Letters: ‘Evolution Just Pushes Mindlessly Forward’

Readers consider the impact of humans on other mammals.

Manuel Valdes / AP

It Will Take Millions of Years for Mammals to Recover From Us

In October, Ed Yong described how humans have damaged the phylogenetic and functional diversity of other mammals: “The story of mammals,” he wrote, “is one of self-destruction.”

I found this article very eye-opening, and it made me feel deeply sad that humans have had such an enormous negative impact on this beautiful planet. I feel like a lot of people aren’t fully aware of the impact we have, and it’s important to bring awareness to these subjects. It’s devastating and hard to imagine millions or even billions of years of evolution completely destroyed in such a small amount of time. I wish there was more I could do as a human being to help these animals and protect them from further extinction. I honestly don’t believe humans are any more special or deserving of life than any other species. We are all the same, and I think the biggest change would come if we, as a whole, could fully understand that and respect the Earth in a new way.

Lindsey Hodgson
Hamilton, Canada

Yong’s article was well written and provided some powerful, albeit grim, facts for me to digest. I noted the comment at the end regarding the political will necessary to make major changes, but the question I have is what is the most impactful action or purchase or choice(s) that individuals can make to change the tide, at least a little bit?

Shauna Burnell
Kelowna, Canada

Mr. Yong’s article on phylogenetic diversity brought to new light the need to reduce the human population. Why does our species spend so much time on conservation efforts to save other species but never address how reducing our footprint in an effective way—population reduction—will significantly reduce the impact we have on other species?

JK Keck
East Lyme, Conn.

Mammals will recover? Recover to what?

Evolution just pushes mindlessly forward and there is no right or wrong result. The trilobites once dominated, now they’re gone. You could say they had a good run. The dinosaurs once dominated, now they’re gone. You could say they had a good run. The same will be true for tigers, elephants, and us. We have destroyed, or will destroy, all of our competitors and consume all potential prey. And then we’ll be gone too. And it can be said we had a good run.

Is it human arrogance to think we can subdue the Earth, live in balance with the environment, and overcome the evolutionary forces that created us and our environment? Or is it human arrogance to think we can take control of evolution and decide the winners and losers?

Kevin Hopson
Vancouver, Canada

Readers responded on Facebook and Twitter:

Robert Poulk wrote: Its been known for ages that beavers’ timber felling and dam building radically changed the ecology of the entire Mississippi Valley but nobody is calling beavers out and shaming them for their complete disregard for future inhabitants or for refusing to change their destructive behaviors. Why? Because beavers, unlike humans, have never shown the slightest interest in the collateral damage of their actions. Also, unlike humans, beavers have never once come up with new and amazing things nobody ever thought of to deal with the unanticipated side effects of their growth and prosperity.

Of course, unlike beavers, humans have never faced being killed off because some other creatures thought they made cool hats …

David Canavese wrote: IF they recover.