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Darwin Predicted a Slow Motion Apocalypse
April 26, 2022
by William P. Meyers

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"Too much, too many people, too much" —Grandmaster Flash

When I say that Charles Darwin predicted the Slow Motion Apocalypse in his The Origin of Species, I do not mean he used the term apocalypse or specifically predicted that around the year 2000 the ecosystem of the world would start falling apart. His focus was on showing that his theory of evolution through natural selection explained the diversity of species occupying our earth. In passing, however, he did make statements that sound like prophesies. I think it is a rare thing to read Origin of Species these days, so people are no longer familiar with the passages. I myself have had a copy on my bookshelf for at least a couple of decades and only two weeks ago started to read it from beginning to end. Those who believe in Evolution tend to bypass Darwin's writings, while celebrating the man, because so much more has been learned since his era. For instance, the role of DNA, genes, and mutations in evolution. Those who do not believe in Evolution, of course, are not likely to read something that would challenge their creation myths.

"There is no exception to the rule that every organic being increases at so high a rate, that, if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair. Even slow-breeding man has doubled in twenty-five years, and at this rate in less than a thousand years, there would literally not be standing-room for his progeny." I do not know if Darwin used the full surface area of the earth for this calculation, or only the land area. In any case humans need food to live, so even if it were possible to convert all the landmass to food production, one not need wait for one thousand years to reach a crisis point.

Former Masters of Earth (Trilobites)

"We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see a superabundance of food. We do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; of we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind, that, though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year."

In my experience most Americans, and probably most of the richer people of the world, have forgotten that fruits and vegetables once were available only in their seasons, and even meat was available only when slaughtering animals made sense, in the fall for adults and in the spring for lambs and other young animals. I have seen people, including ones I know should have known better, puzzled by poor quality, out of season fruit, or by high prices for greens in winter. That we have an industry that grows many vegetables in greenhouses gets lost in the market confusion with carefully timed shipments from the southern hemisphere and different latitudes of the north.

I see no indication that Charles Darwin had any idea that the carbon dioxide emissions from the industrial revolution might someday be sufficient to raise global temperatures. He was aware of species going extinct in his own era, but he mainly saw that as part of the natural process. After all, evolution occurs when new species arise, and that implies some older species must disappear. He was keenly aware of the competition for food and space, and the complexity of relationships within an ecosystem. He was aware that climate could change, and that over long, geological periods of time sea levels could rise and fall.

The measured decline of the ozone layer in the 1970s led to increase interest in the already-known, but mainly ignored, trend to global warming. Between Darwin's death and the 1960s the global human population grew much larger than Darwin might have predicted was possible. Between improved medicine and improved (mechanized and artificially fertilized) agriculture, humans had burst through barrier after barrier that no other species could have. In the 1960s there were dire warnings from scientists about the unsustainability of human population growth, which were largely ignored. The global population grew from about 3 billion in 1960 to near 8 billion by 2022.

The unraveling of the world of plenty (for humans) is the Slow Motion Apocalypse. The world is so complex that it is not possible to predict with certainty any particular event driven by SMA. Ecological collapses may not affect global warming, but global warming helps drive the pace of collapse. Agriculture may be good in one region and bad in another in any given year, but the trend is now to produce less food globally over time, despite the best efforts of horticultural scientists, farmers, and industrialists. The British empire had already caused famines with multi-million person casualties before Darwin was born, and would continue to generate them until it collapsed. But famines continue, and now they look to globalize, despite an improved distribution system.

"We have seen that man by selection [of which individuals to breed] can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art."

The details of the Slow Motion Apocalypse remain to be seen. I like to remind people who have moved or want to move to the country from cities to grow their own food that, at many points in history, the city people simply grabbed the food and (some of the them, anyway) survived famine while the farmers themselves starved. A sane, coordinated homo sapiens would quickly limit women to having one child, limit energy use, and prepare for the onslaught of global warming. In stead we appear to be heading to doing it Nature's Way. Some cooperation, some competition, some brutality. Perhaps homo sapiens will emerge from this bottleneck an improved species. Then again, given variation and natural selection, perhaps more than one new homo species will emerge. Or perhaps homo will disappear.

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