Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Clicker Training and Climate Change

Bozeman, my new fifty pound mixed breed rescue, is devouring the food in his bowl.  I approach.  He gobbles faster.  I take another step closer.  Instead of his usual soft adoring look, I get a hard stare.   Being prudent, I step back.  Despite the thirty-four pounds of kibble stored in the kitchen, Bozeman believes there’s not enough dog food in his universe.  Hence, he’d best keep anyone else from getting any of his food. In Bozeman’s mind, resources are limited.
My challenge is to convince Bozeman that there is enough, resources are not limited, and that people approaching when he’s eating means more food for him, not less.
Bozeman being a dog, I’ll have to act out my explanation.  After he finishes, I go to his bowl, click (the signal a treat’s coming) and drop in a delicious spoonful of wet dog food.   After a week of training, I can pick up his bowl while he’s still eating, add the canned food and return the bowl.  His tail wags.
Some humans such as Paul Ehrlich, and David Suzuki follow the 19th century Reverend Thomas Malthus, who claimed population increases exponentially while food resources only increase arithmetically.  These pundits believe that food will run out because people will multiply without end.  Like Bozeman with his limited vision, they don’t see the big picture.  They extrapolate from such simple situations as bacteria in a petri dish or fruit flies in a milk bottle that do overshoot the carrying capacity of their environments.  Humans, on the other hand, figure out solutions, for example the Green Revolution’s advances in agricultural technology.  Since Malthus, and in the forty years since Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, humans have simultaneously increased both their numbers and their overall wealth.
Nevertheless, the Malthusians are still catastrophizing.  They claim humans and their activities are destroying the planet via climate change caused by fossil fuel use.  Hence, to maintain the climate, the use of fossil fuels should be restricted.   Poor countries should not be allowed to use fossil fuels to develop, which will keep them poor.  Coincidentally, the resources of those that already have them will be conserved.  
However, when countries develop and become richer, women get educated and have fewer babies, not more.  We saw this phenomenon in Europe during the 19th century and in the United States during the 20th century.  The population growth curve levels off.   This change from high death rates and birth rates to low death rates and birth rates is called the Demographic Transition.
The Demographic Transition is the click or signal to tell the Malthusians not to worry. Populations will level off.  There will be enough.  We big-brained humans can figure it out.
After a month of training, Bozeman figured it out.  I can pick up his half-eaten bowl of food and return it without incident.   Bozeman has been persuaded that humans approaching him during meals is a good thing. Would that the Malthusians likewise see human beings as a good thing!

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