New research charts 14 potential evolutionary dead-ends for humanity and ways to avoid them

New research charts 14 potential evolutionary dead-ends for humanity and ways to avoid them

For the first time, scientists used the concept of evolutionary traps on human societies as a whole. They found that humanity risks falling into 14 evolutionary dead ends, ranging from global climate tipping points to skewed artificial intelligence, chemical pollution, and accelerating infectious diseases.

The evolution of humanity has been an extraordinary success story. But the Anthropocene – the proposed geological epoch shaped by us humans – is showing more and more cracks. Multiple global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, food insecurity, financial crises, and conflicts, are beginning to occur simultaneously, what scholars refer to as multiple crises.

“Humans are incredibly creative as a species. We are able to innovate and adapt to many conditions and can cooperate on surprisingly large scales. But it turns out that these abilities have unintended consequences. Simply put, you could say that the human species has been very “The technology is successful and, in some ways, too smart for its own good,” says Dr., a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University and at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Global Economic Dynamics, Biosphere Program and Anthropocene Laboratory.

He is the lead author of a new landmark study published today as part of a larger evaluation in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society b. The assessment brings together insights from a wide range of different scientific disciplines across the natural and social sciences and humanities, to understand how the Anthropocene has evolved and how global sustainability can continue to evolve in the future.

The new study shows how humanity can stumble into “evolutionary traps” – dead ends that occur as a result of initially successful innovations. In their first scoping effort, they identified 14 such factors, including simplification of agriculture, economic growth that does not bring benefits to humans or the environment, instability of global cooperation, climate tipping points, and artificial intelligence (for a full list of factors) traps see table Down).

“Evolutionary traps are a well-known concept in the animal world. Just as many insects are attracted to light, an evolutionary reaction that could kill them in the modern world, humanity is at risk of responding to new phenomena in harmful ways.” Peter Søgaard Jørgensen explains.

The simplification of agricultural systems is an example of this trap. Reliance on a few high-yielding crops such as wheat, rice, corn and soybeans has meant that calories produced have risen dramatically over the past century. But it also means that the food system has become highly vulnerable to environmental change, such as extreme weather events, or new diseases. Of the 14 evolutionary traps, 12 are in an advanced state, meaning that humanity is about to get stuck to the point where it becomes very difficult to get out. Moreover, societies continue to move in the wrong direction in 10 of these 14 societies. Alarmingly, these evolutionary traps tend to reinforce each other. If societies get stuck in a dead end, they are likely to get stuck in other ways as well. The two currently less advanced dead ends are technology independence – artificial intelligence and robotics – and the loss of social capital through digitization.

The new assessment also looks at why communities struggle so hard to break out of these traps.

“The evolutionary forces that created the Anthropocene are not working well at the global level. In current global systems, social and environmental problems grow in places that seem far from the societies that can prevent them. And addressing them often requires global cooperation on a global scale.” “This is a scale to which many evolutionary forces often do not mesh well,” says co-author Lan Wang Erlandsson, a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University and the Anthropocene Laboratory of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Researchers say this does not mean that humanity is doomed to failure. But we have to start actively transforming our societies. Until now, the Anthropocene has been largely an unconscious byproduct of other evolutionary processes. “It is time for humans to realize the new reality and collectively move to where we want to go as a species. We have the capacity to do this and are already seeing signs of such movements. Our creativity and ability to innovate and collaborate,” explains Peter Søgaard Jørgensen.

He continues: “The simple thing anyone can do is to become more involved in nature and society while also recognizing the positive and negative global consequences of our local actions. There is nothing better than exposing yourself to what needs protecting.”

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