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Is Humanity Suicidal? • Edward O. Wilson, holding the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professorship, Harvard University • N.Y. Times Magazine article, May 30, 1993
Luck of the Draw • Evolutionary argument implies that that some species will eventually develop intelligence on a planet with life. • Intelligence is an advantage in a Darwinian world of survival of the fittest. • The intelligent species will have the capability of dominating all other life.
Humanity’s Numerical Impact • Human population has doubled to 5.5 billion in last 50 years. • The population will likely double again in the next 50 years. • Never has so much protoplasm been concentrated in one species previously on this planet.
Darwin’s Dice May Have Rolled Badly for Earth. • Humanity is a carnivorous primate species. • Humanity had hereditary traits that enhance our destructive impact on our environment. • Humanity is tribal, aggressively territorial, demanding space beyond minimal requirements, and driven by selfish sexual drives.
The Selfish Human • Humanity is genetically programmed to be adverse to cooperation, especially beyond the family and tribal levels. • To win the evolutionary battle, those who thought first about themselves, second about their families, third about their village, and a distant fourth about the world survived the most.
Carnivorous Humanity • Carnivores use the sun’s energy less efficiently. • Each step in the food chain roughly loses 90% of the sun’s energy (that is, 10% survives). • Grass to grasshopper to warbler to hawk, each step losing 90% of the previous step.
Human Consumption • Humanity appropriates approximately 20% to 40% of the sun’s energy that would otherwise be fixed in natural vegetation. • This includes our consumption of crops and timber, land needs for construction, and the creation of wastelands. • Everywhere, we pollute and destroy life and the environment.
Humanity is an Environmental Abnormality • Intelligence in the wrong species can produce a fatal combination for the species and the biosphere. • Intelligence in the wrong species can extinguish itself. • All of this can be determined by the nature of the genes that survive in the species.
The Juggernaut Theory of Human Nature • Any intelligent species will eventually develop a sense of global responsibility. • But a genetically selfish and energy inefficient (e.g., carnivorous) species may not change quickly enough.
The Window of Opportunity • There is a window of opportunity for any species to become globally responsible. • This time period is based on how destructive the species is to the environment. • A destructive species will have a short window. A less destructive species will have more time.
The Evolution of the Brain • Most of humanity’s evolution was based on a long stretch of time where people lived in small, pre-literate hunter-gatherer groups. • Life was precarious and short. • Close attention to near-term survival and early reproduction was the priority.
We are pre-programmed. • The human mind works comfortably backward and forward only a few years. • Our genes are biased in terms of short-term thinking • The prophets never enjoyed a Darwinian edge.
The French Lily Pond Riddle • One lily pad in a pond. • The next day it doubles: two lily pads. • The next day it doubles: four lily pads. • The next day it doubles: eight lily pads. • After 29 days, the pond is half filled. • One day later, the pond is full.
Two schools of thought. • Exemptionalism • Environmentalism • The basic question boils down to whether or not it is possible for any intelligent species to micromanage the biological homeostat of a planet. • How many species can we destroy and still survive ourselves?