Human Impact on Resources
For centuries, man has made use of the natural resources available from and within Earth’s environment as an integral part of living. Early man hunted for food and used natural materials to build dwellings. Human beings have since utilized other natural resources, which – as time has gone on – have become more varied and more invasive of the world’s ecosystems. In recent times the extraction of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas have widened the scope of the materials utilized, to the extent that the lifestyles that have become the norm in many industrialized countries depend on those resources. But how much has the extraction and use of those natural resources – including fossil fuels – impacted our environment? The research undertaken seeks to answer that question.
More so than any other life form on our planet, humanity has and is affecting the natural environment. As noted by Hennig (December 2011), stages in the history of the human race refer to periods actually named according to the main materials used by people to improve their living conditions, for example the Stone, Iron and Bronze Ages. According to Hennig, such behavior for a long time had little environmental impact, in part because the world’s population was much smaller. However, the advent of the industrial revolution that began in Great Britain changed that situation. He refers to the new era of energy systems based in fossil fuels as a period of fundamental change. Referring to the early commercial extraction of crude oil early in the late 1800’s, he considers the era might in the future be described as “the Oil Age”.
Hennig considers that as the world human populations have grown and made an ever more extensive use of those natural resources, the environmental impact has reached such a level that the environment itself has been transformed. He goes so far as to suggest that the effects have caused the naming of a new geological age known as the “Anthropocene”, which refers to the “influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries“, which is said to be “so significant as to constitute a new geological era for its lithosphere”. Hennig credits these quotations to “Anthropocene” a Wikipedia article (updated Sep 2012).
The impact on the environment of using these fuel, mineral and metal ores resources is caused in a number of ways, according to Hennig. Firstly, the extraction of them has a local environmental effect at the extraction locations. Subsequently they are processed and/or burned and eventually waste products are disposed of in various ways. Hennig states that we need to fully understand that cycle of extraction, use and disposal if we are to properly understand the impact on the environment we are affecting. He further claims that because those natural resources are limited, a drastic reduction in man’s consumption of them – especially on the part of the industrialized nations – is not only vital but is inevitable, if the global ecosystems are not to be permanently damaged.
Dems (2010) cites human activities as “the major reasons why there is a loss of natural resources.” She adds that although we (humans) use those natural resources to provide “food, shelter, clothing and energy”, they cause environmental changes that will affect all living things. She states that the survival of humanity is – as a consequence – at risk, and poses the question: what will happen to the human race when those resources are exhausted? Dems notes that such issues have moved to the top of the agenda for conferences around the world, but that if we are able to thoroughly understand the issue of depleted natural resources we might find the answers.
In additional to the fossil fuels referred to earlier, Dems includes among the diminishing natural resources the forests, land using for grazing and other organic and inorganic reserves that form parts of our environment that we share with other animal life on our planet. She cites widespread destruction of these environmental features such as transforming fertile land into other uses such as highways, shopping malls or industrial complexes and housing. Dems also refers to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides widely used in agriculture to boost production, which can cause pollution of the environment and contain substances harmful – not just to humans – but also to other animals and plants. She points out that wildlife depends on natural habitats to survive, but if those habitats are destroyed or modified by human activity (e.g. de-forestation) the survival of affected species will be at risk. She notes that in many instances, trees cut down are not replaced, which reduces the land’s ability to prevent soil erosion and flooding. Dems reports that the numbers of endangered species are rising due to all this human activity and cautions that action is needed before humans are added to the endangered list.
On fossil fuels, Dems reiterates that using those non-renewable fuels for transportation not only provides transport for the human passengers and/or their goods, but generates toxic air pollution that contributes towards global warming
Both the Hennig and Dems articles conclude that humanity is treading a dangerous path in continuing to use Earth’s natural resources without apparent regard to their eventual exhaustion. Similarly, both caution that consolidated global action is needed to avoid irreversible damage to our environment. Dems even warns that the human race could join those species on the endangered list, and comments on the damage caused by pollution, resulting in a contribution to global warming. Hennig warns that a program of a drastic reduction in resources consumption needs to be put into effect if we are to turn the situation around. It seems to be the consensus view that the human impact on our environment has reached dangerous levels and that the impact on our environment due to our extraction of natural resources is already severe.
“Anthropocene”. Wikipedia. (updated 25 September 2012). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene
Dems, Kristina, and Malburg, Sarah (Ed.). “Loss of Natural Resources: Who Is to Blame?” Bright Hub. http://www.brighthub.com/environment/science-environmental/articles/68899.aspx#
Hennig, Benjamin, D. “Material flows: Global resource extraction.” Views of the World (Sheffield University. (December 6, 2011). http://www.viewsoftheworld.net/?p=1979