I just finished reading Touch The Earth, a book that collects a number of speeches, quotes and statements from American Indians* from the 1700s to the 1900s. There are many passages that describe how the Indians had reached a balance with their environment that was then disrupted when the Europeans arrived.
I took an environmental history class in college and reading this reminded me of the megafauna extinctions that occurred as humans migrated out from Africa. There seems to be a “remarkable coincidence of mass extinctions with the first arrival of prehistoric but anatomically modern humans in many parts of the world at various times over the last 40,000 years.” Read this article and this one for more details.
In North America, a number of large animals—there were giant beavers, mastodons, sloths, camels, lions and saber-toothed cats—quickly disappear from the fossil record about the time humans start showing up. Even though it is difficult to prove what caused these extinctions, it looks likely that the American Indians had to go through their own environmental crisis before reaching that balance with nature.
I think it is just human nature to exploit cheap, plentiful resources (either large animals that had no fear of humans or carbon-based fuels) and there is no real pressure to look for alternatives until those resources are gone. If we all get through the 21st century, I think it is inevitable that we’ll end up being more balanced with nature too.
Up next, Napolean’s Egypt.
* For ‘Native American’ vs. ‘American Indian’ read I Am An American Indian, Not A Native American! or What’s in a Name? Indians and Political Correctness.