Monday, August 24, 2015

Human Population Growth: Earth's Push Back Time

Humans are entering the top of our population growth curve. 

Partly because some of us have chosen to limit births, but also because, for the very first time in human history, earth is limiting our births for us. 

It’s a biological given that populations have an s-shaped growth curve.

At first, growth is exponential, starting slow and increasing at a faster and faster pace.

Sound familiar?

Until recently, this is what all the human population growth charts looked like:

Doomsday scenarios say if we keep reproducing at greater and greater rates, we will soon run out of food, water, and space.

For most biological populations, though, the rate of growth starts off exponential. Then it slows and eventually stops. The top of the curve becomes flat, making that characteristic s-shape.


Most critters are no smarter than people. They don’t choose to limit how many babies are born.

The environment limits births for them.

Populations race exponentially upward until the critters have filled their environment. Then the environment pushes back. 

The critters' waste products pile up. A poison to them, their waste damages their fertility and vitality. Meanwhile, predators--including disease organisms--settle in for a steady munch. The result? Population growth slows, then levels off.

The human population is still growing, but our growth rate is going down.

We have entered the top of our growth curve.

Now, some of that is sociological. For people in rich countries, kids are expensive, social services means you don't need them to take care of you in your old age, and better medical care for children means you no longer need a bunch to have some reach maturity. So people choose to have smaller families.

But there may also be a more biological explanation.

Think about it.
  1. We are the only true world-wide species. (Other world-wide species, like Norwegian rats, live off us).
  2. If the whole world is our environment, we have only just filled it.
  3. As we cover the earth, our waste products spread--primarily industrial and agricultural pollutants. These decrease our health, and many act like hormones to decrease our fertility.
  4. As a global monoculture, we are fast food central for human disease organisms.
Humans are not really better than other critters. We are not immune to normal, biological processes. 

Neither are we worse. 

In fact, we’re just the same, and we’ve finally filled our environment: the whole earth.
Giving the earth a chance to push back.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pitch Wars Bio

Pitch Wars is an amazing, fun, (and sometimes anxiety fraught) writing contest run by Brenda Drake. But it is more than a contest; it is a community--for both the mentee hopefulls and the mentors.

Mentors post a blog to help mentees make their submission choice. Some mentees do as well. (Mentee Blog Hop)
Here is mine:

I read and write kidlit from PBs to YA. I used to read and write grownup stuff, but not so much now--'though my pub credits are all for grownups. Wanna peek at the most grownup of my grownup pubs? I could never write like that now. Not that I want to. Ugh!

My Pitch Wars sub leans magical realism, but some might call it realistic fantasy. If you've read The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill, mine wanders nearby, 'though a bit more on the mr side.

The "magic" is pretty close to my experience with nature beings. In that sense it is completely realistic, but most modern Americans deny nature beings exist making the same things fantastical.

My inspiration was wondering what happens to the kid after her brief magical adventure is over. All she has is memory and practices that she desperately hopes will bring direct communion, but that never quite work. That is also entirely realistic.

If you like my pages or my query, I need to share credit with the fantastic Scribophile Ubergroup managed by the incomparable Jerry Quinn, also the Ubergroup members who gave me such great critiques on both.

Sankofa Bone
Enough about my sub, what about me?

I far, far prefer editing to writing a first draft. Editing is like carving, shearing away the dross until the emerging form sings. I've carved both wood and stone, but mostly wood.

I'd love a mentor who is a fearless cutter of unnecessary words (and paragraphs and sections).

Do that for me and I will work my butt off for you.

Some other facts of which I am inordinately proud:

I've lived in 5 countries on 4 continents, 3 and 3 before I hit puberty, also 6 states including Alaska.

I was kicked out of a monastery. You already knew that if you read the header on my blog, but I am very, very proud of it.
Moon Over Jon Oriental
I loved Chicago as a natural environment: the orange-red brick cliffs, the wind tunnels, and the great majesty of the lake shore, also living in a white-minority neighborhood.

I don't miss the petroleum-fume-laden air.

Gifs confuse me.


Sweet Honey

My first animal companion was Daddy Rat. I was three. 

Honey is my present animal companion.

Between Daddy Rat and Honey have been Lady (a dog), numerous mice, George (a terrapin that I smuggled into England from Nigeria when I went to boarding school), and Aijde (a cat).

My family also shared Dab Dab (a duiker), Aku (a West African grey parrot), and Sir Robin (an ex-champion race horse).

I dropped out of high school. While working on a kibbutz, I discovered how woefully ignorant I was, and since the only efficient way to get an education was college, I went--all the way to a PhD in a useless-for-getting-a-job field. After, I abandoned science for education.

Creative writing was my PhD survival strategy. 

Fav reads are far to numerous to list. Here are some recent ones:

TALL TALES by Karen Day. If you like Sharon Creech and haven't read Karen Day, you must.
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste
THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY by Nikki Loftin (although, really, anything by Nikki Loftin)
TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate
SPIRIT’S KEY by Edith Cohn  
BESWITCHED by Kate Saunders (a modern transport-into-the past story like Penelope Farmer's CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES that I loved growing up)
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebbeca Stead
ELEVEN by Patricia Reilly Giff
SUN AND MOON, ICE AND SNOW by Jessica Day George

And I am in love with Junie B Jones if for no other reason than the way Barbara Park writes emotional cues.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

When Compassion and Biology Collide

With a flash of annoyance, I drove up behind a car stopped in the middle of a suburban street. Then I noticed that facing me was another car in the opposite lane. Between the two cars a mom duck was crossing followed by her string of ducklings. A lot of ducklings, maybe a dozen.

Ducklings in Lower Street, Willoughby - - 1395991
They all crossed. As the cars started up, the mom duck jumped the curb. Her ducklings followed one by one.

The second smallest duckling jumped at the curb--and missed. The smallest also failed to make the jump. The two ducklings flapped their nascent wings, jumping at the curb again and again.

No luck.

They stumbled along the gutter, jumping and flapping, while the mom duck hunkered down on the sidewalk surrounded by the rest of her brood. A crow flew down to stand in the grass over the struggling ducklings. The ducklings would make a nice feast once they'd exhausted themselves.

Unaware of the ducklings that I was still watching, another suburbanite drove up behind me and honked. I had to go. I put my car in gear.

It’s just biology, I thought as I drove slowly away. What duck fledges a dozen ducklings? There is nothing to do except let nature take its course. After all, crows deserve to eat, too.

I drove a couple of blocks, then stopped. I couldn’t just leave. I had to try and help.

By the time I returned, the stranded ducklings had gotten pretty far from where the mom duck still crouched--the crow keeping pace over them.

I parked and got out.

Now I’ve lived with mammalogists and ornithologists. I know how to grasp a small wild thing: firmly, wrapping my hand around its body just behind the head. Hold it firmly, and it won’t hurt itself or you.

I know what to do. That doesn’t mean I can do it. My socialized fear of hurting interferes.

I scooped up the second smallest duckling. Although I held it too loosely, so it flailed in my hand, I managed to set it down near the mom duck. It ran to safety, tucking itself into the mass of ducklings. I felt the rush of warmth that philanthropy brings.

Mother and chicks - - 1375741Then I went after the smallest duckling. It was way down the street, having run in total panic from my hand descending on its sibling. I was able to scoop it up, but couldn’t bring myself to grasp it firmly enough. It wriggled hard. I held it against my breast. It wriggled harder, falling from my fingers to the sidewalk. I didn’t hear it land, but imagined a sickening thumb.

Still, a moment later it ran to its mother. I smiled benevolently at it.

Only, something was wrong. This smallest duckling didn’t wiggle into the brood, but huddled into a small ball, separate from the others. Like it wasn’t sure of its welcome. Like it knew that that was as close as it could come and not be pecked.

No question: the smallest duckling was crow food. And although it was saved for now, how long did the second smallest have? It’d be an extraordinary year when a duck could fledge a dozen ducklings.

I went back to my car and my errands. I didn’t want to see the painful end to the smallest duckling’s story. I didn’t want to see biology at work.

Laying eggs is relatively cheap, and predators go for the weakest first. Perhaps the sole purpose of smaller siblings is to be a dangling bribe, insurance for those with a better chance of reaching adulthood.

If so, what price an act of compassion? Did I actually save one duck and give another a chance? Or did I just make myself feel good, while leaving those small ducklings to go through the same suffering all over again, later?

I don’t know.

But life is complicated and mysterious. If the value of helping is only measured by results, it means nothing when we don’t save the way we intended. But what if there is meaning in simply extending a hand, in trying?

AMERICAN CROW (7143675301)If the purpose of the smallest ducklings is to protect the others by dying, then perhaps I did ok, even if my interference was naive. The thing is, my heart would not let me drive away. Of that I am sure.

Let nature go on clipping the string of ducklings, life by tiny life. I still had to put my hand in, all justifications aside.

That is also biology.