Ants in the Sugar

Reading the latest ins and outs of the debate over fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline got me thinking about larger issues related to energy. And this reminded me of a story…

Once upon a time, a small nest of ants lived outside a big, grand house that had been abandoned by its owners. Like all the other animals, the ants struggled to find food and raise their babies. Then one day, a worker ant was exploring and found a crack in the wall of the grand house and went inside. There, she found a few flecks of a marvelous, sweet, energy-bearing substance that she brought back to the nest. The sugar was a big hit. So rich and wonderful! The queen laid many eggs and sent workers to find more of the miracle stuff. Lo and behold, the workers came upon a large deposit of the high-energy food deep within the walls of the house, high up on a shelf. A huge bag of sugar! They laboriously chewed a small hole in the side of the bag and began carrying sugar granules one by one back to the nest.

Over succeeding weeks, the nest thrived. Using this concentrated food was so much easier than foraging far and wide through the yard. The nest soon expanded and sent out new colonies. And each colony chewed its own hole in the sugar bag. Every one of them depended on sugar from the bag because that was the best way to keep growing. And, it was so, so easy.

A few of the ants mentioned to the queen that surely the sugar would run out one day. The queen just laughed and scorned them because they were only drone ants, who simply thought about things and did not do real work. She pointed out that the drones could not even agree among themselves exactly when the sugar would run out. Still, it seemed to her that it might be wise to ensure a steady supply of sugar, and so she sent soldier ants to capture the openings that other colonies had made in the sugar bag. But her daughters, the queens of the other colonies, had the same idea. There were many skirmishes and not a few large battles. The demand for sugar actually grew as each queen realized she needed to lay even more eggs to raise even more soldier ants to fight for more sugar.

As the cost of battles increased, the drones still droned on about running out of sugar. A few even went so far as to suggest that the ants look for a different source of food entirely, one that would never run out. After all, they pointed out, at one time not that long ago, all ants had lived without any sugar at all. The queen sneered and replied that there were far fewer ants then. And what, exactly, would they do, anyway? Live on sunlight like plants? Hah! The drones went back to their holes and fretted. The queen made plans to intensify the search for sugar. Surely there must be more in there somewhere…

I don’t know how the story of the ants ends. Do they:
a. Amazingly find ever more and more sugar in the abandoned house?
b. Share the ever-dwindling sugar supply evenly and fairly and let their population decrease to a sustainable level?
c. Use the remaining sugar not to raise more soldier ants but to raise worker ants who figure out an alternative to sugar?
d. Fight more and more battles to control the sugar bag until they exhaust both themselves and the sugar supply at about the same time—leading to a catastrophic collapse of all the ant colonies?

You tell me what the ants do. What should they do? What should we do?

2 comments on “Ants in the Sugar

  1. Tim Baum says:

    I think we will all be punished by the intergalactic orkin man, seriously it is the perfect story/analogy to our current shortsighted approach to reality.

  2. whit blackmon says:

    Bob, you are right on the money with this teaching opportunity! Whit

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