A Change in Perspective in the Human-nature Relationship

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

As civilizations evolved and became more sophisticated, human beings continued to discover and utilize the resources of their domain to assure their advancement and security. At first, the abundance of natural reserves seemed endless but as populations grew and human needs increased, the impact on the environment became increasingly critical and resulted in many forms of pollution and resource depletion. Attitudes about the Earth and the place of humanity within it also evolved and affected the way humans interacted with their surroundings.

Some professionals, who have studied ancient cultures, disagree with the notion that humans simply did what was necessary to survive and reason that early humans probably did have respect for nature and its bounties initially and lived in relative harmony with their world. However, over time and due to survival and other issues, that relationship changed from a respect for and participation in the wholeness of creation, towards one of detachment, avoidance and a focus on the self as a separate entity. From this altered perspective came a trend that has carried forth to this day: the desire, need and perceived right to manage, control and dominate the environment to suit purely human endeavors.

Why did this human-nature relationship change so dramatically and what were the principal causes? The evolution of culture and its subsequent developments holds the key to an understanding of the change in our relationship with the natural world and why we are in such a state of peril today.

Many of these factors developed over a long period of time and are difficult to put in any precise chronological order as some of the events and developments occurred simultaneously or in close proximity to each other. I have presented these factors in their relative order to establish a sense of continuity and comprehensibility. Agriculture was the initial precipitant for cultural development and started the accelerated process of human evolution with its environment.

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