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The stages of human civilization can be separated into different periods based on our attitude towards the land. In general these take on three parts.

Relying on the land

In the initial stage of human society, if our civilization can be said to progress in a linear fashion at all, the land was seen as a player in our survival and health. Aboriginal cultures learned to use the land as it was and not mess with it, because if the land changed they would no longer understand how to use it. Early civilized cultures, on the other hand, exploited the land and reworked it to suit them, but in such a way that they would be able to reap a new harvest every year.

Using the land

Eventually the civilized cultures became so comfortable that they no longer immediately depended on the land, and the rules needed to keep it in good shape devolved into mere exploitation, very slowly in some places (like Europe) or very quickly in others (like Brazil).

Of course, the intellectual class quickly noticed that the land was becoming wholly destroyed in some places, but they still regarded it as self-replenishing. The main danger was aesthetic, and thus Teddy Roosevelt put environmentalists in the mood to "save" the land by cordoning off sections that were too pretty to destroy.

Living with the land

Eventually we realized that neither of these philosophies was workable. There are now so many of us that we can no longer be one with the land; if the world went back to picking berries and harvesting fallen trees we would run out of food quickly. We can no longer stray from the path, because together we would trample the forest to death. But the path of continuing to use up the land mindlessly leads also to our doom. We have learned that many things in Nature do not simply renew themselves. So it becomes imperative to learn how to live with the land. Al Gore promises us that we can all continue to live, and yet replenish the land, if we only change our habits.

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