Types of Harmful Human-Environment Impacts

In my last 4 posts (21 July, 13 August, 3 September, 5 October), I primarily discussed ways of assessing the changing magnitude of humans’ impact on the eco-environment. Now I would like to examine this same human-environment interaction in terms of the types of harmful impacts we have exerted.

Before I do, let me make one thing perfectly clear: when I say “harmful,” I am applying this term to us. It is we humans (not the planet) who have been harmed by our various activities, especially over the past two hundred years. George Carlin makes this point crystal clear:

The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We’ve been here, what, a hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? And we’ve only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow we’re a threat? That somehow we’re going to put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that’s just a’floatin’ around the sun?

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages …

And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet … the planet … the planet isn’t going anywhere. WE ARE!

Now, what kinds of things have we done – to ourselves?

Human beings engage with the planet on three main levels: ecosystems, species, and organisms. In point of fact, our activities intervene on all three levels simultaneously.

For instance, activity on the ecosystem level (let’s say a supertanker oil spill off the BC coast) necessarily involves the species (whales, fish, and other marine life) and organisms (the molecular makeup of these species) that inhabit the system, as involvement with a particular species also includes the organisms that comprise it.

Also, modification of either species or organisms produces effects on the ecosystems in which they live. Thus, virtually any activity has consequences beyond its immediate impact – and ultimately, for the planet itself.

In my next post, I will discuss these different types of human impacts on the planet that are harmful to us. Although I will treat each type separately, again there is much overlap among them. For example, when people convert the natural habitat for their own purposes, such as building a town, not only does this action result in habitat loss and fragmentation, it also involves pollution of this same habitat, as well as biotic changes to the environment, and exploitation of wild living resources. Just as there is interdependence among ecosystems, species, and organisms, so too are various human activities mutually interrelated.

Stay tuned.

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