What can eagle survival strategies tell us about our own?(1)
Eagles have survived for 100's of thousands of years simply by letting natural selection make each successive generation stronger. The strongest eagles protect territory from other eagles and this allows them to reproduce while lesser eagles do not.The richness of food of available territory limits the number of eagles.
Humans have more complex survival strategies and population controls.
1) While eagles are hunter and gathers and live at subsistence, humans have social operations that provides a wellbeing above subsistence.
2) fossil energy, and resources not allocated or allocated to other species within the territory, combined with technology allows greater population and even greater wellbeing above subsistence than could exist without them.
3) Because humans can live above subsistence, some can live higher than others. Which means improving an individual's wellbeing can be accomplished by either using new technology and or previously untapped resources -- or redistributing the resources already used by other humans.
4) Humans, like eagles, still are constrained by the world's production systems, waste management systems, and fossil energy and water reserves. With improvements in technology, with the exception of regional failures, human population, and total human footprint has ever increased. Many individuals continue to raise their personal wellbeing.
Today this description of human existence is changing. Humans can place large enough demands on these territorial factors that, for example, forests, fisheries,and soil are not replacing themselves at the rate humans are using them. Natural recycling systems can not absorb human wastes as fast as humans can create them. And fossil fuel and water reservoirs are being emptying. Man's territory is, in effect,shrinking.
Either average,wellbeing or population must decline. The mechanisms to achieve this reduction are not pretty. Today a billion people live very close to subsistence. If their supporting resources get any smaller they die.
This first billion, in remote places, may die quietly. But the second billion to face reduced wellbeing will not. The second billion will have already watched the first billion starve when their labor no longer fed them(2), the riots, the attempted migrations, the killings at the borders. The second billion will know their own fate before it arrives.
Social conflict will erupt. Groups will divert resources from supporting lifestyles to defending themselves from other groups. Groups will mount offensives to maintain their deliveries of dwindling resources.
This will leave less resources to support the group. Wellbeing will slide downwardl triggering more rounds of conflict... more scarcity... and more conflict.
The logical end of this death spiral is civilization collapse. The human system will loose part of the social operation that allowed life above subsistence. Human population numbers fall until a residual number can be supported with the remaining social operations, technology, and resources.
It is hard to understand how zero population growth will avert these tragedies. Even the below replacement birthrates that have resulted from economic forces in developed countries will not reduce population fast enough to avert these tragedies. Solving this view of the human predicament will require rapid population decline -- the kind created by parenting only one child.
All the mechanisms that help women get control of their reproduction can not stop these tragedies until they are allowed and want to choose one child behaviors.
Just as guarding territory manages population, so it contributes to eagle survival, one child per woman behaviors would be a mechanism to manage the human population to ensure human survival.
The one child per woman behavior is not yet part of many political, religious, or ecological agendas. Thus, we can conclude that humankind has no better survival strategy than eagles -- both are headed for hard times and extinction.
The only difference is that we know it. We know that if we rapidly reduce population through fewer births, we can avoid billions dying of starvation, and more billions dying of conflict. We know that if we refrain from collapsing our civilization we can avoid a dark age -- maybe a dark age from which we can not recover.
The future is darker than we think. However, if we think, we can see it and we can act to achieve our own survival. Eagle survival comes with the package.
(1) Thanks to Susan Kuehlthau for providing the article on eagle survival -- Golden Eagle and Us by Grainger Hunt and Nick Donlap. "Living Bird" Spring 2009 Pages 20-29 A Cornell University publication.