Far from being a modern movement, efforts to protect the environment go back millennia.

Humans and their environment have always been intertwined. But how that coexistence is understood has changed radically over the course of centuries. For the majority of human history, careful stewardship of land and natural resources was pivotal to immediate survival. Yet a booming population that became increasingly concentrated in large cities over the past few thousand years fundamentally altered how many people engage with the natural world–and sparked efforts to save it.

As early as 5,000 years ago, the Indus civilization (in present-day Pakistan) enacted policies to protect against increasing pollution and the deluge of human waste produced by burgeoning metropolises. The Norte Chico civilization of Peru transformed the topography itself by building massive terraces of earth in mountainsides that both prevented erosion and provided vast tracts of farmland (and could arguably be the predecessors to contemporary land art). Similarly, the Inca and Aztecs refined crop rotation to prevent soil depletion millennia later. Some experts even theorize that peoples in what are now known as the Americas were terraforming their surroundings, like creating the Midwest’s Great Plains through generations of intentional fires to foster a huntable habitat for bison and other wildlife to thrive.

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