My Earth Day wish: A better human brain
For Earth Day, Treehugger asked several green types what one wish they had that might make the world a better place. The answers were interesting and diverse — you can read them all here.
I would change the human brain. Thanks to millions of years evolving in small groups on the savannah, our brains are rather maladapted to being part of a single human tribe of billions, most of whom we will never see or know, with collective effects on our global habitat that play out incrementally over centuries and are irreversible and possibly unadaptable.
Because we spent millions of years as creatures whose lives were short and brutal, we are designed to recognize threats with faces—proximate threats that we can see and touch and smell, that affect our own families and social groups. We have a great deal of intellectual difficulty understanding threats like climate change, where the cumulative effects of our actions today shape the lives of people far away or not yet born. But we have even more difficulty translating that somewhat abstract knowledge into motivation for action.
Today, we are on a course that is likely to render our planet unsuitable for human civilization—if not by 2100, by 2300. Morally, it ought to make no difference. Each human being living in 2300 has as much right to the conditions of a decent life as I do. If there is such a thing as being a good person, surely being a good ancestor is part of it. It’s unfortunate that our brains do not well suit us to the task.