Introduction to "The Place of Conservation" - a chapter in "The Humanist Frame" (George Allen and Unwin, 1961)
Man, like other animals, began life in a natural habitat. Unlike other animals - except a few which have become dependent on him - he has outgrown and almost forgotten it. This basic fact has much to do with many present-day human problems, economic, social and psychological. Unfortunately, most of those who have been aware of it have been heavily influenced by sentiment and nostalgia towards the Yeomen of England, or even the Noble Savage. they have neither had the wish, nor possessed the mental training, to rethink what it means in terms of the future of our increasinly technological evolution of mankind have often been illiterate in terms of the life and earth scineces: at best they have expressed strong aesthetic misgivings. The problem, therefore, has slipped through one of the cracks in our education.
It is, for obvious reasons, an almost universal rule for animals to satisfy their everyday requirements for food and shelter by "cropping" current surpluses of plant or animal life without imperilling their sustained yield in future years. Animals unable to adapt their habits and regulate they numbers to this end are heading for extinction. Many cases are indeed known, and countless others must exist, where animals indirectly enrich the soil, or the fauna and flora of their habitat while directly exploiting a part of it......
Man is the main violator of this law. It now appears that at quite early stages in prehistory, man stumbled on means of over-exploiting his habitat for short-term gain, especially by the lavish use of fire. Other techniques followed, bringing in their train soil-erosion and loss of woodland cover over rather extensive areas of early human settlement.. From the Indus valley to Greece and Italy, the regions which cradled civilization are with few exceptions deforested, with degraded and relatively infertile soils, eroded slopes and wrecked system of natural drainage and water-supply. This is man's mark as it used to be before he acquired his recent master over large-scale instruments and techniques of destruction. He can and does step up the impact now.