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Are humans smarter than yeast?

This may be the most relevant question of our times. Peak Oil expert Richard Heinberg posed this ridiculous sounding and deadly serious question at a recent lecture he gave in Regina, entitled “Peak Oil: Challenges and Opportunities at the end of Cheap Petroleum.” Check out the logic:

“Yeast growing in grape juice provide a good example of overshoot and collapse behavior. The yeast go after the sugar in the juice and in the process of metabolizing that sugar, they produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. As they consume the sugar, they also reproduce and their reproductive rate is dependent on the availability of food. Within a few days, at room temperature, the yeast population soars…But, the alcohol is a pollutant as far as the yeast are concerned and as their population rises, so does the level of alcohol. If there is enough sugar in the juice, the yeast will eventually produce so much alcohol that they start to die off rapidly and as the sugar reservoir is depleted, their reproductive rates plummet, leading to a total collapse of the population. So, in turning the juice into wine, the gluttonous, know-no-restraint yeast do themselves in.” (from “The Human Population System”)

So is gluttonous, know-no-restraint humanity any smarter, or will we continue to consume oil like yeast scarfs down sugar? The by-products of our immoderate consumption are fossil fuels, which (like alcohol for yeast) are poisonous to us. Can our human arrogance handle the possibility that we may be no more capable of surviving our own compulsive appetites than are unicellular fungi fermenting themselves into oblivion? Thanks for asking, Mr. Heinberg.

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