Two Enmeshed Systems

Chloe Lewis

To consider the human condition apart from the natural environment is both foolish and inconceivable. It is in unity with a modern mode of thought that humans are raised to think that they are in some way separated from their natural environment. In developed society the weather has become nothing more than something to discuss with the person standing next to you in the checkout line. Population refers to how many people will be at the movies this weekend. Agriculture is what shows up in the produce section of the grocery store and fire is something you can order on pay-per-view and watch on your television screen for $ 3.69, hours and hours of it. Practically nothing directly relates to the environment that we are so intrinsically a part of. Humanity has neglected to develop a consciousness about its position in a world, which includes but is not defined by human society.
As far as we know, the beginnings of humanity date back to 3.5 million years ago. Homo erectus (the earliest form of man) was roaming the earth, in Africa, with his hands free enabling him to travel great distances and utilize basic stone tools. The species Homo erectus lived in small, hunter-gatherer groups. Because of constant movement, in search of vegetation and game in addition to a small population, he was unable to leave a lasting impact on the environment. (Ponting) Essentially, he was a very smart ape. (McCrone) Just 100,000 years ago came the development of Homo sapiens whom had a larger brain case and far more advanced hunting techniques, using bolas stones, snarling and trapping. And 30,000 years ago came the development of Homo sapiens sapiens. The bow and arrow was developed along with the needle and thread. Tools and technology were quickly developing and man had the resourcefulness for global spread.
The manipulation of fire is regarded as one of mans greatest feats concerning early technology. There is a debate as to when man first intentionally used fire, McCrone argues that Homo erectus was successfully using fire as a tool about 1.5 million years ago. He doesn't think that Homo erectus would have been able to spread its population the way it did without the use of fire which would have facilitated cooking, food preservation and tool making; all of which would have been necessary to migrate great distances. There is evidence of hearths being used in Europe as early as 400,000 years ago, which clearly require controlled use of fire. Ponting supports this point saying that because of Europe's harsh weather conditions, it would have been essential for Homo erectus to have control over the environment. (Ponting, 29).
As the world became scattered with Homo sapiens sapiens hunter-gatherer societies grew larger and man gained increasing control of his natural surroundings. The culmination of this occurred 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture. This enabled humans to stay in one location. First developing in Asia and South America, it showed humans intentionally and purposefully altering their environment. Not to say that humans had not had impact on the environment before this time, they certainly had. The use of controlled fires and extensive over hunting of one animal had already driven species to extinction. (Ponting 33) Yet still, agriculture disturbed both the flora and fauna of a region, permanently altering soil and the natural habitat of many animals. The use of irrigation, as early as 5,500 B.C. was exceptionally disturbing to environments. It was however, the perfect solution for a growing population.
In the development of human history population has been a growing problem. Of all of the human developments, the birth of their children has had the most devastating affects on the environment. The necessities required to sustain human life have become more harmful than those of any other species. This is why, in the history of man, many communities chose to implement population control. The Netsilik Inuits of northern Canada practiced infanticide on a regular basis, killing twins and babies with physical or mental handicaps in particular. They also abandon the sick, weak and elderly. (Ponting, 23) It was truly a manifestation of Darwinism. With the development of modern culture we have abandon this animalistic and perhaps natural practice. The Gidjingali Aborigines of northern Australia are dependent on a population that is a certain size as well as extensive knowledge of their natural area. For their population their way of life is dictated by the seasons.
In Australia there is a crater that is over half a mile long called Wolf Creek Crater. Gifford Miller from the University of Colorado has been studying the sediment in this crater in an effort to prove a theory that the climate of Australia was changed, permanently, when man first arrived some 50,000 years ago. At this point, Australia became much dryer. A man named Rod Wells has discovered fossils marking the extinction of mega-fauna in Australia around this time. Miller believes that all of this was done through the use of fire, which would have lowered transportation, which is dependent on leaves. Consequently, there was less rain and moisture in the atmosphere. Miller advises us to take this as a warning regarding deforestation.
If Miller is right, and this is true, it only strengthens the point that man has been adjusting the earth's climate for thousands of years and then accommodating with technology, relying on the "tech-fix". Yet there is a fundamental paradox lodged in the "tech-fix"; to forward technology we are almost always forced to compromise the environment, but to cradle the environment we cripple the speed of and the development of technology. In this paradox is the intellectual challenge of embracing the poignant contradiction between the two aspects of a rewarding and sustainable human existence, the excitement of the human endeavor and the sacred quality of nature.

Works Cited:
"Fired Up," McCrone, John; New Scientist 05/20/00, Vol. 166, Issue 2239, pp. 30-34.
Ponting, Clive. A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations. St. Martin's Press, New York, 1991. ISBN 0-312-06989-1, McCabe GF75.P66 1992 pp. 1-67.
Joyce, Christopher. "Australian Anthropogenic Climate Change" News Report. NPR

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last updated 2/6/03