Are Humans and Nature compatible? Can they live together in harmony? Has humanity become too distinct from nature to be classified as a different entity altogether?
This question has plagued the scientific community for many years, sparking fierce debate. Many feel we are entirely divergent beings and must live separately, while others vehemently argue for our coexistence.
In the conservation sphere, this has several implications for policymaking.
Let’s take the example of tiger reserves in India. We have demarcated these tracts of forests as inviolate areas, free of human disturbance. The goal is to let wildlife be without the stains of the human lifestyle.
So when sectioning portions of the forests as reserves, all people living in those areas are evicted. Villagers and indigenous people are deemed unfit to live there. Proponents of this theory believe the very presence of humans inhibits nature from functioning optimally.
Those who believe in peaceful coexistence say that before industrialisation, humans lived in synergy with nature. We were part of the natural cycle of life. It was modernisation that distanced us from our natural roots.
There are arguments, however, that dispute this.
In his famous book Sapiens, scholar Yuval Harari professes that humans were one of the deadliest creatures on the planet. After the cognitive revolution, we colonised other parts of our world. On the way, they exterminated several species, human and animal alike. The belief that pristine landscapes, like the Amazon rainforests and Australian outback, are untouched by humans is an illusion.
As humans moved into unexplored landmasses, they systematically altered their ecologies. In Australia alone, within a few thousand years, humans exterminated most of the indigenous wildlife, from marsupial lions to dragon-like lizards. These creatures, previously having no encounter with humans, had no instinctive fear and thus suffered greatly.
Sapiens went about massacring mammoths and mastodons through their spread into the Americas. The dates of the last recorded fossils in these places coincide with the arrival of humans. These ecological tragedies prove that human history is bathed in unfathomable amounts of blood.
So is there no example of peaceful coexistence between humans and nature?
Today, many tribes are found in the remote regions of the planet that have survived thousands of years amid nature. They have remained relatively unchanged over the years while having not altered their environment to a great degree.
One case study where this debate is most relevant is in the plight of the Soliga community. The Soligas are an indigenous tribe that used to inhabit the forests of what is now known as the BRT Tiger Reserve, Karnataka.
This tribe, until the 1970s, lived in conjunction with nature. They farmed and hunted animals from the forest. From shifting agriculture to meat consumption, they peacefully survived in the woods for a long time. But in 1974, they were ousted from their home which was declared a tiger reserve.
How must we act to live in harmony with nature?
In ‘compensation’, the forest department offered them work in neighbouring coffee plantations. They were denied their original forest-based livelihood and faced expropriation at the hands of the government.
The Soligas say that traditional hunting and agricultural practices ban resulted in profuse Lantana growth (An invasive plant). The increase in wild boar numbers resulted in more crop damage, which wouldn’t have happened if they could continue to hunt. Their practices, which were deemed “primitive”, were essential for keeping the forest healthy.
In this scenario, we see a habitat suffering due to the lack of indigenous folk. They were part of the ecological system, and their eviction has transpired into environmental chaos. The plight of the Soligas mirrors similar episodes that are playing out across the globe. Those native to the region are banished, and the result is ecological imbalance.
Here we see two contradictory examples. One demonstrates how a disparate approach serves us and nature better, whilst the other shows us how it can be detrimental. How must we act to live in harmony with nature?
I do not know.
Maybe there isn’t even a definite answer to this question. Nevertheless, this topic is highly relevant, especially for the coming decade. With an increase in habitat destruction and climate refugees, understanding our relationship with nature has never been more critical.
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