Evolution is rapid and happening now: everyone take a valium



Chris D. Thomas is an English biologist. His book, “Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction”, takes a line wholly contrary to that of eco-catastrophists. His argument is particularly effective because he adopts the orthodox view that humans are causing significant global warming. It makes no difference to your appreciation of this book whether you may be a skeptic of or a believer in anthropogenic global warming.

His argument is simple and based in plenty of observations. Animals and plants adapt by moving. Humans assist that movement greatly. Animals and plants hybridize, interbreed, form new variants, new species, new ways of living. This adaptation is happening right now, all over the world. For every species we have wiped out – usually predators and prey larger than us – we have assisted the creation of many more new species and hybrids. This is what nature does, and we humans are powerfully assisting those processes.

Thomas believes that we are living through the most rapid period of evolution since the aftermath of the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. “We are living through a period of  the rapid formation of new populations, races and species” (at p.197)

He justly derides most efforts of humans to stop “invasive” species. He says there is no reason to believe that species should stay frozen in place where they were when Europeans “discovered” them in the 17 and 18 hundreds.

What applies to plants and animals, applies to us humans. As we spread across the world, we separated into different races, bred with Neanderthals and Denisovans, and became more different from each other, not less.  (Your genetic make-up is most likely to be about 2.5% Neanderthal if you have not recently been African).

“This separation into many different species could have been our destiny, had it not been for the torrent of human movement around the world that we have seen in recent times, the consequence of which is that the world’s human genes are ending up back in one big Pangean melting pot.”

Later, at page 213:

“We must contemplate life as a never ending sequence of events, not as a single fixed image of how it looks today. This dynamic perspective of life on Earth allows us to put aside most of our doom-laden rhetric and recognize that the changes that we see around us, including those that have been directly or indirectly engineered by people, are not fundamentally better or worse thanthe ones that went before….We do not need to fix things simply because they are different.”

In a curious way Thomas is saying much the same thing as Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending did in The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution”, which was published in 2009. Harpending and Cochran dealt with human evolution exclusively, and asserted that it had to be accelerating as population densities increased.

They wrote:

The explosion is ongoing; Human evolution didn’t stop when anatomically modern humans appeared, or when they expanded out of Africa. It never stopped – and why would it? Evolutionary stasis requires a static environment, whereas behavioral modernity is all about innovation and change. Stability is exactly what we have not had. This should be obvious, but instead the human sciences have labored under the strange idea that evolution stopped 40,000 years ago.” (p.226)

The argument of Chris Thomas is that humans have had, and continue to have, irreversible effects on nature, and that there is no place on earth where our influence has failed to reach. More importantly, there is no “ought to be” in how species move, adapt, die out, hybridize, or prosper. Thomas warns against  the common attitude of many biologists that humans are uniquely responsible for trying to arrest the millions of changes by which plants, animals, and humans adapt to the changes we are working on the planet.

‘No change’ is not an option when we contemplate the future: our choices are all about the direction and speed of future change. (at page 219)