Parasitology, Harold W. Manter Laboratory of


Date of this Version


Document Type



Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 377: 20210378


Copyright 2022, the authors

License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY)


Humanity has triggered the sixth mass extinction episode since the beginning of the Phanerozoic. The complexity of this extinction crisis is centered on the intersection of two complex adaptive systems: human culture and ecosystem functioning, although the significance of this intersection is not properly appreciated. Human beings are part of biodiversity and elements in a global ecosystem. Civilization, and perhaps even the fate of our species, is utterly dependent on that ecosystem’s proper functioning, which society is increasingly degrading. The crisis seems rooted in three factors. First, relatively few people globally are aware of its existence. Second, most people who are, and even many scientists, assume incorrectly that the problem is primarily one of the disappearance of species, when it is the existential threat of myriad population extinctions. Third, while concerned scientists know there are many individual and collective steps that must be taken to slow population extinction rates, some are not willing to advocate the one fundamental, necessary, ‘simple’ cure, that is, reducing the scale of the human enterprise. We argue that compassionate shrinkage of the human population by further encouraging lower birth rates while reducing both inequity and aggregate wasteful consumption—that is, an end to growth mania—will be required.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Ecological complexity and the biosphere: The next 30 years.’