Past for a Future

posted in: Sustainability | 0

By Hannah Frogge

Humans – past and present – have always exploited earth’s natural resources; the evolution and actions of the human species have led us to where we are today. We have become disconnected from nature through the development and advancement of technologies that have maximized consumption: facilitating in the pollution and destruction of natural environments for subsistence and industry, altering ecosystems, and raising global temperatures. However, as a Biological Anthropology major at UC Santa Barbara, I struggled to see the connection between anthropology and sustainability until I met with Dr. Casey Walsh, the Department Chair of Anthropology at UC Santa Barbara.

Like Dr. Walsh, I have always valued the environment but have not always studied it. It wasn’t until ten years ago that Dr Walsh really got involved in environmental history and anthropogenic factors contributing to the current unsustainability. Dr. Walsh’s interests lie in the cultural, political, and economic dimensions of water use and management, particularly concerning that in the United States and Mexico Borderlands.

When I asked him how anthropology has affected his sustainability studies, he said it all comes down to this:

“There is an enormous amount of human history. We have been evolving for a
very long time, in an ongoing interaction with the environment. The human race has always depended on the environment, and changed it as well. For most of about 300,000 years humans have been one of many species living more or less in balance with other species of plants and animals. Until now. We are in a very strange moment in time, and I feel something has gone terribly wrong. So much so that we have pushed the ability of our planet to sustain us. We need to recover the ways that we learned to live more or less sustainably, and that we seem to have forgotten. After all, as they say, ‘there is no planet B.’”

Humans have manipulated the environment since the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors; but how we do it has evolved with us. The world and ecosystems have drastically changed and continue to change every day and anthropology has responded Studying the driving forces of our evolution, human experiences, new technological, and ecological realities helps us to understand perceptual and behavioral responses to social and environmental change, and how best to alter them to, again, live more sustainably.  

As Dr. Walsh put it, we are in a very strange moment in time; we have depleted the resources that have facilitated our persistence throughout history. Applying an anthropologic focus towards sustainability is crucial to understand the interactions between humans and their environment – how we have gotten to where we are and how best to support change for the better.

Dr. Walsh concluded by saying that finding a solution is not going to be easy; there will always be a lot of pushback. But applying these anthropologic strategies could make it a little easier. Sustainability work is often an underfunded, underappreciated, and over all challenging field; you must really love what you do and be committed to the hard work.

Thankfully, Dr. Walsh found his passion in this challenging field. He has inspired me to continue working in sustainability and conservation, He urges individuals interested in the field to get involved and get to work.