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  Conservation describes the use of the resources of the Earth in a way that is not wasteful or destructive. It involves environmental management by humans to sustain the status quo or equilibrium which is seen by us to exist in our environment; this management often involves attempts to repair the damage caused by pollution.

It has long been recognized that humans depend upon the Earth for those resources which have enabled the development of civilizations. As human populations have expanded it has become clear that many of these resources are not finite. Thus, in modern terms, conservation encompasses the rational use of resources, their restoration and reuse through recycling. Technology plays an increasingly important part in these processes but conservation is by no means a novel concept. Historically, it was thought that primitive humans lived in harmony with nature, but archeological evidence shows that this was far from the truth. Prehistoric peoples had few of the technologies which today cause large-scale pollution yet they managed to modify their environment dramatically by using their most powerful tool, fire. Fire was used indiscriminately by many prehistoric groups to change much of the Earth\'s landscape from woodland to pasture or arable land. As the human population grew, the demand for natural resources grew with the ability to harvest them, yet the concept of conservation is not a modern phenomenon as we have long realized the benefit of preserving resources, even if competition has often prevented people from adopting such a strategy.

Science has brought a better understanding of the complexity of the ecosystem and of the far-reaching effects of disturbing the ecological balance. This has led to the exploitation of renewable resources such as solar energy and to the imposition of a degree of control over the exploitation of finite resources such as oil. Conservation in the sense of preservation has also become popular in recent times: national parks and similar conservation areas exist in many countries as zones where environmentally disruptive activity is tightly controlled by law. There have also been moves towards the establishment of global conservation authorities. However, humans continue to modify the environment to their own ends, often with little regard for the ecosystem as a whole and the most effective conservation measures are still legislative controls upon polluting activities. RB

See also Gaia hypothesis; greenhouse effect; ecology.Further reading Robert Arvill, Man and Environment; , Rachel Carson, Silent Spring; , Joseph Moran, Introduction to Environmental Science.



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