A study published in the American Journal of Primatology, by renowned neurobiologist and primatologist, Professor Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University, has shown that levels of intra-group aggression exhibited by troupes of baboons on the Serengeti Plains diminishes significantly during periods of drought. The reasons for this moderation of behaviour are unclear but it may simply be as a direct consequence of the ecological duress placed upon the baboons. According to Professor Sapolsky:
“Normally, in rich ecosystems like the Serengeti, baboons need forage only a few hours a day. Part of what endears baboons to primatologists is that this leaves them about nine hours daily to devote to trysting and jousting and backbiting. In 1984 there was a devastating drought in East Africa. Among baboons, while there was still sufficient food, it took every waking moment to get enough calories; aggression decreased.”
Such observations have clear implications for the human race as it faces the escalating challenges posed by climate change. As drought becomes the norm for many parts of the world, mankind will become ever more pre-occupied with the need to maintain adequate levels of sustenance. The attendant demand for unprecedented levels of industrious effort and cooperation will serve as a constructive distraction for those who would otherwise be tempted to engage in internecine conflict. As Professor Sapolsky stated, “Why rustle someone else’s cows when you cannot even feed your own?”
The above article never appeared in the mainstream media. Instead, it fell to little-old moi, an obscure merchant of doubt, backed only by the billions supplied by the Koch brothers, to put pen to paper so that I might bring the good news to a wider audience. And rest assured, this is not a spoof. Professor Sapolsky does exist. He is a famous primatologist, and he did publish his findings regarding decreased baboon aggression in the American Journal of Primatology (back in 1986, if you must know). The quotes in the above article are genuine (you will find them on page 303 of his book, ‘Behave – The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst’).
But here’s the thing: When it came to spiders developing aggressive traits in response to ecological duress (see The Revenge of Incy Wincy), the internet was soon full of half-baked reports serving to warn of the ‘obvious implications’ for mankind. The logic was identical to that used in my baboon article: The attribution of extreme weather events to global warming is uncritically accepted, and anything observed in the behaviour of a non-human species may be safely inferred to apply to mankind. And yet, the conclusion drawn was in diametric opposition.
So who is right? Do the observations of non-human species suggest that the human race will become more aggressive or less aggressive in response to climate change? Of course, the answer is neither. Any attempt to draw conclusions, whether it be from spiders or baboons, would be utter nonsense. As I hope I have just demonstrated, I am as capable of writing such nonsense as the next person. The only difference is that I did so knowingly to make a point.