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Climate & Us

Australia is on ablaze. The ice caps are melting.

Glaciers are disappearing. Sea temperatures are rising.

Climate change is for real.

No debate here—we agree with the scientists. (And, by the way, nobody gets to pick and choose what science understands.)

Our interest is in evolution and the future of human anatomy.

As adaptable animals, we have been here before.

It’s possible that harsh conditions in the African continent prompted our early ancestors to disperse from their initial settlements on the savannah.

Was this search for new territory prompted by climate change? Or were the changes the result of natural selection? Scientists continue to debate this. (Good; the search for evidence is a healthy part of the process!)

Can you tie cause and effect together for something that happened 100,000 years ago? It’s tricky to do, but they are working on it.

A few years ago, Rice University’s Scott Solomon made a thoughtful forecast about what today’s climate change will trigger in the form of future adaptations. Yes, evolution is a never-ending process. Right?

Solomon is the author of Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution.

Note the word: continuing!

As Solomon points out, the animal and plant kingdoms are already changing. Squirrels and salmon are reproducing at a younger age. Longer summers mean that some flowers bloom earlier in the season. Even corals, which have suffered mightily due to increased ocean temperatures, are working with new forms of algae to survive more acidic environments.

As for humans, Solomon predicts that malaria, West Nile virus and other diseases associated primarily with the tropics will spread into more temperate zones. As a result, citizens of more developed nations will see their immune systems evolve and develop new defenses that could also cause other noninfectious diseases.

Solomon predicts that our digestive systems will change as food availability shifts. Climate change is anticipated to force a mass migration from low-lying coastal lands. Widespread food shortages are predicted and, Solomon suggests, the microbiomes in our gut will change as more of us become vegetarians.

Here’s one prognostication from Solomon that we find intriguing: “Evidence suggests that a warming planet could melt away differences between human races — or population groups, as scientists more accurately call them.”

Why? Because those same massive migrations will erode geographic barriers that once separated human populations and the resulting “gene flow,” a type of evolution caused by blending genes between populations, will be considerable.

It’s possible that we may soon have less variety in skin color.

One of the most obvious effects of gene flow may be greater similarity in skin color.

Solomon’s article dives into the role of the pigment eumelanin and the reliance today on sunscreen and vitamin supplements. But if there’s more racial intermixing, he says, we may see fewer people with dark skin or pale skin and more with a brown or olive complexion.

With no outward-appearing differences (after all, we are all the same on the inside!) this change could go a long way toward ending racism.

And that’s one positive impact of climate change that we wouldn’t mind seeing.

Not at all.







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