Is Human Nature Anti Nature?

Humans are as much a part of nature as any other species on the planet and while it is permissible to talk about the impact that human populations and culture have had on the planet, the idea that human nature is inherently anti-nature does not fit with the facts.

Indigenous people have managed forests for a long time. (Townsend 2009:33) In addition to the examples given by Patricia Townsend about how human beings have successfully managed forests and promoted nature, there are plenty of other examples where human culture and thus human nature have not only promoted nature, but protected it. One such example is that of the Mbuti Pygmies as related by Colin Turnbull, the Mubuti’s society and religion are rooted in nature (Turnbull: 1961). Through inherent biodiversity cultivation, many peoples have preserved nature despite the presence of significant human populations. A more recent example of the inherent desire of human nature to protect and preserve nature is the Declaration of Belem in 1988. This is an example of human nature being pro-nature.

Human cultures are intimately related to the physical and biological environments in which they occur. If one is to argue that human nature is anti-nature, than one must argue by furthering this reasoning that human nature is anti-human. The reason for this leap forward in the argument can be seen by how closely humans must rely on the ecosystems in which they live. Consider the Indigenous adaptation to Rio Negro in the Amazon consisting of mixed subsistence, diversity, etnoecological practices and ethnoconservation methods (classnotes 9/26). Like the Shoshonean and Columbia River Indians (Townsend 2009:10-19), humans throughout the world have molded their cultures to preserve, nurture, and protect their natural environments.

Cultural ecology is about the relationship between human culture and nature (Townsend 2009:11). According to Leslie E. Sponsel, cultural ecology is an analysis of how culture influences the interactions between a human population and the ecosystems in which they reside (Sponsel 2001: 395-397). This is not always a positive impact.

Some human behavior and culture is maladaptive and thus anti-nature. In the same study mentioned above, Sponsel brings us to the conclusion that the net impact of human populations is to reduce biodiversity. This can be clean clearly in the “American preoccupation with manicured front lawns” and the massive decline in Northern Cod through overfishing. (Townsend 2009:14-15) Despite these examples of humans having an anti-nature impact, if human beings were truly anti-nature, our species would certainly have perished long ago.

The health of human populations depends upon the health of the ecosystem they live in. In the process of change as human populations grow, environments mature, and history runs its course, we, as humans, depend on the health of our environment. If the environment is not well we lose the plants we need for medicine, we encourage the emergence of diseases such as Ebola and the black plague, and…we starve (Townsend 2009:30-31). To claim that human nature is anti-nature is actually a form of environmental racism much like that of Kent Redford (Redford 1991: 46-48) who claims that indigenous cultures offer no models for sustainability and that all humans have an impact on the environment. The truth is, all life has an impact on the environment. That is nature, no anti about it.