From climate change, to deforestation, to the hunting of endangered animals, environmental issues can make it seem like humans and nature should be kept completely separate for their own good. However, research from a Spanish institution on adaptations between humans and the environment provides a more nuanced picture.

Researchers found three different foraging communities across the world with which to embed for a year and a half. They spent their time studying the Local Environmental Knowledge, or LEK for short, of the communities they lived in. At the end of the research period it was clear that people living in tight relationship to the land have invaluable knowledge that can help others understand broader issues like climate change.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, it turns out that the communities researchers studied were fast to notice changes in local ecosystems caused by climate change. This could allow others to figure out adaptations for such changes quickly. Intuitively these findings make sense, since those who depend upon the immediate environment for sustenance and survival would have an easier time than others noticing even small changes.

Could LEK help with global challenges such as growing water scarcity around the world? In developing countries in particular, people are struggling to survive without damaging local ecosystems. With population booming in countries like India, finding adaptive solutions is a must, not wishful thinking. Resources are currently getting used up much faster than they can be replenished.

And we know that the idea of pristine nature is really more of a fantasy than a reality, since humans have been altering the environment for “tens of thousands of years.” So, if there is no human-free tabula rasa to go back to, it stands that people need new (or very old) strategies for how to live in harmony with nature.

Header Image: ADRIAN DENNIS / Staff