Bonobos, chimpanzees and (stopping) climate breakdown

Desperately hoping to find a way to stop, climate breakdown. I explore the sharp behaviour differences between chimpanzees and bonobos, despite their being closely related. (Humans are their next closest relatives, closer to both than to any other of the great apes).

In Start the Week (BBC Radio 4, 17.1.2022) January 2022) Adam Rutherford introduced Kirsty Graham, a researcher, who draws attention to the above. Cimnnzee males afre domonant. Bonobo females do not dominate,but they are in control. The programme offered no insights into how these differences evolved. The original separation (4 million years after the split from our ancestors) was due to the growth of the River Congo. Unlike humans who revel in water, chimps and bonobos avoid it.

To the south there was rainforest, which has remained unchanged ever since, so that bonobos are probably the closest of the three species to the original great ape. Chimpanzees on the other hand are found as far apart as Senegal, over 2,000 miles away in one direction, and to Tanzania, even farther away in the opposite direction.

No doubt someone will explore whether this expansion was due to favourable circumstances or to necessity, but the important point for us humans, trying unsuccessfully to save the Ecosphere. the bonobos had to adapt (or remain adapted) to a ‘steady state’ approach to their environment, whereas chimp populations expanded.

As long a it works, expansion does solve problems, but it must eventually meet the Tragedy pf the Commons, when resources are no longer sufficient to support expansion. Expansion is a core part of the currently dominant human mind set, but increasingly the clues are mounting that it is time for humans to shift to a steady state economy.

Since they evolved recognizably as homo sapiens, human populations have been expanding, which has favoured ‘chimpnazee’ type evolution. Although our abilities have enabled us to colonize far beyond the original tropical limiits., recent history records approximately one genocide every 10 years. Jane Goodall’s account of chimpanzees on the Gombe reserve give details of similar behaviour by chimpanzees. She comments:

“It is only the absence of language which prevents the development of organized warfare”.

Due to the Tragedy,  humans are now at, if not beyond the cusp at which expansion has become harmful.

Despite sex being a major feature of bonobo society, their population does not expand. If chimpanzees encounter another group, probably whilst competing for the same food source, they will fight, if necessary to the death. Bonobos just have sex and then share amicably.

Sex may not be the best answer for humans, but we clearly need to stop economic expansion somehow, but that will only be a short term answer if population continues to expand exponentially.

In some areas, notably Europe. Korea and Japan, numbers have stabilized, but increases, mainly in Africa, still lead to growing immigration to other places where there are already too many people. One driver of immigration is exponential increase in numbers where resources have already ben degraded.

Are there any bright students out there looking for a ground breaking PhD subject? Here are two possibilities: How the Tragedy of the Commons was overcome could be one. The crisis when CO2 was replaced by oxygen (due to plants) was probably the first, but there were also the epochs when animals (fishes) appearedr, then eptiles evolved to live on land, and later when the first birds started flying.

But there is an important difference. On each of these occasions, the crisis only threatened to exterminate whatever caused it. This time, many other species are disappearing first, but our technology is now clever enough to disable the entire Ecosphere. Humans, or at least those in a position to make decisions, have not yet grasped the scale of the problem. Planting trees is a good idea, but as a response to deforestation, it is pathetically inadequate. Global, enforceable political decisions are needed.

The other possible PhD subject is to test my hypothesis (hunch may be a better word) as to why the chimpanzee and bonobo societies ae so different..

But unless we avert climate breakdown in time, you may not get the opportunity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.