Monday, 23 October 2017

Reconciling ‘Time’’s contradictory impulses means recognising the planet as different worlds

Quite recently, Time magazine demonstrated that whatever the claims of vegetarians and vegans, humans are not naturally vegetarian. This is especially true outside of Australia and Africa, where human evolution to IQs capable of evolving to develop civilisation and advanced science was certainly dependent upon the availability of meat. With vegetarian or vegan diets, brains could have never grown larger than a gorilla’s.

Now, in an incomparably less original post but one I felt I should bog for the sake of fairness Time has shown that if the globe was to go vegetarian or vegan, then as many as eight million lives would be saved by completely eliminating meat from the global diet – and many more from ameliorating resultant climate change through reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

There is one trouble – how significant I do not know – with this familiar argument. This is that shifting to a vegetarian diet would further shift irreplaceable economic advantages towards less fertile nations – mainly in Australia and Africa. Even if they were only producing plant foods, the gains would be vastly less than theoretical. Either:
  1. the globe would need to adopt protein-deficient diets with health costs thereof or
  2. the densely-populated “fertile” Tropical World (tropical Asia, Mesoamerica, Andean South America) would have to become the protein bowl, which the free market clearly shows as exceedingly inefficient economically except at the lowest labour costs:
    • Tropical Asia, Mesoamerica and Andean South America are extremely short of land relative to population, even compared to Europe, North Asia and the temperate Americas – let alone to Australia and Africa
    • the resultant exceptionally large comparative disadvantage in agriculture of the more-developed and densely populated (sub)tropical East Asian nations
    • one recent study suggests this comparative disadvantage will spread with development to the rest of Monsoon Asia
  3. technology would have to be radically improved to allow first-class plant protein on ancient, poor soils.
    • it’s highly possible that inability to produce adequate plant protein even for small brains prevented indigenous farming developing in Aboriginal Australia.
Plant foods cannot be economically produced under the very high land prices of Europe, East Asia, Southern Cone South America, or the east and west coasts of North America. Moreover, in North Asia and most of North America, plant food production is uneconomic because of very short frost-free seasons and more often than not steep terrain. Whilst one might predict that global warming would improve the position of these lands in agriculture, in practice excessive regulation makes rebuilding (as farmland) the large areas of wasteland created by demographic decline in the Enriched World very difficult. Excessive regulation on land devoid of endemic species is likely demanded by “quality of life”-demanding Enriched World populations removed from the drudgery of farming or manufacturing.

Regulation of the environment is also related to the Enriched World’s powerful inherent egalitarianism (Cornwallis et. al., 2017; Kahan et. al., 2007) possibly because the natural glacial/interglacial climatic changes disrupt the maintenance of such social structures (Cornwallis et. al., 2017).

Because most of Europe’s and all of Canada’s flora and fauna is only 8,000 to 10,000 years old and sourced respectively from the Mediterranean and American South, conservation of these regions has no ecological value whatsoever: all species conserved there will become extinct with the next glaciation! Moreover, as Weir and Schulter (2007) have shown, sister species in North America and the Southern Cone are two orders of magnitude younger than similarly related sister species in the humid tropics. Given the concentration of primitive taxa such as marsupials and basal passerines in Australia and Africa, and the concentration there of highly social cooperative breeders – whom Cockburn (2003) shows to speciate exceptionally slowly if at all – it would be expected that sister species in the subtropical arid zones of the Eastern Hemisphere are still older than those in the humid tropics. Although the Western Hemisphere is radically different from the Eastern in – except the erratically arid sertão – entirely lacking ancient, flat and dry regions, Weir (2007) still failed to examine sister species in the young arid zones of North America in his study of diversity evolution. Mittelbach et. al. (2007), in contrast, suggest that speciation rates are not higher in the Enriched World; however, he does suggest fast extinction rates explain the low or zero Enriched World endemism and low species diversity.

In order to deal with this issue, people today need to realise that production of animal protein is natural only in the Enriched World. Before the development of water-intensive irrigation and fertilisers animal-based diets were natural in human populations only poleward of 40˚ to 45˚ from the equator, where these high protein diets limited fertility and birth rates. It’s plausible that with restrictions on land and water use in low latitudes were stringent enough, and wages in the high latitudes less hiked by minimum wage laws that limit employment, there would be opportunities for more efficient use of hunting or seasonal grazing to give a more nutritious diet on land where even exploitative use has negligible long-term impacts due to extreme youth. In fact, such was done extensively in teh Alps and elsewhere, but has decayed due to the opening up of the Unenriched World where land is cheaper but less sustainable.

Indeed – though quantification has not been attempted – it is highly plausible that at least in Australia, the oldest and most fragile extant continent, the ecological gains from importing all animal foods from the Enriched World and revegetating the continent would exceed pollution and greenhouse costs from transportation were there a concerted national high-speed rail plan to cover all long-distance travel. In other Unenriched landmasses, the gains would be smaller but still potentially substantial.

As a matter of fact, it is my view that – except for species demonstrably “Endangered” – protection is superfluous in most of the Enriched World owing to the macroregion’s exceedingly high natural secondary productivity, rapid species turnover, and absence of species younger than the last glaciation except in the lowest latitude parts. Utilising very high-latitude protein source is no doubt more expensive than the Unenriched World, but also vastly more sustainable because we are losing only a splintering of geological history vis-à-vis a substantial part or even majority of the Phaeronozoic.


  • Cockburn, Andrew; ‘Cooperative Breeding in Oscine Passerines: Does Sociality Inhibit Speciation?’; Proceedings of the Royal Society; Volume 270, No. 1530 (November 7, 2003), pp. 2207-2214
  • Cornwallis, Charlie K.; Botero, Carlos A.; Rubenstein, Dustin R.; Downing, Philip A., West, Stuart A. and Griffin, Ashleigh S. (2017); ‘Cooperation facilitates the colonization of harsh environments’; Nature, Ecology and Evolution, volume 1, pp. 1-10
  • Kahan, Dan M.; Braman, Donald; Slović, Paul; Gastil; John and Cohen, Geoffrey L.; ‘ The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of – and Making Progress In – The American Culture War of Fact’; (October 3, 2007). GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 370 and GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 370.
  • Mittelbach, Gary G.; Schemske, Douglas W.; Cornell, Howard V.; Allen, Andrew P.; Brown, Jonathan M.; Bush, Mark B.; Harrison, Susan P.; Hurlbert, Allen H.; Knowlton, Nancy; Lessios, Harilaos A.; McCain, Christy M.; McCune, Amy R.; McDade, Lucinda A.; Mark A. McPeek, Near, Thomas J.; Trevor D. Price, Ricklefs, Robert E. Roy, Kaustuv; Sax, Dov F.; Schluter, Dolph; Sobel, James M. and Turelli, Michael; ‘Evolution and the latitudinal diversity gradient: speciation, extinction and biogeography’; Ecology Letters 10 (2007); pp. 315–331
  • Weir, Jason T.; (2007 thesis) ‘Evolution of the latitudinal species diversity gradient of New World birds and mammals’
  • Weir, Jason T. and Schulter, Dolph (2007); ‘The Latitudinal Gradient in Recent Speciation and Extinction Rates of Birds and Mammals’; Science, 315 (5818); pp. 1574-1576

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