Cities have done a good job of destroying natural systems. Some city folk are so out of touch with nature, they see it as something totally different from Man. The only solution they see is to remove people from Nature if we want to save it. They want to save Nature as an untouched, pure oasis, unsullied by the hands of humankind.
What they don’t realize is that pristine Nature does not mean untouched by man. A recent study shows that our impact on the planet didn’t simply take off with the Industrial Revolution, but was actually observable many thousands of years before in the Late Pleistocene, in the form of species extinctions linked to movement of people from Africa into Asia, Europe and the Americas.
The researchers say the most significant example of this is the dramatic reduction in megafauna between about 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, which had dramatic effects on ecosystems in terms of things like seed dispersal. The original settlers of Europe, Asia and the Americas killed off megafauna wherever they went.
The advent of agriculture put even greater evolutionary pressures on plants and animals, creating “unprecedented and enduring impacts on species distributions”. But these impacts didn’t just lead to extinctions. The kinds of animals humans favored – such as domesticated dogs, plus sheep, goats, chicken, and cattle – surged in numbers.
Humans also colonised islands, which had big effects seeing as islands’ natural ecosystems lack “the resilience of continental biomes”. As new species were introduced, indigenous ones were overpowered. The expansion of trade from the Bronze Age onwards has compounded many of these effects, and all long before the Industrial Revolution kicked off.
In other words, simply by colonising new land and farming animals we wanted to eat, we had an impact on every single part of the planet.
The researchers say the discovery of this long-term human environmental impact means we should take a broader and more pragmatic approach to conservation efforts – as clearly it’s in our nature to alter nature, and we’ll need to plan accordingly if we realistically want to help save the planet from environmental threats.
“If we want to improve our understanding of how we manage our environment and conserve species today, maybe we have to shift our perspective, by thinking more about how we safeguard clean air and fresh water for future generations and rather less about returning planet Earth to its original condition.”
According to the researchers, we should focus on the good we can do for the sake of the planet as it is now, rather than aiming to restore a long-gone oasis that only exists now in our imaginations.
“Rather than an impossible return to pristine conditions, what is needed is the historically informed management of emerging novel ecosystems to ensure the maintenance of ecological goods and services.”
Cumulative archaeological data clearly demonstrates that all humans transform their environments. It’s in our nature. It’s what we do.
“Now the question is what kind of ecosystems we will create for the future. Will they support the well-being of our own and other species or will they provide a context for further large-scale extinctions and irreversible climate change?”
The evidence of archaeology also argues against the inclusive, grassroots, indigenous approach to Nature. The only way to preserve ecosystems is a top down approach which convinces and enlists the average person in enjoying and preserving natural ecosystems.
Man, left to his own devices, has always destroyed ecosystems. Unfortunately, only in places where an enlightened few have led campaigns of conservation and preservation have endangered species ever been restored to resilience. So get out there an organize, cajole and work for conservative innovation to integrate man with Nature.