Conservation is a key philosophy and practice focused on preserving the planet for future generations of all species. Human passion fueling the conservation movement was inspired by images of unspoiled forests and wide-open prairies. But was it all a dream?
Recent study by archeologists from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia finds that these pristine landscapes haven’t existed for millennia. The inspiring landscapes conservationists worked so hard to preserve might be a myth.
The concept of a pristine landscape is one that has not been impacted by human beings, one that is essentially primeval and unchanged. That idea is more fiction than fact.
According to archeological evidence, human beings have drastically changed pretty much every part of the world and every species on it, directly or indirectly.
These human changes date back to well before the industrial age. As far back as homo sapiens have existed. We’ve been changing the world around us for about 195,000 years.
Travel back in time about 12,000 years and you’ll see that homo sapiens had reached every corner of Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas after starting out in Africa.
We wiped out two thirds of the world’s megafauna, large creatures like mammoths, by about 10,000 years ago. Agriculture, trade, urbanization, all these things impacted the environment in drastic ways.
So what does this mean for conservation? Well it doesn’t make it pointless, that’s for sure. The authors of the study argue that it’s time to rethink conservation. Instead of trying to preserve some mythical environment that doesn’t exist, we need to look to the future and figure out how to preserve what we’ve got.
Many of the most significant changes that humans have brought about happened so long ago that they can never be undone, and even if they could, we don’t know exactly what things were like beforehand.
We may have killed off two-thirds of the world’s megafauna, but we can still try and preserve those we have left. The goal of conservation, then, should be to preserve what we have and ensure its survival, rather than trying to turn back the clock.