Constructing a Human World Fit for Nature

Saturday, February 18, 2012: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 215-216 (VCC West Building)
Today, the human built environment dominates global natural ecology, which human culture has imperilled. This makes it timely to investigate the evolutionary processes that enabled ancestral hominins to adapt so successfully to diverse ecological niches and modern humans to transform local ecosystems and the global climate so dramatically. Humans are increasingly interconnected, through science, technology, trade, transportation, and communication, but what were the evolutionary building blocks of these global networks? A multinational cadre of scholars re-examines human evolution through the interdisciplinary lens of niche construction theory, which argues that all organisms both adapt to and modify their local environments. Within this framework, human innovations are not only adaptations to, but also sources of environmental challenges. Human artefacts and language perpetuate cultural innovations and knowledge to construct new human niches, embedded within a co-evolutionary process of eco-cultural niche construction. The varying time scales of the ecological and cultural processes of human niche construction pose an evolutionary conundrum, as modern society jeopardizes the life-support systems of Earth by irreversibly altering local and global ecology. By elucidating the co-evolution of humans and nature, this symposium stimulates a fresh perspective in natural resource management and policy that may guide us to engineer a future that conserves, not overexploits nature.

Mimi E. Lam, University of British Columbia
Tony J. Pitcher, University of British Columbia
Mark Collard, Simon Fraser University
Kevin Laland, University of St. Andrews
The Evolution of the Super-Constructors
Mimi E. Lam, University of British Columbia
The First Commodity: Handaxes
Terrence W. Deacon, University of California
The Socially Constructed Artificial Hominid Niche
Joe Henrich, University of British Columbia
How Culture Drove Human Evolution
William Rees, University of British Columbia
Nature, Nurture, and Humanity’s Self-Destructive Niche
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