For the first time, scientists have applied the idea of evolutionary traps to entire human societies.
Their groundbreaking research suggests that humanity may be heading toward 14 “evolutionary dead ends.”
These impasses range from climate change crises to threats from artificial intelligence and widespread disease.
Humans have achieved remarkable successes in evolution. However, in the current era, known as the Anthropocene, characterized by significant human impact on the Earth, we are facing numerous global crises.
Issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and various financial and social conflicts are occurring simultaneously, creating a complex situation that scientists call a “polycrisis.”
Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, a researcher at Stockholm University and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, sheds light on the paradox of human innovation.
Our creativity and adaptability have had unintended consequences. Essentially, we were too successful and smart for our own good, which led us into potential pitfalls.
Evolutionary Traps: A New Perspective
The study, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, examines how humanity might fall into “evolutionary traps.” These traps are situations in which a once successful innovation reaches a dead end.
For example, modern agriculture has greatly increased food production but has also made our food system vulnerable to environmental change and disease.
The 14 dead ends
The researchers have identified 14 such traps, 12 of which are already at an advanced stage. These include the oversimplification of agriculture, the pursuit of economic growth without environmental or human benefits, and the instability of global cooperation.
Other worrisome pitfalls include climate change, AI and the loss of social connections due to digitalization.
One alarming aspect is how these traps can reinforce each other. Getting stuck in one increases your chances of falling into others.
However, two areas – AI and the loss of social capital due to digitalization – are not yet as advanced and offer room for corrective action.
Another part of the problem is the global nature of these problems.
Many of the social and environmental problems are far removed from those that could prevent them, and solving them often requires extensive global cooperation. Given the way societies currently function, this is a challenging task.
Despite these challenges, researchers are optimistic. They believe that humanity can actively change societies to avoid these dead ends.
Our creativity and ability to cooperate are important tools in shaping a sustainable future. The study suggests that we need to nurture collective human agency and create environments in which it can thrive.
Simple steps for everyone
According to Jørgensen, everyone can contribute to this effort. He points out that greater engagement with nature and society and understanding the global impact of our local actions are important first steps.
Exposure to the things that need to be protected is crucial to developing a deeper connection and responsibility towards our planet and our societies.
In summary, this research calls for a collective awareness of the risks of the Anthropocene. By understanding and addressing these evolutionary dead ends, humanity can find its way to a sustainable and prosperous future.