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Do you think ancient societies were as concerned about the environment as modern societies are today?

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2 Answers

I would be careful about how you define "ancient societies".  The answer above is referring primarily to Paleolithic-type societies, with its references to offerings to spirits of dead animals, etc.  However, "ancient societies" can also include highly developed, stratified and urbanized societies, and those may be more what you are asking about if this question is about a topic such as AP World History (which doesn't cover the Paleolithic).  
 
From my perspective as a Greece/Rome specialist, in the case of those ancient societies, the terms you're using arguably don't make a lot of sense.  The appreciation for "unspoiled" nature as something worth preserving in the real world (as opposed to an intentionally fictionalized Golden Age) is of 19th century origin.  "Ancient" people in the West, judging by linguistic and textual criteria, were more likely to see nature as something which needed to be "tamed" by technology (like agriculture) in order for worthwhile human life to go on.  So we get into very tricky definitions of "caring for the environment".  Does intensive agriculture count?  Does it make a difference if you rotate crops?  How worried should you be about the impact of mining?

There are several things to consider when comparing the care ancient civilizations gave to the environment as opposed to how we care for it.  For one thing, ancient civilizations were not as populous as the civilizations of modern times, so there was less waste.  Another concept to consider is that ancient civilizations didn't manufacture items such as plastic-wrapped products or products that come in cans, bottles, boxes, etc.  Plastic, metal, glass, boxes are all harder for the earth to break down than are natural containers for food, drink, and other uses.  Ancient civilizations used natural materials that were easily broken down after they were discarded.  They didn't have disposable diapers, plastic rings on multi-pack beverages, cigaret butts...all the things we produce today that are harmful to the environment and that don't break down easily.  Because these products often end up in landfills where oxygen is missing, an important component in the process of breaking down elements in the landfill, and even food waste remains unchanged for years.  Garbologists have studied this phenomena.

Another thing to consider is that in ancient times, there was no use of the dangerous pesticides, hormones injected into cattle and chickens, and genetically engineered food that we have developed.  All of these have had a detrimental effect on the environment and on us, the people who live in the environment.  There was no use in the past of preservatives other than salt and vinegar.  Today we put all kinds of chemicals in foods to give them a longer shelf life.  We pack so many animals together, we commonly use antibiotics to keep diseases from spreading from animal to animal.  These preservatives and antibiotics enter our bodies, the water tables, the earth, polluting and wreaking havoc with our health and the health of the planet.

If more people would buy products that have a minimal amount of packaging, if they reduced, reused, recycled and composted food and yard waste, we would have less problems with the negative impact on the environment.

Another aspect to consider when comparing the impact of modern civilizations to ancient ones on the environment is the attitude towards the environment.  Many ancient peoples made religious offerings to the spirits of the animals they killed and used every part of the animal from which to make things.  Nothing was wasted, and animals were killed only when people were hungry.  Even the land was held sacred.  Today we kill for sport, we over-fish the oceans and overbuild into areas that were once the habitats of animals that are now either extinct or on the verge of becoming extinct because of our carelessness.   We have an attitude of manifest destiny; that mankind is greater than everything on earth and that we can take what we want from the environment.  They don't realize, as many peoples in ancient civilizations did, that everything is interconnected.

In fact, most modern civilizations are so much removed from food sources that they don't raise their own fruits and vegetables or meat-bearing animals.  In ancient times, and in some areas on the globe today people grow their own food, raise their own meat-bearing animals and are careful to stretch their resources.  We throw away so much, while ancient and some contemporary civilizations today practice reusing.

Technology is yet another problem:  we have the pollution that arises from the use of fossil fuels and inorganic fertilizers, the building of dams, the rerouting of rivers and the list goes on.  According to some, we are beyond the point of turning back.  They say the ocean is already polluted and over-fished to the point of no return.  Our rain forests, which provide the earth with oxygen, are being cut down at a rapid pace to make room for cattle.  I personally don't eat beef for political as well as health reasons.  With the pollution of the burning of fossil fuels and the shrinking rain forests, we are faced with the crisis of global warming.  I care about the shape the planet is in for future generations.  Unfortunately, there are those who are so consumed with greed, they only care about the here and now and about themselves.

In conclusion, I believe modern civilization has come to the end game where our environment is concerned.  That doesn't mean that I won't do all I can personally to lessen my negative effect on the environment.  We can slow down the destructive processes if not stop them altogether.