Earlier this month, we released a page on Prismatic Planet that discussed the concept of population ecology and how species exist on a series of spectra that play into population strategies. We initially wanted to talk to how humans factor into these models, but as we researched, it became apparent that the topic deserved its own post, so here we are!
If you haven't read our post on populations, you might want to give it a read before continuing here. It won't make this post unreadable, but we will make some call-outs to topics covered on that page in this analytical/philosophical view of human population.
Okay, so...humans...where do we factor into population ecology? How have we, as a species, grown to dominate this planet? No other species comes close to the magnitude of impact we have on the planet given our population size. That isn't to say there aren't larger populations. Ants, for instance, far outnumber us, but their strategy plays to that attribute. Humans, arguably, shouldn't be as populous as we are. Let's take a look.
We definitely seem to be situated in the K-strategist, S-Curve representation, but either we haven't hit any density-dependent challenges, or humans don't seem to belong in these models. In any of our ancestors' lifetimes, there hasn't been any environmental need to change our population strategy. All shifts in population environment, from a human perspective, are highly societal. Cultural. We don't change or move because we have to.
We do so because we want to.
This thought process makes it seem like humans are special. And, to be fair, we kind of are. But just because we seem to have an edge over other species on the planet doesn't mean we get a first-round by on the rule set. We just happened to solve them before they became clear, tangible ceilings.
The thing is, we have actually run into these challenges, but we don't really see them as having been challenges. Let's talk it out.
If humans didn't hit the agricultural revolution, we would have been limited to hunting and foraging, limiting the ceiling of our population. The idea here being that the natural world only puts out so many resources humans can consume. When humans first thought to "not wait for nature" and do it ourselves, we pushed our ceiling. If we didn't hit the industrial revolution, we wouldn't have been able to traverse the world, effectively locking human civilizations to the areas local to themselves. In this time we learned how to travel wide and build to the sky, making more space for the more mouths we needed to feed, pushing our ceiling ever higher. Without changing our practices to make the most of our space on this planet, we would not be able to feed and shelter the number of people that currently live on Earth.
In retrospect, every time humans have been posed a ceiling by their environment, humans restructure themselves and, at times, restructure the planet to accommodate a larger population density. One of the more interesting parts to us is that these challenges found answers well before they posed any real stress on the human population. Maybe this can be seen as proactive, maybe just lucky. It could also be that humans of those times were solving for these future problems, but, today, through sheer optimism and our species' incapability of thinking in geological time (note to self, great topic for future posts!), we just don't see it that way.
Fast forward to today, and in our digital revolution, we're as spread out as humans likely can be on this planet, finally reaching leveling points for local human populations for first-world countries, and actively working to improve the survivability and adaptability of communities across the world. Essentially, where population health is relatively stable, humans are naturally not producing as much offspring. Our species has started to find an equilibrium for population density on the Earth, and that will stabilize as health systems flourish in communities across the world. We're getting there.
However, in getting there, we have long held onto systems and practices that have, while not overstaying their use for humanity, have lasted (and frankly grown) to points that the planet cannot sustain. This is our strategy's trade-off to our species' success. We rely on the practices invented by our ancestors centuries past, while only meagerly improving upon how they impact our home, with the trade off of mass production to meet our growing global footprint. This is exponentially worsened by a consumer mentality that devours the current culture of humanity, producing way beyond the actual needs of our species. What we've done to accommodate humanity thus far, on the practices we have for as long as we have, is astounding.
Yet, also, extremely terrifying.
Humans are finally facing a density-dependent challenge of space. Not only that, we're faced with another that recurs when a species dominates the planet, a climate challenge. And at a scale never before seen, only fully realized by the kind of defiance that our species has shown the Earth. We have, for seemingly the first time, hit a ceiling that is looming above us. As with our past actions to accommodate our population density, humanity needs to recognize what we face, and once more, redefine how we interact with the planet to ensure we and, in truth, the remaining life on Earth, have a place to call home.
This is a unique chapter for humanity. We've grown tremendously through our remarkably short time on this planet, redefining how we interact with the planet to write population strategies that no other species on the planet has been capable of accomplishing. The challenge of a climate ceiling is a daunting one, and unfortunately one that we have to tackle as it is actively impacting us, a truly new thing that humanity has to deal with.
However, we've always overcome our challenges. So long as we act with our species and our environment in mind, as we've done in past revolutions (and it truly has to be a revolution), there's always hope for us to continue living here, alongside our wondrous home.
~ And, as always, don't forget to keep wondering ~
Prismatic Planet wants to get excited for the planet, raise awareness of its inhabitants, and get smarter about Earth.