What's the sitch with optional hibernation?
Hibernation is a state of inactivity characterized by a global decrease in metabolic activity, resulting in low body temperature, reduced heart rate and slowed breathing. It is used by mammals living in northern climates, such as bears and rodents, to conserve energy during the winter when food is scarce. This is a natural process that has helped these animals survive in environments that would otherwise be incompatible with sustained life. Environments such as those found in the great state of Minnesota.
Using superior intelligence and a complete lack of regard for lifeforms other than our own, humans have managed to sidestep the food scarcity brought on by subzero temperatures. We make our food last longer by preserving it with heat and salt; we import food from our friends living in warmer places; and we eat a fuckload more than our bodies need, eliminating the energy scarcity problem all together. We also burn natural products in order to heat our bodies from the outside, reducing our reliance on internal metabolism for temperature maintenance.
It is apparent that we do not need hibernation in order to survive, unlike some of our furry friends. But, the benefits of hibernation should be evaluated before we discard the strategy for good.
Bears get to skip winter completely. They go to sleep as the last leaves fall from the deciduous trees, and awake as spring sunshine illuminates fresh buds appearing on those very same branches. They don’t have to wait for the bus, arriving 15 minutes late, in temperatures cold enough to skin a cat (is that a saying?). They don’t have to scrape ice off of their cars, only to have it reform by the next morning. They don’t have to get out from under their warm covers and step on an icy floor in the dark hours of morning. They never have to get out from under their covers… that’s the beauty of it.
Female polar bears have been shown to lose ~25% of their pre-hibernation weight each winter. Talk about a diet! Additionally, right before hibernation they became hyperphagic, meaning they get to eat as much as they possibly can for a few weeks. Even if one was to put on a good amount of milkshake and burrito weight, all of that would melt off during the winter’s sleep, leaving you with that beach bod you’ve been seeking just in time to show it off.
Now, many of us enjoy our lives, even in the brutal winter time. There is plenty of joy to be found during these dark, frigid days, even if much of that pleasure is found inside the relatively warm confines of your home.
But! Having the option to hibernate, even for one month every third or fourth winter, to catch up on years of sleep and shed a few extra pounds… That might appeal to some. The technology exists (I think) and in northern climes I bet there would be a market for it. I suppose a couple-month vacation to somewhere warm would be preferable, if you were already taking off work for that time. But, if the hibernation-maintenance cost was reasonable, and the procedure was safe… I wouldn’t mind sleeping through a February now and again. Especially if the hibernation-dream-state included Netflix.
Also, starting this trend may be good, not only for the feeble individuals who can’t quite handle a real Minnesota winter, but also for society as a whole. Think of the carbon savings if even 10% of cars were off the road for two months, if neighborhoods could turn off their electricity for extended periods of January, if Whole Foods didn’t have to ship quite as many avocados from California each week… that could turn into significant energy savings for a community, all of a sudden making this proposal more analogous to the original purpose of hibernation, which is conserving limited resources.
If Minnesota starts this hibernation trend soon, perhaps, 100 years from now, when 1/12th of the world’s population hibernates each month, in a mandatory rotating schedule of rest and energy conservation, the planet will have finally stalled global warming, and scholars will be able look back to this sitch as a first step in the right direction.
When that day comes, I don’t want my name glorified in song by the bards, and I won’t need any fame or reward… the satisfaction of a planet saved will be enough for me. That and my face carved into a cliff, in a Mount Rushmore-type situation.