If you don’t read Seed Magazine, here is an unofficial plug: Start reading Seed magazine.
That said, this article provides a fascinating look at the fight for resources between two genetic traits in the Scarab Beetle, called allometry:
This shouldn’t be surprising. In a relationship called allometry, one expected feature of developing embryos is coordinated growth, with different subsystems communicating with one another constantly, negotiating with one another to establish their proper relative proportions. The allometric rules for an animal define how large a particular organ should be, given a particular body size, and they specify how body parts should scale relative to one another. These rules define your proportions: how long your arms should be for a given height, for instance, and for that same height, how long your legs should be. What’s required for this to work is that there be interconnected regulators of growth that affect many tissues.
Allometry basically states that two traits genetically fight for particular resources during growth. Genetic selection of one trait during the evolutionary development of a species may cause another trait to be less extravagant, as observed between the horns and reproductive organs of the scarab beetle (essentially they’re either lovers or fighters).
To relate this all to sustainability, we can look for corollaries to allometry in everyday society. What within society do we have in the same abundance as genetic alleles? What features when organized in a certain fashion define a culture, make up our cities? Building Systems? No. Buildings? Roads? Infrastructure? No. Society’s genetic makeup is people. Different People combine and build our culture, our cities, our economics.
One allometric worth discussing is that between development zoning, the fight for resources between rural communities, suburbs and large cities. If a society selects for a rural community, then communication and infrastructure is more spread out, density is much lower, and cities and buildings are smaller, and resources and energy are put into farming. If metropolitan zoning is selected for, then our cities are much denser, buildings larger, streets much smaller and communication much faster. (I apologize if this genetic analogy isn’t 100% thought out).
After the baby boom in America, the societal trait that evolved supreme was suburban zoning. The evolutionary pressures were that each individual have a ½ acre plot of land and still be within a reasonable proximity to work. The resultant demand on resources was different than for a metropolitan demand or a rural demand. The result: Sprawl.
As with all natural selection, there are reasons that certain selections are made, breeding and protection being the two conflicting demands on the scarab beetle, shelter and subsistence, the demands on the built American society [FN1]. The Homestead Act offered any American of 21 years of age 160 acres of land in order to help tame frontier lands. This sense of entitlement to own land has persisted in America and we have been shunning the traditional dense European planning in America as soon as we discovered the freedom and convenience of the automobile, to help provide our daily subsistence.
When a scarab beetle’s horn buds are clipped during their development, their reproductive organs grow much larger than if they were allowed to grow naturally. So the question posed is this: Can we convince planning agencies to “clip” the suburban zoning regulations from current and future cites? Can we convince American’s to “clip” the automobiles from their lives? Wouldn’t the higher density and increased efficiency evident in metropolitan based business and transportation ultimately allow us to compete more strongly in a global economy? Couldn’t the fuel siphoned from the automotive industry be used to promote American culture as a whole rather than each individual driver?
What other similar allometric corollaries exist within the genetic structure of society?
Your comments are welcome.
[FN1: Breeding and Protection are also genetic pressures on american society. An interesting dynamic that has been proposed illustrating this concept is the spatial movement of a generation as it grows older. When a generation is young, they are usually found in city centers, where there is a lot of compatible genetic material. As a generation grows older, they press away from the city center where they can shelter their young and provide a better education. Perhaps knowledge of this dynamic, too, can help “clip” some of societies energy intensive traits, and add insight to future zoning. I would like to offer up the city of Larkspur in Marin as an example of a dense family oriented community. Its a little car heavy, but its a beginning.]
Image from Seed