Boom and Bust Cycles: Single-Resource Based Relationships and Why Humanity Is in Trouble
There is a phenomenon in the natural world where a population of a species can be so connected to another single species or resource that it creates a dynamic of chaotic boom and bust periods. A popular example of this relationship is with the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) and the Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis). Snowshoe hares compose of at least two thirds of a lynx’s diet and their anatomy and hunting strategy is entirely specialized in catching snowshoe hares making them unequipped to switch to a different prey species effectively.
When the population of Lynx is low, snowshoe hares will flourish in the landscape unabated, but as the lynx’s food resources becomes more abundant, their population numbers too begin to increase. Eventually the Lynx will be so great in number that is stresses the snowshoe hare population to a point where it can no longer grow and expand, and the competition for Lynx over the remaining hares becomes fierce. During this period, the snowshoe hare populations decline because of heavy predation and the lynx populations decline because of starvation. Eventually, the population density of both species gets to recovery point, and the cycle starts anew every ten years or so.
The reason why this dynamic of specialized consumers over resources is so important is that humans are also entirely specialized on a single resource and humanity is not equipped to transition to something new. The entire human infrastructure in 2014 would collapse if rich and quick energy resources were to evaporate opening humanity up to a bust period far more dramatic than anything the world has ever seen. There isn’t anything on the planet that is as abundant and as rich of an energy source than what humans have specialized in over the last 100+ years.
Rich and quick energy resources have allowed humanity to bypass Liebig’s Law which states that “population growth is controlled not by the total annual resources available, but by the minimum amount that can be found during the scarcest time of the year.” Rich and quick energy resources have enabled humanity to bypass many biological constraints by providing access to resources, creating better and faster transportation, and to increase the productivity of the economy and effectiveness of goods and services.
So why can’t humanity slow down its consumption and start transitioning its resource dependence away from rich and quick energy resources? The same reason why the lynx will consumes itself out of a resource.
It’s called caching instinct. A weasel can enter a chicken coop and kill a single chicken because that is all its stomach can hold, but it won’t. If a weasel enters a chicken coop to get a meal, it likely won’t stop killing until all the birds stop flying. This is a survival instinct accommodating the fact that prey is challenging to find in the wild and the weasel can come back to eat the remaining dead chickens at a later time. It’s a natural instinct to consume resources as if that resource won’t be there tomorrow. Thus humanity consumes in excess.
Therefore, single resource-based relationships usually involve tremendous growth cycles, but the corresponding bust periods are usually is as impressive as the boom period making them very dangerous to be a participant in.