10 Times Humanity Fought Against Nature (and Won)

Domesticated Dogs
Yes, even this fancy pet is descended from wolves. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Did you know that man's best friend is descended from wolves? Yep, all dogs — even your sister's Shih Tzu, Fluffy — can trace their family tree back to those big, powerful, sharp-toothed killing machines. According to DNA and fossil analysis, this transition from wild to domesticated happened somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago [source: Gorman]. But what exactly was it that moved wolves out of the woods and onto our sofas?

Scientists don't know for sure, but they have some guesses. One theory is that humans took an active role in the process, actually removing wolf pups from their parents and breeding them for tameness. Current thinking, however, suggests a more passive role. Tamer wolves were more likely to wander up to human encampments and scavenge out of our trash dumps. With such abundant food, these tame wolves reproduced prolifically until, after many generations, they produced the cuddly pets we know today [source: Gorman].

Whether humans actively fought the wild nature of wolves or passively let nature do the work, we did decide to let them stick around as pets. Now look into Fluffy's eyes and tell us that's not a win for humanity.

Author's Note: 10 Times Humanity Fought Against Nature (and Won)

There's one thing you learn pretty quickly when you're compiling a list of ways humanity has fought against nature and won: Humans often think they win, only to be disappointed by some unintended consequence down the road. Take open pit mining, in which humans accomplish the impressive feat of tearing down a mountain only to (in some cases) leave behind a pool of toxic water. Or think automobiles, which substantially increase the speed and endurance with which we can travel naturally, but are also among the largest greenhouse gas emitters. I guess there's a lesson to be learned here, and it's that victories over nature shouldn't be claimed based simply on the immediate results.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • BBC. "Gotthard Tunnel: World's Longest and Deepest Rail Tunnel Opens in Switzerland." June 1, 2016. (June 17, 2016) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36423250
  • Fish, Eric. "The Forgotten Legacy of the Banqiao Dam Collapse." International Rivers. Feb. 8, 2013. (June 16, 2016) https://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/the-forgotten-legacy-of-the-banqiao-dam-collapse-7821
  • Gorman, James. "The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From." The New York Times. Jan. 18, 2016. (June 24, 2016) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/19/science/the-big-search-to-find-out-where-dogs-come-from.html
  • History.com staff. "Titanic." History.com. 2009. (June 16, 2016) http://www.history.com/topics/titanic
  • Kazim, Hasnain. "The Karakoram Highway: China's Asphalt Powerplay in Pakistan." Spiegel Online International. July 17, 2012. (June 20, 2016) http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/china-expands-karakoram-highway-to-pakistan-a-844282.html
  • Kiefer, David M. "Capturing Nitrogen Out of the Air." Chemistry Chronicles. 2001. (June 21, 2016) http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/archive/tcaw/10/i02/html/02chemch.html
  • Kukaswadia, Atif. "John Snow—The First Epidemiologist." Public Health Perspectives. March 11, 2013. (June 19, 2016) http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/2013/03/11/john-snow-the-first-epidemiologist/
  • Oremus, Will. "A History of Air Conditioning." Slate. July 15, 2013. (June 23, 2016) http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2011/07/a_history_of_air_conditioning.html
  • PBS. "Akashi Kaikyo Bridge." Building Big. 2001. (June 18, 2016) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/wonder/structure/akashi_kaikyo.html
  • Phillips, Theresa. "Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Transgenic Crops and Recombinant DNA Technology." Nature Education. 2008. (June 24, 2016) http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/genetically-modified-organisms-gmos-transgenic-crops-and-732
  • Rangel, Gabriel. "From Corgis to Corn: A Brief Look at the Long History of GMO Technology." Harvard University Science in the News. Aug. 9, 2015. (June 24, 2016) http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/from-corgis-to-corn-a-brief-look-at-the-long-history-of-gmo-technology/
  • Riedel, Stefan. "Edward Jenner and the History of Smallpox and Vaccination." Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings. Vol. 18, No. 1. January 2005. (June 23, 2016) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1200696/
  • Simpson, Sarah. "Nitrogen Fertilizer: Agricultural Breakthrough — and Environmental Bane." Scientific American. March 20, 2009. (June 21, 2016) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nitrogen-fertilizer-anniversary/
  • The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "Akashi Strait Bridge." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. (June 18, 2016) http://www.britannica.com/topic/Akashi-Strait-Bridge
  • United Nations Children's Emergency Fund. "Vaccines Bring 7 Diseases Under Control." 1996. (June 23, 2016) http://www.unicef.org/pon96/hevaccin.htm
  • United States Department of Energy. "History of Air Conditioning." Energy.gov. July 20, 2015. (June 23, 2016) http://energy.gov/articles/history-air-conditioning
  • Whipps, Heather. "How Smallpox Changed the World." LiveScience. June 23, 2008. (June 23, 2016) http://www.livescience.com/7509-smallpox-changed-world.html
  • Wilkinson, Michael. "What Is the EU, Why Was It Created and When Was It Formed?" The Telegraph. June 22, 2016. (June 22, 2016) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/20/what-is-the-eu-why-was-it-created-and-when-was-it-formed1/
  • Ziman, Yang. "Karakoram Highway: Path to Riches for China, Pakistan." China Daily. Feb. 22, 2016. (June 20, 2016) http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2016-02/22/content_23585618.htm


The 'Big One' Was No Match for Alaskans

The 'Big One' Was No Match for Alaskans

Thanks in part to strict building codes, damage from Anchorage, Alaska's November 7.0 earthquake was relatively minimal. HowStuffWorks looks at how.

More to Explore