Swedish researchers believe that humanity is heading towards an evolutionary dead end. He identified a total of 14 evolutionary dilemmas – such as climate change, environmental pollution, misguided artificial intelligence, and the acceleration of infectious diseases.
Researchers explain this using the example of insects. Moths orient themselves in the dark with the help of the glowing moon, a skill they have developed over the course of evolution. But since the invention of the light bulb, they have been drawn to street lamps, which puts them at risk of becoming easy prey for predators or simply getting burned.
Over the course of evolution, living organisms have developed certain characteristics or defense mechanisms that have allowed them to survive on the planet. However, over time, due to environmental changes, it may cease to play its role and even become harmful – Then we talk about the “evolution trap” or mismatch.
Until now, this concept has been used in research related to the animal world. However, the Swedish research team has also observed such evolutionary traps in the case of humanity.
According to a study published in the journal “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B”, its cultural evolution has achieved remarkable success – it is the basis of the Anthropocene (the current geological era dominated by human activity – ed.).
However, over time, more and more cracks appear on it. Global crises – such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, food insecurity, financial crises and conflicts – have begun to occur simultaneously, leading some to call them multiple crises.
A dozen or so traps
-Humans as a species are incredibly creative. We are able to innovate, adapt to many conditions and collaborate on an amazing scale,” said Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, lead author of the study. However, these positive characteristics have unintended consequences.
“The human race has become too successful and, in some ways, too intelligent to thrive in the future,” he says.
From 2020 to 2022, the Stockholm Resilience Center conducted a series of workshops and studies to identify the most important Anthropocene processes, understand evolutionary dynamics and search for potential dead ends. The initial survey identified a total of 14 potential evolutionary traps, classified into three categories: global, technological or structural.
Dozens of traps identified included: changes in agriculture, economic growth that benefits neither people nor the environment, international instability, climate change, and the development of artificial intelligence.
As an example of a trap, the authors point to changes occurring in agriculture, such as reliance on a small number of highly productive crops. This is actually a success for humanity because it made it possible to increase the productivity of crops – such as wheat and corn – in a short period of time, greatly increasing global production.
However, the focus on highly productive individual plants makes it so The diet is becoming increasingly vulnerable to extreme climatic conditions Or new plant diseases.
Light in the tunnel
Scientists confirm that 12 out of 14 traps have already reached an advanced stage, which means it is increasingly difficult to get out of them. Two less advanced threats are technological independence (artificial intelligence, robotics) and the loss of social capital due to digital transformation.
“The evolutionary forces that created the Anthropocene are not working well on a global scale,” said Lan Wang Erlandsson, co-author of the study. In today’s global systems, social and environmental problems arise far from the societies that can prevent them. “Moreover, dealing with them often requires global cooperation on a level that many evolutionary forces are not adept at handling,” he added.
Despite the bleak assessment, scientists do not believe that humanity is doomed. However, active changes are necessary.
“It is time for us, the people, to recognize the new reality and start working together,” said Søgaard Jørgensen.
This is all the more possible because humanity has the skills to do so. Our creativity, innovative power and ability to collaborate give us the ideal tools to effectively shape our future. We can get out of the dead ends and continue as usual. To achieve this, we must support the capacity for human collective action and create an environment in which it can flourish, Jorgensen added.
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