Climate Change and human evolution; do you know what will happen next?

Humans and thousands of other creatures are reaching unprecedented limits imposed by the natural world within which they are embedded.  Many species have become extinct or greatly limited by changes in the ecological systems that support  them.

Human-caused climate warming even underlies the course of evolution. The human animal evolved in a extraordinarily complex ecological world which, from time to time, was so greatly limiting that only a few thousand individuals survived. However, over thousands of years, humans, with their  unique form of consciousness, found ways to breach some of those limits. They domesticated  plants and animals, developed agriculture, created systems of writing, complex  forms of  thought, and, eventually, the science and technologies that make modern life so richly abundant. In other words, they created their own environments in which they better survived and prospered than they could simply in nature.  

Humans, like all organisms, want to grow and reproduce. For most of their time on Earth, they depended upon the renewable energy provide by the sun and their fellow evolutionary  companions--other animals  and plants. In the process they altered vegetation, soils, other animals, and the landscapes in which they lived.  With the discovery of how to use the energy stored in fossil fuels, humans harnessed extraordinary amounts of energy and develop technologies that allowed them to  live longer, reproduce better, and surround  themselves with  goods and services unimaginable even within a single lifetime. In fact we  humans have been so successful that we now number over eight billion people. In the process, we have greatly altered the  very nature of the air, seas and lands upon which we, like all animals, depend.

With recent smoke intrusions into the northeastern United States, with the heat domes in the West, and with record-breaking rainfalls and droughts throughout the world, almost all  Americans are aware that climate has changed. With knowledge of the melting of ice in Greenland, Antarctica, and the Arctic Ocean, with warming of the oceans and sea level rise, it is impossible to deny global warming. But political, social, and economic actions at a scale large enough to slow, let alone decrease, the course of global warming have not kept pace with public awareness, certainly not with scientific understanding and modeling of  physical phenomenon. Climate experts report  that actions to reduce the burning of  fossil fuels and the emission of greenhouse gasses must be taken immediately if further tipping  points--conditions  beyond  which irreversible and/or reinforcing changes--can be avoided. Each tipping point is accompanied with natural disasters resulting in human tragedies. Nevertheless, this month, scientists reported that both consumption of fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gasses had increased last year. This has resulted in further global warming and the approach of another tipping point. 

What is happening?  Some people who are aware of the climate crises believe that solutions can be found with technological fixes. However, even the development of renewable energy has resulted in the in addition, not substitution of the total consumption of energy. Deniers of the crises want to “dig, baby, dig” more fossil fuels in hopes of greater profits and the continuation of their ‘good life.’ Others throw up their hands in frustration or desperation. Some who fear the consequences of climate warming want to migrate to places  less likely to be overwhelmed by climate changes. Yet others, look to local actions to preserve some  hope of continued well-being for their particular community. Most people simply want to continue to live with some form of the benefits of goods and services of modern life.

I believe that we humans have entered early stages of a predicament without any available solutions.  Ecological changes in the Earth are proceeding at an unprecedented rate and uncontrollable scale. Most ecological changes are wildly different from the environments in which the  human animal evolved. The ecology that allowed the evolution and continued existence of humans’ life-support systems no longer exists. In fact, we are accelerating the destruction of the very natural conditions that support human life.  Above all, in our innate efforts to grow and reproduce we have been extraordinarily successful, but only in human terms, not in terms of the environment in which we evolved.

Natural evolution will continue, whatever we humans do. In the space of a couple  hundred years, humans have created ecological conditions that may be comparable to the impact of the Chicxulub asteroid that eliminated the dinosaurs and the course of evolution. Some humans will most likely survive the current evolutionary crises. However, most will not! Let’s search ourselves to find ways to find serenity as modern civilization unravels before us.

by Al Urquhart

Al Urquhart is a member of the advisory board of Job One for Humanity. Please see his background here. 

June 12, 2023         

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  • Alton Thompson
    commented 2023-06-29 17:20:06 -0700
    You refer to “the current evolutionary crises,” but they are NOT that! As Eugene Linden pointed out in his 1979 Affluence and Discontent, our species has been on a downward course, relative to Earth System, since agriculture began to replace foraging during the Neolithic Revolution. It was intellectual, institutional, and “eventic” developments—that is, historical developments—that put our species on that course. Jared Diamond was SO right in calling that our “worst mistake” as humans (
  • Lawrence Wollersheim
    published this page in Blog 2023-06-28 14:14:15 -0700
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