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The New Natural World

Throughout the history of life on Earth, ecological and evolutionary processes have been the means by which the biological world survives environmental change. Instead of automatically resisting such change, environmentalists and conservationists should distinguish between “good change” and “bad change.”

YORK – Sixty-six million years ago, a celestial body crashed into the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. With that, there was space for the rise of mammals and, eventually, the evolution of a tool-wielding, linguistically capable, bipedal ape with the power, some argue, to have almost as transformative an impact on the planet as that celestial body. As we enter the so-called Anthropocene epoch, in which human activity is a dominant influence on the climate and environment, we must take a hard – and nuanced – look at how we are using that power.

Many believe the world is becoming increasingly “unnatural” – tainted by humanity. But, given that humans evolved within the world’s biological system, everything we do – killing off species, razing forests, polluting the atmosphere – can be regarded as a natural product of the evolutionary process.

By this logic, the world does not become any less natural as we change it. It could be argued that environmentalists and conservationists, in their efforts to return the environment to a past version of itself, are fighting against nature. The reality of today’s world is that it is impossible to separate completely the human from the non-human influences on biological communities.

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