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Required reading: an evolutionary process

Some scientists claim human beings are going to get smaller in size. Would it be wise to start lowering high shelves now? And what else does evolution have in store for the future of our species?

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, the size of future generations will reduce significantly as an evolutionary response to global warming. Historical data, they say, shows that the size of mammals decreased substantially during the two ancient planetary warming events, including the “thermal maximum period” 55 million years ago. The cause of this shrinking is not fully understood, but it’s thought that plants may be less nutritious when atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are higher.

So should we start preparing for a world of munchkins? Would it be wise to start lowering high shelves now? And what else does evolution have in store for the future of our species? Time to hit the books.

If evolutionary theory is only a distant, school-days memory, turn to Life Ascending: The Ten Great Innovations of Evolution by Nick Lane, for a refresher course. Evolution is the beautifully simple phenomenon that created natural complexities, including DNA, photosynthesis, the eye and human consciousness, says Lane – and the evidence for it is irrefutable.

So what might evolution have in store for us? For some answers, read The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond. With the world’s population now doubling every 40 years, says Diamond, we will soon reach the limit of planet Earth’s ability to sustain us. The subsequent struggle for survival could give rise to an evolutionary surge that will see a new kind of human emerge (no news here, though, on how the new shorter breed of human will fair in this epic struggle for survival).

For a really vivid portrait of one possible future for humanity, turn to fiction. The Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s speculative classic Oryx and Crake imagines a dystopian future after the collapse of civilisation, in which strange human-like creatures called Crakers share what is left of the Earth with a handful of humans. Atwood’s inspiration came partly from trips to the Arctic, where she observed first-hand the effects of global warming.


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