Are We Smarter Than Yeast?


I recently read an article that asked “Are Humans Smarter Than Yeast?” It refers to an analogy popularized by Richard Heinberg that compares our human population’s use of our earth’s limited resources to the population growth of yeast eating sugar. When yeast eats up all the sugar it dies of its own toxic waste and he wonders if we as so-called intelligent humans will have the same fate as that unintelligent yeast. It leaves one with depressing thoughts of whether there is any way we can stop the “great dying”. Another enlightening example of population growth concern is Albert Bartlett’s discussion of bacterial populations (which again could be an analogy for human populations). Bacteria grow by doubling; one becomes two, two becomes four, four become eight, and so on. Dr. Bartlet asks us to imagine an example where the bacteria double every minute and after placing one bacterium in a bottle it takes an hour to fill the bottle – when is the bottle half full? The answer is at 59 minutes (doubles every minute right!). At 55 minutes the jar would only be 3% full (97% empty). If you were a bacterium in a jar with 97% of the space open for development you might not feel that there is not any risk of a problem any time in the near future but the reality is that you are 5 minutes from disaster! So Dr. Bartlet argues with this analogy that stopping population growth is a necessary condition for saving the environment.  The lesson from the yeast and bacteria analogies is the following. If humans are to survive it will not be by increasing supply (resources will always be limiting with toxic byproducts) but by increasing efficiency (to stretch out existing resources) and to decrease overall demand (by reducing consumption and/or reducing populations). Growth is unsustainable. We need to look at energy use as a privilege rather than an entitlement. When looking up info on this I came across the following quote: Are we smarter than yeast? Will we fowl our nest to consume and continue to supersize our vehicles, homes, and people, to destruction? This is a great thought for me to contemplate as I drive my kids to the mall in my SUV for some overpriced unnecessary decadent consumption. Now where can I put this Big Gulp cup….


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