Our species is absolutely unique on this planet; on a world filled with billions of different types of animals and varying species, we are the only one with the ability to consciously and deliberately end life on our planet. Ultimately, what sets us apart from the rest of life on Earth is our unrivaled ability to destroy it. Through our intelligence, for which all we owe our civilization and thus our societies, technologies, and capabilities, we have built tools which allow us to harness the most powerful forces in nature. Our manipulation of our environment, both that of the Earth and of the physical processes present in our universe, is unlike anything see anywhere else in nature. Our exploitation of the Earth for agriculture and for resources has given us the means to feed a planet-wide species and power its industrial development; it has also destroyed the balance of nature which had sustained life on our planet for the millions of years prior to our species rise. Our discovery of and subsequent manipulation of the atom has given us the capacity to unlock massive reserves of energy and power the world; it has also given us the capability to completely and utterly eradicate civilization and throw our world into peril.
Is intelligence then an evolutionary advantage? It enables a species to break free from nature and dictate its own evolution and shape the world around it in a manner unavailable to any creature without intelligence. Yet through this shaping of the world around it, a species with intelligence is endowed with the power to utterly destroy it. Our planet and our world has been in existence for a much longer time than our species has walked it, and during this time it has developed a precious and fragile ecosystem. Yes, this ecosystem can take damage through natural phenomena, but these events occur over timeframes of thousands to millions to billions of years. This is enough time for a balance in nature to be restored gradually without incurring too great a cost to the creatures who live in it. The manipulation of nature by mankind, and the wide-scale exploitation of its resources, have taken place along scales of time which range only in the hundreds of years. Our ability to radically change our planet in such a short period of time is thus a very dangerous ability; we do not live in a world where such massive and rapid changes can be reversed so easily and quickly.
This has gradually been revealed to us through our observation of the world around us and our use of science, both of which are benefits conferred to us by our intelligence. However, a species with intelligence may not necessarily be operating with this sort of knowledge when it behaves in destructive ways; the pollution of the Industrial Revolution was a major factor in damaging our planet’s ecosystem, but was produced at a time when its affects were completely unknown. Atomic weaponry was discovered at a time of war in a world full of antagonistic, suspicious nation-states; we still live in a world concerned about nuclear weapons and nuclear apocalypse. Is our species too immature, too learned, to possess such technologies? We may have advanced rapidly in our capabilities because of our intelligence, but we have not advanced rapidly in our civilization. As we continue to develop more means to destroy our planet and kill each other, but fail to develop a planet where the desire and need to wage war and have borders is nil, we push ourselves closer to the brink of extinction.
Is this a result of our intelligence? Again, I must put forth the question of whether intelligence is an evolutionary advantage. Yes, it allows for a species to develop more rapidly and more concretely than anything in nature is capable of doing. Indeed, it allows a species to largely remove itself from the constraints of nature and dictate its own path of evolution. Yet it also allows a species to destroy itself and the world it lives in. It gives a species the capacity to consciously and deliberately commit massive acts of murder and destruction. It allows that species to manipulate the world around it in ways which that world had never experienced before, and by doing so destroy the ecosystems which sustain all the other species of that world. Is this really so advantageous of a quality to possess as a species?
Ultimately, this question and issue is probably a rather moot point. Humanity has been endowed with intelligence, and thus we cannot question whether or not that intelligence is advantageous or dangerous. Rather, we must make sure that our intelligence prevents us from destroying ourselves and our planet. We must make a dedicated effort to evolve our civilization to the point where it is capable of responsibly using the vast sums of energy and power we have unlocked from our manipulation of the atom. We must use our intellect to discover how it allows us to impact our planet, and we must use it to prevent further damage to our planets fragile ecosystem. We must be proactive in trying to guard against ourselves. Unfortunately, humanity is a young species and a young civilization which has stumbled upon enormous power and capabilities. Perhaps we have not yet evolved to be mature enough to wield such power, because great power calls for great responsibility. This is why it should be the role of each individual, and the collective of individuals within society, to think about the human intellect, the powers it has given us, how those powers can have enormous consequences, and how we can prevent our greatest asset from also being our greatest liability.