Are We Lemmings?


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


6 responses to “Are We Lemmings?

  1. overpopulation is a myth in some cases to justify not giving medical care to very sick old disabled, same excuse was used in germany, russia etc. what we have is a managment problem cramming people into cities and towns leaving vast areas untouched makes it appear overpopulated. the usa only uses about 3-6 percent of the total land mass area for development including farms urban areas and suburbs. when the elites use the word population control, tho really don’t mean numbers but in there are to many people to control to protect their power and wealth from by the way that lemming is a adorable..

    • Thanks for the comment, Roberta, but I can’t agree. The human population has more than doubled in my lifetime and the global birthrate shows no sign of shrinking any time soon. I have also read varying assessments of the true carrying capacity of the globe without the intensive application of fossil fuels, and they range from about 1 to 3 billion … but we’re already at 7 billion. When a population is growing this rapidly it doesn’t matter how big the resources or environment are, they WILL be exceeded. Your use of the term “elites” makes me wonder if you are depending a little too much on the tons of far right wing propaganda we’ve become so used to over the past few decades. That misinformation is generally backed by corporations that only care about their profits in the next 5 years, and billionaires who will never, repeat never, have to worry about having food on the table. Multinational corporations have power that exceeds that of most countries (the figure was “over 100 major corporations have more money than the top 7 industrialized countries” – told to me by my corporate strategy professor at the University of Michigan in 1991!). The corporations and billionaires have nothing to fear from individuals, it seems obvious to me.
      Be careful who you listen to, and check your facts at every turn. Remember, too, that the media is corporate-owned except for public broadcasting and a few small services such as Pacifica Radio News. From what I’ve seen, the supposedly independent broadcasters on the right are as corporate-backed as the most vocal climate change deniers. I don’t care if climate change is human-caused or not – it WILL happen, sooner or later, and we have located (for example) most of our oil terminals and power plants within feet of sea level (not to mention a lot of the biggest cities). We should be planning ahead for climate change, but we should be working with WWII intensity and commitment on reducing the birthrate worldwide. Nothing else is going to stave off increasingly huge disasters, I’m afraid, and they are likely, whether in the next decade or 50 years from now. That’s what makes sense to me, but I continue learning and discussing as much as possible. We can’t be too smart, and we really need to get a lot smarter now, and quickly. Good luck! – Tim

      • actually I didnt get the info off the tv or newspapers. second I read a real nice statititic (because many people either don’t believe in God or believe that god wants to overfill the planet,) he told adam and eve to fill the earth not overfill. He knows how many this planet can hold. the statistic I read was if there were approx 20 billion people in total living or having lived included there would be enough land for 2 acres per person allowing for 50 percent of land untouched. when you think about it how could the earth be a paradise if we live in boxes.the bible indicates the deserts will blossom as the rose does and the anartica is a desert, the sahara is also, these places will be productive and beautiiful. it only makes sense that we have a loving intelligent creator when you look how we are created in comparison to the animals.

      • I don’t know where you are getting your information, Roberta, but there are scientists who have spent decades studying the population explosion, and what they have learned is widely published. The current expectation reported in UN studies is that the population will top out at 9.5 billion in the 2040’s and will then decline. Some scientists have credibly estimated that, without fossil fuels, the earth may be able to sustain two to three billion. Last time I read up on it, coal was expected to be the last to run out (not that anything will “run out” really – the prices will just be too high for 99% of us to afford) probably between 2100 and 2150 AD. If the population has to fall to 3 billion by the 2140’s – a century of decline – that will require 6 billion divided by 100, or 60 million people less to live on earth each year of that period – quite a reversal over the present. At a constant rate that is 164,000 people less alive each day, not counting the birthrate which would have to be added to that figure. I could go on, but there is no doubt that this will not occur quietly or easily, and that life expectancy will have to drop significantly in the process – a lot of people are going to die before they are ready to. Our whole human economy is built on growth, but the earth is finite. Therefore, we are going to hit our limits, sooner or later. There is some hope at this point, but a major turnaround in our thinking must take place globally, we must take on this biggest-challenge-ever in an all out effort, and birthrates and family sizes must be reduced to a sustainable level as soon as possible. If we keep on going as we are I fear for the lives of my grandchildren (and my own, if I live to that period). Also, I have seen no evidence that any god favors humanity over any other species, or that the god of any religion is actually caring or merciful. Other species populations boom and die off all the time and we have no reason to think we would be different … unless we “wise up”, and my blog is an attempt to get people thinking and discussing what we need to do (and, hopefully, acting to mitigate the huge risks). I’d be pleased to see any credible information you have, but please cite your sources. Thanks for commenting – Tim

      • you make interesting comments, only if you don’t see how God created man in his image but not the animals your not paying attention there son. and did it ever occur to you that the population problem is really a management problem and not a numbers problem. and what right or wisdom does any man have to decide what is good or bad for man or animals, by the way I do love animals very much, and I have learned that people can say anything they want and have any credentials they want doesn’t mean they are right or being honest with us. many people especially in politics/science etc have hidden agendas, they have their own ideas of what is what doens’t mean they are right. hitler thought he was right, stalin lenin thought they were right but were they? they caused the murder of 100 million or more between them all in the name of ______ fill in the space.

  2. Sorry, Roberta, but I do NOT see how any god created man in its image. That phrase actually doesn’t mean anything to me because I have seen no evidence of a god or gods, but have seen tons (literally) of evidence for the natural occurrence of life on earth and the evolution over millions of years of the life we are and see all around us. If you disregard what we have learned over the centuries and insist on believing the often-politically motivated writings of humans hundreds of years ago it makes me fear for our future. Science works – it is just our knowledge of the universe around us – and to deny what we know seems … odd, but I know many millions of people do this all the time. That unfortunately suggests that we will not be able to stop the population explosion and will suffer millions of premature and needless deaths in the coming century, totalling in billions, because so many will be too misled and ignorant to help. Many will fight the needed changes until disaster is upon us, I fear. I hope you will think more deeply on these things. There is no evidence, ever, that any supernatural being will help us, or even exists – it is all fabricated by humans with their own agendas, every bit. I would not believe any of that without credible evidence. I don’t mean to criticize anyone’s beliefs – I just see evidence we are in big trouble and people are (sometimes intentionally) blind to it. Good luck to you, and good luck to us all.

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