It's the Environment, Stupid.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Natives not into nature?

I don't know why I'm constantly amused by what the wires pick up on.... ENN snagged this story from Reuters "Early California Was Native American Killing Field."

Reuters reports on a recent paper from University of Utah anthropologist Jack Broughton that looks at how Native Americans in California wiped out several species of animals and plant life prior to the European takeover. And thus, he concludes that Native Americans weren't all that sensitive to nature as we'd been led to believe.

I haven't read this paper, so he may address this, but do we currently live under the assumption that it has only been in the past couple generations that we've started killing off species? Don't the critics of the endangered species act always throw that fact out there - species have been dropping off throughout the millenia, so why try and stop the 'natural' course of things?

I think maybe 'natives' understood how to work with nature more than we do today, but that doesn't mean they didn't have a learning curve. They had to live and maintain livelihoods way back when, just as we do, and have at times learned the hard way. Jared Diamond's book Collapse is full of examples, such as Easter Island and the Viking-Inuit case. The Easter Island people used up all of their resources and their situation became dire. In Greenland, the Inuit people learned from their environment, and instead of trying to exploit their resources they used them to their advantage. Whereas the Vikings tried to bring what worked from their homeland (farming techniques and domesticated animals) to the 'new' land and didn't succeed because they didn't pay attention to what their environment was telling them.

What is different about us today than the California 'natives' 1500 years ago is that we have all this technology and history to know more about the past than ever before. We should be able to prevent mistakes of the past by learning from them, yet we don't seem to be willing to do so. Perhaps current socieites are in the midst of their (our) own learning curve.


  • Don't forget that the Maoris wiped out the Moa and perhaps a few other species. I think it's just human nature to think things will last forever, until they don't.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 22:05  

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