Human beings and the natural environment make up a coupled system – one, in which both constituents are interdependent and integrated into each other’s development. In this way, any changes, such as excessive progress or unforeseen catastrophes, inevitably affect the other elements of the whole. Therefore, the complexity of these interactions predetermines the condition and future of world ecology. However, as for now, the impact of the so-called human footprint on the natural environment is detrimental, leading to irreversible deformation in biodiversity, land and water resources, and climate change.
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The essence of the human footprint
To begin with, it is essential to understand the roots of the phenomenon known as the human footprint. It is connected to several critical determinants of the development of human civilization such as technological progress, the growth of population, and urbanization. Over time, the greatest minds managed to invent diverse facilities for making human life better and coping with numerous everyday tasks easier. The introduction of different transport and the newest technologies in everyday life, as well as infrastructure and industry development, contribute to human welfare. More than that, the population of Earth doubled during the last five decades – a phenomenon that was never witnessed before the 1950s (United Nations Environment Programme, 2012). To make these people feel comfortable and provide them with necessary food and resources, increasing volumes of manufacturing and urbanization were critical.
The direct impact of people on the natural environment
The human footprint has both a direct and indirect impact on the condition of world ecology. Direct pressures on the natural environment are directly connected to human activities. They include land transformation and expansion of built environment related to fast rates of urbanization, deforestation, and exhaustion of natural resources caused by satisfying industrial needs, and building roads and railways aimed at boosting international trade (Venter et al., 2016). Striving for satisfying primary economic needs led to the exhaustion of natural resources such as oil, natural gas, and charcoal (Levis et al., 2012; United Nations Environment Programme, 2012). Excessive urbanization and development of infrastructure, as well as using land for pastures and agricultural purposes, led to the modification of more than 50 percent of the land surface. In this way, people affect 20 to 100 percent of ice-free territories (Hooke, Martin-Duque, & Pedraza, 2012). Also, approximately 75 percent of the surface is under either direct or indirect human pressure (Venter et al., 2016).
The indirect influence of human footprint on global ecology
As for the indirect impact of the human footprint on global ecology, it comes down to the long-term influence of excessive exploitation of the natural environment. Some of the most critical consequences of indirect influence on nature are negative changes in biodiversity and climate change. Deformations in biodiversity are the loss of animal species because of shipping, fishing and poaching, water and air pollution, and the transformation of the land surface (Gallandro & Aldridge, 2015). Moreover, the extinction of plant species caused by deforestation and pollution is as well one of the signs of biodiversity deformations (Levis et al., 2012). Finally, the impact of transport, excessive mining of natural resources, and the growth of manufacturing and industries lead to irreversible climate change, greenhouse effects, and the loss of clear air resources (United Nations Environment Programme, 2012).
To sum up, there are two approaches to measuring the impact of the human footprint on global ecology – direct and indirect. However, it is essential to note that it is impossible to avoid both by continuing to exploit the natural environment ceaselessly and unabated, as direct pressure is witnessed in the short run, while indirect effects are long-term. Nevertheless, it is still possible to avert the catastrophe by implementing adequate and well-developed resource and environmental management strategies.
Hooke, R. L., Martin-Duque, J. F., & Pedraza, J. (2012). Land transformation by humans: A review. GSA Today, 22(12), 4-10.
Levis, C., de Souza, P. F., Schietti, J., Emilio, T., de Veiga Pinto, J. J. P., Clement, C. R., … & Costa, F. R. C. (2012). Historical human footprint on modern tree species composition in the Purus-Madeira Interfluve, Central Amazonia. PLoS One, 7(11), 1-10.
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United Nations Environment Programme. (2012). One planet, how many people? A review of Earth’s carrying capacity. Web.
Venter, O., Sanderson, E. W., Magrach, A., Allan, J. R., Beher, J., Jones, K. R., … Watson, J. E. M. (2016). Sixteen years of change in the global terrestrial human footprint and implications for biodiversity conversations. Nature Communications, 7(1), 1-11.