Hypothetical past and present trajectory of our species

An author in Wisconsin, who I think understands a lot more about this than I could possibly explain here, uses the term ‘ecoculture’ to describe the intentional management of natural ecosystems, usually with the goal of increasing the productivity of useful species (for food, clothing, tools, etc.). It isn’t agriculture per se, but an eco-centric way of interacting with the landscape, as opposed to the generally ego-centric way of modern people. I do still consider people interacting in this way to be hunter-gatherers, as they are interacting with wild species much in the same way that a other wild animals would. I don’t think that bears practice “agriculture” by eating specific fruits and dispersing their seeds, though a case could certainly be made that they do interact with other species in ways quite similar to how humans practicing ecoculture would. Ultimately, it comes down to whether we consider ourselves as part of nature or as superior to it. I highly recommend checking out some of the resources that Arthur Haines, a botanist and human ecologist in Maine, has put together on this topic. Here is a link to his website: http://www.arthurhaines.com/

Sorry, I realize that this is way off topic. I’ll end this discussion here, but will be happy to continue it in a separate thread.

Hmm, year Haines does some neat stuff. I would submit though that the sort of ‘ecoculture’ i am talking about is a lot more extensive and conscious than what bears do, at least to our knowledge of bears. Perhaps beavers would be similar in terms of the scale of impact, though again, i have no idea how willful beavers are in their dam building. In any event my personal view is there are multiple ways our species can/could progress and the current colonial-feudal-monoculture form isn’t the only possible, nor by any means the best, in the long term (it doesn’t really have a long term, as we know). What ultimately happens to us and other species like us out in the universe… if we solve all our other problems we get to find out, I guess. If we don’t… well, Earth abides. But i’d rather my species’ legacy be an ecosystem engineer than a comet impact, myself. Perhaps life is rare in the universe (though i increasingly doubt it) and our role as a species if we succeed will be to launch life to the stars.

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Note: this post got out of sequence when i split these and should be at the top here.
I think that one thing that gets missed in that idea is that what we often call ‘hunter gatherers’ were often already intensively managing the landscape. There’s a broad span between true hunter gatherers (say, in the Arctic where you can’t really grow anything, though they did/do manage wildlife of course) to monoculture ag/row crops, but i don’t think the latter is the only possible system, as some groups such as many Native American groups for instance in California, were developing different ‘agricultural’ systems… the best English word to describe them would be ‘permaculture’ i think but it is actually different and deeper than that. Colonization brought a stop to this land management type in most cases. While this is mostly ‘topic drift’ it isn’t entirely as many of California’s ‘wildlands’ are in a sense 500 year old abandoned farm fields (albeit not farming recognized by European colonists) and as such, they are more prone to invasive species, don’t necessarily have a stable ecological endstate (not that anything does) and this is one factor making the fires worse. I suspect in Australia the situation is similar because aboriginal groups (apologies if I am using the wrong word!) were managing the landscape there even longer than was the case in California (probably).

Hard conversation but one we really need to have, somewhere, somehow, if we are going to re-sentientize ourselves

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Of course, it depends what indigenous group we choose look at. Some engaged heavily in agriculture while others lived without much of any kind of intentional ecosystem management, but I would be surprised if there was really one group in North America (or anywhere) that lived truly off of what the landscape provided and didn’t act with intention to change that in any way (though perhaps in some highly productive ecosystem). Intention aside, there is simply no such thing as a people who lived with ‘zero impact’ on the species they lived with, there was always an impact (as beavers have an impact as well, it doesn’t have to be something bad). I do wonder so much about how we lived in the past, but I suppose it is something we’ll never truly know. I’m looking forward to seeing how this discussion develops. Overall, I strongly agree with you, I too would much rather my species be a kind of ecological caretaker than a destroyer.

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well yeah, that’s part of the point. Our species has a very diverse mix of methods of interacting with the landscape. At least in the US i find people mostly judge ‘humans’ based on our current global society and thus judge us as some kind of cancer or disease on the planet, but one way or another, despite is dominance in many ways now, it will not last very long. Other methods, while surely without problems, have persisted for thousands of years or more. And yet other methods have quickly died out due to ecosystem collapse, climate change, cultural or economic issues, etc, with others intentionally targeted for genocide because they were not convenient to someone else’s worldview. Either we will burn ourselves out, fix things, or a mix of both. Probably a mix of both. We won’t keep doing what we do now for much longer on an ecology-level much less geologic. But the good news is with tens of thousands of years of history and knowledge we’ve accumulated about ecosystems and the planet, we see there are tons of options and also lots of alternative paths. Unfortunately there’s been a concerted effort to stamp out that knowledge, which is where this topic gets even harder and possibly perilous to discuss online.

In terms of ‘impact’ we all impact and affect everything, everything affects everything, however, we in this current society that predominates on internet message boards and such, view the impact of our species as always negative, whereas in reality, it’s open ended, ‘negative’ is to some extent subjective (though it’s pretty clearly so in the current state of affairs), and we individually have at least some agency to choose what our ‘impact’ is. Amidst my impact of consuming resources and emitting some fossil fuels, i will have the ‘impact’ of my work on wetland conservation, my work to steward, restore, and heal an acre of land, my impact on other humans, my impact of gathering 40K and counting biodiversity data points for future generations to use to heal things. Is it a net positive or negative? Who knows, it depends on how we define that anyhow. But to me it seems the best route for me to take.

In terms of looking at other past and present human practices, the point here isn’t to idealize any of them, as we are all humans and all have our issues and problems and struggles, rather it’s to point out that our current way of doing things, while pervasive and quite damaging, just grew out of one way of producing food and society in one corner of the world, spread virally across the planet, and will burn itself out one way or another. The more we can learn and adapt using the vast diversity of human knowledge and culture, along with all other forms of diversity, the better we will do I think.

Translating that all into actionable items… I’m still working on that.

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I find that I have a similar way of thinking to your net impact idea, of course we’re going to harm other beings in our lives (that is simply part of being a heterotroph), but to me I try to do what I can so that any positive impact I have can outweigh the negative impacts. But it all comes down to how we define positive and negative.

I do hope that this is a discussion that we can have respectfully without offending anyone, as I think it is a very important discussion to have and some of us may not have another medium aside from iNaturalist to discuss these ideas. Just know that we are sharing our own personal opinions and not judging anyone.

I don’t have much more to add for the time being, I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this, as well.

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Much of what is being discussed here comes under the heading of what many ecologists term ‘niche construction.’ I suppose the distinction is that ‘eco-culture’ is that subset of niche construction that is intentional?

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