These are dark days.
A pandemic is killing people in every country, destroying livelihoods and economies.
The US president is lying as he aims to bring democracy crashing down in his country.
Great Britain, once a powerful nation, is a fetid heap of unpleasantness on the floor and in such a mess that it chooses to appoint a failed, misogynist, ex-prime minister from Australia to get them out of their trade hole. Good luck with that.
And everywhere people are concerned and worried.
Mental health is the worst it’s ever been with almost everyone showing signs of strain.
It’s extremely hard to be optimistic in such times.
Indeed, all population ecologists from Thomas Malthus onwards will tell you this is exactly what to expect. As populations reach and exceed the levels of resources available to them it gets ugly. And whilst this is fine for plant and animal species in the depths of the Amazon rainforest or the arctic tundra, humans are immune for, after all, we are not animals – modern politics notwithstanding.
The technical phrase is density-dependent population regulation, the fancy term for keeping numbers in check.
As resources become limiting so population growth rates start to slow and eventually go in reverse as a result of lower fertility, infant mortality and mortality from competition among adults in the population, with the most vulnerable going first. It is no coincidence that the consequences of the COVID-19 virus fit these attributes and is an acute problem for aged-care facilities.
There is no doubt we’re beginning to see these patterns in the human population of the world. We’ve beaten off density-dependence for so long thanks to our technology and our ability to absorb resources from nature. But now it’s beginning to bite as we reach the limits of our capacities and offer a resource to nature, our bodies, for it to exploit.
Given these realities, it is very difficult to remain positive. Hard to see the upside in any of these things.
But upside there is, for no matter what happens, it will not happen forever. Even if the worst catastrophes strike, there is a time after them.
Even after the mass extinctions over evolutionary time that we portray as catastrophes, diversity came back stronger. There were always more species on the planet following extinction events than there were before them. Prior to our current attack on the planet, there were more species than at any other time in the history of life on earth. There’s nothing to suggest that once humans have passed, that won’t happen again. The remnants of diversity will spread out recolonise and diversify into the available landscape when humans finally leave the stage.
The problem is not the long-term future of the world. She is quite fine, thank you very much, and will potter along merrily without concern until the sun finally swallows her up.
The problem is ourselves. What do we do to prevent a catastrophe… for humanity? How do we go about making sure that solutions are possible and more than a punt on the horses.
I think our hope lies in our psychological response.
We always revert to our lizard brains when we feel threatened or fearful or insecure. But we have a higher brain which can override that lizard fight, flight or freeze response. And we must tap into that capability more than ever before.
Right now we have to be investing in our mental health, training and encouraging people to be aware of their lizard brains. And give them the tools so as not to give into them.
Of course, anyone can say “zen out” in a blog post.
Achieving it in the population at large is another thing altogether. There are so many reasons why people wouldn’t respond and we cannot expect all people to do so.
Given enough compassionate folk who have recognised the need for awareness and for those people to lead the way then we can move forward with positive solutions.
Over at sustainably FED we have found a way to encourage those solutions through the use of evidence, especially the science behind food, ecology and diet. We believe there are solutions to any number of sustainability challenges if FED comes together in an integrated way.
Here are a few
- Recycling nutrients
- Making biochar
- Changing global diet and food production based on the nutrient density of food rather than profit
- Calling out the scoundrels mining natural capital
- Looking long in production systems
Humanity has a great chance of surviving the dark times and coming out the other end the better for it. Any new normal can easily better than the old normal.
But we do need great ideas.
The tools exist for the technical and scientific evaluation of sustainability ideas to find those that will work in a new normal. All we have to find are the youngsters with the great ideas.
In the meantime, we can all try to recognize our lizard brain response and not be consumed by it.
We also recommend a meditation or two, some relaxation in nature, maybe some gentle classical music.
Recognition of what the planet offers rather than the porkies our social media feeds us.