It turns out some of our hunter-gatherer instincts may not be that great for the environment. While these traits were crucial for the survival of our ancestors, they can be destructive in today's modern world. Let's take a look at how some of these lingering behaviors impact our environment.
1. We like to play with fire:
No doubt, fire played a huge role in the success of our ancestor's survival, from cooking food to providing heat and light. Some fires are even beneficial, such as "prescribed fires" that maintain forest health. However, the use and misuse of fire can cause widespread ecological effects. One study examined the four types of fires throughout human evolution. These included naturally occurring fires, controlled fires for agriculture and hunting purposes, and industrial fires mainly for fossil fuel production. They found that almost one third of the planet has had significant fire activity, though did not explain how much was due to unwise practices. This shows that using fire has been and will continue to be a part of our existence. Learning how to maintain and use it responsibly will be essential for our environment’s future.
2. We like fatty, sweet foods:
Blame your ancestors next time you reach for the chocolate bar instead of a carrot. Surviving in a food-scarce environment meant that fat and calories were at a premium. Meat and ripe fruits became staples in our diet then, and remain a craving today. Large-scale operations make sure the grocery store shelves are always stocked, so most of us don't have to go out and hunt for our next meal today. However, the production of these food preferences is not sustainable. The industrial production of meat and animal products is notoriously destructive to the environment. Today, most of the developed world has an abundance of these high fat and sugary foods. Their production may not only be damaging to our environment, but our waistlines as well.
3. We are copycats:
If our ancestors were loners, chances are they would not have made it very long. Being in a group was advantageous for hunting, finding shelter, food, and looking out for predators. In addition, copying the behaviors of others enabled our ancestors to adapt more quickly, without having to go through a trial-and-error process with potentially disastrous or grave results. Today, this means we may unconsciously copy and mirror the behaviors of others. This can have positive or negative effects on the environment, depending on what you copy. For example, if your social network doesn't practice green behaviors chances are you won't either, and vice versa. However, it may only take one person to influence this change, as we're more likely to copy leaders as well.
Ethnologists often site the case of Easter Island as the leading example of the dangerous consequences of destructive human behavior. The island’'s civilization was wiped out by overpopulation, deforestation, and exploitation of natural resources. However, we no longer face the same threats as our ancestors. Understanding how their behavior was once essential to survival can help us make smarter decisions about our impact on the environment today.