KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 10: Fall 2018
Essay: 1,584 words

A Few Hours From Starvation

by Jack Cooper

My sense of humor is struggling these days. The socio-political swamp is thicker than ever, and as often as not, even the best reporting fails to mention that, oh, by the way, the planet could soon be spiraling along without us.

More than 800 million people in the world “do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.1 Like hummingbirds, they migrate from source to source only a few hours from starvation. And it’s not just you, me, them, and them birds. Sharks are killed at the rate of 270,000 “every single day, mostly for their tasteless fins, which end up as status symbol garnishes in the bowls of Chinese corporate power lunches,” says Peter Brannen in The Atlantic.2 And “nearly half of the world’s species of plants, animals, and microorganisms will be destroyed or severely threatened over the next quarter century”3 due to the decimation of rainforests worldwide, which lose more than 80,000 acres per day4—or about an acre per second.

With vehicles and coal-fired plants spewing out carbon dioxide by the megaton; cows and pigs on factory farms blowing out the even more harmful methane gas; the ocean, already swirling with plastic, growing warmer and more acidic by the minute and generating fewer fish and bigger storms; commercial agriculture saturating air, water, and soil with toxic chemicals; ranchers, loggers, shale workers, and miners decimating sacred lands and national preserves—and that’s not the half of it—the earth is slipping ever faster into environmental disaster. Unless humanity has a complete change of heart and re-imagines just about everything it does—from disowning winner-take-all capitalism to dropping many of our cherished habits, comforts, and privileges—we’re screwed: dead forests, dead oceans, dead people.

Small Picture/Big Picture

One theory of recovery focuses on claims that “the small picture” can work in small but significant ways over time, that we can come together as communities and grow our own food, reseed the coral reefs, power ourselves off the grid, ride more bicycles, and conjure fresh water with advanced desalination plants or one of those condensation machines. But who is we? Bangladeshis whose villages are going underwater? Eritreans whose land is already dry as pavement? Japanese from Fukushima who can’t go home for 300 years? How about the poor, rural folks in Alabama, where, says the Baylor College of Medicine, the sanitation is so bad that anyone walking outside barefoot risks hookworm infection?5 And then what happens if we quench, spruce up, and empower these communities, and the hungry hoards with guns and dogs descend on them in a fury like in some dystopian movie?

I’ll admit I’m more of a big-picture guy, maybe even an evolutionary one. I know, I know, it’s got to be a sign of desperation when we cling to evolution as our only escape route. After all, weren’t we given a few hundred million years to work this out by now? Still, isn’t it possible that fundamental change is on the horizon, that evolutionary advances have been quietly chugging along all this time and we’re just about to witness a pendulum swing back into the green zone? Death, being one of Nature’s most consistently effective tools, will shortly snuff out some of the worst offenders: older dudes, mostly, who try to buy democracy or profit from fear. Artificial Intelligence will soon objectify human decision-making so that it might be possible to make public policy not out of cash or loyalty, but on the basis of rational concepts, maximum efficiency, and absolute sustainability. And what about the children? Are we witnessing some type of Anthropocene Explosion out there in the heartland? Where did those incredible kids from Parkland, Florida, really come from if not a quantum evolutionary leap?

Economy in Harmony

Little doubt, we must establish a universally adopted means to contain the devastating impacts of unregulated industry and run-away/throw-away consumerism. Rather than reward the worst human instincts—greed, dominance, tribalism—we need to create a global economy in harmony with the cycles of the natural world. Evo-economist Peter Barnes proposes “a set of market-based mechanisms that transform the self-serving behavior of autonomous agents into system-wide outcomes that benefit the majority of individuals, society and the planet.”6 But just how we enforce the process is anyone’s guess. Fat chance the UN, as currently constituted, could pull that off.

Shaming is useful in Japan, as is a profound reverence for cultural values like humility, mutual well-being, and respect for nature and elders. Achievable, perhaps, in a 2,000-year-old island nation with nice dogs, a high literacy rate, and a shared language and appearance. But most people in the United States, native born, immigrant, and variously pigmented, seem to save their profound respects for money, which results in both the best and the worst self-serving behaviors. They, and that means all of us, need tighter controls in place, but we don’t seem to be able to do that effectively and permanently—tax cuts for the already wealthy, the selling of democracy to the highest bidder, ballooning military budgets, and the simultaneous degradation of educational standards and environmental laws contrary to the common good, are perfect and compounding examples.

What would happen if we developed unlimited “free” energy, such as that promised by the newest fusion technologies?7 In the category of “careful what you wish for,” seems to me that some of us might be inclined to squander and indulge all the more. Sure, on the one hand, we wouldn’t have to burn wood, oil, or gas anymore. On the other, we’d have fewer limits on travel and product development, and even on heating and air conditioning. Might not such activity lead to a continued warming, not to mention exploitation and waste of the earth’s limited raw materials, fresh water, and other natural resources?

Controlling the Bugs

One thing I know is that we will perish in the all-too-near future if we don’t do something radical, a strategy that seems to have had only sporadic success in the past, such as outlawing DDT, reducing the ozone layer, eliminating smallpox, and deterring the actual deployment of a third nuclear bomb. Ultimately, all life on earth pays for our bloviated extravagance and soured freedoms. But how do we control the profusion of the autonomous stinkbugs among us?

The literal stinkbug arrived in the USA sometime in the 1990s, probably in a “shipping pallet from China,” says Kathryn Schulz in The New Yorker.8 In China and all over Southeast Asia, the humble little critter remains mostly in check by the tiny samurai wasp. Without that check in the so-called New World, millions upon millions of stinkbugs have spread to all but half a dozen states in the US,8 feasting on everything from trees to grapes, leaves as well as fruit. Plus, they have a nasty habit of coming inside the house when it gets cold at night, and if you squish them, they give off the hideous and lingering odor of a dead cat. Moreover, the warmer the climate, the more they reproduce. Tailor-made for the sixth mass extinction. No safe and certain eradication method has yet been found. And let’s not even talk about mosquitos.

Course Correction

My humor may have largely disappeared, thanks in part to all the stinky news, but cartoonist Joel Pett has managed to make me laugh in a snarky way. He shows us a man in a politically correct red tie at a global climate summit shouting out, “What if it’s just a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”9

In fact, all our efforts to better the course of evolution might not be for nothing as far as a few, naturally selected creatures are concerned. Years ago, I read that when the end of our civilization comes, there will be little left alive but weeds, ants, cockroaches, and germs, with periodic plagues of jack rabbits to eat the weeds, lizards to eat the ants and cockroaches, coyotes to eat the rabbits and lizards, and crows to clean up the muck; in other words, a vast ecosystem fundamentally in balance at long last. No mention of either stinkbugs or humans. Perhaps we’ll finally just feast ourselves out of house and home.



  1. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. 2017. From Global Issues: “Food”: Hunger in numbers. (retrieved in July 2018).

  2. Peter Brannen. “Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction.” The Atlantic, 13 June 2017. (retrieved in July 2018).

  3. Leslie Taylor. “Rainforest Facts: The Disappearing Rainforests.” From, date unknown. (retrieved in July 2018).

  4. EarthTalk. “Measuring the Daily Destruction of the World’s Rainforests.” Scientific American, 19 November 2009. (retrieved in July 2018).

  5. Nadia Whitehead. “The U.S. Thought It Was Rid of Hookworm. Wrong.” NPR online: Health, 12 September 2017. (retrieved in July 2018).

  6. Lambert Strether. “How to Construct a New Invisible Hand: A Conversation With Peter Barnes.” Naked Capitalism, 11 March 2018. (retrieved in July 2018).

  7. Scott L. Montgomery. “Why nuclear fusion is gaining steam—again.” The Conversation, 9 April 2018. (retrieved in July 2018).

  8. Kathryn Schulz. “When Twenty-six Thousand Stinkbugs Invade Your Home.” The New Yorker, 12 March 2018. (retrieved in July 2018).

  9. Joel Pett. “The cartoon seen ’round the world.” Lexington Herald Leader, 18 March 2012. (retrieved in July 2018). The cartoon was first published in USA Today, December 2009, a few days before the climate-change conference in Copenhagen.


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