The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments

By Claude A. Piantadosi | Go to book overview

4
Food for Thought

In 5000 years of recorded history, nearly 500 major famines have been documented in various parts of the world. Even in the twenty-first century, about 1 million people starve to death worldwide every year. When one realizes how difficult it is to starve to death today, the magnitude of this tragedy becomes incomprehensible. The contrary view that almost 6 billion people are fed on the planet every day reminds us of the technological tour de force that is modern agriculture. Fewer than 1 in 6000 people starve to death each year in today's world. However, the true consequences of human starvation and malnutrition are far larger and more insidious than is the body count. These include epidemics of related diseases, lost productivity, and loss of tolerance to environmental stress, particularly to heat and cold.


A Brief Overview of Human Starvation

The human impact of starvation has been an area of controversy among scholars, physicians, clerics, and politicians for hundreds of years. In 1798 the economist T. Robert Malthus (1766–1834) wrote in his famous “An Essay on the Principle of Population” that unchecked population growth would result in “gigantic inevitable famine” leading to the extinction of civilization. Within a few years, how

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The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • 1: The Human Environment 1
  • 2: Survival and Adaptation 10
  • 3: Cross-Acclimation 21
  • 4: Food for Thought 29
  • 5: Water and Salt 41
  • 6: Water That Makes Men Mad 54
  • 7: Tolerance to Heat 63
  • 8: Endless Oceans of Sand 78
  • 9: Hypothermia 89
  • 10: Life and Death on the Crystal Desert 99
  • 11: Survival in Cold Water 119
  • 12: Air as Good as We Deserve 129
  • 13: Bends and Rapture of the Deep 140
  • 14: Sunken Submarines 152
  • 15: Climbing Higher 164
  • 16: Into the Wild Blue Yonder 181
  • 17: G Whiz 193
  • 18: The Gravity of Microgravity 203
  • 19: Weapons of Mass Destruction 212
  • 20: Human Prospects for Colonizing Space 227
  • Bibliography and Supplemental Reading 247
  • Index 255
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