“Mr. Hyperbole” Meets “Dr. Doom”

Heads up, folks. Forrest M. Mims III is on a new rampage. This time, he is targetting Eric R. Pianka, noted ecologist and Denton A. Cooley Centennial Professor of Zoology at the University of Texas at Austin, whom Mims is calling “Dr. Doom”.

Pianka has long been talking about how humans have overpopulated the earth, and that human population is liable to “crash” just as we have seen happen in various animal populations that outgrow their resources. In his courses, he discusses both how an airborne contagious version of the Ebola virus might reduce the world human population to 10% of its size at the time of spread, and how, ecologically speaking, this would not be a bad thing. Apparently he gave a capsule version of what he teaches in his courses at a meeting of the Texas Academy of Sciences, where Pianka was to receive the TAS 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award. Mims was moderating the session. Mims has come away with the notion that Pianka wants people to undertake biological warfare to accomplish a 90% reduction in human population on purpose.

Let me now remove my reporter’s hat for a moment and tell you what I think. We live in dangerous times. The national security of many countries is at risk. Science has become tainted by highly publicized cases of misconduct and fraud.

Must now we worry that a Pianka-worshipping former student might someday become a professional biologist or physician with access to the most deadly strains of viruses and bacteria? I believe that airborne Ebola is unlikely to threaten the world outside of Central Africa. But scientists have regenerated the 1918 Spanish flu virus that killed 50 million people. There is concern that small pox might someday return. And what other terrible plagues are waiting out there in the natural world to cross the species barrier and to which scientists will one day have access?

Meanwhile, I still can’t get out of my mind the pleasant spring day in Texas when a few hundred scientists of the Texas Academy of Science gave a standing ovation for a speaker who they heard advocate for the slow and tortuous death of over five billion human beings.

Pianka has a brief discussion of the topic on this course site.

If humans do not control their own population (and we seem unwilling and unable to do so), then other forces will certainly act to control our population. The four horseman of the apocalypse (conquest, war, famine, and death) are all candidates. Most likely, lethal virulent microbes like HIV and Ebola zaire will set limits on the growth of human populations. HIV, by allowing infected hosts to survive years while they spread the virus and infect new hosts, has already become a pandemic, but it will be years before it decimates the human population. Although Ebola kills 9 out of 10 people, outbreaks have so far been unable to become epidemics because they are currently spread only by direct physical contact with infected blood. However, a closely related virus that kills monkeys, Ebola reston, is airborne, and it is only a matter of time until Ebola zaire evolves the capacity to be airborne.

There’s no trace of the activist notion that we should bring about a pandemic as our means of population control.

I’ve emailed Prof. Pianka and hope to get a response on this topic. If I can, I will share that with you later.

As for the “Mr. Hyperbole” title, Forrest M. Mims III is a long-time antievolution advocate. His notoriety in antievolution comes from his failed bid to become
a staff writer for Scientific American magazine. During his job interview (something that everyone at the outset apparently thought was a mere formality), they noticed several church publications on his resume’ and asked him about his views on biology. He’s a creationist and antievolutionist. SciAm decided not to hire him. Mims screamed bloody “religious discrimination”, going so far as to provide Harper’s Magazine with a tape-recorded conversation with SciAm editor Jonathan Piel. Mims hadn’t bothered to tell Piel that the conversation was being recorded. Since then, Mims has repeatedly claimed that he was “fired” from Scientific American and that this constituted religious discrimination.

My take on this is that we are witnessing an intellectual mugging here. As even Mims reports, “In his last e-mail, Pianka wrote that I completely fail to understand his arguments.” I’m guessing that Mims’s penchant for hyperbole and inability to accept correction on cherished misconceptions is the only thing of note here. It’s one thing for Pianka to be dinged for inflammatory rhetoric, and quite another for him to be accused of fostering and encouraging academic scientists to take up organized biological warfare.

Obligatory disclosure: I was a student of Kirk O. Winemiller’s at Texas A&M University in 1993. Winemiller was a graduate student of Eric R. Pianka.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

39 thoughts on ““Mr. Hyperbole” Meets “Dr. Doom”

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  • 2006/04/03 at 11:25 am

    Mims may be a right-wing Jebus-lickin’ kook, but how does that, in any way, make Pianka’s claims about the Earth needing a massive dieoff scientific?

  • 2006/04/03 at 12:08 pm

    I think that there are several concepts there. First, that an animal population beyond carrying capacity is likely to “crash” is tremendously well supported scientifically. Second, that the human population is such a population is more contentious, but still a well represented position in the literature. Third, that we are in a mass extinction caused by human-made changes to environmental conditions. Again, there is contention, but Pianka’s view does have support in the literature. Fourth, that it would be a good thing to try to end the mass extinction event by reducing human population and its attendant influence on the environment. This one is Pianka’s opinion, not a scientific pronouncement. Last time I checked, people in the USA were still allowed to have opinions. But I haven’t made it all the way through the Patriot Act, so don’t hold me to that.

    The problem is that Mims appears to have conflated item four with item one and come up with item five, that doesn’t appear to actually be something that Pianka endorses: that our means of population reduction should be to engineer and distribute a pandemic capable of killing 90% of the population.

  • 2006/04/03 at 4:28 pm

    I took a biology class from Dr. Pianka years ago at Texas. The frenzied characterization of him as an ideological wacko is totally at odds with what I remember – I enjoyed him and his class Maybe he’s changed over the years, but I sense a little more behind the hoopla around this than I get from what I’m reading. And to be fair, I’ve heard tons of biologists grumble about how civilization is due for a tumble – I even heard it in the Katrina aftermath, a lot more insensitively than Pianka’s alleged phrasing.
    Sullivan said it right today – deep inside, strong believers on both the left and right secretly hope that whatever they despise will get a comeuppance.

  • 2006/04/03 at 4:56 pm

    Possibly I represent the left wing wackos, so I’ll give this a shot: How about the idea that if we continue to deplete natural resources at our present rate, and continue to breed at our present rate, then we will hit a wall and crash. Disease is a type of overpopulation crash, in that plagues usually happen when something like the population-to-fresh-water ratio hits the wall, and people get sick, and the population goes down and the ratio changes. Or people figure out how to increse the fresh water supply, and the ratio changes. Wackos such as myself believe that there’s only so much “figuring out” left to do, and that we will not be able to figure our way out of resource depletion in time to not hit the wall. The only other way to reduce the ratio of population to resources is to reduce the population. Voluntary reduction in births would be nice, but unlikely. A disease is more likely. The kind of diseases he’s talking about would operate independently of resource depletion, it seems like, so they wouldn’t be part of that wall. They could come before that wall and slow down our collision with it is all. We could also slow down that down by reducing our resource consumption, and it’s that kind of talk that makes me the left wing wacko.

  • 2006/04/03 at 6:11 pm

    I got here from PZ’s place and I’d like to thank you for clearing this up. Last night I heard some radio wingnut go on about this and I was hoping to find the truth.

  • 2006/04/03 at 6:40 pm

    Animal populations crashing when they reach certain levels is “tremendously well supported” in scientific literature. And how many of those animal species were capable of performing research to cure their diseases and multiply their food supplies? Is the word “none” tremendously well supported? Wasn’t Paul Erlich spouting this nonsense 30 years ago?

  • 2006/04/03 at 7:50 pm

    Ok, so because this all didn’t happen in the last 30 years, Paul Erlich is a fool? And yes, we can cure disease and multiply food supply, but until we start terraforming the outer planets all we have is Earth, and at some point we will run out of space/oil/whatever comes first – not as fast as those mice in the cage in that movie I had to watch in biology class, but just as inevitably. Unless we start terraforming the outer planets, and, hey, go team! Just because I think it’s going to happen doesn’t mean I want it to. Yikes.

  • 2006/04/03 at 10:13 pm

    Isn’t the operative portion of Mims’ report the alleged quote of Pianka’s that humans are no better that lizards or bacteria? If Pianks actually believes this, it DOES suggest that human life is of little value to him. It DOES suggest that he might lend his scientific expertise to biological-based human eradication methods, or encourage others in such efforts. Mims might or might not have religiously informed opinions on evolution. So what? Why does that disqualify him from informing us that the announcement of a 90% reduction in human population elicited cheers? If this doesn’t scare you, nothing will. Mengele was a scientist, too. He seemed perfectly reasonable to many. True evil, however, will not likely show up again in a Nazi uniform. Please wake up.

  • 2006/04/04 at 12:17 am

    It DOES suggest that he might lend his scientific expertise to biological-based human eradication methods, or encourage others in such efforts.

    Uh, no, it doesn’t. Thanks for playing.

  • 2006/04/04 at 12:33 am

    “Speaker2Animals”, sure there’s discussion of human intelligence and technology as a means of changing the carrying capacity of earth, but that does not in any way set aside what we know about density-dependent effects. Of course, if the intelligence that you are relying on to save everyone in the event of a pandemic is represented by, say, FEMA, I’d say that pretty much puts paid to your point of disanalogy.

    It was a nice digression, but the point here is still that what Pianka is being criticized for is a stance that he’s never made, and has specifically denied as representing his views.

    Pianka said he was only trying to warn his audience that disease epidemics have happened before and will happen again if the human population growth isn’t contained.

    He said he believes the Earth would be better off if the human population were smaller because fewer natural resources would be consumed and humans wouldn’t continue to destroy animal habitats. But he said that doesn’t mean he wants most humans to die.

    But Mims, chairman of the academy’s environmental science section, told The Associated Press there was no mistaking Pianka’s disdain for humans and desire for their elimination.

    “He wishes for it. He hopes for it. He laughs about it. He jokes about it,” Mims said. “It’s got to happen because we are the scourge of humanity.”

    (AP report)

    Recall what I said above? “I’m guessing that Mims’s penchant for hyperbole and inability to accept correction on cherished misconceptions is the only thing of note here.”

  • 2006/04/04 at 1:04 am

    The rumor mill is coming up with some dynamite stuff, if it is at all true. With that disclaimer, the latest scuttlebutt is that Mims was only in attendance at the Pianka lecture for about a fifth of the total time. I will update this when I get a more definite read on whether it holds up to scrutiny.

  • 2006/04/04 at 3:53 am

    According to a TV interview with Pianka, the rumor I put up before wasn’t quite accurate. Instead, Mims apparently caught about 5 minutes of the lecture, not a fifth of it.

  • 2006/04/04 at 8:26 am

    What’s the big deal, anyway?

    Civilization is based on an “intense” form of agriculture that enables its cultural members to make food for themselves ‘on demand’. By that single, almost certainly inadvertantly act, civilized human beings managed to “disable” the ‘ecological mechanism’ that had, until then, limited their population. Of course the mechanism of population limiting was ‘food availability’ in a ‘hunter-gatherer’ lifestyle. As a result of this single act the civilized human population of our planet has been increasing ever since — i.e., for about 10,000 years.

    The civilized population of our planet has not encountered another natural mechanism to effectively limit its world population level (yet), nor have the civilized human population of our planet taken on the responsibility (yet) to put in place some mechanism to limit our world population that is at least as effective as the natural mechanism that was ‘disabled’ by our cultural ancestors 10,000 yeara ago.

    Put another way, 10,000 yeara ago civilized human beings, almost certainly inadvertantly, put in place a ‘process’ that converts the biomass of the ecosystem of our planet into civilized human beings. Almost every single other thing civilized human beings have done in 10,000 years has the same ‘side effect’ — increasing the ‘efficiency’ of the ‘process’ that converts the biomass of the ecosystem of our planet into civilized human beings.

    The increase in efficiency has been remarkable in at least two ways — we have increase the world population of civilized human beings from an estimated 10-million to almost 6,500-billion — a factor of 650 times. At the same time we have increased the rate of increase of our world population by an almost infinite factor — from an essentially stable word population to a population that is able to double itself in just 36 years.

    There is no future for us in this way.

    At our recently demonstrated rate of growth (population doubling in 36 years) we are mathematically capable of filling the entire volume of the known Universe with human flesh in less than another 10,000 years. Of course there is not enough matter in the known Universe for this to be possible, so the rate of our population growth will, without possibiity of doubt, eventually reverse.

    Human beings, civilized and otherwise, are as absolutely dependednt upon the ecosystem of our planet as are all the other living things who share our planet with us. If we ‘damage’ the ecosystem in some way that renders it unable to support so many of us, our population will, by definition, decrease.

    Because the human beings of civilization have changed the structure of their society to be almost completely dependent on a finite ecological resource they are ‘using’ at a rate fantastically greater than it is formed in the ecosystem (or by any whatever), when that ecological resource is gone, civilization will quickly collapse, and the ‘infrastructure’ that makes it possible for most of the 650-times excess human beings to live will soon fail, and mass starvation will occur. Of course, the world population of human beings will not suffer this gladly, and instead, will use every means ever devised in a desparate struggle to seize the last of the food for themselves. If this paroxism of chaos includes atomic weapons, the minimum population of human beings and many other life-forms will probably occur some months after the paroxism, and may easily be zero.

    The bottom line ts this. Populations capable of exponential growth (i.e., all living things) cannot last very long unless there is some mechanism in place that limits their population. Otherwise, their population will increase without limit. In the case of human beings, the ‘backup means’ to limit our population seems to be the ‘health and/or viability of the planetary ecosystem itself. Of course, we have also put in place another mechanism that will definitely limit our population eventually, but we may damage the ecosystem sufficiently to reduce our number before the ‘fossil fuels’ are exhausted.

    We civilized human beings have taken 10,000 to demonstrate (to ourselves? who else is there?) that the profound ecological gift of Intelligence does not ‘come with’ Wisdom. Instead the story of civilization can be compared with the behavior of human children who will wantonly destroy things in their effort to demonstrate how clever thay are.

    We civilized human beings need to ‘bootstrap’ our Wisdom by any means we can devise — including effective use of our Intelligence, or else our demonstration of our Intelligence will soon conclude in the midst of evidence documenting that Intelligence is an ecological dead end..

    Certainly life has existed on our planet without anything like our Intelligence for billions of years in an evolving ecosystem that in addition to supporting all life we know of for the same billions of years, through the evolving process of evolution has produced ourselves. Pretty convincing evidence that ‘Intelligence’ is not neccary for life, don’t you think?

    If we are successful in our effort to gain sufficient Wisdom to save ourselves (as evidenced by our continued existence) we may realize that the “best” and “easiest” way of living in the ecosystem of our planet is to live the way we are evolved to live. By this I do not necessarily mean reverting to living by ‘hunter-gathering’. Instead, I mean by reducing our world population to the point where we do not “use” even a single ecological resource more rapidly that it is restored by some means.

    The total world population of human beings may be able to be more than 10-million through Wise use of our Technology, but I am not so sure our Technology is quite up to that, yet. Remember that every single attempt to build an “isolated ecosystem” capable of supporting human beings for an extended time has failed, and each has failed in an entirely unexpected and different way.

    [ Simple arithmetic shows that the average rate of production of petroleum in the ecosystem for 350-million years is about 7.5 gallons per hour — about the rate of use of refined petroleum by two SUVs. We civilized human beings are ‘using’ petroleum something like 2-billion times more rapidly than its average rate of formation in the ecosystem. ]

  • 2006/04/04 at 12:20 pm

    The biologist in me has been following this sandbagging with interest and a bit of concern. I’ve known Eric Pianka for 30-odd years, and these wild-eyed representations of his positions are simply not credible — he’s being taken out of context by folks who desperately don’t want to hear anything that challenges the view that humans are the pinnacle of creation.

    All Eric has said is that humans are now too dense and too mobile — we have become the biggest pile of unexploited meat on the planet, and mother nature is taking applications from would-be consumers of those nutrients. The best-qualified consumers are bacteria and viruses, whose evolutionary resumes are most impressive. If we do not solve our own population problems, one or more of these applicants will do it for us, in ways that no one would advocate or choose. It’s not genocidal, fascistic, misanthropic or anything else, it’s just basic biology, folks. Humans have not been exempted from natural selection.

    So what does mother nature want (or more formally, what strategy confers the highest fitness)? Less crowding, and less mobility, would be good starting points, simply because humans who are sedentary and live at low densities will be lest likely to contract and spread agents of disease. I wonder how Mr Mims and his lot would feel about the possibility that the humans least subject to selection (and thus with the highest fitness) are folks like the Inuit and the least-acculturated Aboriginals in Australian deserts? Such a pity that they would be uninterested in and unable to read his books!

  • 2006/04/04 at 4:00 pm

    Thanks Tree Crocodile — excellent summary.

    I’ve been pointing out to neighbors, as we see the crows replacing the pigeons, and the opossums and raccoons and deer and recently mountain lions showing up, that these animals reproduce every year and have had more than a hundred generationsborn in urban environments. To them, and their fleas and ticks, we _are_ their natural environment, or the larger part of it — “we have become the biggest pile of unexploited meat on the planet” indeed.

    The antibiotic era appears to be ending — the bacteria had a lot more generations in which to evolve than people did, since penicillin was discovered.

    Keep washing your hands ….

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  • 2006/04/05 at 12:26 am

    The following is a comment I entered on the SciGuy site. I think I want it here, too.


    Pianka does think — and say — that ecologically speaking, the planet’s biosphere would be much better off with a much smaller human population.

    We can talk openly about how North America would be much better off with much smaller populations of starlings, house finches, and zebra mussels. These introduced species displace native species, sometimes threatening or causing extinction to many of those species. Last year I attended a talk given by a New Zealand biologist on accomplishing something that was formerly considered impossible, removing all the rats from a sizable island.

    Other scientists may discuss the end of humans with impunity. At the AAAS meeting in St. Louis this year, I had a nice chat with an astronomer about what I’ve learned may be called the Lithic Principle, that the universe’s constants and processes favor the formation of rocks. One of the ways in which vast swaths of a galaxy may be made unlivable, according to my colleague, is when there’s a coalescence of something large with a neutron star. It could be a black hole, or another neutron star, but in either case jets of high-energy rays stream out in immense quantities. If such an event occurs and earth happens to be caught in the spotlight beam of such an event, that’s it for humanity. And everything else here, too. (“Done to a crackly crunch” might be a good description of the graphic language he used to describe the effects.) Of course, astronomers don’t have plausible means of making such events happen, so they can talk about the complete eradication of humans all they want to and not offend folks like Mims.

    But Pianka’s expertise touches on another matter: what happens when animal populations grow exceedingly large. This is the region where one gets pronounced density dependent effects and the tendency for populations to crash. Pianka’s harsh rhetoric is simply an application of what he knows about how population crashes come about in other animal species to what he sees as the likely fate of the human population. This is not a field of comfortable lore. The big difference from the astronomers is that in the case of discussing pandemics and population reduction, we know that humans can plausibly do something by way of biological warfare that would, perhaps, unleash a pandemic that could reduce the human population to a small fraction of its current size.

    I’ve emailed Pianka to ask for a clarification on this point, because it is good to go directly to the source in cases like this where there’s an apparent disconnect between what would be a reasonable, if uncomfortable, thing to say (the human population is way too big, perturbs too many other species, and is likely to crash spectacularly real soon now), and the monstrous thing Mims claims he heard (all the above, plus urging those with the skills to do so to make a human pandemic happen deliberately, and soon). But I think that there are already some indicators that Mims’s report is not terribly solid, and certainly that it forms a bad basis for turning anyone in to the Department of Homeland Security. One was reported by Mims himself, as he noted that in correspondence with Pianka that Pianka said that Mims completely failed to understand Pianka’s argument.

    I suspect that Mims’s apparent animus derives from a basic conflict between world views — in the creationist view, humans are the “crown of creation”, and in Pianka’s view, humans are one species that is putting the very existence of hundreds of thousands to millions of other species at risk by its disruption of habitat on a global scale. Of course, there’s another interesting comparison between Christian fundamentalism and the view of a human population crash as being a good thing. “End times” theology is very popular, and you have LaHayes’s “Left Behind” series, which ends with an extended graphic description of the bloody and tortuous death of most of the human population. The real point of divergence is that for the Christian fundamentalists, a final human bloodbath doesn’t end the suffering for most of humanity; they assert that a large fraction of those billions who die in the Apocalypse are also going to be treated to eons of torment and suffering in hell. It’s supposed to be worse than Ebola. Keep that in mind when you hear the religious right castigate Pianka for the notion that most of the human population should “die a slow and torturous death”.

  • 2006/04/05 at 10:44 am

    Austringer, you are dead right (oops) in drawing attention to the disconnect between what apocalyptic xtians seem to believe about ‘end times’ and their reaction to epidemic scenarios that could mimic their prophesy. I suppose that it is just anthropocentrism again, with a bit of religious discrimination thrown in — who doesn’t want to exclude annoying people from the party.

    As to the absurd ‘homeland security’ angle, let’s look around and see who are the folks who have tried to employ biocides for social or political purposes. Are they biologists, or are they religious types, or something else again? Given that biologists are best-placed to understand biological agents as economic or social disruptors, it is mighty rare that they act in this way as agents of some ecological or evolutionary agenda*.

    Is it the Dr. Dooms, or the Reverend Raptures, who are most likely to become bioterrorists?

    *I am fully aware of the monstrous economic and ecological damage caused by applied biologists who, working for the perceived common good, have introduced exotic plants and animals wholesale. This is chiefly ignorance/arrogance, and only inadvertently qualifies as state-sponsored bioterrorism

  • 2006/04/05 at 11:25 am

    About the introduction of exotic species, it is interesting to note that none of the three species I mentioned were introduced to the new setting by biologists. Starlings and house finches in north America are due to an intentional release in New York’s Central Park in 1850. Why? Because a literature fan thought that the new world should have all the bird species mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Thankfully, most of the breeding pairs of various species in this ill-advised action did not propagate well here. But the starlings and house finches are doing spectacularly well.

    It is assumed that the zebra mussels were introduced accidentally by shipping. Ships take on water in one place and pump it out of the bilges in others, and some zebra mussels likely hitched a ride in this way.

    I hadn’t mentioned fire ants before, but that’s another one to chalk up to commerce.

    Water hyacinths were a commercial/aesthetic thing. Ditto for kudzu.

    I’m trying to think of what the relative bill might be for ecological damage due to introductions on the part of biologists trying to use controls versus introductions by other people, and I have a suspicion that the other people have, whether these were deliberately or accidentally done, toted up a much larger cost. The invasive species website may have the info needed to resolve this question.

  • 2006/04/05 at 3:21 pm

    The best general coverage of the economic and ecological disruptions resulting from exotic species introductions is in Tim Low’s book, Feral Future (1999, reissued in 2002 by Univ. Chicago Press, http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/15400.ctl ). Low’s book relates to Australia, but all of the mechanisms, most of the costs, and many of the tramp species are the same as we meet in North America. The great majority of worst invaders among plants come from the nursery trade and via government-funded efforts to improve pasture quality, whereas agricultural and fish’n’game agencies have had a hand in many of the worst excesses involving vertebrates, particularly in the last century. In practical terms, only the “island” nations — Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, etc. — can even remotely hope to forestall the homogenization of everything that follows as a consequence of cheap and rapid mass transport. This links back to Pianka’s thesis because it is now possible for some guy to feel woozy in Kinshasa, barf into the a/c intake at Heathrow, and croak by the ventillation gratings at JFK in the same day, and have his ‘contribution’ represented by people feeling woozy in Tokyo, Singapore, Mumbai, Seattle, Melbourne and Sao Paulo within another 24 hours. Who knows, maybe Forrest will be in the transit lounge that day too…

    One slight correction, it was house sparrows that were intentionally released in NYC in the 1850s. House finches came to Long Island later, when in the mid 1960s an importer of cagebirds learned that his ‘Mexican Linnets’ were not legal fare, and cut open the shipping boxes to avoid being cited.

  • 2006/04/05 at 3:29 pm

    Just as another data point on the whole Homeland Security angle…

    Be careful what’s in your iPod. I’m just sayin’


    Thanks for a great thread folks. I smelled a rat the minute I saw a Mims quote.

  • 2006/04/05 at 4:00 pm

    Tree Crocodile,

    D’oh! I seem to have confused and conflated the larger group name of “weaver finch” and the common name of “house sparrow” to arrive at the “house finch”, which already describes another species. Mea culpa.

  • 2006/04/05 at 4:13 pm

    Large populations such as humans invite problems of their own and Pianka may be right that a microbe will one day kill us all. I do not agree with his assessment of the sorry state of the planet, he may know alot about lizards, but what he says about for instance disappearing forests is utter nonsense.
    But wat worries me more is this: he identifies airborne Ebola as the possible agent in the final pandemic. If he is right, then you would expect from a responsible scientist to call for action to prevent this catastrophe to happen one way or the other. Instead he says that such a disaster would be ‘good for the earth’. He says on his website that he bears no ill towards humans, but apparently he is on the ‘side of the earth’. I have never understood that view, does he come from a hostile planet? It is a very anti-human position to take and you do not have be a right wing creationist to be scared by these remarks. And what is even more frightening is that apparently lots of ecologists and biologists agree with Pianka that something that kills a lot of people, but is ‘good for the earth’ is something to look forward to. I hope that they will put their money where their mouth is: help the planet, kill yourself!
    But I fear they will not do so and choose to purify the earth from the ecological sinners (for many of them are more fundamentalist then right wing creationists). In the Netherlands we had our first political killing in 300 years in 2002 when an environmental activist shot a politician for saying that the dutch environment was clean enough. Now this politician is fertilizing the earth.

  • 2006/04/05 at 10:00 pm

    Pianka has called for action to prevent the catastrophe, though his belief is that we have waited too long to act. His primary recommendation to help prevent the catastrophe is a reduction in total human population. This does not mean advocacy of actively killing people. People die all the time without ecologists, or anyone else for that matter, specifically killing them. Human population size can be reduced by not replacing everyone who dies. That is simple enough to understand, I would think. But it is obvious from all the overwrought discussion that understanding is an uncommon state. We could get to Pianka’s recommended sub-billion human population in about 80 years, I guess, without ecologists taking any action more threatening to already-living humans than passing out condoms.

    As for “help the planet, kill yourself” slogan, the fact that it is not carried out should be seen as a sign that those interested in ecology and who put value on things beyond short-term human interests still share the same respect for human life that those who poke fun at them claim to.

  • 2006/04/06 at 5:07 am

    Right, only passing out condoms. And how would you make sure that these condoms are used?

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  • 2006/04/06 at 10:56 am

    I certainly appreciate the general graciousness of those who, having proved to be wrong in making accusations of genocide or mass murder, take a moment to acknowledge their error.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t met anybody in that class to appreciate yet.

  • 2006/04/06 at 12:01 pm

    Pianka has certainly drawn the culture warriors out from beneath their stones, and the majority of recent commentary bears scant resemblance to the core of his message. This is becoming an excellent case study of the pitchfork mentality, wherein a straw man becomes a haystack, then a silo of fermented wingnut sustenance.

    Folks who care about this kind of distortion and sandbagging should remain alert for opportunities to put the torches and pitchforks where they belong.

  • 2006/04/06 at 6:29 pm

    Here is a transcript of the speech.


    The great North American saltgrass prairie and we just took it and turned it all into agricultural lands. We exterminated the bison, wiped out the Indians, totaled the prairie dogs and those black-faced ferrets. We just erased an eco-system. Now this is very nice for Americans because that rich topsoil has allowed us to grow food and we can feed ourselves and the rest of the world and we’ve grown fat and apathetic and miserable as a result of it. We’ve lost the bison — we’ve lost an awful lot and we’ll never be able to recover.

    So this is what I want to talk about and this is very doomsday and I’m gonna go down, down, down, down, down and then I’m gonna try to come up just a little bit (up) at the end if I have time.


    The book of life: The question — can we read it? Will we be allowed to try to read it? I’m finding that I am no longer allowed to do things that I used to be able to do because as we have taken all the habitats and imperiled all the other species, other species have become so scarce that they have to be protected and I’m afraid its not too long before I won’t be able to touch a lizard in the wild. And then finally, do we have enough time? I think the time has almost run out on us here and I’m gonna come back to that.

    The biggest enemy we face is anthropocentrism. This is that common human attitude that everything on this earth was put here for our use — to be used any way we want. An example of an anthropocentric human is an 18-year-old man with a chain saw with a four-inch bar cutting down a redwood tree that’s a thousand years old. That is audacity and that is anthropocentrism and that is an evil, evil thing.

    As I told you, I like lizards as much or more than Phil and Al like their animals. I live up in the hills about 35 miles west of Austin. We have a tradition out there — we moved out before anybody else — but now it’s turned into a bedroom of Austin (a bedroom community of Austin). All kinds of people move out in the hills and bring their mobile homes and their security lights and their cats and dogs and they’re trying to avoid the high taxes in Austin so there’s a horrible, horrendous commute with new stoplights going in everywhere.

    The city of Dripping Springs has had to build three new schools because of this and it’s turned into a little suburb of Austin. And everything has gone down. Folks, when you meet your new neighbors it’s usually over a fence — so I’ve got a fence — a barbed wire fence — and my neighbors come up and say “Hi, who are you — what are you doing out here?” And I introduce myself, and they want to know what I — how I make my living and I tell them and then I start to plead with them.

    I point out that there used to be a lot of lizards and a lot of snakes living in these hills and that they’re all disappearing because of this approaching urbanization. I plead with them not to let their cats and dogs run loose — cats are born killers. They let dogs run loose so they can play with the deer. Well you can’t do that — dogs are wolves — they pack up and they kill things. And they don’t belong out there. Another thing people do is put out feeders for birds. And that brings in the urban birds — so blue jays and things that shouldn’t be out there replace the scrub jays that should be there. I’ve seen rattlesnakes disappear.

    One of these new [inaudible] came up to me when I pleaded with them about not letting their cats kill lizards — one of these women made a huge mistake — she looks at me and she said “what good are lizards?”


    I looked at her in the eye and said “what good are you?”


    I thought at first the family would hate me forever but after one day when she was gone invited me down for a drink and they all congratulated me and said this was exactly what she needed to be told.


    Now, what ecologists want and need is access to vital organisms and semi-pristine environments because these are the places to which they’ve evolved and to which they’re adapted. It don’t make any sense if they’re not in their natural habitat.

    A rattlesnake… people call me all the time and want to see a rattlesnake. They don’t want to see a wild rattlesnake; they want to see one behind glass. A rattlesnake in cage might as well be dead as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t have a natural habitat. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know where it evolved or what it’s adapted to; I don’t know anything about it. It’s as if you took a D.H. Lawrence novel out and a pair of scissors and started cutting the word “love” out every time you saw it and putting the little “loves” in jars. You don’t know if they’re verbs or nouns, you don’t know who loves who; it’s completely out of context. And that’s the trouble with animals in zoos. They don’t have any ecologies anymore.

    [Garbled speech, followed by laughter]

    But I told you –Thoreau is responsible for this metaphor — and uh I think there’s two sides to this. We have to face the vanishing book, but we also have to read it. And my point as a as a biologist is any fool can help save it. There’s tree-huggers galore out there and conservation people that just want to save the planet. Any fool can do that. But it takes somebody who’s dedicated and earnest and crazy to do what Phil and Al and I can do and try to go out and read it and try to make sense of it. That’s what we should do if we have the skills to do it. We should try to read it before it’s gone. And I don’t see any point in trying to save anything unless biologists are allowed access to it. I think that is a critical point here.

    Now I’m going to talk a little bit on conservation biology in a minute. There’s a picture of Walter Olsten III and here’s the (inaudible) — this was published about 15 years ago in I think in BioScience. And, uh, he didn’t take the analogy quite as far as I did, but I really like it.

    Now for some of you some of these things won’t seem like they’re new but I’m pretty old and I remember when faxes first came out and I was working in Australia and I wanted to send something to Texas to Austin and I had a new fax machine. It was going in in Australia, and I could see it in now-time coming out in Austin, and to me that was technology unbelievable beyond belief. And I’m still hoping they’ll figure out how to fax me back and forth [laughter] and avoid the plane trip and all the rest.

    We’ve got technology now that is just out of this world. I started using the Net before it was Internet, before we talked about email, it was called the Arpanet back then and, uh, what I’m finding now with email is that I can have colleagues anywhere in the world and we can work really fast because if there in Australia, when I’m asleep they’re working, when I’m working they’re asleep, so we’re working 24 hours around the clock and we can fax stuff back and forth and email things back and forth, papers just rolling out.

    So, of all these things there’s a list, the short list there, of all the new things that are here that we didn’t have or some of them. Uh, one of ’em that I really wish had been around earlier was GPS cause when I was out collecting before lizards were gone from large parts of the geographic ranges all I got was 15 miles north-northwest of Mojave, California, and I had to go look at a map and try to make Latitude and Longitude. It would have been so much nicer to have a little GPS and been able to record these things accurately; but it’s really now too late because we’ve erased big chunks of information.

    A couple of my North American study sites I’ve gone back to and they were just crawling, just teaming with lizards only 40 or 45 years ago, and now there are parts of little cities, trailer parks and there’s not a lizard to be found. So the collections I made back then that are in storage in museums are really fossils. They represent what was there before humans took the habitat. To me that is shocking. It makes those collections pretty valuable, too.

    So, conservation biology — I’m not saying I don’t approve of it — I’m saying we need it — but I’m saying those of you who consider yourself a rabid conservation biologist, please, please, please allow biologist access to the book of life. That’s one of the main reasons for saving it.

    Conservation biology is a crisis discipline. It’s an emergency and it’s a man-made emergency. We wouldn’t need it if we hadn’t ravaged this earth and taken over so much of its surface. Right now, we are using half of the earth’s surface — land surface. Right now, we are using more than half of the available fresh water. Right now, we are using half of the solar energy that hinges on the land surface of the earth. That is shocking. One species is taking half of everything there is for it’s greedy little self.

    So, in physiology we have surgery — that’s an emergency response — to how to handle physiology — somebody’s dying — you take them to surgery. And political science — war is the equivalent. When you have an emergency in political science you go to war. That’s what conservation biology is — it’s a crisis discipline — and it’s man-made — just like war is.

    It actually is more than just biology because it bridges the gap to the social sciences, and I think we have to start thinking in terms of the ethics of what we do with this earth. We should have started thinking about it a long time ago.

    So here are some of the things conservation biologists are interested in — they’re worried about making reserves, identifying endangered species, uh, helping to prevent things that are teetering on the edge of extinction from going extinct, and all sorts of things. And this is highly funded in large parts of the world — but I don’t consider this ecology — it’s applied ecology. It’s not reading the book, it’s just all leaning towards trying to save what little is left.

    Money has to be spent on that.

    Now, when I was a little boy I spent hours and hours looking through “Audubon’s Birds of the World.” I remember looking at this passenger pigeon — the last passenger pigeon she died in a Cincinnati zoo in 1914. And as a little boy I couldn’t believe it, cause I read the text it said the sky was blackened with billions of these birds flying over. And then I read further and found out that humans and their greed went up to their nests and clubbed the babies and pickled them and shipped them off to Europe to be eaten as squabs. And they did this a few seasons and they managed to stop the reproduction of this species and effectively drive it extinct in just a very short time — a few years.

    We did the same thing with the Carolina parakeet, and of course we thought [garbled] we thought we did with the ivory-billed woodpecker, but now found out that we were really lucky that a few managed to hang on somewhere. And I bet right now bird watchers out there are having fits trying to add the ivory-billed to their life’s list.

    Rhinos: When I first went to Africa to study lizards, rhinos were still fairly abundant and they hadn’t been savaged by humans. There’s a bunch of species of rhinos and now they are all endangered, uh, and this is because some myth that came out of Asia that rhinoceros horns were a good aphrodisiac — and a rhinoceros horn can be worth like ten thousand dollars.

    The way this works is that people in power convince poor people that could never make any money in their whole life because they live in Africa and they’re in third world countries and poor blacks that if they could get them a rhino horn they’ll pay them a thousand dollars, which is more than he could make in his whole life. Then the guy gives him a gun and if the poacher succeeds he buys it for a thousand dollars, takes it to Europe or Asia, grinds it up and markets it for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think it’s time to switch to Viagra.


    Anyway, if you look at this you can see the little black spots, which are the only places you can find rhinos. They’re virtually gone from most of the geographic range.

    This is the way we treat everything. This is the geographic range of the American bison — a very beautiful animal found from Buffalo, New York, all the way to Sierra-Nevada in the original, uh, before the 1800’s would quickly, quickly culled these huge herds. I wish I had time to read quotes about bison thundering all through the day and all through the night. They called it prairie thunder. But that’s gone and that’s gone for good, and you’re not going to see it in your lifetime; and that’s a loss. When they built the Trans-continental Railroad people would buy a ticket and get a gun and load it with big slugs and shoot bison as they rode across the continent from through the Great Plains. And you can see they really split the bison herd into northern herd and southern herd.

    One of the generals, I think it was Sheridan said, that the bison hunters had done more to control the American Indian than all the cavalry put together. We basically starved a lot of American Indians out — those that we didn’t kill instantly with smallpox and measles. We stole this continent from other people. We just took it.

    I have a herd of bison. I think they are absolutely magnificent animals. Uh, that’s my herd bull, Lucifer, at the bottom left. He stands six feet tall and weighs about twenty-six hundred pounds and when Lucifer wants to he goes over the fence — and when he does (I’ve never seen it) but I think the earth must shudder at this spot for a millisecond.

    Here’s some more things that we should think about: We have to get off our anthropocentric high horse. Biodiversity has a value beyond how it can be used by humans. Other things on this earth have been here longer than us — much, much longer — and they have a right to this planet too. And that includes wasps that sting you, ants that bite you, scorpions — it includes wolves and wolverines and all kinds of things that we have pushed to very brink of extinction.

    I’m not going to have time to talk about these things that concern conservation biologists but I just wanted to point out one that’s kind of pathetic and that’s the minimum viable population size — how low can we go and still have something — this is pathetic.

    One conservation biologist coined the term “extinction vortex” and he said as we drive things down, down, down so that the populations get precariously low all kinds of factors come together to sweep them down to extinction — and these are all manmade things. We stole their habitat. We fragmented their habitat. We’ve knocked the population sizes down to the point where, uh, genetic variability disappears and, of course, toxic pollution.

    We’re more worried now about toxic pollution as it affects us. It’s causing cancers and all kinds of neat things. But we ought to be worried about it as it applies to everything on this earth. And now, of course, people are finally, finally just now beginning to be aware, as we have savaged the atmosphere to the point that the planet is changing.

    It’s just a matter of time until the planet changes really bad. Some meteorological people have models that show thresholds where it shifts just instantly overnight. What I’m waiting for is when you go to the supermarket and there are no more Triscuits on the shelves and you say to yourself, “Hey, where did Triscuit come from, anyway.”

    We’ve lost touch with the reality of where food comes from. We’re completely mislead. It’s just a commodity that’s bought and sold and people make money on it. You’ve got to think, you’ve got to think — and remember, humans were hunter/gatherers not that long ago and I think we’re gonna to be again very soon.

    One of the things we do is deforest everything — cut down trees to burn to keep ourselves warm, build boats or houses. And deforestation is really bad in most places on the planet. The U.S. is kind of fortunate — we have the luxury of trees because we got into coal and fossil fuels early and managed to keep ourselves warm and in this case air-conditioned without cutting down too many trees.

    There’s an oasis in the Sahara desert out in the middle of nowhere in Northern Africa that had three trees. It was called tres arboles in Arabic, and I say tres arboles because I know you speak Spanish. But some sucker cut the trees down so it is still on the map, it’s still an oasis, but there ain’t three trees there anymore. One cold night, one selfish homo cut them down.

    Oh, I just wanted to comment on these two beautiful lizards, which are endemic to Madagascar. Madagascar is one of the places that I really want to go before I die because it has all these endemics on it split off from mainland Africa like a hundred million years ago and it’s got all kinds of things that are found nowhere else on the earth and yet the people of Madagascar are third-world starving over-populated eating everything.

    There’s an endangered land tortoise in Madagascar that’s like protected on the world’s list of don’t do anything to this turtle and it’s commonly used for turtle soup by poor people in Madagascar.

    This is to illustrate habitat fragmentation. The picture on the upper left is the way this square mile of woods and things in Wisconsin looked when humans first got there. It was forested with a little piece of prairie in the southwestern corner. The prairie burned every year (prairie fires) and over time the prairie built up these deep black top soils, which are nourishing our nation today. Now the first thing settlers did was cut the trees down as you can see. In a little over a century this turned into just wood lots. Now you can imagine the effects this had on whatever lived in that forest.

    Here’s an example from Borneo. This is what we are doing to this planet. Wood has become very valuable and we’re just clear-cutting anything that’s left. Think about this.

    One of the problems with fragmentation is that you lose core habitat. In that scene that I showed you from Wisconsin back in the 1830s before humans got there, there was only a little tiny bit of edge between the prairie and the forest. And cowbirds approached the edge. Cowbirds are really parasites. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Uh, cowbirds used to be very scarce in North America and with our habitat fragmentation their populations have just boomed and the only place that small songbirds like warblers can lay their eggs to get away from these parasitic cowbirds is deep in the forest. So if you have tiny little patches there’s no place that a small songbird can get away from cowbirds. So now cowbirds are very abundant, small birds are heavily parasitized and their populations are on the brink of going extinct because of our clearing and habitat fragmentation.

    This is testimony to our (inaudible). This is a Texas company you might have heard of Freeport-McMoRan. Uh, they have formed an alliance with the Indonesian officials, and they’re taking gold and copper off the top of this mountain in Papua, Indonesia. They’ve stripped off most of the top of that mountain and they ship it down the side to be sent back to the, uh, places where they extract the gold and copper in great big slurry tubes. It’s like ten feet in diameter. It goes down to the sea where there’s boats to haul it away.

    Then you can see the damage it’s doing. It’s causing mudslides on the sides of the mountain and these are polluting all the streams down below. There were native tribes living in the lowlands of New Guinea that lived off these beautiful, clear streams with fish and crustaceans and food of all sorts that now can’t get anything because the streams are clogged with mud from dirt from Freeport McMoRan’s mining on the top of the mountain.

    A bunch of these people that are being dispossessed by this big, fat company on top of the mountain broke into one of their shacks and got some dynamite and some primers and they blew up the slurry tube. And I remember hearing Freeport McMoRan’s CEO complaining (this is Jim Bob Moffett at the time) that it was costing his company a million dollars a day not to have that slurry tube open.

    They’ve been doing it for ten years. They’ve been taking a million dollars a day out of there for ten years. And when they get done with this mountain, they’ll move to the next one behind it.

    This is the scariest graphic that you’re ever gonna see in your whole life — take a good look at it. We hit six billion not very long ago and now we hit six and a half and we’re still going, roaring. This kind of population growth is unsustainable and has to stop.

    Now I’m gonna try to prove that to you.

    Paul Ehrlich, in the 1960s, wrote a book, “The Population Bomb,” calling attention to this. Nobody paid any attention to poor old Paul. And I hear people even today saying, “Oh, I’ve heard you doomsday ecologists before. We’ve still got water, there’s no problems.” They’re so stupid and short-sighted.


    Here’s China. How would you like to live there? Look at all those little window A/Cs. They’ve got power. (Garbled). Humans can be packed in. There’s China. You want to live like a termite? Are we termites? Come on. I want to be up on top of the hill where that chair is and I want to have some space around me.

    Now cartoonists have had fun with this. People don’t seem to care. We still allow you people to have more than two kids. Our tax system is completely backwards. We encourage you. We give you a discount for having kids. You should have to pay more when you have your first kid you pay more taxes. When you have your second kid you pay a lot more taxes, and when you have your third kid you don’t get anything back, they take it all. Our tax system is bad; it’s backwards.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife recently released caribou off the islands off of Alaska to help the Eskimos, the Aleuts, get protein. And the herds from these islands — there were several islands — all grew exponentially just like the human population’s been growing for quite a few years and then they ate everything they could eat and the populations crashed.

    This is what’s going to happen to us. This is gonna happen in your lifetime. Does that look like fun? Do you want to go there? You’ve gone there. We waited too long.

    Here’s a checklist from Genesis. We checked all the boxes except one. We have dominion over the fish and the fowl and everything that moveth on this earth but we forgot, forgot to replenish it. We just shriveled it up like that little dried up raisin that you see down in the bottom — we’re sucking everything we can out of it and turning it into fat human biomass.

    Cartoonists (inaudible) this and probably shouldn’t use this cause I never asked them their permission, but I think I can get away with it in a talk. I can’t believe myself when (inaudible) buy a hotdog. The looks I’m getting — everyone knows what these are made of (inaudible). Hope you enjoy your meat. There goes another rainforest.

    (Garbled) Maybe if I stand still. Look at me standing hear spewing out CO2.


    Everyone of us is guilty — everything we do, every breath you take, every time you flush the toilet, every time you drive your car, every time you buy anything we all contribute to the mess of pollution on this earth. In many cases you don’t even know what you’re doing.

    And of course I want to single out CO2 because this is really turning out to be a big thing that could really spell out our demise sooner maybe than people think or realize. The government doesn’t want you to know about this. CO2 has just risen steadily and it’s way, way above normal levels, and it’s manmade its from our burning fossil fuels mostly, but also from cutting down forests and burning them up.

    So this has caused global warming, and it’s changing our climates and we don’t know but some speculation it might be affecting things like hurricanes and of course the more humans you pack in on the surface of the earth the more of these things are going to decimate the human population.

    I don’t need to tell you about that.

    But, I’m a little bit more concerned about things like polar bears. Now, we take the polar bear because it’s a big, warm fuzzy that the WWF cares about, but everybody thinks polar bears are nice and it would be a shame to lose them. These things require ice and ice flows. They’re arctic adapted animals, and as the ice flows melt some people are thinking that it might be the end of the polar bear.

    And, of course, those of you that haven’t thought an inkling about this think, “Oh, we’ll just keep them; we’ll have them in zoos and have the air conditioning turned way down.”

    And I remind you that they are not wild polar bears; they are like “love” in a box.

    So the global climate is changing, and now I come back now to Paul Ehrlich. I said this was going to go down, down, down and I meant it.

    Ehrlich in the `60s said, if humans don’t have the political will to control their own population, microbes will control it for us. Now I want to remind you of 1300 when the “black death” swept down from China and one-third of the world’s population died.

    We killed off an awful lot of indigenous new-world people with smallpox and measles. Which were things that white humans in Europe were adapted to because we lived with them, but the people that made it across the Bering Strait could not cope and a lot of those (inaudible) because of that. We’re going to see this again.

    The microbes are smaller, and they reproduce really fast — have generation times measured in minutes or less. They evolve really quickly, and we can’t keep up with them. We are doomed. The microbes are going to get us. We are, we are a great big immerging substrate just waiting for microbes to grow on us. And even though we are still homo sapiens — you know what sapiens means, it means smart — I’d say we’re not. I’d say we’re dumb because we’re letting our population grow just like bacteria grow on an agar plate until they’ve reached the limits; and that’s dumb.

    So to try to convince you that population deregulation — if you want to use this (garbled) for example — where you plot the percentage changes of population versus population density. And when the populations are large they tend to decrease and when the populations are small they tend to increase. So to get a negative slope on our progression on those data points it says population (inaudible) through population regulation.

    Now, this is one example. I want to summarize a hundred or some in this table. Most of these studies are done with birds. Birds have been studied to death because humans like ’em and — I don’t know all the rest — uh, but there’s a few invertebrates on here. And to the right you see the significantly negative regressions, like the one I just showed you; and to the left are the positive ones. The vast majority of these are negative. Half of them at least are significantly negative, and two-thirds of them are negative.

    There’s one exception — far, far off to the left — one species out of these one hundred and thirty-eight that thinks it can violate the rules of the natural world that thinks it can grow indefinitely and that’s us — homo is bad.

    The Web is such a wonderful place. You, just, if you don’t know what to do if you want to say something. I thought, what would really jostle the audience? And I thought of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and so I typed that in – [snap] somebody spent days painting this. (Noise) funny little with a skull on it’s head. It’s death. This is what awaits us all – Death.

    I just love the Web. [Laughter] All I did was type in “skull,” and this came up. Think about it.

    Think about everything I’ve said and more.

    This is an AIDS infected piece of a human. Each of those little round things is an HIV virulent that can infect a new human. Basically, they use their T-cells to they make copies of themselves.

    HIV is a pandemic spread worldwide. It’s increasing in frequency in a lot of places and it’s a big concern to everybody. But, it’s not gonna be the one that gets us cause HIV is too slow, it lets us live several years so it can pass itself on to new hosts.

    Uh, it’s no good, it’s too slow.

    Now when you get to these viruses — Ebola Zaire has potential. It kills nine out of ten humans. It’s never gotten out of Africa cause its so virulent it kills everybody before they can move. I mean it kills you within a day or two.

    Uh, you can only catch Ebola Zaire by contact with a human that’s infected. It causes you to bleed. It breaks capillaries and you bleed out your orifices and if you go out and touch somebody who’s sick with it you get it and you die, too — or nine times out of ten.

    Ebola-Reston did get out of Africa and to the U.S. in the form of green monkeys that were imported for medical research and it’s named after Reston, West Virginia where they have quarantine facility for these monkeys. And, uh, they had this epidemic and all the monkeys died but they didn’t have contact with each other. But they were sharing a common, uh, ventilation system. So, this is in this room, air was circulating being pumped back, and so on. Uh, monkeys in a room that breathe the same air caught it.

    Now it is only a matter of time until Ebola got here evolves and mutates a little and it will be airborne, and then I think we might finally get a take. And when it sweeps across the world — we’re gonna have a lot of dead people. Every one of you that is lucky enough to survive gets to bury nine. Think about that. I doubt Ebola is gonna be the one that gets us. I think it will be, uh, something else.

    But did you ever wonder why things like SARS and now what the Avian Flu are continually cropping up? They’re cropping up because we were dumb enough to make a perfect epidemiological substrate for an epidemic. We bred our brains out, and now we’re being pegged. The microbes are gonna take over. They’re gonna control us as they have in the past. Think about that.

    Here’s a breath of fresh air: Aldo Leopold. This is the start of the tiny little up. You’ve got to the lowest of the low where the microbes are gonna get you. Now, were gonna try to come up a little bit. Aldo Leopold was a conservation biologist before anybody else was. He was in wildlife management at the University of Wisconsin back in the `50s. And Leopold died young, but his children have put together a collection of his essays and made this book, “A Sand County Almanac.” I encourage all of you to read it. It brings tears to my eyes at some of the things in it. I mean I literally break down and weep.

    But one of the things Leopold said was each generation doesn’t know what it lost — the last generation remembers.

    Like I remember I could walk out my back door to a semi-pristine creek and collect snakes and lizards, and kids these days don’t have that opportunity. There aren’t any pristine creeks and they’re living in cities, and that’s unfortunate. Uh, I’ve become a biologist largely because of that. Um, you really can’t help but be a biologist if you’re exposed to it when you are young.

    Now one of his statements was that we cannot act as conquerors, that we weren’t given some God-given right to do anything we want like chop down the redwood trees and we have to have respect for fellow members of the earth. And this has to transcend antrhopocentrism. They have a right to this planet, too.

    I found this in a conservation biology textbook, and I think it’s very appropriate in these days. You remember, you probably don’t remember unless you’ve ever lived in a cave, but if you’ve ever thought about being a caveman, we had small little tribes, and I was an old guy, and you probably would have killed me because I can’t see without glasses, so I probably wouldn’t have made it. But they keep around a few elders for their wisdom — because they’ve been through, you know, the droughts and problems and those guys might have known a little bit about how to treat a broken leg or some illness. Um, and of course you had the medicine men and women that specialized in that.

    But we were little in-bred groups and occasionally people would move between caves but these were family groups they were little teeny little tribes and there were battles between ’em over resources. Um, and that’s down there at the bottom. We’re all familiar with selfish behavior in that tiny little circle at the bottom. We’re all selfish and natural selection favors selfish behavior. Now you can be a little bit altruistic towards your kin, as long as they share genes that are identical by descent.

    Uh, and so cavemen had little tribes that worked, but now as we expand outwards the less closely related individuals would get to a social group, or a tribe, and then finally get their own race or their own nation.

    And just look at the polarization in America today — 50 percent one way and 50 percent the other. We are not doing very well at cooperating as we go outside of that tiny circle to bigger and bigger domains.

    And then you get individuals of other species. Here I’m thinking of chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. They’re our closest relatives. They share our blood groups. They probably can think. I just wonder if one of those had been the lucky one to inherit the earth and evolve the big brain and take control over everything else how they would be treating us. We would be the, uh, the chimps and the gorillas and they’d be using us for medical experiments and eating us like they eat the bush meat in Africa. Think about that.

    Actually that goes beyond gorillas and apes to the whole earth, and we really need to take control and be stewards of this planet rather than conquerors and rapists.

    Here’s one more little upbeat thing, and unfortunately this isn’t very much of an up, Herman Daly has identified the big problem, which is our economy. It’s basically completely flawed. You’ve heard the politicians talk about the growing economy. Our economy is based on the principal of a chain letter, a pyramid scheme. They cannot work. The bubbles always burst. And the bubble is going to burst.

    And it’s bursting right now in terms of the oil. The price of gasoline isn’t going to go down again. You need to get rich from this.

    You need to hone your survival skills. The first thing you should do when you go home tonight is get a real tarp, one that’s made out of canvas that’s waterproof. Don’t get one of those dumb plastic ones. They deteriorate too fast. And start packing it with the absolute necessities that you think you have to have for life. And that would include like a blanket and some sharp knives and some string and some twine.

    I’m not talking toothpaste. I’m not talking a lot of things. And you wrap it up and figure out how you can carry it on your own two shoulders because you are not going to be able to take public transport or drive your car when the time comes. And then you want to get as far away as you can from any other human being. And try to snare a rabbit, if there is still a rabbit out there.

    I can give you some other tips on your survival kit, but I don’t have time.

    Now back to Herman Daly. He wants the economy to be sustainable, and he has the idea of an equilibrium economy. In an equilibrium economy, every one of us would leave this earth in exactly the same shape it was when we came into it. None of us are doing that. None of us.

    Uh, mainstream economists think he’s a nut, he’s a kook — they just ignore him. Mainstream economists, the economists that advise our politic (political) figures, have believed completely in grow, grow, grow growth-mania — impossible economics.

    So if your have a leaning towards economics here’s a challenge for you. Economics has to be reinvented. Herman Daly’s published four books on it. He has to get some people on his side. People have to think. They can’t just keep behaving like sheep thinking resources are ever expanding. They’ve got to realize that the resources are ever retracting, and we’re running out of everything that matters. And I mean everything — oil, food, clean air, clean water.

    This was a good book. Uh, there was actually three versions of it. The first one was, um, commissioned by somebody concerned about the environment back in the `70s. Dennis Meadows, uh, was the first author of it and it was called, uh, “Limits to Growth” and he developed a systems model for the earth and its resources and how many people we could put on it. Had various scenarios that he could work through including unlimited technology and a lot of other things.

    And, uh, basically in 1972, he said, we better do something fast. And, of course, just like all of us who grew up in the `60s, nobody paid any attention. We just kept breeding our brains out and ignoring it. Then in 19uh, `92 they wrote another book called “Beyond the Limits,” and they pointed out that we could never ease back into a sustainable society, that we had already gone too far; and that was in 1980.

    Now it’s 25 years later and, with his daughter, Donella, and somebody else you can see there, Dennis has put out the “Limits to Growth — 30 years Later.” And this is quite, quite a depressing book because every scenario we run we have to have a collapse. And the collapses, uh, are worse in some scenarios than they are in others, but they are in the immediate future.

    You’re going to see it in your lifetime and the important thing is this is just the beginning of it, this thing we are experiencing right now. We aren’t ready for a non-(garbled) world. That (inaudible) out there, shining down on you from the (inaudible). Think about that.

    Here’s one of their graphs where the human footprint, and I think this is very optimistic, is that horizontal line and our actual population is the other one and you can see the cross the maximum level in, uh, 1980, and we’re about 20 percent above according to their figures.

    I think this is overly optimistic because we could never have reached six-and-a-half billion without fossil fuels. Basically, we turned oil into food and food into humans, and we used the oil to build highways and cars and take over and make this mess — the CO2 pollution and all the rest. But we’re running out.

    So this is really, really an exciting time in the history of mankind. Remember the ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”? I think that right now has got to be just about the most interesting time ever and you get to see it, and, hopefully, a few are gonna live through it.

    Here’s another graph from their book. The only one I could find on the Web was a little outdated, but they predicted way long ago the oil peak. And, of course, there are still idiots out there claiming that there’s oil galore that we will keep finding it and keep going, and I just can’t believe these people that don’t understand a finite world.

    But you notice the estimated population red line with a collapse and without a collapse and things are gonna get better after the collapse because we won’t be able to decimate the earth so much. And, I actually think the world will be much better when there’s only 10 or 20 percent of us left.

    It would give wildlife a chance to recover — we won’t need conservation biologists anymore. Things are gonna get better.

    I recommend Heinberg’s “Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies — The Party’s Over.” And last night I was sitting at a banquet with a chemist and he said, it’s like we were on a luxury liner and we’re on the upper floor of the luxury liner and there’s a hole in it and it’s sinking, but everybody’s having a big party up here, and it’s just a matter of time until we are all underwater. And I think this Heinberg’s message carefully researched all the facts. It’s a doomsday book but he’s an optimist so he has this optimistic end where he says what we can do, as individuals, and one is to live, you know, lessen your imprint — drive a Prius instead of an Excursion — uh, it’ll save you money — uh, ride a bicycle — grow your own food. He has all kinds of good ideas.

    Now the other book on the end of the oil isn’t quite as good, I don’t think but it is even more dire. The one I’ve got on the right. And I wanted to tell you about John Stuart Mill and point out that there have been bright people who have seen this coming for a long, long, long time.

    Mill wrote that back in 1858, and it’s basically a statement about a stationary world and how a stationary world can be a good world. In a stationary world you don’t have to worry about bubbles bursting, about losing your, uh, your stock, about, about, you know, running out of oil. In a stationary world we were sustainable and the world stays the same from day to day.

    So he says in a stationary world as opposed to one that’s grow, grow, grow where everybody has to elbow the other guy and compete to get to the front and be concerned about who’s going to win and who’s going to lose everyday in the stock market. And in a stationary world we can focus in on things that really matter. And he used a phrase that I really love — the art of living. We can work on the art of living. Think about that.

    Sorry that’s all I’ve got to say.

  • 2006/04/07 at 5:06 am

    Pianka is even worse then I thought. For instance: he bemoans the slaughtering of the bison in the 1900s (though it is not true that the animal is exterminated) and he also bemoans the white mans stealing of America from the Indians. But that is strange since what Columbus and his followers have done was bring a killer disease (like he himself looks out for), that kills an overpopulated continent (the Americas may have contained a 100 million people) where the indiginous population had almost extincted the bison. So this is in fact the realisation of Pianka’s dream scenario (and it was good for nature: the forests and the bison came back) and I would rather have expected Pianka to thank Columbus for the wealth of trees and bisons he left. I do not know the official term for it, but it is certainly a psychiatric phenomenon: whatever happens, blame the white man, especially if you are a white man yourself.
    Earlier I said that he probably was a real lizard specialist, but after reading his speech so full of errors I really doubt that.

  • 2006/04/14 at 4:18 pm

    This kind of thing makes you think, so many people are acting as if this man is saying “lets cultivate a virus and release it” but that dosen’t seem to be the message at all. His eccentricity seems only to be an expression of his feeling that the situation is dire, which it is. All the evidence seems to point to some collapse and I would rather it be sooner than later because the sooner it happens the sooner we have a chance to fix this mess we made. People die, no matter what, people die. While this is the ultimate sacrifice havn’t humans commited the ultimate crime? Aside from the ecological aspects, the social aspects are also horrifying. What we have done is created so many people that we can’t sustain them all in reasonable living conditions, so while they’re alive they are suffering a majority of the time and commiting crimes like murder and robbery to sustain themselves, breeding a low moral standard and degrading the standard of living for many people even furth. It’s a vicious cycle and has to end some time, it’s our own damn fault we left ourselves with no alternative but death. However I don’t think the actual decrease in population should be done by activly exterminating people, but rather a limit on children as well as a reversed tax system. Anyways mother nature will do it for us, viruses, micro organisims, cataclysmic disasters and atmospheric changes will do the job on their own.

  • 2006/09/01 at 9:31 am

    Very good reading. Peace until next time.

  • 2006/11/28 at 12:22 pm

    The microbes are smaller, and they reproduce really fast — have generation times measured in minutes or less. They evolve really quickly, and we can’t keep up with them. We are doomed. The microbes are going to get us. We are, we are a great big immerging substrate just waiting for microbes to grow on us. And even though we are still homo sapiens — you know what sapiens means, it means smart — I’d say we’re not. I’d say we’re dumb because we’re letting our population grow just like bacteria grow on an agar plate until they’ve reached the limits; and that’s dumb.

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