For the first time, scientists have applied the idea of evolutionary traps to entire human societies.
Their groundbreaking research suggests that humanity might be heading towards 14 ‘evolutionary dead ends.’
These dead ends range from climate change crises to dangers posed by artificial intelligence and widespread diseases.
Humans have achieved remarkable success in evolution. However, in the current era, known as the Anthropocene—defined by significant human impact on Earth—we are facing numerous global crises.
Problems like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and various financial and social conflicts are happening all at once, creating a complex situation scientists call a ‘polycrisis.’
Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, a researcher at Stockholm University and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, highlights the paradox of human innovation.
Our creativity and ability to adapt have had unintended consequences. Essentially, we’ve been too successful and smart for our own good, leading us towards potential pitfalls.
Evolutionary Traps: A New Perspective
The study, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, explores how humanity might fall into ‘evolutionary traps.’ These traps are situations where what once was a successful innovation turns into a dead end.
For example, modern agriculture has greatly increased food production but has also made our food system vulnerable to environmental changes and diseases.
The 14 Dead Ends
The researchers have identified 14 such traps, with 12 already at an advanced stage. These include the over-simplification of agriculture, the pursuit of economic growth without environmental or human benefits, and the instability of global cooperation.
Other concerning traps involve climate change, AI, and the loss of social connection due to digitalization.
One alarming aspect is how these traps can reinforce each other. Getting stuck in one can make it more likely to fall into others.
However, two areas—AI and the loss of social capital through digitalization—are not as advanced yet, offering a window for corrective action.
Another part of the problem is the global nature of these issues.
Many of the social and environmental problems are distant from those who could prevent them, and solving them often requires large-scale global collaboration. This is a challenging task, given the way societies currently operate.
Despite these challenges, the researchers are optimistic. They believe that humanity can actively transform societies to avoid these dead ends.
Our creativity and collaborative abilities are key tools in designing a sustainable future. The study suggests that we need to foster collective human agency and create environments where it can thrive.
Simple Steps for Everyone
According to Jørgensen, everyone can contribute to this effort. He suggests that engaging more with nature and society and understanding the global impact of our local actions are vital first steps.
Exposure to the things that need protecting is crucial for developing a deeper connection and responsibility towards our planet and societies.
In summary, this research calls for a collective awakening to the risks of the Anthropocene. By understanding and addressing these evolutionary dead ends, humanity can steer towards a sustainable and thriving future.