Our planet groans under the pressure of unsustainable living. Day by day, and year by year, we take from it more resources than it can spare, and pollute it faster than it can clean and renew itself. This is a road that leads to certain disaster - for our own and future generations.

There are peoples, however, who over long millennia have developed cultures, lifestyles and traditions that exist in intimate harmony with their natural environments. They enjoy a deep spiritual relationship with the earth and with nature. These peoples traditionally hunt and farm to meet their needs - and then stop. If they wanted to, they could produce more and denude their resources - but they choose not to because they respect the earth and they know that such a course would destroy them in the long run. Unlike most people today, especially in the West, they consume carefully, wasting as little as possible, and reuse their resources to secure the collective welfare of the whole group.

The rest of the world has a great deal to learn from these indigenous groups. Yet instead of following their example, we have marginalized and persecuted them. When Christopher Columbus first set sail for the Americas, between 6 and 9 million indigenous peoples lived in Amazonia; now only 200,000 remain, and many are currently facing pressure to abandon their traditional lifestyles and lands. Other groups have disappeared altogether. These peoples should be given space, respect, and the right to their lands and ways of life. We need to support them in preserving the indigenous wisdom and knowledge that has such value for us all.

No one is suggesting that everyone in the world should adopt the lifestyles of indigenous peoples. But if we all adopted their philosophy of treading lightly upon the planet and living sustainably, we would ensure the survival of our precious earth and, incidentally, our own prosperity.

Illustration: Deia Schlosberg

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