An Unsustainable Paradigm
Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.
“On our present course, by E.O. Wilson’s
estimate, half of all plant and animal
species could be extinct by 2100 — that is,
within the lifetime of a child born today….
So it’s startling to discover that the very
idea of extinction was unthinkable, even
heresy, only a few lifetimes ago.”
Richard Conniff, “Lost and Gone Forever”
NYT FEBRUARY 3, 2011
The Buffalo Hunt
Before European Invasion
• The Prairie Biome
• 75 million buffalo ranged prairie BWM. Migrate
over 100 sq. miles for water and food in herds of
1,000 under alpha bull
• Herds stampede ex, Coronado 1541 saw them
fill an entire ravine
• Natural threats wolves, coyote, bear and lion,
grass fire and freeze
Human Ecology---Plains Indian
• Nomads in search of Buffalo
– Commanche see which way horned toad hop
• Hunt by running down herd or infiltrating in hide
• Women skinned and tanned with brains
• Buffalo provided food, hide, teepee, tools, toys
and ornaments. Use everything. Pemican.
• Animism. Tongue eaten in post-hunt feast;
smoke blown in 6 directions
• Happy Hunting Ground---heaven + buffalo
• Not imagine world without buffalo
Enter the Europeans
• Buffalo main food on plains. Thirst/warmth.
– “A stake cooked on chips needs no pepper.”
• Whites join hunt in 1830s, reduce to 40 m.
• Threaten Indians---Buffalo wars 1860s
– 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge trade
reservation life for saving Buffalo.
• 1871 Buffalo became commercially
valuable; by 1883 nearly all destroyed.
• Trade in Buffalo Robes with hair
• Trains---sports hunting excursions
• Ham and tongue became delicacy in US
• New arsenic tanning technique 1870s made
• End of Civil War---unemployment. Hunt drew
• Sharps 50 cal rifle 1872---kill from stand at 600
• U.S. wanted Indians confined to reservations
• Ranchers wanted prairie cleared.
First Conservation Movement
• Commander Richard Dodge, Fort Dodge:
– “I have counted 112 carcasses of buffalo inside a
semicircle of 200 yards radius, all of which were killed
by one man from one spot in less than ¾ hour.”
• By 1873, hunters left for Texas, then Dakotas.
• Movement to stop slaughter, SPCA, soldiers
– Territorial legislation---too late except Nebraska -1875
• 1879 hunt uneconomical
• By 1883 less than 1,000 Buffalo remained
• Bones then used for fertilizer and sugar, once
picked up, only wallows remained
• Frederick Clements described the sustainable
relationship between prairie, buffalo and Indian
as a Human Ecology.
• The North American Grasslands biome was a
climax stage of an arid region exposed to dry
winds and shallow rainfall.
• Plains Indian and Buffalo were partners in a
stable ecological association there
• White men destroyed the stabile climax
• Frontier Society vs. Sustainable Society
– Colonization versus maturity
• Engineering Fallacy: Use of technology to
extend control beyond natural limits
• Economic fallacy: Utilitarian values of economic
system applied to all relationships, ignoring
• Confusion of Capital and Nature
– “Natural resource”
– Commodification of nature
Distorted Values 2
• Homocentric vs biocentric shift
– Replace Buffalo in ecosystem with controlled
and owned cattle as resource
• Man Over Nature vs Part of It
– Ambient vs environment
– Lynn White’s thesis
Proof of Lynn White’s Thesis
Dominant Social Paradigm
• Man is above and outside nature
• Nature is a resource at man’s disposal
• Growth and Progress are perpetual
• Technology solves all problems
• Individual Interests over Community
• Rich and Poor get what they deserve
• Na Na Na Na Na Na Live for today
Lester Ward, 1893, the Psychic
Factors of Civilization
Experts must plan (no laissez faire)
Organize nature where it is inefficient (ex. winding
Engineer a paradise on earth
This is our moral imperative (we are over the
primitive and ape).
We can pacify nature by expanding the Garden of
Eden through a moral equivalent of war.
Later Technocrats Movement in U.S.
THE Unsustainable Paradigm
CONTINUED ON PART 2