Australian science writer Julian Cribb believes a strong case can be made for renaming the human species, which Linnaeus dubbed Homo sapiens (Latin, meaning "wise man") in the 18th century. I heartily concur. Cribb laid out his compelling arguments in The case for re-naming the human race.
[My note: example member of our species, left].
When the Swedish father of taxonomy Carl Linnaeus first bestowed it, humanity no doubt seemed wise when compared with what scientists of the day knew about both humans and other animals. We have since learned our behavior is not as wise as we like to imagine – while some animals are quite intelligent. In short it is a name which is both inaccurate and which promotes a dangerous self-delusion.
In a letter to the scientific journal Nature (476, p282, 18 August 2011) I have proposed there should be a worldwide discussion about the formal reclassification of humanity, involving both scientists and the public. The new name should reflect more truthfully the attributes and characteristics of the modern 21st century human – which are markedly different from those of 18th century ‘man’.
I should note that the 18th century human and the 21st century human are exactly the same human. Two important changes mark the difference between then and now: 1) the advance of science & the accompanying technology; and 2) the successful exploitation of fossil fuels which provide the energy required to power modern societies. (The second is an outgrowth of the first. ) The species itself has not changed one iota. In this sense, Progress is and always has been an illusion.
Thus we in the 21st century get to see the full expression of the human species. This is an important point which should not get lost in the shuffle. I like to say it's a species, so what you see is what you get.
Cribb lays out a number of points for us to consider as we contemplate the name change. I've left some of them out, but you can consult the original article to see the entire list.
Humans are presently engaged in the greatest act of extermination of other species by a single species, probably since life on Earth began. We are destroying an estimated 30,000 species a year - a scale comparable to the great geological catastrophes of the past.
We currently contaminate the atmosphere with 30 billion tonnes of carbon equivalent a year. This risks an episode of accelerated planetary warming reaching 4-5 degrees by the end of this century and 8 degree by the middle of next century – a level at which food production would be severely disrupted, posing a serious risk to all members of an enlarged human population...
Every year we release around 121 million tonnes of nitrogen, 10 million tonnes of phosphorus and 10 billion tonnes of CO2 (which causes acidification) into our rivers, lakes and oceans – many times more that the Earth recirculates naturally. This is causing the collapse of marine and aquatic ecosystems, disrupting ocean food chains and replacing them with ‘dead zones’ that no longer support life. The number of these found has risen to over 400 in recent years...
We are presently losing about one per cent of the world’s farming and grazing land every year to a combination of erosion, degradation, urban sprawl, mining, pollution and sea level rise. The situation has deteriorated in the last 30 years, confronting us with the challenge of doubling food production by 2060 off a fraction of remaining land. At the same time we waste a third of the world’s food.
Current freshwater demand from agriculture, cities and energy use is on track to double by mid century, while resources in most countries – especially of groundwater – are drying up or becoming so polluted they are unusable.
Humanity passed peak fish in 2004, peak oil in 2006 and is likely to encounter growing scarcities of other primary resources, including mineral nutrients, in coming decades. Yet our demand for all resources – including minerals, energy and water – will more than double, especially in Asia. If all the world were to live like contemporary Australians or Americans, it would require four planet Earths to satisfy their wants, says the Global Footprint Network.
Humans invest $1.6 trillion a year in new weapons – but only $50 billion a year in better ways to produce food...
Cribb makes some telling, straightforward observations about our shortsighted, destructive behavior.
Finally, we are in the process of destroying a great many things which are real — soil, water, energy, resources, other species, our health — for the sake of something that exists chiefly in our imagination: money.
To trade something real for something imaginary hardly appears wise...
A creature unable to master its own demands cannot be said to merit the descriptor ‘wise’. A creature which takes little account of the growing risks it runs through its behavior can hardly be rated thoughtful. The provisions of the International Code on Zoological Nomenclature provide for the re-naming of species in cases where scientific understanding of the species changes, or where it is necessary to correct an earlier error. I argue that both those situations now apply.
Here in the early 21st century, we are seeing over and over again that an imaginary, human-created thing—money—is not the same as real wealth, the actual resources which support us. This is why investors like Jim Rogers suggest buying farm land or commodities. We can print money. We can not print crude oil, topsoil or freshwater.
The human species does an excellent job of creating and applying technology, and that's about it. We are a clever species. I should also mention our astonishing accomplishments in the arts.
Everybody wants the goods & services that technology or human cleverness provides, so we have created economies which spread the wealth, though not in an equal way. Some people own a huge share of this wealth, while many others go begging. This grotesque disparity between rich and poor doesn't seem to bother anybody, outside a few poorly adapted troublemakers like me. The invisble poor, large in number, are always with us.
Those in the human species (in the general case) simply have no idea why they do anything, although they pretend they do. We thus get the unbridled thoughtless demands Cribb refers to and our astonishing capacity for self-deception. We do not know ourselves in Socrates' sense, and thus we can not master our appetites to create a world of lasting social and ecological harmony. Seeming masters of the physical world, our psychological world remains terra incognita, a Black Box. Thus we mindlessly destroy our Earthly habitat, and ultimately, ourselves.
The discovery of the power of the unconscious by Freud, Jung and others demonstrated beyond any doubt that human motives are obscure and lie almost entirely outside the conscious, self-aware mind. Our animal natures and all sorts of other stuff are buried in the unconscious.
Unfortunately, psychological observations along these lines did not stick, and thus did not lead to a search for useful insights about who we are, and ultimately, to better self-governance. There was no search for wisdom. Insights about the unconscious were bulldozed over by the usual mindlessness, by our true Nature.
And thus my suggestion for renaming our species is this post's title: Homo laeviculus — "Clueless Man".
You too can play the renaming game. Here are the simple rules.
Naming species is known in the scientific world as binomial nomenclature. Each name must be made up of two words: one is the modern Latin or scientific term for the genus and the second is the identifying word for the particular species. In the species Homo sapiens, Homo is the genus and sapiens is the specific species within that genus.Although the taxonomist or scientist can give a new species nearly any name he likes, he does have to follow certain rules when composing the name. For instance, the name must follow Latin grammar rules. The descriptor name must be in the possessive form, and is alway given in lower case.
Really, anything goes as long as you "latinize" the descriptor: Homo <descriptor>. Have at it! I'll give Julian Cribb the last word.
There needs to be worldwide public discussion about an appropriate name for our species, in the light of our present behavior and attributes.
Further down the track I would not rule out an eventual return to the name Homo sapiens, provided we can demonstrate that we have earned it — and it is not mere flatulence, conceit or self-delusion.
The wisdom to understand our real impact on the Earth and all life is the one we most need at this point in our history, in order to limit it.
Now is the time humans get to earn — or lose — the title sapiens.