Ecology is the study of living beings and how they interact with each other and their landscapes. Therefore, human ecology is the study of humans and their interaction with other-than-human persons and the environment that supports them. How people acquire nutrition, what they gather for medicine and how they gather it, the tools they create for hunting and defense, how they create fabrics from plant and animal sources, their methods of constructing different shelters, and even their migration patterns are all part of the study of human ecology. When we learn to forage or start a fire using plants or create tools from particular kinds of stone, we are learning about aspects of human ecology that were commonplace in the not-so-distant past.
These technologies are often referred to as primitive skills. Anyone who has practiced them knows that these are anything but primitive (they often require years of mentoring and practice to perform them at a basic level of competence). It is one of the reasons I prefer the term "ancestral lifeways", this referring to a set of technologies that were used by our indigenous ancestors to adapt to their local ecosystems, raise their families, and pass on techniques, rituals, and ceremonies.
Though many people today believe ancestral lifeways to be irrelevant, everyone must realize that these skill sets go back over 2.5 million years (Homo habilis was creating simple stone tools for cutting during that time). They have a proven track record of sustainability (can our current system claim this?). During all that time, humans did not clear 97% of the native forests or destroy 98% of the native prairies (these are real statistics). They did not pollute the earth with endocrine disrupting materials, ranging from various plastic elements to organic compounds to metals (so called metalloestrogens), creating problems for male development, reduced fertility, and increasing sexual dysfunction (and though you may think this is a good thing, it is affecting many, many species, not just humans). Fewer people live to be 100 years old now than in 1990. Our health is degrading. This is happening because our methods of living, extracting resources, and dealing with wastes is occurring in an unsustainable manner. Though we could go on at length listing the ways in which we have harm the very landscapes that provide our food and necessary materials for life, it is clear our current manner of interaction (i.e., our modern ecology) is ultimately short-sighted. We live in a time of concealed consequences—very few people have any idea how the items they use in daily life were made, how much (and what kind of) pollution was generated, or where the raw materials originated. We are so disconnected from the web of life, we don't even think to ask these things. Consider the following image.
It is time to start being aware of who else is around us (animate and inanimate). It is time to start being aware of what is being fed to pregnant mothers and their young children. It is time to start being aware that we are acting selfishly, and by continually harming the landscape, we only make it harder for our children and grandchildren to live healthy lives. It is time to awaken to the fact that the fish that don't return to our rivers because of dams and pollution are the very fish that used to help build strong bodies and vital immune systems. It is time to awaken to the fact that the trees that used to grow on the hillsides provided food, medicine, and non-toxic building supplies. It is time to re-awaken the senses that have been dulled by years of living on nutrient-poor food, living in sterile landscapes (i.e., urban areas), and living in broken villages that lack real community. Ancestral lifeways offer us real solutions to modern-day dilemmas.
“Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself." --Chief Seattle, 1854.