In 1845, Sir John Franklin, a Fellow of the Royal Society and experienced Arctic traveler, set out with a large, well-equipped expedition to find the Northwest Passage. His ship was ice-bound through two winters, and the entire crew of 129 perished, mainly from starvation and scurvy. Yet the rich animal resources of the region where these men died have allowed the Central Inuit to survive and raise their children for at least 700 years. Why couldn’t the British find enough food?
Modern technology allows us to dominate the world like no other species in the history of life. In the Pleistocene, our hunter-gatherer ancestors did the same—long before farming, cities, or the industrial revolution. Modern humans emerged from Africa about 50,000 years ago and soon occupied almost every terrestrial habitat, from extreme desert to tropical rain forest to arctic tundra. Of course there are species adapted to each of these environments: desert rodents conserve water so well that they never need to drink; forest primates swing through the canopy never coming to ground, and arctic musk ox have hair and fat deposits that allow them to survive winter above the arctic circle. What makes humans unique in the natural world is that they live in all of these environments.
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