Published here May 2020


Musings Index

The Biggest Project of All (That Never Got Started)[1]

Let this be a lesson to you ...

According to a recent[1] report, nearly one million cannibal ants have escaped from a nuclear bunker in Poland. They spent years in the dark with nothing to eat but each other. Now, they are free.

They survived entirely by feasting on one another.

This reminds me of an unsettling experience I had as a small boy. At the time, I was living with my grandparents in the country. My grandfather used to take me fishing in a nearby stream. This involved some careful preparation to find a suitable stick to act as a fishing rod — the right length, straightness and strength. To the end was attached a light string, complete with a bent pin for a hook.

The next step was a trip to the local fisherman's shop to buy a tin of bait. The selection of the bait was critical because the fish we were to catch apparently only liked to go for a certain type of live wriggling little worms. To keep the bait alive and healthy, the tin was armed with a small chunk of meat for the worms to eat.

As luck would have it, on the appointed day for this fishing excursion, the weather was far from cooperative. It rained heavily throughout the day, and the enterprise was abandoned for the day. So the fishing equipment and tin of bait were carefully stored away for future use. Now, it so happened that other daily activities seem to take priority and so it was several weeks before the fishing venture was revived.

Obviously, step one was to check on the tin of bait.

To my horror, the tin was now full of empty carcasses with no sign of any meat. The incumbents had simply eaten all the meat and then each other until the end.

My grandfather decided to abandon fishing as a small-boy pastime.

The Biggest Project of All

So now the cannibal ants give us another example of what happens when food runs out in a trapped society. As we wrote back in June 2001:[2]

"The real problem that underscores situations like the one described above, as well as countless others such as loss of wildlife habitat, desertification, soil and ground water loss, chemical contamination, failure of fish stocks, over-crowding in cities, traffic congestion, and on and on, is so obvious as to be hardly worthy of mention. Indeed, warnings by project management seminar keynote speakers and forum attempts to generate interest in such projects in the period 1990 to 1993 have been quietly buried. Why? Because any discussion of the root cause is so politically incorrect.

What is the root cause? Do we really need to ask? Yes, it is population growth and, because of that, the very survival of mankind as we know it is at stake. If only the world could talk about it, openly and without rhetoric or prejudice, then developing a comprehensive program to tackle this problem seriously and with vigor, would be the biggest and most valuable project of all."

It is not unreasonable to think of our population being trapped on earth, complete with its limited resources. Of course, the earth's resource supply systems are much more complex but nevertheless if we go on over consuming as we are doing, the day will come when we are fighting each other over what is left — like the ants in the tin. Maybe through the wars we see, that is already happening.

PS: At the time of publishing, we are in the middle of fighting a world-wide Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that is causing significant loss of life around the world. Currently, humans have no antibodies for this diseases, although keeping your distance may help to avoid infection. The good news is that, by occupying natural open spaces that we have reluctantly vacated, our treasured wild life is showing significant recovery from potential extinction. Is nature teaching us a lesson here, one that we are so reluctant to learn?

1. On line November 2019.
2. Musings — The Biggest Project of All.
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