An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.
Early hunters and gatherers utilized nature’s bounty in a pragmatic manner. They gathered and hunted enough food to sustain their nutritional needs but did not take from their surroundings more than they needed to survive. As civilizations developed after agriculture took precedent as the primary means of providing food and other resources, humans began to exploit the environment not only to sustain nutritional needs but for economic gain as well. As economies developed, humans began to look for ways to prosper economically and the abundant resources of the planet became their primary target.
The abundant flora, fauna and other natural resources on every continent and in the oceans provided a perceived inexhaustible supply of riches that could be converted to food, clothing, housing, fuel and industrial materials for manufacturing all sorts of commodities for human existence and pleasure. Humans began to hunt, fish, mine and harvest the resources of the planet at an increasingly faster rate that eventually led to the extinction of thousands of species of flora and fauna and the depletion of other natural resources such as minerals and fossil fuels.
Many practices of exploitation have been unwarranted such as the slaughter of animals solely for the manufacture of clothing, cosmetics, jewelry and other creature comforts. The killing of animals has often been overtly cruel and painful and rendered without respect for their rights as creatures of the Earth. Hunting for sport is another overt disrespect to animals that has found considerable favor historically.
Animals have also been perceived as being dangerous or annoying and that removal from the environment would benefit society. This ideology resulted in the mass killings of many species of animals over the centuries and is still an issue of great concern today.
Humans have also introduced their preferred flora and fauna to foreign ecosystems as they changed habitats that resulted in detrimental changes in ecosystem balance in the new ecosystems and the extinction of many species of plants and animals or the proliferation of some unwanted species as well. Some introductions of new species were accidental such as rats being transported on boats unintentionally and flourishing in new habitats.
In summary, humanity has become overly greedy in its use of the Earth’s natural resources and has exploited them beyond what is conceivably sustainable. This practice has put the environment in danger of ecosystem collapse, the countless flora and fauna in danger of extinction and the defilement of the beauty of the whole planet. There is lastly the issue of ethics. The Earth is a living organism and has the right to live and evolve just as we do. Our denial of this right is a serious misconception that may determine our future success or failure as a viable species.
A Green History of the World by Clive Ponting, 1991, St Martin’s Press, NY. The Rape of the World, pp. 161-193.