Are Humans Bad for the Environment?

Posted by Teghan Acres on

Have you heard one of these phrases in the past few years?

“I can’t even think about having kids! You know, because of climate change.”

“Humans are the real virus.”

“The best thing we can do for the planet is to reduce the population.” 

They kind of make sense, don’t they? Scientists have confidently concluded that climate change is caused by human actions like the burning of fossil fuels and rampant resource extraction. If we had fewer humans, things would get better…right? 

At Tradle, we want to challenge this idea. It doesn’t feel good to move through the Earth thinking that you’re a burden. Especially as a parent, you deserve to know you’re not a “bad” or “good” environmentalist because your kids need things like diapers and the occasional toy. 

We can’t deny that things are out of balance. Humans are taking too much, and not giving enough back. But if we could restructure that relationship, so that we’re giving more and taking less – where would that put us?

Following a principle of reciprocity with the environment, and seeing ourselves as part of the natural world, are values embedded within Indigenous cultures around the world. These ideologies result in massively positive benefits for ecosystems and biodiversity.

A UBC-led study found that Indigenous territories host more biodiversity than environmentally protected areas in Brazil, Australia, and Canada. A recent Vox article stated that “research has also shown that in some regions, Indigenous control of lands seems to reduce deforestation as much as formal protections, or even more.” 

It seems to be that humans are not inherently the problem, it may just be how we’re acting. So much environmental messaging is directed towards asking us to quit our daily activities like a bad habit. Give up steak! Give up driving! Give up sex! 

That last one may seem out there but this article seriously asks the question “Is Your Sex Life Bad for the Environment?” To be clear, this close to Valentine’s Day we are passing no judgement on however you may choose to celebrate. 

I do have to wonder if we’re asking the wrong questions. What about pondering about what we could give, rather than just give up?

Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist, author and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, has inspired this thinking in many through her writing and teaching. In her piece, The “Honorable Harvest”: Lessons From an Indigenous Tradition of Giving Thanks, she states, “How can we reciprocate the gifts of the Earth? In gratitude, in ceremony, through acts of practical reverence and land stewardship, in fierce defense of the places we love, in art, in science, in song, in gardens, in children, in ballots, in stories of renewal, in creative resistance, in how we spend our money and our precious lives, by refusing to be complicit with the forces of ecological destruction. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and dance for the renewal of the world.” 

Examples of leaders, artists, organizations and businesses embodying that reciprocity are all around us. A mobile app called Too Good to Go offers surplus food to consumers at discounted prices to fight food waste. Vancouver-based organization, Babies for Climate Action, is made up of parents working together to call for environmentally and socially beneficial policies. Our own services at Tradle allow families to clothe their children in ethically and eco-friendly made clothing that is circulated between communities for the longest life cycle possible. 

Following Robin’s advice, I hope that one day when the question “Are humans bad for the environment?” is posed, the answer will immediately be “Of course not!” 

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Disclaimer: Tradle is not responsible for any Valentine’s Day baby-making this blog post may inspire

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