"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Humans As the Intense Predator: Unbalancing the Food-Chain Unsustainably

By 2015, humans—the homo sapiens species in particular—had become “the dominant predator across many systems”; that is to say, the species had become an unsustainable "super predator."[1] We have had a huge impact on food webs and ecosystems around the globe.[2] Moreover, we have been using more of the planet's resources than we should. By August 2015, for example, humans had already consumed the year's worth of the world's resources.[3] In terms of fossil fuels, the consumption has had an impact on the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Behind human consumption are human beings, so the astonishing increase in human population is a major factor. As a virus-like species incredibly successful genetically over the previous five-hundred years, the self-maximizing feature both in terms of population ecology and profit-maximization may be the seed of the species destruction, and thus long-term genetic failure.

According to one study, humans are "particularly intense" when it comes to hunting, and have used powerful killing technology (trawl nets, guns and mechanized slaughterhouses, for example) to dominate other predators. [4] 

Large-scale fishing does not distinguish between fertile adults, weak fish, and the young. (James Watt: Getty Images)

With the efficiency (i.e., profitability) of large-scale fishing businesses, we remove fish at 14 times the rate of marine predators.[5] The research confirms what many scientists had warned for years: If we don't stop overfishing, we may soon run out of animals to catch. The study reports that many fish populations had already been hunted to the brink of collapse, shark populations decimated, and less than 8 percent of southern bluefin tuna left. [6] On land, humans had been killing top carnivores, such as bears, wolves and lions, at nine times their own self-predation rate.[7] By 2015, the food chain as a whole had become terribly unbalanced that thus unsustainable as a whole.

Applying business-efficiency principles to hunting, we can capture adult prey at minimal cost, and so gain maximum, short-term reward. The cost being minimized is both in terms of business and the species. Of the latter, Chris Darimont of the study points out that "advanced killing technology mostly excuses humans from the formerly dangerous act of predation." [8] Because hunters “’capture’ mammals with bullets, and fishes with hooks and nets. . . [Humans] assume minimal risk compared with non-human predators, especially terrestrial carnivores, which are often injured while living what amounts to a dangerous lifestyle."[9] To be sure, working on the deck of a commercial fishing boat in the north Pacific is one of the most hazardous jobs around, but the fishing businesses can externalize at least some of the cost (e.g., insurance).

Even so, by not applying principles from population ecology, the businesses engaged in hunting, fishing, and farming animals have been undermining efficiency, and thus profitability. The study claims that besides the sheer number of animals that humans kill for food being problematic—56 billion farmed animals were at the time being slaughtered annually, “(h)umans focus on adult prey, unlike other predators. A full-grown lion, for example, often opts for the smaller, weaker juvenile zebra rather than an adult. This distinction makes it harder for animal populations to recover as breeding members are removed.”[10] Presumably recovering populations are in line with sustainable profitability.

Tom Reimchen, a co-author on the study, “uses a financial analogy to explain the damaging consequences of hitting adult populations hardest. He calls the adults the system's ‘reproductive capital’—the equivalent of the capital held in a bank account or a pension fund. And he says we are eating into this capital when we should really be living off the interest—the juveniles, which many species will produce in colossal numbers, expecting a good fraction to be doomed from the moment they are born via predation, starvation, disease, accidents and more.”[11] “We are dialing back the reproductive capacity of populations," Darimont said. [12]

The doubtlessly unintentional self-defeating strategies of the businesses mirrors that of the species itself, in that the failure to be prudent in terms of population growth is also self-defeating because the ecosystems, including the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, get breached beyond repair in terms of being able to sustain our species when it is essentially a maximizing variable rather than tending toward an equilibrium. In short, the wise human species—homo sapiens—is not so wise, after all.




1 Chris Darimont et al, “The Unique Ecology of Human Predators,” Science, Vol. 349, no. 6250, pp. 858-860.
2 Ibid.
3 Jonathan Amos, “Humans Are ‘Unique Super-Predator’,” BBC News, August 20, 2005.
Nick Visser, “Thanks Humanity. Now We’re Unsustainable ‘Super Preditors,” The Huffington Post, August 21, 2015.
5 Amos, “Unique Super-Preditor.”
6 Visser, “Thanks Humanity.”
7 Amos, “Unique Super-Preditor.”
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Visser, “Thanks Humanity.”
11 Amos, “Unique Super-Preditor.”
12 Visser, “Thanks Humanity.”