The Relationship Between Humans and the Environment
Nearly everything that a human does is in response to the environment. Our lives are defined by what is around us and what we find in front of us, whether this means accepting, dealing with or changing it. This has been the pattern since primates first stood up and became Homo erectus, and has continued until we considered ourselves doubly wise. The shape of the land affected where humans moved. Weather was something with which to contend. Fire affected humans until they conquered it – and herein lies the core of the relationship. The earth affects humans, and humans affect it back, viewing characteristics and patterns as problems and challenges, and finding a solution.
This is why it matters: we don’t know where we should go unless we know who and where we are. We don’t know either unless we know where we’ve been. We need to know where to go.
The earth and its inhabitants make up a system, and a change to a part of it affects the rest. What we do at one point in time will affect what we have later. As such, it’s important to look at the way that humans have affected the environment in our history (and before), and to try to figure out the results of such changes. (It’s necessary to keep in mind that not all impact by humans has been negative impact.) Some of the ways humans have changed the environment have been with fire, agriculture and hunting, and for the purpose of making energy useful.
“Permanent occupation” of humans in Europe did not occur until 80,000 years ago, when the continent was no longer covered in an ice sheet (Ponting). Even then, however, the climate was harsh and though it supported life, it was not an easy life. To survive this environment, humans would have needed fire for warmth. Scientists disagree on when humans first tamed fire, as it’s difficult to prove firstly that a piece of evidence is really from fire, and secondly, that this fire was set intentionally by humans (Science). The most accepted time for the first use of fire is approximately 200,000 years ago (Science). However, researchers from the University Rennes in Paris have found evidence of an “ancient fireplace” from approximately 465 years ago. If this is confirmed, this would be an incredible find (Science).
What is known is that humans used fire for a variety of purposes, such as agriculture and hunting. Humans learned that if a forest was cleared of undergrowth, it was easier to hunt for animals in the forest. In the Australia of 50,000 years ago, there were large animals – termed the megafauna – that the indigenous people hunted for food. Soon after humans arrived on the continent, however, the megafauna disappeared. There are several possible reasons for the extinction. One particularly dramatic one is that humans’ extreme use of fire, perhaps uncontrolled, caused the climate to become more arid, and making it impossible for some megafauna to survive. Possibly, the plants that...