What is human ecology, anyway?
Ecology as humans see it, or humanity as seen by ecology?
Monday, June 14, 2010 - 23:39
As a former student at College of the Atlantic in beautiful Bar Harbor, Maine, I find myself pondering what human ecology, a core course taught at the college, means for us humans. How do humans see themselves in the world? Some see themselves as islands suspended in time, out of touch with the natural world that surrounds them. Others try to control nature, acting as a puppeteer to make the world as they wish it to be. Still others do not know how to balance their humanity with nature. Human ecology is not a single definition and is not a term to be used lightly because it is not a simple answer or formula to peoples' specific needs and wants. In order to achieve a harmony between humans and the nature that constantly interacts with them, the parts and wholes of ecology and mankind have to be examined.
Having only been a piece of the puzzle called Earth for 150 million years, humans leave their impact on the environment. This goes without saying, even if some people think of themselves as separate entities. Since the dawn of the first hunters and gatherers to the intiators of the Industrial Revolution when oil wells were first explored, human ecology has always existed, even if it was not spoken outright. I feel that human ecology is a term that people know of, but do not necessarily speak of because of the somewhat controversial topics it engenders.
We should all know of our ecological foot print on this one Earth. I read a compelling piece of work from a professor that seems to sum up human ecology for me: "Our actions reverberate through nature and rebound towards the human world with frightening consequences." For many, pulling out a sheet of paper does not conjure images of trees crashing to the ground with brutal force. Not until a crisis arises, such as mass forest fires, or oil spills, do people stop and think about how their choices and actions affect the environment. Ironically, it seems to me that humans do not look at things from an environmental perspective until a disaster strikes them personally. The first thing that comes to mind is Hurricane Katrina; not until people were displaced from their homes and standing on their rooftops begging for help did we start to think that perhaps climate change was coming at us fast. More often than not, people do not realize what they have until it's gone.
As I ponder human ecology and oil spills and global warming, I can't help but think about an argument between a former teacher and myself. He asked me what I wanted to study in college, and I told him I was interested in environmental law. "Oh no, don't tell me you're one of those environmentalists!" Those words would stay with me. That was the spark that got me rattling off climate change statistics to him, but I might as well have been yelling at a wall. Argument aside, what really has been embossed on my brain was his response to my monologue about melting ice caps and dying polar bears. I was asked if I thought I could really make a difference. Was I in an illusion world, where I was trying to convince an adult that global warming is real, but in reality I could not change his views no matter how hard I tried. Right there, before I even heard of human ecology, was human ecology at its finest. Humans many times expect the world to conform to their preconceived world view. Someone may look at a forest and think, hey, what a place to start a housing community! Another might ponder the use of the lumber, while yet another might admire the natural beauty. It's all about balance — at least that's what I think. We all are connected, but each individual sees that connection in different views, from utilitarian to ecological.
What humans have done, and what they see themselves doing from this point forward is marked by a certain relationship between man and the environment, or man and his environment, woman and her environment, or environment and its humans. As Charles Darwin once wrote, "We are all netted together," in terms of being an integral part of the same Earth. Human ecology transcends boundaries and formatted expectations; you can be your own example of your own reworking of the theory and practice. It is no matter how we each see ourselves fitting into the puzzle, as long as we are aware that we all are pieces of the continuously changing biosphere.