Evolutionary biology has “tremendous potential” to solve many of the issues highlighted in the SDGs [sustainable development goals], said Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, another Science author from the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate. The field accounts for how pests may adapt rapidly to our interventions and how vulnerable species struggle to adapt to global change. The authors even chose this release date to coincide with the upcoming meeting of the UN General Assembly, which starts September 24.
Their recommendations include gene therapies to treat disease, choosing drought-and-flood-resistant crop varieties and altering conservation strategies to protect land with high levels of genetic diversity.
“Many human-engineered solutions to societal problems have turned out to have a relatively short useful life because evolution finds ways around them,” said George Gilchrist, program officer in NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology, which funded many of the Science authors. “Carroll and colleagues propose turning the tables and using evolutionary processes to develop more robust and dynamic solutions.”
Applied evolutionary biology just recently made the leap from an academic discipline to a more-practical one, spurred by an effort within the community to better synthesize and share research insights. And–above all–increasing environmental pressures.
“The fact that we’re changing the world means that evolutionary processes are going to be affected,” said Thomas Smith, of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and another Science author. The question is, according to Smith: Do we want to be engaged in this change, or not?
Hmmm. The specific recommendations, “gene therapies to treat disease, choosing drought-and-flood-resistant crop varieties and altering conservation strategies to protect land with high levels of genetic diversity” are irrelevant to claims about evolution, as they can be justified on the basis of perceived benefit in the present day. The history is indispensable but it will mainly be the history of agriculture, not life on Earth as such.
Also, “Many human-engineered solutions to societal problems have turned out to have a relatively short useful life because evolution finds ways around them”: Note that “evolution” here is credited with a mind, as usual in Darwinian writing.
How about a simpler approach? Because we live in a finite, transient, and mortal world, nothing is certain except eventual death. No solution works indefinitely. An “evolutionary” approach had better display—in real life—a lot of intelligent design to have any hope at all.
Considering the evolutionary potential and constraints of species is also essential to combat “evolutionary mismatch.” This means the environment a species exists in, and the one it has evolved to exist in, no longer match.
Such disharmony can be “dire and costly,” the authors write in Science, citing the increasingly sedentary lifestyles–and processed food diets–of modern humans. These lifestyles are linked with increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. Restoring our health requires greater physical activity and less refined carbohydrates: “Diets and activity levels closer to those of the past, to which we are better adapted,” the Science paper said.
So humans are a “species” and our personal choices are to be treated as a form of farm management?
But anyway, excuse me, the effects outlined above are all well-known and require zero input from “applied evolutionary biologists” to elucidate them further. The problem, as any doctor of bariatric management (obesity) will tell you, is that people choose the lifestyles that make them obese.
Few are obese in North Korea, many in the United States. Can anyone hazard a guess as to why that is so? To change the United States, one would probably need to make it more like North Korea. I don’t think the applied evolutionary biologists (a contradiction in terms) actually mean that, of course. They are used to thinking of their fellow human beings as a “species” and too obtuse to understand where that must necessarily lead in more powerful hands.
Fortunately, this is likely to peter out into funded conferences and fatuous papers. It reminds me of something Jonah Goldberg wrote toward the end of Liberal Fascism, that politics is not redemptive. There is no saving the world by natural means but there is a long history of tyranny in the attempts.
Here’s the Science paper.
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