW.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 063 – Power of Ignorance

There’s nothing wrong with ignorance, you know. People get all het up about that word, ignorant. Ignorance has nothing to do with how smart you are. It simply says you don’t know something. Every creature on earth is ignorant about some things, actually most things. Einstein was somewhat ignorant about ecology. Why not? He was a physicist. Physics is not ecology. Einstein spent much of his time thinking and learning about physics; and he did not run around trying to convince people that he knew about things he didn’t know about. He knew what he knew, but the thing that made him so smart is that he also knew what he didn’t know.

I was thinking about ignorance and reading a peer-reviewed research study that was done by Justin Kruger and David Dunning at Cornell University.

I’ll quote their conclusion, leaving out just a few words:

“People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities . . , in part, because people who are unskilled . . . suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. … Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.”

Well, I’m always suspicious of people who use big words when they could make better sense using ordinary words, but these people certainly understand what the words mean, and their methods and statistics, and also a long list of references, all hold up well, so I’m pretty sure their results are accurate. The bottom line is — the best way to grow your competence is to be very clear about what you know and, more importantly, what you do not know. Or as I say it, the best way to grow your personal power is to know the difference between the facts, the lies, the opinions, and self-serving poppycock. People respect knowledge more than recycled blather. Would you hire an engineer who doesn’t know the difference between a slide rule and a calculator?

So I thought it was really interesting — that same day, I received copies of an article in The Economist. The editorial and the article clearly review many of the problems that we humans face in our ecosystem today. And they use all the right catch phrases. Resilience for example:

“. . . it is possible to add to the planet’s resilience, often through simple and piecemeal actions, if they are well thought through.”

But apparently they don’t understand the relationship between resilience and the numbers of species in an ecosystem, because they also stated that half the earth’s species are going extinct. And they did not mention that we are almost entirely ignorant of the functions that most of those species perform to maintain the resilience of the ecosystem. So – given our enormous ignorance, I don’t understand how they plan to carefully think through a method of improving resilience while at the same time extincting half the earth’s species. Would you hire these people to engineer the future of the earth ecosystem that provides your air, food, water and work – literally your life?

And if we revert to commonsense, there is an idea they did not even consider. Wouldn’t it be safer, easier and less abusive to humans and the living earth ecosystem to remove the cause of all those problems? The common root cause that lies behind all these problems – and anyone can do the math — is excessive growth. But the implications of this fact are not seriously considered anywhere in the article.

Bare Bones Biology 063 – Power of Ignorance
KEOS FM, 89.1, Bryan, TX
Download audio later this week from http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Benicia Education

As you know, our group has several tentacles. The Benicia group is very active. You may remember that Dot’s article about population growth even “made” the Benicia newspaper. Now I bring you news of two more actions from Benicia, California. The first is Marilyn’s letter in answer to my recent rant about education. Her letter is posted below.

The second activity is a lecture series sponsored by The Community Sustainability Commission, collaborating with Solano Community College. The lecture series is intended to help us understand and fulfill our obligation to create a more sustainable community and economy, to reduce our impacts on climate and respect, repair and restore the natural world around us. The series is entitled:

“Stewards of Our Children’s Future: 2011… For Ecologic + Economic Health = Community Resilience.” CSC.flyer for lecture series.3.21.11

The lectures begin April 12, run for 6 weeks, and will be posted on UTube and we will plan to maintain copies in our library at the Peach Clubhouse. The commission is also planning a longer series beginning in the summer.

But today we hear from Marilyn in Benicia.

Last night, several of us Sustainability Commissioners on the edu workshop, attended Mary Farmer Elementary school’s science fair, which was set up in a multipurpose room at the school in Benicia, California. There were about 12 long tables set up, and each one had room for about 4 projects, each done as a panel display, (main panel in the center, two wings on the side). It was clear that the science teacher had given guidance and limits as to the formatting of the displays, which did remind me of an international cell-biology conference held in San Francisco, which several of us had been invited to drop in on, to view the displays. The studies involved hypotheses about sources for evolutionary changes in various critters (for instance, about evolution of dorsal fin structure in dolphins).

Anyway, I was impressed to see the kids’ displays and what they’d chosen to investigate. Each display outlined, in the child’s own words, (this varied, depending on age and whether info was sought by computer search, etc) a subject problem that would be probed by investigation, observation and experiment. Also noted: the hypothesis, the chosen method that would be pursued to accomplish a comparative study; tools involved; controls and limits, including time frames; journal entries of observations made, and finally, a conclusion that restated the hypothesis and the “result” derived. The last statement was “what I learned” from doing the experiment. I think you would have been moved. There were kids at all grade levels up to 6th grade involved, yet the requirements for the studies were consistent, so that even a kindergarten level project demonstrated that the child had learned about the nature of an experiment and how to think through the process of investigation, how to observe, etc etc. Some of the projects were very simple to accomplish. For example, to show how an egg could be made to float, the child only needed a wide beaker, water, an egg, and lots of salt. Photos were taken of the egg in the glass as more salt was added to the water. The last photo showed a floating egg. The project had been defined in terms of a question to be answered: “What is density?” There were other pictures explaining the concept–of a fist being pushed through a bowl of popcorn, and by contrast, a fist being “stopped” by a hard popcorn ball. There was a brief statement about the molecular character of different materials as related to the idea of density, so that the invisible structure of water and that of an egg could be compared by virtue of how much space a particular molecule occupied in relation to others in its vicinity. So, even a very simple experiment, to float an egg, had huge import for learning about the physical world.

What was evident was the level and quality of instruction by the several science teachers whose classes were represented.

The problem you cite about the quality of science education, or lack thereof, (teaching by memorization–too true, I imagine, in undergrad training for medicine!), is not limited to the physical sciences. Twenty-five years ago, studies in liberal arts became “fuzzied up” or politicized, “PC’d” or what have you, until you could hardly think why you were bothering to read a book rather than its annotated “deconstructed” version produced either by venerated lit critters installed in various named chairs at ivy league schools, or, echoed by the lower level acolytes of same, stuck and underpaid at Podunk State College. Sociological analysis trumped any tribute to feeling for the ineffable qualities so intrinsic to great works of art. (Example: a third-rate etching of sowers in the field could be rendered “equal” to a Van Gogh or Millet, if a work’s cultural value is made equivalent to its social content and “lessons” thus derived about class and whatever other topical issue prized. Apparently, there’s hope that this fashion is waning… none too soon. It’s a dismal situation, but havoc is being wrought, departments are being dismantled or drastically cut, so that maybe all that will be left is the facsimile, “edu online”. If there ever was the opportunity for serious teaching, (and there were always noble teaching efforts made by a few who really stood out, looking back) now there’s going to be even less opportunity and hope for real mentoring and apprenticing… well, the worst case scenario may be the only affordable option anymore.

Your rant about people not being able to discern FACT from OPINION with regard the physical laws of the universe, and also, about the applied uses scientific research is driven toward and where we’ve ended up without sense of restraint or judgment as to long term effects, etc. etc., speaks to a VERY DEEP problem of communication, considering the propaganda for status quo, and given the enormous deficit in people’s grasp of the interrelatedness of all things and beings on the planet, and how utterly dependent we are on a maintained healthy diversity of life and living systems on land and in the oceans. It seems there’s hardly any discussion of the concept of a closed system and LIMITS. I’m especially sensitive to the kind of casual banter about promoting “sustainability” as if discussion of ecology were a sidebar discussion not central to conceiving of a “more sustainable” way of life. So few seem to understand the fundamental necessity of the concept of LIMITS. We seem in a rush to talk about making a “green economy” while avoiding the third rail discussions pertinent to how, in a short space of time, in no more than 150 years, have we reached such a point of accelerated declines of all earth’s ancient resources. After 30+ years, even after the second book “Beyond Limits to Growth”, it’s still difficult to get anyone to spend more than a few minutes talking about “overshoot” of the planet’s carrying capacity by expanding populations. (The “Story of Progress”, the single reignite story we continue to tell ourselves, according to Greer is the most destructive mythos humankind has ever promulgated.) How to bring people toward deeper understanding of the core problem is a central question for those of us who find ourselves working with others on projects that might invite such learning, such as the aquaponics project proposed to us by Randy, as we gardened on Wednesday.

A project such as aquaponics suggests invites curiosity, and a learning opportunity about closed systems–at least, until you take a fish out of the water and eat it. That, too, is a lesson! Perhaps there should be an altar nearby, where a ceremonial act of gratitude could be performed to acknowledge the taking of a fish from its tank. The utilitarian function of such a project, e.g., to provide food for others and also plausible income for those operating it, can also shed light on the problem of producing more food for more people — when do we stop having so many mouths to feed anyway? Why not fund birth control centers everywhere instead and build schools for girls and get women into colleges?

Well, as always, your meditations and “rants” open up whole realms of questions to ponder. In the end, we address both the immediate sense of urgency and emergency (I love how the word “emergency” suggests an emergent “thing”, no matter whether a crisis or the bloom on a rose in spring), but we can’t help ourselves but look way farther out and around, beyond our own deaths, about the fate of our wondrous world and to that “end”, what our brief time here means.

Marilyn talks about aquaponics because that is another of the education proposals of the Benicia Council. More about that very active group in an upcoming blog.

Bare Bones Biology 050 – We Have a Problem

Last week I put my foot in my mouth by saying that we all agree (that should have been the clue). I said we all agree that we: “have serious human problems on this earth, and we can not resolve those problems in a positive way unless the ecosystem is healthy, because everything we need is provided by the ecosystem.” That’s what I said.

It turns out we don’t all agree to that. Some of us believe The Creation is perfect just the way it is. I don’t really argue about that, and I wish we could have a good discussion about it, because I don’t think we are disagreeing. I think it’s a matter of definitions. If we could sit down and define our terms, I think we would both be saying more or less the same thing, and then we could get together and spend our energy trying to fix whatever we see that needs fixing.

For example, surely we must agree that our human opinions will not change how God made The Creation. We can’t, for example, change the law of gravity that holds the thing together. The best we can do is try to understand it, so we can use it to make things for our convenience. Pyramids, airplanes and the like. We can’t change how the Creation functions – how it is set up, how molecules and atoms interact with each other, how animals get their energy from food, and all the other basic things of that sort. In that sense The Creation is indeed perfect just the way it was meant to function. Perfect and beautiful and miraculous. But I still think we have problems. I think we are disagreeing because we use different words for the same things, and again – your words or my words won’t change how God made things to function. The best we can do is try to understand.

Joseph Campbell devoted his whole career to studying our different ways of trying to understand God. In a PBS interview with Bill Moyers, he used the word “myth” when he talked about our religions:

“. . . the only myth that’s going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is the one that’s talking about the planet . . . how to relate to this society, and how to relate this society to the world of nature and of the cosmos.”

Naomi Klein used the term ideology when she said in a recent speech in Totnes, England
Naomi Klein – The Paradox of Crisis:

“ . . . this issue, the climate crisis in particular, affects everybody. We are all in this together, and this is beyond left/right. This is beyond ideology.”

Naomi Klein is willing to see that there are important ideological issues involved, and I certainly know how that feels. I’ve had my dreams shattered, and my world view. This happens in small doses when we live for a time in other cultures. It’s known as culture shock and it’s painful. It happens in bigger doses when one’s own culture abandons the beliefs that it taught us to believe. And the worst kind of culture shock is known as PTSD, when everything you tried to do for good turns out bad. It’s hard. It takes a long time to adjust, and I hope I have been moving my own world view, or you can call it my ideology, cultural myth, religion) a little bit closer to factual reality, at least for solving physical problems, because when we acknowledge factual, measurable reality – that’s when we have the power to fix physical problems.

When man, who was made in the image of God, can not talk with other man, who also was made in the image of God. Then we do have a problem, and the first step to solving it is as simple as listening to other points of view, and the second step is to cut through the propaganda and blame-placing and discussing our world views with compassion and dispassionate common sense. Because only God is perfect, and we are not God.

Bare Bones Biology 050 – We Have a Problem
KEOS, 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
http://FactFictionFancy.wordpress.com
http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 047 – E O Wilson

You know what folks, I have not won the Nobel Peace Prize. I wrote a book once, but I’m not all that famous, nevertheless, and sometimes I get the idea that people think my opinions about the functions and future of the ecosystem are just opinions – no more knowledgeable than anybody else’s. And, yes, they’re opinions all right, but just to point out that there isn’t all that much controversy in the scientific community, and that really, really famous people have the same opinions that I do, I will give you a quote from E O Wilson (ref):

“The natural world in the year 2001 is everywhere disappearing before our eyes. Cut to pieces, mowed down, plowed under, gobbled up, replaced by human artifacts. Little more than a billion people were alive in the 1840’s. They were overwhelmingly agricultural, and few families needed more than 2 or 3 acres to survive. The American frontier was still wide open, and far away on continents to the south, up great rivers, beyond unclimbed mountains, stretched unspoiled equatorial forests, brimming with a maximum diversity of life. These wildernesses seemed as unattainable and timeless as the planets and stars. That could not last because the mood of American colonists was Abrahamic. The explorers and colonists were guided by a Biblical prayer. May we take possession of this land that God has provided and let it drip milk and honey into our mouths forever.

“Now, more than six billion people fill the world. The great majority are very poor. Nearly one billion exist on the edge of starvation. All are struggling to raise the quality of their lives any way they can. That unfortunately includes the conversion of the surviving remnants of the natural environment. Half of the great tropical forests have been cleared. The last frontiers of the world are effectively gone. Species of plants and animals are disappearing at a hundred times faster than before the coming of humanity, and as many as half may be gone by the end of this century.

“An armageddon is approaching at the beginning of the third millennium. But it is not the cosmic war and fiery collapse of mankind foretold in sacred scripture. It is the wreckage of the planet by an exuberantly plentiful and ingenious humanity. The race is now on between the techno-scientific and scientific forces that are destroying the living environment, and those that can be harnessed to save it. We are inside a bottleneck(1) of overpopulation and waste consumption. If the race is won, humanity can emerge in far better condition than it entered, and with most of the diversity of life still intact.

“The situation is desperate, but there are encouraging signs that it can be won. Population growth has slowed, and if the present trajectory holds is likely to peak between 8 and 10 billion people by century’s end. That many people, experts tell us, can be accommodated with a decent standard of living, but just barely. The amount of arable land and water available per person globally is already declining. In solving the problem, other experts tell us, it should also be possible to shelter most of the vulnerable plant and animal species. In order to pass through the bottleneck, a global land ethic is urgently needed. Not just any global land ethic that might happen to enjoy agreeable sentiment, but one based on the best understanding of ourselves and the world around us that science and technology can provide.

“Surely, the rest of life matters. Surely our stewardship is its only hope. We will be wise to listen carefully to the heart, then act with rational intention with all the tools we can gather and bring to bear. The living world is dying; the natural economy is crumbling beneath our busy feet. We have been too self-absorbed to foresee the long-term consequences of our actions, and we will suffer a terrible loss unless we shake off our delusions and move quickly to a solution. Science and technology led us into this bottleneck. Now science and technology must help us find our way through and out.“

Bare Bones Biology 047 – E O Wilson
KEOS Radio, 89.1, Bryan TX
For an audiocast of this program click here

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Additional notes and recommended reading:

This quote is from The Future of Life, by E. O. Wilson, read by Ed Begley Jr., Pub. 2002 by New Millenium Audio.
Dr. Wilson’s book heavily stresses species survival, but he doesn’t clearly explain why the ecosystem needs all those species in order for itself to survive. The ecosystem is a living thing, with parts, similar to us as living things, with parts. We can assume that all the parts have functions that are useful in keeping the thing alive, or they probably wouldn’t be there. It reminds me of the Biblical verse: “I am the vine, you are the branches (etc.)” All the parts contribute to the whole and we aren’t knowledgeable enough to know exactly how they contribute, so we are just flailing around when we permit parts of the ecosystem to be removed. The term for this is resilience (https://factfictionfancy.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/survival-of-the-fittest/, which is a major component of sustainable balance

A more readable book that describes our history from a somewhat different perspective is Collapse, 2005, by Jared Diamond.

See also the population articles in National Geographic, January 2011 and March 2011

(1) A “bottleneck” in biology, is an event during which the population of a species collapses, leaving only a relatively few members of the species to re-establish its presence in the ecosystem. It is too late to avoid the bottleneck. So our goal, of course, is to come out of it with a more positive and sustainable culture to pass on to the next millenium. I believe this will require that we merge our factual understandings of biology with our innate human compassion. Dr. Wilson seems to believe our innate human compassion will be automatic, but looking at Libya and other atrocities of recent years, I think we will have to work hard and intentionally to sustain and grow a compassionate culture. First, we need to understand that the disasters will become worse before they become better. Next we understand that compassion is far more than that “fuzzy bunny” feel-good that we enjoy in old-fashioned Disney make-believe, and learn how to make it real. More next time.

Survival of the Fittest?

So, if species grow and succeed on the basis of survival of the fittest, meaning they are doing something that is good for the ecosystem — then how come the ecosystem pitches them out later and they go extinct?

I think the answer to this is that species succeed on the basis of something they are doing that is “fitness” within the ecosystem. That is, it is useful or at least not harmful within the multiple variables of the whole system. And what the ecosystem needs to survive is “resilience” (that is, the ability to change when conditions change) and “sustainability” (that is the ability to stay in balance by adjusting it’s parts, which is almost but not quite the same as resilience). So if a species does not upset the balance — and it increases the resilience of the system — then it is a happy camper within the system.

So why would it then go extinct, I mean barring the occasional mega-volcano or meteorite? I think most species are good at something, better at something than other species. Humans, those who don’t think the problem through, tend to believe this is “fitness.” Being better. They think being better and better at some little thing, like winning, for example, is fitness, and in a way it is, because it allows the species to fill or create a new niche in the system. Up to a point where it can no longer maintain its balance, a system with more niches will be more resilient than a system with fewer niches.

Most species are therefore good at something that is different from the other species that live in the same space. As time goes by and generations follow generations, and selection pressures of the surroundings tend to continue or increase, I think most species develop whatever is their advantage until it passes a balance point and becomes extreme.

For an example, think of the giraffe. And then if conditions change or they continue to develop the same trait to absurdity, they can’t cope in the system any more. For example, if all the tall trees died as a result of global warming (or anything, tree diseases, whatever) the giraffe would have to compete with everyone else at ground level and would probably become extinct.

Humans, now, have developed their definining characteristics to an even greater absurdity than giraffes. Humans in the USA, young people that I talk to, they actually believe they can control their environment (ecosystem) with the power of their brain, either directly or through creating technologies.

The trouble with having a really good brain as a defining characteristic is that it can go crazy and do absurdly harmful things to its own environment that lead to its own extinction. This is not fitness; it will not survive.

But we do have that brain, and we could use it for something useful if we wanted to.