Central features of human evolution, studied by University of Maine researchers, may limit our ability to solve global environmental issues like climate change. Human expansion and adaptation to the environment have enabled humans to colonize all habitable land worldwide, primarily through cultural evolution rather than genetic change. However, this expansion has now run up against the physical limits of the biosphere and is causing dangerous global environmental problems.
The research team found that sustainable systems tend to emerge after attempts to maintain resources fail. There is also evidence that environmental protection systems are generally focused within societies, rather than between them. This suggests a lack of a coordinated global society to address shared challenges. Moreover, cultural evolution among sub-global groups may exacerbate resource competition and lead to conflict or even global human dieback.
The researchers propose further studies to better understand the drivers of cultural evolution and reduce global environmental competition. They also believe that modifying the process of adaptive change among corporations and nations could be a powerful way to address global environmental risks.
Overall, the researchers suggest that addressing climate change will require new worldwide regulatory, economic, and social systems, as well as more intentional, peaceful, and ethical systems of mutual self-limitation. Without these changes, global environmental problems may be much harder to solve than previously considered, given the central features of human evolution currently working against our ability to resolve these issues.
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