Too Much Success

It’s amazing the abilities some species have. But that brings up a question. If they are such an advantage, why doesn’t every species have equally amazing abilities? This particularly comes to mind with perceptual abilities.

Human senses are fairly mediocre. We can’t sense much of the world that many other species can. We make up for it with opposable thumbs and cognitive development. Just imagine how much more bad ass humans would be if we could see like a hawk, hear like an owl, and smell like a wolf.

Maybe there is no evolutionary advantage to having the best possible abilities in all ways. It might actually be a disadvantage, both for the species and for the ecosystem or even biosphere. Any given species being too successful might throw off the balance between species. Evolution isn’t only seeking the survival of species but also the survival of complex relationships between species.

Consider one of the earliest microbes, cyanobacteria. They were so successful that it led to what is called the Great Oxygenation Event. Most other microbes at the time were anaerobic and oxygen was toxic to them. It caused earth’s first mass extinction. Even the cyanobacteria didn’t benefit, as there numbers also precipitously dropped.

Too much success can be a dangerous thing, for all involved. This is a lesson of evolution. It’s the success of the entire system of species that matters, not the success of a single species. The survival of the fittest species is secondary to the survival of the fittest ecosystem and biosphere. As Phil Plait put it (Poisoned Planet):

“It’s an interesting tale, don’t you think? The dominant form of life on Earth, spread to the far reaches of the globe, blissfully and blithely pumping out vast amounts of pollution, changing the environment on a planetary scale, sealing their fate. They wouldn’t have been able to stop even if they knew what they were doing, even if they had been warned far, far in advance of the effects they were creating.

“If this is a cautionary tale, if there is some moral you can take away from this, you are free to extract it for yourself. If you do, perhaps you can act on it. One can hope that in this climate, change is always possible.”

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Human Stupidity

Humans are strange.  We collectively seem almost incapable of preparing for the future.  We either just react out of fear (such as the War on Terror or War on Drugs, but these are impotent acts that serve no purpose) or we don’t even notice (sometimes actively avoiding aknowledgment of) the real threats.

I hear people arguing about Global Warming.  Its a stupid debate based on ignorance and ideology.  We do know that the global weather is changing.  The reasons are less clear, but that is all the more reason we should be careful.  This is known as the precautionary principle.  We should stop adding massive pollution to the environment not because we know what it does but because we don’t know what it does. 

Anyways, we do know that pollution is bad for us.  If pollution doesn’t lead to climate changes that kills us, then the pollution itself might kill us.  The increase of many diseases such as cancer is probably directly related to pollution.  We look for cures for cancer, but why don’t we look for preventing it at the source?  Is there a reason we want to poison ourselves?  Are we collectively trying to commit suicide?

We could’ve entirely converted to alternative energies decades ago.  Why are we still arguing about alternative energy?  Why don’t we instead invest our best minds in finding a solution?  Pretty much everyone agrees that we’ll run out of oil fairly soon.  Why do humans have to wait until the last moment, until its almost too late before acting?

Also, why are we so careless?  More animals have died because of the Industrial Revolution than from the Ice Age.  Actually, we don’t even know how many species we’ve killed.  Most species have probably gone extinct before they were discovered.

On top of all of this, when Yellowstone blows it will be the biggest volcano in the world.  It would annihalate the whole population of North America and blacken the skies for months across the world.  The magma pocket is overdue for explosion and its been more active recently.

Any single factor is of limited importance.  Climate change isn’t necessarily significant in itself.  However, mutliple factors combined simultaneously could be game-enders for our species.  So, we have massive pollution, massive extinction and ecosystem collapse, massive climate change, and massive volcano.  Instead of increasing the number of possible threats, wouldn’t it be smarter to decrease them?  A Yellowstone explosion would certainly change the global environment and cause widescale species extinction, but we are already doing this to ourselves.  Are we so excited about total annihalation that we can’t wait for nature to do it for us?

If we humans don’t manage to kill ourselves and all of life on Earth, it will be direct evidence of God’s intervention.