A Practical Peacemaker Ponders . . .

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Not Enough for Everyoneís Greed
January 20, 2011

We donít have to look far to learn of ways we have exhausted the resources of our planet, and driven countless species to extinction, by our addiction to more, more, more. Recently I read an example of how this played out on the American continent over 150 years ago. The following is not meant to support meat-eating, but rather to relate how another group depleted their food supply past the point of no return.

The Comanche tribe of the Southwestern grasslands depended on bison herds for their sustenance, not only for food, but for clothing, tipis, and simple tools. They very successfully developed a wide-ranging trade economy based on bison meat and especially bison robes, becoming so dominant that their language was the language of commerce from eastern New Mexico across all of Texas, from southern Kansas all the way to the Mexican border, in the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries. Had they killed only the number of animals necessary for their own needs, and been careful not to take pregnant bison cows, the herds would not have diminished. But the Comanches were taking far more than they needed so that they could increase their wealth by trade, and the animalsí thicker fur in winter brought the highest prices. Winter was also when the bison cows were pregnant, so killing them at that time had a serious impact on the animalsí ability to reproduce. As time passed, the tribe began accumulating huge herds of surplus horses for trade as well. The horses competed directly with the bison for grass in this fragile environment. Furthermore, as the Comanches began to cement alliances with neighboring tribes by permitting them to use the same hunting grounds, many more hunters further depleted the herds.

By the 1850's bison numbers were noticeably declining, and then several years of drought on the plains brought them to the point of collapse. (This was a couple of decades before bounty hunters came West and methodically slaughtered bison by the millions.) Just like us today when we see our environment in trouble due to our excess exploitation, the Comanches did not change their behavior for years. Their experience had taught them that herd numbers bounced back after a decline, and they failed to see the seriousness of the situation they themselves had caused. The tribe was starving by the time the U.S. Army arrived and paradoxically saved those who were left by moving them to reservations where food was provided.

I donít have space here to tell the whole story (read The Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen) but like them, our society is overreliant on livestock, and greed leads to ruin. In our case, instead of just a regional impact, we are ruining the entire planetís ability to produce enough food for our bloated numbers (the entire Comanche population at the time of the drought was only about 20,000).

The time to go vegetarian and drastically scale back our overconsumptive lifestyles is now.