Jamie Lewis Hedges in Hells Gate National Park, Kenya

(Updated from the original blog post in 2016)

Every Earth Day, I can’t help but think of the statement, “We humans are the only member of the biosphere that isn’t necessary.” A variation of what E. O. Wilson said about ants: “We need them, but they don’t need us.” The line is a reaction, of course, to human ego-centrism. To thrive as individuals, we depend upon the collective wellness of the whole.

But to say we’re the only organism the biosphere doesn’t need makes the same ego-centric mistake. We don’t know that. We do know the biosphere operates more efficiently with all of its organic parts accounted for. So why would humans, as one part of the earth’s organic parts, be any different?

We all play a part.

Take the Americas. We used to think that Native Americans lived in this pristine continent with not much of an ecological footprint. Not so. The parkland environment across this continent was ‘actively managed’ from coast to coast (read 1491 by Charles C. Mann and watch the documentary) by local nations. The biotic community on this continent hasn’t thrived the same way since Europeans stumbled over the Atlantic. Current Supreme Court justices have recently shifted this conversation in Washington State (here).

In South America and New Guinea, tribes use nomadic horticulture, cutting a few acres of rainforest, burning the slash for fertilizer, and growing traditional crops. Several years later, when the site no longer produces, they move miles away to repeat the process at a previous site. This subsistence increases the biodiversity of an already diverse environment (here).

What most concerns me on Earth Day is that environmental conservation has been a rationalization for human displacement and repression.

Indigenous people worldwide are displaced in the name of conservation. The Kalahari Bushmen, for instance, continue to struggle after being evicted from their homeland in 2002 by the Botswana government under the guise of wildlife protection (here). Even though numerous court cases have ruled in favor of the bushmen, authorities continue to harass them, forbid them from hunting, but allow affluent big game hunting.

Tanzanian Maasai are not only being evicted from their native Serengeti but are also beaten and their homes destroyed by agents of the government (here). Authorities want them out of the Serengeti area because they’ve sold exclusive big game hunting rights to Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC) owned by Dubai Royals.

The Manzou in Zimbabwe have been kicked off their land by the National Parks and Wildlife Authority in order to create a sanctuary for elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, buffaloes, and corn for ethanol production (here). Zimbabwe’s first lady pushed this agenda for her own private benefit, in defiance of a court order against evictions.

Despite the potential Native people all over the world have to contribute toward sustainability and preservation of biodiversity (seriously, check it), environmental management is killing them. Conservation has become third-wave colonialism.

To advocate Earth must be to advocate for people.

The ecological truth is that we must find a perspective from outside the driver’s seat: in the words of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, to relinquish ‘dominion’ (here). The authority should not be ours to decide who should live and die. Ours is only to reverence life. We are neither the gods nor the ante gods of creation. We are creation.

Our failure in modern civilization has been that we think of ourselves as distinct. Over 200 years of western land management mistakenly valued humans, not nature. Environmental activism makes the same mistake when it values nature, not humans. We have yet to grasp humans as nature.

This biosphere has has been evolving together with homo sapiens for 300,000 years. So our ecological understanding and environmental protection must include humans living in and interacting with our environment. Preservation that excludes people is an ill-conceived notion that opens the door to human rights abuse, at worst, and at best limits our ability to thrive.

We must, every one of us, find our place within a living collective whole and learn how to benefit all creatures great and small. Because there is no future for any one of us who has no means to thrive.



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Jamie Lewis Hedges

Jamie Lewis Hedges

Wilderness #leadership #getoutside #travel in Kenya, mosquitoes in Amazon, Guinness in Ireland, bánh bao in Vietnam, hike the Cascades, travel US.