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wundayatta's avatar

Is there an ideal ecological state from the past? If so, what is it?

Asked by wundayatta (58321 points ) December 2nd, 2011

I think a lot of people believe that things were better back when we weren’t changing the environment so that many species are going extinct. Is there such an ideal state? If so, when did it exist?

Was it before white man got to the Americas? Before worms and pigs and horses were introduced? Was it before the dodo went extinct? Before the buffalo were decimated? Was it before man discovered oil? Before the industrial revolution? Before coal? Was it before man even evolved?

Or is there no ideal state, and man is a part of nature and whatever happens is part of a natural process, even though man influences things an awful lot.

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16 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think no ideological state of any kind existed in any past but I do think there are certain modern trends that are quite unlike the past in terms of how people interacted with their natural environment and though humanity always wanted to control nature, there perhaps was more understanding of interrelatedness and a need for sustainability in some previous cultures and some current cultures (like Native American cultures).

wonderingwhy's avatar

Eh, it’s too much a matter of perspective in my opinion to pick an ideal state.

I’d rather see things rolled back to a few million years ago, basically (pre-)Australopithecus and see if we can’t do a better job of engineering our expansion, impact, and resource use in a less destructive/wasteful manner. I think that would produce more beneficial results all the way around.

flutherother's avatar

The natural state is a stable state with an established equilibrium that continues for thousands or hundreds of thousands of years. It never lasts forever and will be interrupted eventually by an asteroid strike, a giant super volcano or an ice age. These periods of disruption are brief but extremely traumatic. The one that has just started has been termed the anthropocene because the activities of Man have begun to change the face of the planet by destroying habitats and entire species. This is not an ideal state and we don’t know how it will end. I prefer stability myself and remember the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times.”

incendiary_dan's avatar

Prior to 10,000 years ago or so. The advent of monocrop agriculture, which was starkly different from hunting, gathering, and complex gardening done before that, because it wiped out ecosystems. Agriculture has always destroyed ecosystems and left deserts; is the first thing you think of when someone mentions Iraq cedar forests so thick that light never touched the ground? That’s how it was before agriculturalists. The Dustbowl? Created with “organic” agriculture after a few hundred years, because that agriculture destroyed the complex web of life that was ancient prairies. Humans (and other animals) had caused the occasional extinction before that period, but mostly as the fallout from an apex predator being newly introduced. Never on the scale as occurred after agricultural empires.

Zyx's avatar

There have been several golden ages of nature. The most recent one ended when the giant eagle (haast’s eagle) died out. And yeah nature is a process, which is in fact fueled by death and pain.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I don’t know. When the earth was more pristine, the air and water cleaner, more open land and life “should” have been simpler, people were starving, freezing, and dying of the simplest of ailments or injuries. If I did wish to have lived in the olden days, I would be dead by now.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt Actually, historical and ethnographic data points to a fairly high standard of living for most paleolithic humans, and even for homo neanderthalensis. It wasn’t perfect by any standard, particularly for neanderthalensis, but there was a time where humans didn’t completely fuck everything up, and we weren’t dropping dead from preventable diseases. In fact, the two are connected. This period was, in fact, over 90% of our time on the planet.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Wasn’t the life expectancy about 45 years or less at that time?

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt No, except in extreme circumstances like far Arctic. The standard of living for ancient hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists was, typically, about at the level only middle and upper class people in first world countries. I’ve written about this a lot, but I recommend the links in my profile from Jason Godesky, and The Original Affluent Society by Marshall Sahlins, just for starters.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

So what was their life expectancy? I know it was common to die in childbirth. Even if you broke an arm or a leg, that would have been a life-threatening injury. Not to mention diseases with no cures like polio, tuberculosis, diptheria, rabies, smallpox, plague, anthrax. I am not doubting your knowledge on the subject, incendiary_dan, but it seems to me that your luck would run out fairly quickly.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt Those things are only true of early “civilizations”, not the hunter-gatherers I’m talking about. Read those links sometime. Childbirth deaths are almost unheard of in these societies (in fact, there are numerous stories of women basically squatting kids out without help). Broken bones were treated by even neanderthalensis, and there are numerous skeletons of theirs found with old injuries that had been mended and that they survived. And basically all of those diseases occured as a result of animal husbandry and/or poor nutritional health, which hunter-gatherers don’t typically have considering their nutrient dense diets. This also means a lack of the “endemic diseases of civilization”, namely cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

You seem to be operating under the impression that before civilization there was no medical science. This is untrue, and every society has developed at least some techniques for treating diseases and mending injuries.

Zyx's avatar

@incendiary_dan I just learned a lot!

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Zyx If you’re interested, those links I provided are probably the best introductory resource around. I also just started reading a “sequel” to the Marshall Sahlins piece, written by someone else and using more updated information which, in fact, shows that the San lifestyle was even more leisurely than he said, and includes great resources on the nature of gender egalitarianism in hunter-gatherer groups.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@incendiary_dan No kidding! Considering the barbaric “medical” practices they had in the 1800’s, I just figured that society went downhill the farther back you go.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt Yea, a lot of people assume that, which is why “progressives” can get away with a lot. It’s generally referred to as the fallacy of progressivism, and even within civilizations we see it’s false.

incendiary_dan's avatar

For instance, we see that technological complexity during the Roman Empire was much higher than afterwards for a few hundred years, and medicine took a big hit in Europe when Christianity became popular. Because civilizations are inherently based on class-division and slavery, access to some of these things is always uneven, as well.

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