Rewilding means restoring ancestral ways of living that create greater health and well-being for humans and the ecosystems that we belong to. Many things inspire people to rewild: ecological collapse, economic uncertainties, health problems, a sense of something missing from life, or a desire to “save the world.” Rewilding takes inspiration from the most modern interpretations of prehistory provided by anthropology, archaeology, and ethnobiology. It means returning to our senses, returning to ourselves, and coming home to the world we belong to.
Between 11,000 and 58,000 species go extinct every year. Source: http://www.sciencemag.org/
Humans control 75% of the global land surface outside of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Source: http://www.anthropocene.info/
The concentration of CO2 in earth’s atmosphere currently stands at 400ppm, more than 100ppm higher than at any time in the past million years. Sources: http://co2unting.com/, http://climate.nasa.gov/400ppmquotes/
7,000,000,000 humans on earth, desperate for something but not sure what. Source: http://www.census.gov/popclock/
When we talk about the evolution of our genus Homo over the past two million years, we run into our brains’ limits to really understanding big numbers. To help put it into perspective, take a look at the timeline below.
Each pixel in height represents 500 years.*
* That means that a single pixel in height here separates you from the reign of King Henry VIII.
Meaning “Old Stone Age.” Everyone on earth lives by hunting and gathering.
Meaning “New Stone Age.” Some people in a few isolated areas start farming.
The past 5,000 years of recorded history.
The past 10,000 years highlighted in green and red have seen an explosion of cultural and even biological change as we’ve learned to cope with living in a new way deeply antagonistic to our previous evolution, but it still represents a flash in the pan, not the inevitable destiny of our species.
Thomas Hobbes described the “state of nature” as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and though ethnographic and archaeological evidence has overturned each one of those claims individually over the past century, the common perception of hunter-gatherer life hasn’t kept pace with what we now know about it.
Some people say that the advent of farming gave people more leisure time to build up civilization, but hunter-gatherers actually have far more leisure time than farmers do, and more still than modern people in the industrialized world.
The beginning of agriculture brought with it the Neolithic Mortality Crisis, a sudden and catastrophic drop in longevity that agricultural people have really never recovered from. Modern medicine has achieved great things, but it still hasn’t completely closed that gap, and it still means that only a wealthy elite can enjoy the longevity once available to everyone.
Anthropologist Marshall Sahlins described hunter-gatherers as “the original affluent society.” Only a wistful romantic would try to call it perfect, but despite the arguments of some modern authors, the fact remains that archaeological and ethnographic evidence shows us that hunting and gathering can provide a peaceful and prosperous way of life.
More than anything else, hunter-gatherer and other traditional societies define themselves in terms of their social bonds, giving each member a sense of belonging and purpose, connecting her to the rest of her family and to a web of kinship that binds together a broader, more-than-human world.
For 2,000,000 years humans evolved in traditional societies, and though they undoubtedly had as much an impact on the world as wolves or lions, they did not cause mass extinctions. We don’t represent all of humanity, and the way we live doesn’t represent human nature or our destiny.
Political boundaries rarely line up with the ecological zones that really determine our lives. A bioregional focus means becoming aware of things like your local watershed and ecosystem, and focusing on the issues that affect it.
If “wild” means untouched by humans, then few places on earth can claim the title. Indigenous people did not just live off the land, but made it flourish. The Amazon Rain Forest and the Great Plains stand as examples of their generational work. Rewilding means taking on that responsibility to tend the wild.
We may tell ourselves that without governments and laws society could not function, but the archaeological and ethnographic evidence of traditional societies show us that most human societies have flourished without them. However, after millennia of hierarchical interactions, it can take some time to relearn how to live as a free person, and how to cooperate with other free persons.
Oral traditions carried the relationships that bound together people and the land, recorded history, and encoded vast stores of knowledge. Unfortunately, most people today have lost that inheritance. Rewilding covers some unexpected techniques for regenerating an authentic oral tradition.
The skills needed to find food, create fire, shelter, and clothing, to treat wounds and illnesses, and otherwise make a living from the land provide independence and freedom. Ancestral skills don’t simply provide for a meager life of mere survival, though; they can provide the keys to true abundance and wealth.
We’ve learned to accept a level of health as domesticated animals far below that enjoyed by our ancestors. From the Paleo diet to barefoot walking, to our sleeping patterns, primal movement, and more, rewilding means reclaiming a standard of health and well-being that can seem like gaining super-powers now.