For thousands of years, human civilizations have flourished without causing damage to the earth, co-existing alongside other species without disrupting fellow eco-systems.
Despite their name, early hunter-gatherer tribes subsisted predominately on gathering.
The exceptions to this were the tribes, like those in modern-day Alaska, who survived primarily by fishing. Though it is easy to picture these tribes collecting an abundance of fish, this was not the case. Not only did they limit their harvests, ensuring they took only what was needed, but they would have been encumbered by the weight of large harvests, preventing efficient travel. Because of this, resources often remained bountiful after their departure, with ancient tribes and clans leaving little impact on the environment.
When early nomads did hunt, they did so resourcefully, which in turn kept the population of other potential prey in check. Not that they would have been able to hunt beyond necessity if they had sought to, as history shows humans are inferior hunters without the assistant of tools, and even with spears only about one out of ten attempts of early hunters were successful.
Although this system of hunting and gathering proved effective in sustaining the low impact lifestyles of early humans, it could not continue to subsist when more complex civilizations began to establish themselves. And so, the development of agriculture was a crucial step to the self-sufficiency of settled societies. However, the agricultural history of the last two centuries in particular can attest the rise of industrial farming and practices as one of the primary causes of environmental and cultural distress.
In conjuncture with capital-minded industries, modern agriculture has drastically influenced the distribution of food and wealth of nations, created demand for the overproduction of crops in non-food industries, and has contributed its fair share of climate change. It has also made farmers reliant on hazardous chemicals, in part as a means of short-term convenience, but also as a necessity to the modern farmer who knows far less about ecology than their early counterparts.
Today, knowledge is specialized, and thus, limited. A lack of crop rotation on industrial-scale farms and the introduction of chemical fertilizers and insecticides has reduced the quality of the soil and resulted in the loss of biodiversity, which means the loss of natural pollinators as well, including bees and butterflies.
Fortunately, the move to sustainable agriculture is gaining mass beyond the green movement, with the University of California Davis making official their Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems major in 2011.
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