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Freshly Baked Science


Are Humans Devolving?

5th August 2019

You only have to look at recent weather patterns to know that climate change is very much real and extremely serious. While it may be a nice treat for us to experience some exotic summer days, weather like this should really be treated as seriously as earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters. The sad truth of climate change is that humans are the primary cause. The way we are living our lives is leading to the death of our own planet, which begs the question: ‘Are humans devolving?

Devolution isn’t technically a biological concept, as it’s very unlikely for a species to ‘undo’ any evolutionary mutations. However, our self-destructive behaviour does make you wonder if the evolution of humankind has actually been entirely positive.

Evolution can be either beneficial or detrimental. In the past, most evolutionary traits that are long-lasting have been advantageous and are due to natural selection. It makes sense that if a genetic mutation gave an individual an increased chance of survival, then they would survive to reproduce and hopefully pass this positive mutation to their offspring. If the mutation was unfavourable, the mutated individual would usually be unable to reproduce. But, is the way we’re currently living interfering with natural selection?

On the surface, the advancements humans have made over the past century have been huge. But improvements in treatment of infertility and life-extending medical care could be leading to undesirable mutations being passed down through generations, potentially resulting in the devolution of the human race.

Until recently, increased human intelligence was seen as an advantageous evolutionary trait but, instead, it could be sabotaging the future of our species and home. We believe we are always advancing and progressing, but is that strictly true?

It all comes down to a very philosophical question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’. If the meaning of life is to ensure every single human being has the best possible quality of life, then perhaps intelligence is beneficial. But, if it is to ensure the survival of the human race as a whole, then it may actually be detrimental.

Our intelligence has been used to push the limits of human ability, making the impossible possible, through inventions. The majority of human inventions improve quality of life for individuals or are to make life more convenient. Humans are designed to be manual and busy-bodied, but the convenience of these inventions is making us lazier, more prone to mental illness, less sociable and is contributing massively to global warming.

Transport makes up nearly 15% of pollution, but this could be 0% if we still relied on body-powdered transport like walking, cycling, or even scootering. We’ve become so accustomed to hopping into a car to run an errand and think nothing of jetting halfway across the world for a holiday. Unfortunately, the world has developed around transport, so our necessities have become more spread out and we have less spare time to walk or cycle to our destinations.

Another big contributor of pollution is construction. Of course, with a growing population, the construction of new houses to live in is inevitable. However, the culture of competing with neighbouring cities to have the tallest possible skyscrapers could be avoided. Although impressive buildings boost the local economy, by increasing tourism, who would the money go to if humans became extinct?

Other contributors to our massive carbon emissions include agriculture, electricity, deforestation and landfills. Many of these are worsened by the overpopulation of our planet. Quite rightly, our society hates death. We do everything we can to avoid it, by saving and prolonging lives and eradicating disease. It would be unethical to have the resources to save lives and choose not to, but we are upsetting the rhythm of mother nature leading to overpopulation and the end of natural selection. We are so focused on the survival of individuals that we are sabotaging the survival of humanity and losing sight of the bigger picture.

While we must continue to keep individuals alive and kicking, we must also start using our intelligence as an advantageous evolutionary trait. If we used our intelligence to acknowledge the damage we’re doing to our planet, we may be able to start living a more sustainable existence. We need to suck up our pride, banish convenience, get out of our comfort zone and change our ways.

The key to solving climate change is going to be to rethink the advances we have made. While this may feel like a step back for humankind it would, in fact, be a leap forward, proving that our advanced intelligence has allowed us to self-assess and admit that we have gone a step too far. We need to revert to much simpler times, sustaining our own communities, travelling minimally and generally relying less on tools of convenience.

The way we use our intelligence is the difference between being self-destructive and thriving sustainably. How will you choose to use your intelligence?

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