Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute


survival-imageI am interested in how humans survive in the absence of agriculture and the civilization it fosters. Given that our agricultural history is only about 10,000 years old, we must as a species retain the capacity to subsist off of wild resources. In fact, we need not argue whether this is true: today, many aboriginal cultures survive in a pre-agricultural state. Before these cultures are overrun by modern civilization, I am interested in understanding how they sustainably subsist off of resources provided by unmanaged ecosystems. What cultural technologies allow humans to survive in the absence of complex agricultural civilization? When our many-layered cooperative society dissolves, who survives in the wild: rugged individualists or small bands of interdependent cooperators?

In some ways, you can think about my interest in survival as the flip slide of my interest in cooperation. I would like to see the grand cooperation of human civilization continue (albeit in a more equitable and sustainable form), but just in case humanity fails to realize this collective goal I would like to know how to be one of the few people to make it through the population bottleneck that would inevitably follow the collapse of modern civilization. I have a strong optimist side, but that optimism is counter-balanced by reasonable pessimism.

A fair bit of this pessimism is well-informed. Works like Lester Brown‘s Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble lay out the very severe challenges we face over the coming century. What if we do not meet these challenges? Clearly human populations would be dramatically reduced by the resulting hunger, disease, and conflict, but will the entire human species disappear? Given our ingenuity and flexibility, I find it hard to believe that a small number of humans will not be able to survive what I imagine will be the first crash of human civilization. What will it take to survive this bottleneck?

You can see all of my blog posts related to survival here.