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Taxonomy

New name needed for unwise Homo?

Homo sapiens was the name Carl Linnaeus assigned to our species in 1758, when humanity may indeed have seemed 'wise' relative to others. Today, this name is up for debate, given our questionable ability to control the potential disasters we have unleashed.

An animal that imperils its own future and that of most other life forms and ecosystems does not merit a single 'sapiens', let alone the two we now bear.

We should be formally renamed to more accurately describe a species that is: exterminating thousands of others; releasing carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in amounts exceeding Earth's natural cycles; devoting 50 times more resources to making weapons than to sustaining the food supply; destroying forests; degrading soil; polluting water; pillaging the oceans; and damaging the atmosphere on a planetary scale.

Changing our species' name might risk infringing some of the hallowed rules of nomenclature, but it would send an important signal about our present collective behaviour. Our present name Homo sapiens sapiens could then be reserved for a future type of human that is able to meet defined criteria such as, for example, living within the planet's boundaries (Nature 461, 472–475; 2009).

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Correspondence to Julian Cribb.

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Cribb, J. New name needed for unwise Homo?. Nature 476, 282 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/476282b

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