The Fruits of Civilization (72) Land


We are land animals. The resources upon which we depend come largely from the land. Degrading the land degrades our life support system. ~ American geologist Roger Hooke & Spanish geologist José Martín-Duque

Like the apes from which they descended, early foraging hominids gathered what they could. Environmental destruction was limited.

Learning how to handle fire a million years ago changed that: yielding a ready implement of warmth and kindling the prospect of power over Nature rather than being constantly at its whim. Fire was a tool which sparked confidence – forever changing hominids from mere creatures of the forest and savanna into a relentless force of exploitation.

Technology furthered emergent humans as an antagonistic agent bent on sculpting the surface of the Earth. Confiscating land from Nature for livestock grazing and cultivation became a norm. As implements of flint gave way to metal, dominion over terrain grew. Deforestation accelerated. The Iron Age granted greater gouging of the ground, facilitating furrowing, mining, and masonry. Humanity dug in. Construction as ecosystem destruction became a tradition of ambition.

Industrialization turned human existence into a positive ecological terror. Machines moved with a viciousness no man could match. Driven by their masters, machines fed themselves via massive extraction of fossil fuels.

In the last part of the last century, humans became responsible for moving more soil or rock than natural agencies. We’ve increased erosion rates in most parts of the world, but we’ve also trapped a lot of sediments, because we’ve dammed most of the world’s really big rivers. ~ English geographer Tony Brown

Human demands on natural systems are accelerating. ~ Canadian Australian South African forest scientist Oscar Venter

To date, 75% of the land on Earth has been scarred by human activity. 97% of Earth’s biologically richest ecosystems have been grievously damaged by humans.

The most species-rich parts of the planet, especially the tropical rainforests, have been hit hardest. ~ Bill Laurance

Many land animals naturally roam over large tracts of land in seasonal migratory cycles. Until the 20th century, vagility – being able to move freely – was unencumbered throughout much of the world. Now, with most of Earth’s land surface damaged or modified for our use, the vagility of other life has sorely degenerated. “Freedom” is an aspiration that only people may indulge.

The expanding footprint of human activities not only is causing the loss of habitat and biodiversity but is also affecting how animals move through fragmented and disturbed habitats. ~ German ecologist Marlee Tucker et al