Are we smarter than lemmings? It’s time for humanity to prove how smart we are. We are faced with the biggest crisis we, and perhaps any species on the planet, has ever faced: our own overpopulation. But are we going to continue to grow our numbers until the massive and complicated systems by which we sustain ourselves collapse, essentially “marching off a cliff” as lemmings were once said to do? Or are we smart enough to curb our population growth and find a way to a sustainable world situation?
Even lemmings aren’t what Walt Disney’s people told us they were. The misconceptions about lemmings go far into the past, to the 16th century and before, but were spread in modern times by several sources including two movies produced in the 1950’s by Walt Disney (see the Wikipedia entry for a short description). In actuality these small rodents do migrate to find better food supplies, are good swimmers, and may jump into water if they can see land on the other side. Their populations fluctuate more widely than most rodents, but generally follow a pattern that rises and falls with the availability of food and to some degree in lock step with the number of predators in their environment. It’s easy to understand how lemming populations change, and why, but the human situation is at once just as simple and amazingly more complicated. Our capacity for thinking, planning, and developing technology puts us in a different class altogether, and may be both our biggest problem and our best hope for a sustainable future. Achieving sustainability will require we work together in ways we haven’t in the past, however, as well as transcend our propensity for complicated politics, religious fundamentalism, and war.
What are we doing about our population explosion? Sadly, it is hard to tell what we are doing because the media we’ve created to help us share knowledge won’t discuss it. Corporations know that, from a marketing perspective, overpopulation “doesn’t sell.” More and more bandwidth is dedicated to issues of pollution, climate change, and energy costs, for example – direct results of the population explosion – but nobody (I see) with any public visibility will discuss the causes or how we might deal with them. That brings me back to my central question, which I cannot answer: Are we smarter than lemmings?
I guess we’ll find out the hard way, but hopefully it won’t be too hard. As always I welcome your comments. – Tim