On Zombie Alligators, Global Warming and Occam’s Razor

I watched an incredible documentary on National Geographic the other day about “zombie alligators” in Florida. The story centered around a lake in Florida where researchers began discovering hundreds of alligators that, though still alive, they had essentially stopped functioning or moving and would eventually die. The program detailed how the researchers searched for any sort of answer to the problem, whether it was a virus, bacteria, pesticides or genetic. They could come up with nothing. The virus angle went nowhere because apparently alligators, who are constantly biting each other and tend to live in filthy swamps, have a crazy wicked immune system. The pesticide angle was also thought to be a dead end. While the lake had been the end spot for a fair amount of pesticide runoff which had negative effects on the lakes biodiversity, tests indicated that the pesticides themselves were not harming alligators. The researchers did notice that there were small pockets in the alligators brain that were abnormal, thus causing the zombification, they could not pinpoint a cause.

The researchers were eventually contacted by a scientist in the Pacific northwest that was familiar with zombification among certain salmon populations whose diet was deficient in Thiamine, or Vitamin B1. The salmon were determined to have the same brain anomalies as the gators. With the cause of the zombification determined, the researchers set out to determine why the zombie gators were deficient in a necessary and usually widely available vitamin. The conclusion: Pesticide runoff had killed off the biodiversity of the lake, creating a lake that overly nutrient rich. This rich environment enabled a fish called the Gizzard Shad to overpopulate the lake. The Shad, which became the zombie gators primary food source, produce a chemical which inhibits the absorption of thiamine. And thus, the zombie gators.

Which, in a round about way, brings me to global warming. The UN and the MSM are sure that man-made global warming is happening and are determined to convince us that we are all doomed because of our own actions. Given our natural disposition to hysteria and worry, it is understandable that we are buying into hype. We, americans especially, understand, on some level that we are consuming the earth’s natural resources in a short-sided manner. We understand, on some level, that we are wasteful and greedy. We understand, on some level, that we need to alter our actions because of the potential consequences.

Empirical evidence tells us that the weather has changed over the last few decades. Of this, there is no doubt. The cause of the this change, I believe, you must be skeptical. I am not the only one either. There are very respected environmental scientists that are skeptical of the consensus on Global Warming. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that there is not something going on. I am not saying that global warming will not dramatically alter some peoples lives. What I am saying is, don’t stop being skeptical of what the “consensus” is. Don’t stop questioning, based up preconceptions of doom. Remember that through the years, we’ve been confronted with global warming, Y2K, nuclear winter, acid rain, ozone depletion, topsoil depletion, global cooling, overpopulation and inability to grow enough food, rainforest deforestation, bird flu, ebola and planet killer meteors, among others. We are preconditioned to expect doom.

Which brings me to Occam’s Razor. All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the right one. Empirical evidence tells us that the weather is changing now. Empirical evidence tells us that the weather has been changing for centuries prior to the industrial revolution. Empirical evidence tells us that the Arctic is melting and the seas are rising. Empirical evidence tells us that the seas have been rising and falling for years. (Take Cosquer Cave in France for instance. This cave, discovered in 1991, contains cave drawings and paintings dating back 20,000 years (give or take). No big deal right? Well it wouldn’t be except that the entrance to the cave is approximately 37 meters below the surface of the Mediterranean sea. (Apparently one of the drawings is of Al Gore’s ancestors inventing fire and leaving a carbon footprint)).

Occam’s Razor my friends. Occam’s Razor.


  1. Being scientifically trained I am a big fan of applying Occam’s razor at all times. But I am troubled by your assertion that past prognostications of doom turned out to be fictions. A small example is Y2K — I was involved with a Y2K solutions provider that worked assiduously to repair the code that could have led to significant problems. A lot of money and time and ingenuity went in to correcting the problem so that, in the end, we were spared many difficulties. Similarly acid rain and ozone depletion, which have caused serious problems (destruction of lakes and forests here in Germany for example from the former, a rise in skin cancers in Australia and South Africa in the latter) have been mitigated because of extreme effort by governments and business leaders who placed moratoriums on the free release of production residuals that caused these negative externalities. Topsoil depletion, overpopulation and the inability to grow enough food are still causing immense immiseration around the world, despite many laudable efforts by the UNDP and other organizations to help. People are suffering and dying. For them, doomsday is already here.
    It is easy for us, the privileged few, to claim that “doom and gloom” scenarios were “wrong” when we, by virtue of our wealth, social privileges and access to credit and opportunity, so easy avoid the dire consequences. I imagine most of the world’s economic and ecological systems could collapse, dooming billions, and we would still sit in our hermetically sealed and defended gated communities with our luxuries partying and saying “see, the doomsday scenario was all hype, never happened”. I think we need to step out of our high maintenance bubble of blind contentment and acknowledge the losses for “the other 90%” who are not so fortunate and who are experiencing the terror of the scenarios you belittle. Even Ebola, while it may not have affected you and other privileged people, did indeed cause the “doom” (the demise) of the infected people in Africa and the suffering of their loved ones.
    Occam’s razor suggests that we find the most parsimonious answer to a given problem set. It doesn’t mean cutting the vast numbers of people suffering from the effects of environmental degradation out of our calculations. They do count, don’t you agree?

  2. One last thing: I worked on a Harvard team in rainforest ecology in Borneo in 1985 and went back to visit over a decade later on several research trips; I also did my Master’s degree in international development in the rainforests of Guatemala in 2000. The amount of deforestation is so vast it boogles the mind — where there used to be vast forests there are now only industrial oil palm plantations and settlements with the occassional hilltop cluster of trees looking like somebody’s bad haircut in a landscape of devastation. Families I knew could no longer get clean water or food and the wildlife was completely wiped out. My friends — formely self sufficient and happy with their lifestyle there were thrown into abject poverty and dependence on degrading jobs that didn’t pay enough to make ends meet. Because of deforestation droughts and floods (terrible weather extremes that the forest used to buffer) have caused losses of life and property. Diseases are rampant that used to be held in check by a complex ecology. To say that rainforest deforestation hasn’t had the terrible impact people predicted is to dishonor those who live in tropical regions and have had to suffer the consequences that cheap soybean, palm oil and timber for us have cost them.

  3. I watched the zombie gator too but not the whole thing, which is why i just googled “florida zombie alligators” to find out the conclusion. Thanks for that, and the other insight. – Tweak

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