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Melanie Moses: Environmentally Speaking, North Americans are 30 Ton Primates

February 10, 2009

Prof. Melanie Moses of the UNM CS Dept. recently had an essay (subscription needed) published in Nature discussing the Metabolic Theory of Ecology. Biologists use this theory to explain why elephants have many fewer children than mice, but also live much longer. The theory states that that both are related to the length of the circulatory network needed to provide nutrients to the cells of each animal: in fact, the longer the network, the slower the metabolism, and the fewer the offspring. How do humans stack up on this scale? This theory shows that "...North Americans consume energy at a rate sufficient to sustain a 30,000-kilogram primate....". This takes into account the power we consume through electrical, oil, gas and other networks. The theory also explains why humans with the most resources tend to reproduce the least: each child in a developed nation takes a great deal of resources, and parents react by having fewer children.