Human societies are made up of stories, beliefs, practices, knowledge, and tools. These things can vary within groups and between groups, creating all the conditions necessary for evolution to unfold in time. All that is needed is variation, inheritance, and selection for culture to be “Darwinian”—meaning that among the variety of possibilities some are passed on and others aren’t from one generation to the next. Take this key insight and apply it to environmental problems and you’ll see how important the level of selection is for making sense of policy solutions for managing environmental resources.
Why does this matter? Because every real-world human setting has motivations and incentives playing out at different scales. Individuals, families, neighborhoods, municipalities, chiefdoms, nation-states, etc. A powerful tool from cultural evolution is known as Multi-Level Selection and it comes with clear ways to measure how much each level contributes to the evolutionary patterns of a given situation. Waring and Tremblay offered several examples of this to show how powerful Multi-Level Selection is for managing fish stocks, promoting societal well-being, and keeping litter off the streets.