The Increase of Human Population Threatens Biodiversity and Ecosystems

In a book about artificial intelligence’s future, MIT professor Max Tegmark presents a dystopian scenario in which machines adopt goals that are detrimental to humanity if they are unable to accurately understand and align with human interests. While this may seem far-fetched, our own species, through the rapid expansion of human intelligence, has had a profound impact on the planet and other living beings.

Humanity, which once faced a critical moment with only a few thousand individuals remaining, now represents 36% of all mammals on Earth. An additional 60% consists of animals such as cows, which are bred for human consumption. Only 4% are wild animals. Our progress has resulted in the reduction of space for other animals, leading to the sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a single species. This extinction event is not limited to individual species but affects entire branches of the evolutionary tree, with genera disappearing at a rate 35 times faster than in the past 65 million years.

Researchers have found that at least one-third of known vertebrates are experiencing population declines and are being confined to smaller ecosystems. For example, there were once 10 million elephants at the beginning of the 20th century, but today there are less than half a million, with many countries no longer hosting these magnificent creatures.

The loss of entire genera not only disrupts ecosystems but also impacts human health and wellbeing. The disappearance of large predators in certain regions has led to an increase in the population of white-tailed deer and mice, which are hosts to ticks that transmit Lyme disease. Additionally, the overexploitation of natural resources and the destruction of biodiversity contribute to the spread of diseases between animals and humans, as seen with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Conserving biodiversity and investing in the protection of tropical forests, where the highest levels of biodiversity are found, is crucial to mitigate the collapse of ecosystems. Urgent action, accompanied by significant investment, is necessary to prevent further devastation. If we continue on our current path, the consequences may be far more catastrophic than we can imagine.

Sources: Max Tegmark’s book on artificial intelligence, study published in PNAS, International Union for Conservation of Nature database