In the book of The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History, the author – Elizabeth Kolbert – writes about the relationships of humans and nature. In chapter 11, she writes about how some huge mammals throughout history had gone extinct, how some of the rhinos that she sees are on the edge of extinction, and how some scientists believe that humans were and are still the cause of the extinction of these huge mammals. As we can infer from this chapter, humans had tried to dominate the landscape ever since a really early stage, killing off the strongest animals walking on Earth, probably as a way to further prove their dominance upon other species.
They might not have a huge impact on the ecosystem, but they definitely pushed some species to extinction, which can be against the natural course of the environment. As Kolbert says at the end: ‘Though it might be nice to imagine there was once a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it’s not clear that he ever really did.
’ (The Sixth Extinction, P. 1)
Planet Earth, where all of our knowledge comes from, is an extremely complex and fragile system of interconnected species and life forms that have been developed and evolved over the last 4.5 billion years. This specific planet managed to escape the devastating Big Bang, wondered in the vast space of the Universe, and eventually became part of the ‘Solar System’, as we now call it. From that evolved matter, where solids, liquids and gases coexisted in a manner so incredibly that in the end, after billions of years of evolution, the environment is just right to have the ability to foster life.
According to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, all living organisms have the same ancestor here on Earth. How is it then that our species managed to dominate this planet in such a short period of existence? Moreover, do we actually have the right to do so? In the last 3.5 billion years, everything evolved with a natural course from the environment. However, our rapid dominance as a species has started to affect this natural order. With our population at seven billion and rising, we have played a significant role in disrupting the Earth’s ecosystems. As we grow even larger and have a greater influence on nature, it should be our duty to address the role that we are playing as part of the system here on Earth.
The ability of humans to manipulate the landscape and recognize the consequences of doing so puts us in a peculiar position. We as a species work towards stability for us and our future generations. However, we also have the duty to maintain the environment, as it provides resources for us to live on. Here the questions arise: What is our role in this ecosystem? Do we have the right to manipulate landscape, farm animals, and pollute water? Or should we just cut down on our population and merely subsist? In order for these questions to be answered, we must first look into our knowledge of the history of the Earth, its evolution, and our impact on the environment.
Throughout history, nature has been increasingly exploited by human. Every progress that human made was accompanied by more and more environmental degradation. At first, humans were incredibly in-sync with the nature: waking up when the sun rises and going to sleep when the sun falls; hunting and gathering resources when needed; following the ebb and flow of the seasons. Those were the times that although human had an impact on the environment, it was relatively measurable as our population was really low, and thus the impact can be insignificant. As humans evolved, more technology and agricultural methods were discovered. This had led to humans having more efficient ways to sustain themselves, which then led to more permanent settlements, and thus a sharp increase in population growth. However, it had caused us to begin drifting away from nature.
As societies evolved, population grew more and more quickly. This had led to more resources from nature being exploited by humans to support the rapid growth in numbers. With breakthroughs in technology, more permanent settlements were formed and cities began to take shape. This change in lifestyle unavoidably drifted us further away from nature. Although many people were still following the natural course of living on a subsistent level, the need for more resources had slowly changed our perceptions with respect to nature.
Despite the fact that the distancing of humans from the natural world started thousands of years ago with advancements in technology, agriculture and social order, it was the age of Industrial Revolution that truly changed our perception with nature. The growth of cities had led to more segregation between humans and nature, and our passion with efficiency and convenience had induced a new perspective of the environment in us. With more improvements in technology, humans began seeing themselves as something outside the natural world, controlling, manipulating and ripping profits off of the environment. Due to the growth of industry, humans eventually became dominant of this planet and disrupted the natural order that had been there for billions of years.
As we have taken ourselves out from the big picture of nature, we have subconsciously developed the ignorance of our relationship in it. With the growth of cities and trade we have moved from a subsistent, sustainable economy to one of greed and exploitation. Our species have always had an influence on the environment, but with the age of Industrial Revolution the influence has been limitlessly enlarged. Population by then had been increasing exponentially; cities had become the primary residence areas for people; and the majority of the world was then completely out of the natural course of the environment.
Despite the fact that every species ever existed on this planet plays a specific role in the ecosystem and inherently has its own impact, not all of them has the ability to measure the influence or the capability to change it. This is where our species is unique in, and also where the problem is rooted. We have the capacity of acknowledging our impact over the nature, but we tend to ignore it and the signals that the Earth has been sending to us about our existence. We know we are destroying the environment, and we have the capability to realize it and do something about it. Therefore, changes should be made where necessary.
The number of our population and its continuous eager to increase has an apparent influence on the environment. However, the influence is further magnified with the desire of capitalism: an economic system that has infected throughout most parts of the world, which contributes even more to the division of humans and nature.
Capitalism is an especially harmful system with respect to the environment as it encourages a financial-driven social hierarchy based on the intruding exploitation of natural resources. Our relationship with the environment has become absolutely economic. We no longer see ourselves as members of nature because we now make profits out of it. Forests are either burned down to make spaces for real estates, or cut down to profit lumber industries; animals are slaughtered in increasing numbers to feed the population; scarce resources such as fossil fuel are unequally and unfairly distributed throughout the world so as to make more profits – while the nature bears all the costs of our greed.
Not only is capitalism encouraging divisions among people through unfair distribution of resources, it is drifting us off completely from nature. In order to reestablish our perception with the environment and acknowledge our role in it once more, we would need to revise the relationships constructed through capitalism, as it is based mostly off of individualism, while in nature everything is interconnected in some ways. We are all dependent on each other in one way or another.
Humans have been playing an important role in nature, just like every other species. What differentiates us from the rest of them is that we are able to understand the role that we are taking within it. This acknowledgement could have ultimately been the reason why humans would assume that we have the rights of exploiting the environment in the first place. Thus in order to change that, it is crucial that we would reevaluate our place in the big picture of nature, and achieve the state of, simply put, natural.