In a recent study published by the University of Stockholm, researchers have uncovered 14 “evolutionary traps” that pose a severe threat to humanity’s existence unless addressed sustainably. Titled “Evolution of the polycrisis: Anthropocene traps that challenge global sustainability,” the study delves into the risks posed by these traps, emphasizing the need for collective action to navigate them successfully.
The concept of evolutionary traps, well-known in the animal kingdom, has been applied to the challenges faced by humanity in the Anthropocene era. These traps, akin to dead ends resulting from misguided responses to new phenomena, range from technological pitfalls to societal and environmental hazards. The research identifies the urgent need for proactive measures to avoid a point of no return.
Identifying the Traps:
Out of the 14 traps identified, two technological traps—artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics automation, and the loss of social capital through digitalization—stand out as less advanced but still concerning. The remaining 12 traps are in advanced stages, making extrication challenging. Moreover, these traps often reinforce each other, increasing the complexity of the challenge.
Global and Technological Traps:
Five traps are categorized as global, stemming from moves towards higher social organization levels that result in efficiency and growth, but with escalating resource requirements. These include issues like simplification leading to specialization, pursuit of efficiency at the expense of well-being, ecological overshoot, impediments to global cooperation, and greater interconnectedness leading to global contagion.
On the technological front, the study identifies five traps, including the risks associated with sunk costs in physical infrastructure, health and ecological impacts of new chemical compounds, and late-stage side effects of advanced technology, such as the existential threat of powerful AI and autonomous technology misaligning with human goals.
The research also sheds light on traps linked to short-term economic growth, technological quick-fixes jeopardizing long-term sustainability, the rising risk of overconsumption due to global supply chains, reduced exposure to nature through urbanization, and diminishing face-to-face interactions eroding social capital.
A Call to Action:
While the study paints a concerning picture, the researchers emphasize that humanity is not doomed to extinction. Collective awareness and concerted efforts are necessary to overcome these challenges. The study encourages a proactive approach, advocating for increased engagement with nature and society, coupled with a deep understanding of the global consequences of local actions.
In a Nutshell:
As humanity stands at the crossroads of potential evolutionary traps, the researchers argue that active intervention and a commitment to positive change can alter our trajectory. By fostering collective human agency, nurturing creativity, and promoting innovation and collaboration, we can break free from the dead ends that loom ahead.