A while ago, this blog received a visit from an advice-dispensing wolverine who attempted to sort out people’s relationship issues from a gulo-centric standpoint. Although this didn’t necessarily go over so well (there are many things that wolverines don’t really understand about human society – starting, for example, with the notion of “society”) Ms. Wolverine has recently made me aware that she understands that she is living inside the borders of a political entity called “the United States of America,” governed by a democratic system that involves voting for people who have some impact on her species’ prospects. She and I sat down for a chat about wolverine perspectives on the major issues in the upcoming election.
RW: Thanks for agreeing to meet and talk about politics, which I realize must be kind of a weird idea for you.
Ms. W: Well, recently the wolverine community has been talking about what to do about saving you people, and they concluded that we need a better understanding of humans before we can come up with a management strategy. Since I have some experience with people, I got a grant from the other wolverines to spend some time researching how you function.
RW: A grant?
Ms. W: Yes. They’ve agreed to supply me with some extra meat so that I can take a month or two off from hunting, scavenging, and patrolling, in order to observe you and produce a report.
RW: Interesting. What have you deduced about the political scene thus far?
Ms. W: First, let me just say that I think it’s pretty unfair that we don’t get to vote. I understand that you European people fought a war over the issue of taxation without representation when you first came here. You people are steadily eroding our habitat in multiple ways, taking it for your own profit and purposes, and that amounts to taxation as far as I’m concerned, since it’s taking away the only assets that we have as a species. So I think we should have representation. If we can’t vote – and let’s face it, getting to polling stations would be hard for us since most of those stations are below 6000 feet, not to mention the fact that we lack opposable thumbs for filling in the ballot – then we’ll have to rely on you guys to stand up for us, so please do.
RW: Hopefully we’ll be able to do that. So, what are the biggest concerns of the wolverine community for the next four years?
Ms. W: Greenhouse gas emissions and energy policy are the number one issue for wolverines. Obviously, climate change is our biggest long-term problem and we have to address it. Reduction in snowpack is resulting in a housing crisis for reproductive females, and the future of society depends on these females and their offspring. It’s making it harder for our young to disperse and establish territories – it’s especially difficult for the young males, who tend to travel further. On that basis, we have to prioritize reducing carbon emissions over everything else.
This election represents a choice between looking forward with creativity and optimism, versus blindly clinging to old models that have reached the very end of their utility. A long time ago, the fossil fuel industry was built with subsidies from the government. Why not put the same effort into building a world powered by the wind and sun?
RW: Yeah, I knew that would be your answer. What would you say to the candidates, if you could speak English? How should this energy policy look?
Ms. W: I’d start off a conversation with the candidates by biting Romney for his stupid statements about how he doesn’t care about sea level rise or saving the planet. This guy says he doesn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change, which illustrates the fact that he’s not much of a thinker in the first place, and also encourages a highly superstitious and anti-scientific attitude among his followers. Also, it shows that he doesn’t care about wolverines at all. I’d encourage all of you to make your opinions of this attitude clear by biting him, too.
RW: Actually, as a brief insight into how the human governance system works, biting people isn’t really an acceptable form of political expression.
Ms. W: It isn’t? Hmmm. How do you get someone you don’t like out of your political territory, then? Because clearly we don’t want this guy occupying the territory of the White House.
RW: That’s the point of democracy – everyone can vote, which takes the place of having to fight. Could you tell us a little more about how wolverines see the issue of energy policy and climate change?
Ms. W: Sure. Here’s what I’d say to the candidates and the voting public to illustrate this issue. Wolverines in the wild live in huge territories, primarily because we need huge territories in order to get enough calories to survive and reproduce. In places like Glacier National Park, our territories are slightly smaller because the prey density is greater. In places like the Yellowstone region, territories are larger because we don’t have as much prey. We have to work harder to get what we need, and we fiercely defend our territories against other wolverines. So there’s only room for a few wolverines on the landscape. This is basically an issue of energy availability.
But I also know some wolverines who live in captivity. About twenty of them, on a small piece of land, where they are fed every day by very kind humans. These wolverines just hang out, and play together all day, and don’t get into fights. They can live at that density, and get along with each other, because they have a reliable source of energy that they don’t really have to work for. These wolverines are kind of lucky, because their prosperity is handed to them. But they are are also kind of fat, and a little lazy, and honestly, a bit deluded. Despite a lot of rhetoric about being “badass wolverines” and “fierce individualists” and stuff like that, some of them might not make it in the wild if the flow of energy was cut off and they were turned out. And if one day those humans stopped feeding them, and they remained in that fenced-in piece of land where they live, then they would turn on each other and there would be carnage.
Right now, you guys are the fat, lazy, captive wolverines, living in your magical fenced-in enclosure (we think of it as “magical” because of your strange belief in lines on the landscape that no one else can see, but that you adhere to without even scent-marking), talking about how independent and freedom-loving you all are. You’re not living in the real world. The efficiency that you’ve exploited through the infusion of “free” energy from outside your ecosystem has allowed you to expand all over the place, and build something that isn’t sustainable. In your case, that energy source is finite. You can either deal with that reality now – and vote to deal with it – or you can pretend it’s not a problem, and you’ll force your descendants to deal with it. There’s a very clear choice here.
RW: So you support Obama, on the grounds of energy policy and environmental protection?
Ms. W: Yes. I would give him a nip on the heels, because he hasn’t been entirely satisfactory, but at least he’s going in the right direction, and he’s done it in the face of a lot of opposition.
RW: Wouldn’t it be better to vote for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, who is much more thoroughly environmentalist?
Ms. W: If you’re an idealist, maybe. But politics doesn’t seem to be a realm in which idealism prospers. Also, right now, Ms. Stein is like a disperser – she’s new to the scene, she doesn’t have any connections to help her defend her territory even if she managed to occupy it. I like to think about politics in terms of territory, by the way, even though I know that that’s gulopomorphizing you humans, so let me tell you how this works with wolverines. Female wolverines in particular tend to occupy a territory close to their mothers or sisters – wolverines allied to them, in other words, and less likely to interfere with them. In the case of wolverines, this is an alliance by blood; in the case of politics, by party affiliation. Obama, to a certain extent, was also a bit like a disperser; he occupied a territory unexpectedly, and he won the fight in a very spectacular way, but he didn’t have a lot of allies for his vision, even in his own party, and then suddenly all those hostile Republicans came in and made it their mission to kick him out of his territory no matter what. So even though a politician may be the nominal leader, his or her leadership depends on sharing his territory with other wolverines – people, I mean – who will not spend all their time just trying to kick him, or her, out. I don’t think that Ms. Stein would be able to defend her political territory effectively. What you all need to do first, you need to elect a lot of Green Party people at lower levels of government over the next decade. Then you elect a Green president.
RW: When I lived in Massachusetts, I always voted for Nader, because the Democrats would win the electoral votes anyway, and then I felt like I wasn’t compromising my principles. But as I’ve gotten older, I guess I’ve come to believe that investing your entire identity in politics – the idea that a candidate has to be a 100% reflection of your own preferences – is a little naive. You vote to achieve pragmatic ends, ends that relate to governance, not to morality – or you should, anyway. Right now, I feel like our entire system is bogged down in screaming at each other about issues that are essentially moral issues.
Ms. W: You mean all that sex-and-death stuff?
RW: Elaborate, please.
Ms. W: You know: squabbling over who can mate with whom, and when, and whether or not the government should be allowed to dictate what happens between consenting adults in private, or when and if you bear kits, or whether you can permanently share a territory with the person you love, even if their pelt is a different color or they happen to be the same sex as you. Getting worked up about all that stuff reflects a primal fear of the uncontrollable forces of sex and death. People who are hung up about such things have serious psychological issues. Mating, reproducing, dying – these things happen. That’s nature. Deal with it. You can’t regulate those things with laws; the role of government is not to legislate a moral outlook or to define and enforce ‘moral’ behavior among citizens.
RW: What is the role of government, in your view?
Ms. W: Remember those captive wolverines I mentioned? Even if they knew that the humans were about to stop supplying them with meat, even if they knew that their external energy source was about to be cut off, they wouldn’t really have the ability to get together and make a decision about what to do. Wolverines are extremely independent animals; we don’t organize at broader levels. I’ve spent much of my life happily solitary, patrolling a huge territory that is shared only with my mate, my kits, and an occasional disperser or two (don’t tell my mate about that, though…he doesn’t read your blog, so he won’t find out on here, just don’t mention it in person.) I like my family, but wolverines are not in need of mechanisms to organize our population. We are individualists. The organizing unit of the wolverine population is the individual wolverine, defending its individual territory. That works well for us.
You, on the other hand, are social primates. We always laugh when we listen to you yapping about American individualism and freedom. All the big apes congregate, and all of them have social hierarchies and organization that help them distribute available resources and keep the group going. Wolves are similar – the individuals sacrifice for the sake of the pack, and they live all crowded together in ways that make us cringe. You humans take it to an even greater degree, you’ve organized beyond the pack level, into varying kinds of super-packs, and you’re so crammed together on the landscape that it makes us queasy, and so you have to have these mechanisms to keep those super-packs in order and make sure everyone gets a share of the kill – at least enough to stay alive, right, so they don’t rebel? Social animals have to take responsibility for other members of their pack or troop or nation-state, or whatever level of organization they’re talking about. That’s the essential biological reality.
Americans have some very, very strange ideas about their own nature – I won’t go into those weird people who think that you aren’t even primates, that would be like denying that wolverines are related to weasels, just because we’re bigger and smarter, and I don’t think there’s a single wolverine out there who would be that idiotic. But let me tell you the ecological reality behind American prosperity: you all came here, wiped out the original human inhabitants due to an unlucky (for them) combination of malicious intent and accidental microbial misfortune, and then had an entire continent and all of its resources – most of which had never been exploited with any intensity before – at your disposal. Anyone who was dissatisfied with how things were working could just pile all that useless crap you guys haul around with you into a cart, and move to some new place and start again there, which meant that you were constantly siphoning off any real discontent with misfortune or inequality, because there was always the lure of wealth somewhere else. You think it takes special national character or talent to build an empire when you have a low population and a huge resource base? It was like the wolves coming back into Yellowstone after all those decades of prey buildup in the absence of predators. Those wolves were prosperous, prolific, and very successful over the first decade – the first few generations of wolves had things really good. They were huge, individually, and they had huge packs with multiple sets of pups each year. And if an individual wolf didn’t like things in her own pack, if she felt crowded or disrespected or whatever, she could disperse over to the next drainage and find another patch of vacant territory full of elk, and voila. New wolf pack.
And then Yellowstone filled up. Wolves started getting sick, dying of mange and distemper, killing each other in inter-pack conflicts. Young dispersers couldn’t just set out with their individualist dreams anymore, because the entire landscape was likely to be occupied. If they wanted a new territory, they had to fight for it. Out beyond the borders of the protected areas, wolves were killed for getting into livestock, trying to supplement their energy source by poaching it from humans – I guess you could see that as an ongoing but failing invasion of another nation, the wolf nation invading the human nation to get fuel, just like you guys did with Iraq. Anyway, the point is that a naive landscape with a lot of resources can accommodate a whole bunch of people (or wolves) who want to live in an extravagant way, and equally importantly, it can accommodate social discontent. A full landscape with a growing population and increasingly limited resources can’t. So like the wolves, you are going to either have to get used to a lot more internal conflict over the resources that remain, or you need to determine a way to mitigate the effects of those resource shortages so that you don’t have conflicts.
To me, the role of government is to think strategically about how to minimize those conflicts. You humans are lucky that you have the capacity to do this. There is one candidate who is talking in a smart way about how you can think ahead and anticipate a major resource shortage – namely, fossil fuel energy – by replacing it with another source. He’s also talking about how to make sure that everyone in the pack gets a share of the pack’s prosperity, even though the world is getting more crowded and it’s going to take more care to manage the discontent that will result. And there is a second candidate who is ignoring this ecological reality of energy and resource shortages, and spends all his time talking about entrenching hierarchies and inequality and making sure that only the alpha wolves get a share of the kill that all of society helped to take down.
Also, you know, once you let all the power and wealth become concentrated in a few hands, you have a very bad situation for the people who don’t have power or wealth. Our cousins in Siberia tell stories about what it was like in Russia before the Communist Revolution, when they were governed by a system called feudalism. Not that we support communism or anything, but feudalism sounds pretty bad. We figure people in America must not know what this is, but it was a time when just a few rich people controlled everything, and the rights of those rich people superseded the rights of everyone else. Once in a while this was good for wolverines, because starving peasants sometimes die in the woods, and you know, carrion is carrion. Of course, the same could be said for revolutionaries shipping all the rich people to Siberia, shooting them, and dumping them in the woods – they all taste the same, despite the rich people’s pretensions of superiority. But on the whole, it’s probably not a direction you want to take.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, wolverines are individualists, biologically and ecologically. Humans aren’t. You guys are in this together, so you better figure out a way to manage yourselves, your population, and your resources, so that you don’t all end up cannibalizing each other in a few generations. And your democratic governance system is the means by which you currently do this. It’s way better than a dictatorship or a plutocracy, so take care to protect it.
RW: Ergh. Yes. Thanks for that thought about cannibalism, that’s why I am not having children.
Ms. W: Smart girl, although I bet your descendants would be too scrawny to tempt anyone unless the potential cannibals were in really dire straits. It’s all these plump, succulent people who sit around watching TV who should be worried.
RW: Somehow it makes me uneasy that you’re thinking about humans as succulent.
Ms. W: Don’t worry. We have no plans to start harvesting you. Mountain goat and elk taste a lot better. No offense, but that corn-based diet makes you kind of bland.
RW: I’m not even going to ask how you know that. Let’s get back to the election. What else are wolverines concerned about?
Ms. W: Wait a second – we don’t attack humans. I just want to clarify that. Sometimes people have accidents, and we’re scavengers, you know. But we have no bad intentions towards you.
Anyway, on to other issues. If you talk to the wolverine community at large, there’s a certain sentiment that the government should create incentives for more humans to hunt large ungulates, because we get a good supply of carrion from these people. I know Romney would characterize this as a socialist scheme to supply lazy wolverines with meat that they don’t deserve and haven’t worked for – redistribution of biomass, so to speak – but we certainly support ethical hunting. By ethical, I mean hunting using copper bullets, and making sure you leave all the scraps in places more accessible to wolverines than grizzlies. It’s really exhausting to have to fight a grizzly.
RW: So you don’t see providing for the less fortunate in society as a bad thing? You were being sarcastic with the redistribution of biomass comment?
Ms. W: Kind of. But you know, ecosystems are inherently inefficient. At each trophic level – that’s each level of the food chain – you lose about 90% of the available energy as its transferred from one being to another. Money is the energy of the economic system, so to me it makes sense that some of it goes back into the general system as it makes its way upward. I mean, you can take that analogy only so far, but compare a 90% energy loss rate with whatever those guys are paying in taxes, and they’re way ahead.
Anyway, we like it when you guys hunt a lot of ungulates and leave the gut piles for us. Do that. We work really hard to stay alive, a little bonus now and then hardly means that we’re morally deficient.
RW: I really wish we could stop talking about morals and morality, but I’m glad you’ve picked up on the fact that this is such an ingrained part of our political dialogue.
Ms. W: Yes. The human obsession with these things is perverse, but since those are the terms in which we are dealing, let me say that I don’t understand how anyone could conclude that there is any more pressing moral issue than finding a way to live sustainably, to keep the planet healthy. This is the ultimate imperative for keeping not just wolverines alive, but people as well. People who claim that they value life but then don’t seem to care how their kits or their kits’ kits will live – that’s troubling. We find it extraordinary that you possess a fear of disorder that will drive you to spend time and money arguing about who should mate with whom, but that this fear of disorder somehow abandons you when it comes to talking about the potential destruction of your own ecological life support system. Could you please clarify the chain of logic that leads to these conclusions about how to allocate your political energy?
RW: Actually, I can’t. I don’t think that any chain of logic exists.
Ms. W: Hm. I really don’t understand you. I mean, not you, but humans in general. You’re really telling me that there’s a political party whose platform includes giving constitutional rights to a blastula or a corporation, but doesn’t include protecting the environment on which the potential kit, and the economy, will both rely? I’m sorry, but this makes no sense. And it represents a total failure of your capacity for imagination.
RW: How so?
Ms. W: Humans are very imaginative, you know. Wolverines don’t imagine half as much; we just go about our business, and mostly, if we imagine anything, we imagine a big supply of food that will last all winter. But you….you people do all kinds of crazy things. You pull things out of thin air. This is an amazing capacity. Right now your job is to pull a new world out of the old one, but you have to use your capacity for imagining a better world than the one you live in now. No one is imagining the new, healthy, sustainable world; you guys are like two grizzled old wolverines fighting over a six-month-old carcass, ready to kill each other for the scraps that remain. You need to be a young, robust wolverine instead – the kind who imagines she can go out and take down a moose all on her own – which, by the way, has been done….even though it might seem beyond credibility that a 30 pound animal could kill something that big. If that Alaskan wolverine could tackle a moose, you guys should have the guts to tackle climate change and build a world powered by renewable energy. Anyone who wants to stay and gnaw on the scraps of the fossil-fuel based world can do so, but I’d much rather by out tracking down the bigger, better future and jumping on it. Leave Romney his rotten old rib bones. Go hunt your moose with Obama.
RW: I really enjoy wolverine metaphors.
Ms. W: Thank you. We’re not particularly imaginative, but we do have a perspective that I like to think is useful and unique.
RW: Are there any other issues that you’d like to mention?
Ms. W: I could go on and on about things, but I’m not going to pretend that I understand the intricacies of the human world, and this conversation is getting long; I’m feeling the need to climb a mountain by myself to recover from all the socializing. But I will say this: we’ve talked about the national election, but it seems to me that you have to pay equally close attention to your local government. So vote wolverine the whole way up and down the political scale – pick candidates who stand up for the health of the planet, people, and the ecological community at every level. Support candidates who are in favor of open space, community-based sustainability plans, regional energy strategies, science education, and so forth. These guys don’t always fall out along party lines, either – some of my Idaho relatives know some Republicans there who have been supportive of environmental work for decades. You need to make these issues bipartisan, because they are inherently about protecting humanity as well as the rest of the planet.
RW: I’m glad you mentioned that. At the very beginning of our conversation, you said something about the wolverine community wanting to know what could be done to save us. What did you mean by that?
Ms. W: A lot of wolverines, believe it or not, are interested in human conservation. We find you entertaining, and mystifying, and you also bring us certain benefits – like carrion during hunting season, and those funny little log constructions with the neatly-prepared beaver snacks – so we don’t like to think about you going extinct, or about stochastic events that might result in a profound population reduction. But we can’t figure out why you’re so self-destructive. It’s puzzling. You manage to defy ecological rules and constraints again and again at certain levels, but you’re still bound within the larger system and one of these days it’s going to come back and bite you all. In the meantime, we realize that the decisions you make are having effects on us, and we want to know how we can urge you to expand your imaginations to include space for all of us to prosper. So remember this: the future in which you deal with climate change ahead of time is potentially beautiful, for humans and wolverines and other species alike. The future in which you don’t deal with climate change until it’s a necessity is bleak and miserable, for everyone, including humans. You are voting for one of these two futures. If you believe in the beautiful future, be sure you get to the polling stations tomorrow and cast your vote, for your sake as well as ours.
RW: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I try to keep this blog non-political and non-partisan, but I feel like this is important, so I appreciate you sharing your perspectives.
Ms. W: You’re welcome. I mean, it’s not like I really understand how this whole political scene works, so take my thoughts with that in mind, but I think that both our species – and all the rest here in the Rockies and around the world – are in this together. And remember, the work doesn’t stop at election day, no matter who wins the presidential election tomorrow. So be prepared with ideas about how to create the better future. And be in touch if you have any questions about wolverine perspectives on anything else.
I’m off to tackle a moose.