The Anthropocene Review (2019)

 

Hunter-gatherer land management in the human break from ecological sustainability

 

Abstract

Evidence that human societies built on agricultural subsistence have been inherently ecologically unsustainable highlights the value in exploring whether any pre-agricultural subsistence approaches were ecologically sustainable or nearly so. The land management practices of some hunter-gatherer societies have been portrayed as sustainable, even beneficial. Research suggests such practices may fruitfully inform contemporary land management. As a human subsistence foundation, however, they may not have been ecologically sustainable. Figuring centrally in the late Pleistocene shift from immediate-return to delayed-return hunting and gathering, they enabled population growth, helped make possible the development of agriculture, and appear to have caused early environmental degradation. Consistent with this argument is research locating the origins of the Anthropocene near the Pleistocene–Holocene boundary, as societies were taking greater control of food production. It appears then that immediate-return hunting and gathering, which involved little or no land management, was the human lifeway most closely approaching ecological sustainability. Wider recognition of this idea would assist in understanding and addressing today’s ecological challenges.

(I'll link to a PDF of the accepted, pre-publication version soon. Or just contact me here for the published version.)

 

 

Hunter/Gatherer (2016)

Land management among hunter-gatherers: Questioning the ubiquity claims

 

Abstract

Evidence that our industrial society, built on agricultural subsistence, is inherently ecologically destructive underlines the value in identifying which, if any, past human subsistence approaches have been ecologically benign. The traditional land management practiced by some hunter-gatherers is touted by some as a model of ecologically benign subsistence. In this paper I examine critically several broad assertions made commonly by proponents of this set of subsistence practices. These claims portray these practices as almost ubiquitous among human societies, in their impacts across land areas, and through time. Despite having been subjected to little scrutiny, these claims have contributed to the reputation, on the part of traditional land management, for ecological benignity. By analyzing them critically we can improve our understanding of traditional land management, laying a foundation for more effective examination of direct ecological impacts and long term consequences of this subsistence approach.

Land Management Among Hunter-Gatherers: Questioning the Ubiquity Claims (PDF)

Alternate PDF