When ecology and economy are in conflict

MEP Maria Heubuch gave a lecture on the state and future of agriculture - Hot discussion on glyphosate.

Even the bare facts may surprise: The share of agricultural land in Germany is 52.4 percent - followed by the forest areas with about 30 and the settlement and traffic area with about 13.5 percent.

But in terms of gross value added in the total spectrum (GDP), farmers generate just 0.8 percent. However, Germany is still - after France - the second largest agricultural producer in Europe. Which wrestling takes place around this 0.8 percent, which press concerns, what demands and hopes are in the room: This is what Maria Heubuch, member of the Greens of the Greens, talked about on Friday evening before quite committed and sometimes quite heated discussing visitors in the stadium restaurant.



In doing so, the agricultural expert immediately put her finger in the wound: she used various examples to show how ecology and economy are often irreconcilably confronted with how difficult it is to harmonize this sad conflict, which in the main is being carried out on the general public.

From the tradition farmer woman as well as owner of a dairy farm allgäu, she was direct witness of the milk crisis in the years to 2014/15, which had cost in the end 4081 enterprises in the existence of Germany. The common European agricultural policy (CAP) had demanded this in the context of a structural change, had set profitability norms.

Among other things, this has a detrimental effect on diversity and also means that fewer and fewer farms produce more and more food. Quality of life is lost - and at all levels. Above all, biodiversity suffers from structural changes, such as with regard to insect and bird life.

The stimulus word "glyphosate" (a weed control), which appears in almost every public debate when it comes to healthy nutrition, also largely dominated the discussion that followed the lecture. It was precisely here that there was considerable dissension between the experiences and interests of the farmers present on the one hand and the ecological agenda of the ecological party on the other.

Again and again, the speaker pointed out that the problems that surround biodiversity, sustainability and responsible economic activity should be seen not only with regard to the Kraichgau, but "that we all sit in the same boat, after all", that all people have to look beyond the domestic demands that lie on their doorstep and have to think globally.

Ultimately, consumer behavior determines which direction the development is going for. If you want quality and variety, you also have to dig deeper into your wallet, stressed Maria Heubach.

Ecology has determined the great development of the human brain

There is no scientific consensus on why the human brain has such a large relative size, compared to other living beings. Numerous evolutionary theories have tried to explain this singularity, but none has been able to discern whether its growth is a cause or an effect of other factors.

One of the best known hypotheses is that our brain grew to allow our ancestors to function better in an increasingly complex society. Another hypothesis is that this increase in size is related to the fact that our ancestors began to eat meat. The greater protein contribution would have allowed the reduction of the digestive system, in favor of an increase in brain mass.

A new study published this week in Nature rejects those hypotheses. "Our results indicate that ecology has been a determining factor in the evolution of the size of the human brain, and not social aspects such as cooperation or competition", explains Sinc Mauricio González-Forero, researcher at the Faculty of Biology at the University of Saint Andrews (United Kingdom).

Among these ecological factors are problems such as finding food, storing it, and processing it to consume it. "The hunter-gatherers who live in the African savanna solve these problems through animal tracking skills, construction of tools such as bottles and leather containers, and with the production and control of fire to cook food," explains the researcher.

The study concludes that when the environment is inhospitable and individuals can continue to learn how to solve problems long after childhood - for example, because they can learn difficult techniques from other individuals - that combination between ecology and knowledge accumulation produces brains of size human.

On the trail of a larger brain

With the help of a computational model, the authors have analyzed the energy costs and benefits provided by a larger brain. The larger the size, the more energy is consumed and the less energy available for other functions, such as the reproductive organs. However, a larger brain also tends to allow the individual to solve more complex problems.

"The model calculates how large the brain should be as a result of natural selection when individuals have evolved by finding problems of different types. We have considered ecological problems and three types of social problems (cooperation, competition between individuals, and competition between groups), "explains González-Forero.

In this way, 60% of the determining factors are of an ecological nature, 30% would be related to cooperation and only 10% would be based on competition between groups. The competition between individuals would not have been relevant for the evolution of the brain.

These percentages are consistent with the fact that human psychology is characterized by its tendency to cooperate. Cooperation among individuals plus competition between groups, which involves cooperation among individuals in the group, provides a high proportion of cooperation problems - 40% - that could have shaped human psychology.

"Our model refutes the hypothesis that the human brain expanded throughout evolution due to social demands. On the contrary, we found that such demands contribute to decrease the size of the brain ", explains González-Forero.

"That does not mean that we should diminish our social interactions to promote a bigger brain, because the consequences of something like that would take hundreds of thousands of years to have an effect and could involve negative consequences that the model does not anticipate," concludes the researcher.