Are we hardwired for extinction?

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Thanks to Kamal H. for the photo.
  • Thanks to Kamal H. for the photo.

Grist.org is running an op-ed piece by George Black, which was originally in OnEarth Magazine, and I want to bring it to your attention. Here's a snip:

In my unending (and thus far, I have to confess, largely fruitless) attempts to figure out why Americans aren't more alarmed about climate change, one of the more intriguing ideas I've heard recently was put to me by a psychologist named Andrew Shatté.

Shatté, a professor at the University of Arizona, is best known for his work on resilience -- the ability of humans to deal with adversity. His thesis on climate change, in a nutshell, is that we are hardwired for extinction. He compares us to the Irish elk, which went extinct about 11,000 years ago. The male of that species evolved to grow big antlers -- I mean really gargantuan antlers, racks up to 12 feet wide, designed for the usual reasons of aggression, defense, and sexual display. Over time, the antlers got so big that the elk couldn't consume enough calories to sustain their growth, so instead the antlers began to feed in auto-parasitic fashion on the calcium in the animals' bones. If galloping osteoporosis didn't kill them, they got their antlers impossibly tangled up in the overhead branches and starved to death.

So why are we like the Irish elk? The problem is the human brain, Shatté says. Our evolutionary development has not yet caught up with the change in our circumstances. More specifically, the problem is our brain's fear triggers. Our instincts are still paleolithic; our fear reflexes respond to all the wrong things. They lie dormant in the face of climate change, no matter how ominously scientists predict its probable consequences. But we're programmed to pump adrenalin at the sight of spiders, snakes, and other mortal threats slithering into our caves. We still run a mile from snakes, although they only kill about five or six Americans a year. The most recent annual figure for fatalities from lightning strikes is 58, but would you go anywhere near a golf course in a storm?

Read the rest of this piece here.

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