What If Darwin Did Davos?

Who has not seen an email the with "Darwin Award" nominees listed? It's a yearly staple of the very oldest net-buddy distribution lists. For those of you not privileged enough to have received one, the motto on the Darwin Awards website is: "We salute the improvement of the species by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it, thereby ensuring that the next generation is one idiot smarter". [Internal dialog with self: What about pre-nominating a climate skeptic for next year's DA? Might be able to find a paid political hack that owns a condo along the US Gulf Coast. Naaa, waiting for a hurricane hit to prove the point is way too negative. ]Let's start with a more positive project inquire as to whether modern evolutionary forces might favor a constructive, rational human response to climate risk. Seeking an answer, I first asked - what would Darwin say about climate change? - of someone who recently read the collected works of "Mr. D". Here's a partial response:

"Simply put: there's absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest, and there is much evidence to doubt, that something so specific as an opinion towards how one's own species impacts its environment could be heritable. Since descent with modification proceeds via the gradual accumulation of inherited variabilities selected by the pressures of nature's economy, it doesn't make sense to think about humans being naturally selected to believe in climate change - there's nothing to select for or against...It is possible, but only just, that there may be some inherited variability with respect to one's ease of accepting new ideas".

Next, I consulted with Tim McGee, TreeHugger writer extraordinaire and biologist. Tim said firmly "Fitness is the ability to pass on genes, or have viable kids. You can be an out of shape couch potato of a human being- but if you have 12 kids you are very 'fit'." (With that in mind, the prospect of home schooling by numerous climate skeptic parents is not very encouraging.)

Tim also suggested two questions for the acid coolaid climate test.

How does climate change alter one's ability to reproduce?

How does climate change alter ones children's ability to reproduce?

Conclusion about the paid climate skeptics: unless women went Lysistrata on them, the reproductive outcome of being a diehard climate skeptic would be nil.

Ahhh. 'But what about the business executives who have for years been reading the skeptics' op ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal? Could a large population of CEO's, as a result of a collective anti-science culture created by long established reading preference, be managing business affairs and personal finances in a more risky manner?' That's a stretch.

Getting back to our headline, let's imagine that we could have séanced Charles Darwin's presence amidst this year's Davos conference, where, reportedly, coping with climate change was a frequent workshop topic. Given that only a minority of participants thought, going into Davos, that climate change was real and deserving of more corporate resources, changing executive minds would be a hard sell. We're sure that Charles would not be surprised by the attitudes he saw at Davos. So, let's just imagine him back to whatever nether world evolutionists reside in, and move on.

It is much more interesting, we think, to envision execs leaving Davos in a neo-evolutionary context. From Wikipedia:

" neo-evolutionism discards many ideas of classical social evolutionism, namely that of social progress, so dominant in previous sociology evolution-related theories. Then neo-evolutionism discards the determinism argument and introduces probability, arguing that accidents and free will have much impact on the process of social evolution. It also supports the counterfactual history - asking 'what if' and considering different possible paths that social evolution may (or might have) taken, and thus allows for the fact that various cultures may develop in different ways, some skipping entire stages others have passed through".

If the neo-evolutionists are right, we should think of how the dramatically increased awareness of climate change will re-shape corporate cultures. But, if we wish to track cultural progress, we will have to select our metrics from a narrow list suitable for probabilistic analysis. Here's our sample list.

Examples: each executive, on the flight home, asks himself, 'will I experience' -

'increased chances of my grand children hating me';

'greater likelihood of my vacation home becoming uninsurable;'

'my investment in coal mining [or other] equipment becoming stranded;'

'having to give up the skiing condo;'

'having to pay a lot more for reimbursed employee travel due to carbon credits purchased,' or,

'becoming liable for my company's contribution to increasing climate risk?'

National governments and large corporations have cultural commonalities of big global transactions and of central offices to which employees must make long commutes, from which frequent journeys must be made to constituents/customers, and so on. Commonly, both have cultures that are designed to deliver products/services with strong climate forcing outcomes, but with paradoxical appearance, from an evolutionary viewpoint. A company like Monsanto, for example, can correctly argue that it has significantly aided in feeding the world, increasing, in the Darwinian sense, the fitness of people who consume or otherwise benefit personally from genetically altered seed products and services. Conversely, the clearing of the Amazonian rainforest where a burgeoning population is becoming increasingly dependent upon those seeds might be understood quite differently with neo-evolutionist metrics in play: looking at carbon sequstration in soils possibly. This addresses the probability that the net carbon footprint of the individual fitness-increasing technology might reduce the fitness of a population, and of the corporate culture that sustained it.

Anyway, here's your homework assignment, post Davos.

Map the neo-evolutionary, climate change personality profile of your favorite big company.

Pick a company you know something about; and, assign a reasonable probability to each of the listed dimensions (above). Add up the probabilities, and, if the sum is greater than one (1), we expect there will be some resource changes back at HQ.

Tags: Evolution