Global environmental systems are networks which compose the surroundings in which living things cohabit, and which constitute the planetary arena as we know it. Examples of global systems include the atmosphere, Cryosphere, biosphere and oceans. The global environmental system is intertwined with ecosystems, culture, economics, and societies. These are in turn related to other phenomena, which are dynamic in nature. These dynamic and natural systems vary in nature, found in a given period of time, and closely based on the existing global human activities, as Steffen et al. (2004) alludes. An example would be our current natural environment: the monsoonal systems; the El Nino Southern Oscillation, or the storm and weather track systems present. As a self-regulatory system, lesser human activity enabled it sustain itself well in the past, but with the current scale of human exploitation and utility, this self-regulatory aspect becomes more difficult. Global environmental systems, however, have changed over the years, because of increased human activity.
The European Industrial Revolution, catapulted humanity’s evolution to greater heights, through various measures. Amongst these were greater resource exploitation; enhanced production and manufacturing; agricultural and energy development, and human social development and urbanization. The impacts of such activities are likely to affect future generations as Ellis (2011) portends. Historically, the glaciation period, was followed by the Holocene, and then the current entry into the Anthropocene era. As Global Change Magazine (2013) provides, human activities have caused substantial global changes in climate, biosphere, earth’s atmosphere, and lithosphere. Human exploitation and utilization do enhance further, the natural changes being observed today.
This is through a gradual alteration of the prevailing eco-systems; abate in a manner that is unsustainable. Accordingly, Crutzen and Steffen (2003) provide a summation of key indicators of global-scale, which being majorly human activities, have impacted majorly on the environment and its changing nature. Activities linked to humanity, such as population increment, water usage, paper consumption, industry and transportation, as well as large-scale human and goods movement, have all had an impact. These have experienced a greater increase during the last century, and onto the current 21st Century, as a result of enhanced human industrialization, expansion and continued exploitation. As illustrated in figure 1, the increase in the global population has increased human activity; for example, the rate of rural to urban migration has increased significantly, consequently triggering increased transportation, communication, fertilizer consumption, and damming of rivers.The key to these changes has been a gradual increase in methane and carbon dioxide (atmospheric greenhouse) gases. Additionally, increased transportation, for example, has caused a rise in carbon emission, thereby causing air pollution and environmental degradation.
While Crutzen and Stoermer (2001) proposed, this increase to be linked to the invention of the steam engine, Slaymaker, Spencer, and Embleton-Hamann (2009), on their part is about another perspective. They allude it to the detection of unnatural trends in concentration rates of the two gases much earlier on, several thousands of millennia ago. These are of fundamental influence of the rise of global temperature, as having occurred much earlier on. Occurring as natural constituents, their significant increase can be directly linked to enhanced human activities. These activities, while being of vital importance to human sustenance and development, they are being performed at the detriment of the environment (Ruddiman, 2003). This is through over-exploitation and utilization; subsequent pollution; interference and the diversion of eco-systems from their normal courses.
Factors such as increased population, the scarcity of resources, enhanced energy demands, depleted forest cover, and greater need for food security have also enhanced negative environmental impacts. Basically, the increase in human activity has caused a rise in global scale changes in the global system. There has been increased utility of land to domestic use, the depletion of forest cover, marine life exploitation, large-scale livestock keeping and huge quantities of chemical use; all of which contribute negatively to environmental change. The weather has changed significantly, with more areas becoming prone to flooding; draught and famine; animal species extinction; ozone depletion; water scarcity; food insecurity and significant temperature change. Increased surface temperatures, as a result of human production of significant quantities of nitrogen oxide, methane, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, have further impacted on the environment and the unnatural changes being witnessed (McKibben, 2011).
There has been a substantial increase in human activity over the years. The rise in the rate of population growth is the cause of the increase in human activity. It has triggered rural to urban migration, which in turn, has caused industrial revolution and consequently spurring environmental degradation. Additionally, the increase in human activity has induced global scale changes such as weather variations, ozone layer depletion, and a scarcity in basic commodities such as food and water. This implies that the increase in human population and activity has caused substantial changes in the global environmental systems.
Crutzen, P. J. and Steffen, W. 2003, “How long have we been in the Anthropocene Era?” Climatic Change, Vol. 61, pp. 251-257.
Crutzen, P. J. and Stoermer, E. F. 2001, “The Anthropocene”. IGBP Newsletter, Vol. 41, pp. 17-18.
Ellis, E., C. 2011. Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Science 369:1010–1035.
Global Change Magazine. 2013. Using the Planet. Global IGBP Change, 81. Retrieved from http://www.igbp.net (last access February 18, 2014)
McKibben, Bill (2011), The Global Warming Reader. New York, N.Y.: OR Books.
Ruddiman, W.F. 2003, “The anthropogenic greenhouse era began thousands of years ago”, Climatic Change, Vol. 61, pp. 261-293.
Slaymaker, O., Spencer, T., and Embleton-Hamann, C. 2009. Geomorphology and global environmental change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Steffen, W., Sanderson, A., Tyson, P., Jäger, J., Matson, P., Moore III, B., Oldfield, F., Richardson, K., Schellnhuber, H. J., Turner II, B.L., and Wasson, R. J. 2004, Global Change and the Earth System A Planet Under Pressure Series: Global Change - The IGBP Series. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York.