The Next Mass Extinction Might Be About Survival of the Laziest

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Survival of the Laziest

n. A theory that species with lower metabolisms are less likely to go extinct.

If you are a mollusk and you’re reading these words, chances are you’re prone to idleness and sloth. Good for you! In a new study of shellfish from the past 5 million years, scientists found that species with a greater chill factor are less likely to fizzle out—a phenomenon they dub survival of the laziest.

It’s well known that high-strung, type A behavior is bad for your health. But the discovery that metabolic rate affects the longevity of not just organisms but also species is intriguing, and it raises the hopeful question: Could this work for humans too?

If so, we just might have an edge in the next mass extinction. See, primates like us have a low resting metabolism: When we kick back, we burn half as many calories as other mammals. (So long, squirrels.) And we like to kick back.

So is “survival of the ­fittest” passé? In the way it’s sometimes been twisted, to rationalize bullying and oppression, yes. By “fittest,” Darwin didn’t mean the most powerful; he meant those best suited to their environment. In truth, indolence can be a kind of fitness. Sedentary species use less energy, so in lean times they may outlast those with bigger appetites. But observe: It’s the frugal use of resources, not laziness per se, that is key. And let’s be honest fellow humans—sustainability isn’t exactly our forte. So, yeah, that New Year’s resolution about getting more exercise? Maybe you better stick with that.

This article appears in the January issue. Subscribe now.

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