PHOTO: COURTESY OF AUTHOR
Human beings share 98 percent of their genes with chimpanzees. Yet humans are the dominant species on the planet—founding civilizations, developing languages, learning science, and creating wonderful works of art. American author Jared Diamond argues that the 2 percent difference propels humanity’s success, but also its potential for disaster—with civilizations caught up in internal superiority contests that risk destroying their environment and themselves.
Dutch primatologist and ethnologist Frans De Waal coined the term “chimpanzee politics” when he compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. Have we really evolved enough to escape “chimpanzee politics” and confront the greatest risk our species has faced?
The answer may predict the future of the planet and may have lessons for the global effort to stop climate change, pandemics, and nuclear threats. In particular, humans have faced significant challenges achieving the degree of cooperation needed to fight climate change—in part because of the public good nature of climate change mitigation. Even if humans have not evolved enough, as seems likely, better economic and financial institutions could help overcome the limits of cooperation and confront climate change and other major challenges.