Hack the Planet

Wes Felter links to an article in The Observer, which asks, “Is human evolution finally over?”.

Wes writes, “I think evolution is over, because natural selection is over. Virtually everyone stays alive. I’m not complaining.”

John Robb apparently agrees. I must say that I don’t. Surely, something has changed, but it’s not natural selection, it’s just that the selection criteria aren’t what they used to be.

In ancient times, natural selection was based on how successfully you could find food, evade predators, and defend against disease. What’s changed is that we now have no predators except each other, we have enough food for everyone but don’t seem to be able to distribute it, and we can defend against many diseases while our population density makes us more susceptible to epidemics. What’s more, the poor are still starving and suffering from common diseases all over the world, the wealthy defend their wealth (and therefore their security) tooth-and-nail, often with little regard for life (human or otherwise), and the tools that we Internet developers (as an example) use for our livelihood are available only to the privileged and lucky few. If that’s not “selection”, then what is? One might argue that it’s not “natural” but I’d say that it’s all natural:

Whether the evolutionary pressures come from human society and culture, from falling asteroids or volcanic eruptions, or from saber-toothed tigers, makes little difference. As an example, is the increase in asthma in Central America, that’s caused by dust that’s traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, after being churned up by African farmers “natural”?

The point I’m making is that we modernized, first-world Westerners, seem to often make the mistake of believing that we’re somehow outside of Nature — that we’re beyond its sphere of influence. Maybe it’s because most of us have roofs over our heads, and space-heaters, and digital watches. (Thanks, Douglas Adams.)

Here’s a thought experiment: How much protection will my watch, or my PowerBook or my refrigerator afford me if an 8.0 earthquake hit San Francisco? One other thing: While Wes claims that virtually everyone survives, I have to point out that, with 99.999999…% certainty, everyone dies — rich, poor, lucky or not. We all gotta do it…