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9.1. Human activity and the environment

Human activity and the environment

The human being, like the rest of living beings, is part of the terrestrial ecosystem. Since life appeared about 3.5 billion years ago, changes have occurred on the planet that have affected living things, causing some species to become extinct and others to appear.

Humans, like other living beings, need the resources that the environment offers us, such as water, soil, food, oxygen, etc.), we interact with other species, we influence the environment, etc. Living beings adapt to the environment, but humans, in addition to interacting like any other living being, have the ability to adapt the environment to our needs. Technological and social development has caused the anthropic influence on the ecosystem to be much greater than that of other species. Humans have only been on the planet for a few thousand years, and we are not the largest species either, but we have the ability to alter the biosphere far more than any other living being. Paradoxically, being more intelligent allows us to destroy our planet.

The terrestrial ecosystem, like mature ecosystems, have self-regulation mechanisms that allow that, if the human being alters it (and this alteration is not very serious), changes take place that modify its structure to try to stay in balance. Humans influence the imbalance of the ecosystem, mainly, by two factors:

  • The technological development .
  • The demographic explosion, which has led to the overexploitation of resources and its effect on the environment.

The main environmental impacts are produced by industry, mining, agriculturelivestock, fishing, waste generation in cities, and public works. These environmental impacts do not have the same incidence on the entire planet.

  • Developed countries, where 20% of the world's population lives, consume 80% of resources.
  • Developing countries, where 80% of the world's population lives, consume 20% of resources.
Humanity has to try to achieve an improvement in the quality of life, enjoy the resources that nature offers, but avoiding their abuse and leaving a planet in which the next generations can also live with the same quality of life.
Man has not always influenced the environment in the same way. As the different societies of humanity have evolved, several stages can be distinguished:
  • Hunter-gatherer societies. They are the oldest known societies. They were nomads, they did not live in a fixed place, but they moved where they got food by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. They were small groups forming tribes or family groups, with few material goods, such as hunting weapons, some tools, kitchen utensils, etc. The power of the society was held by the elders of the group. Its environmental impact was minimal, at best, some fire to try to hunt some prey.

Vivienda donde vivían hombres prehistóricos

Reconstrucción de una vivienda prehistórica en Atapuerca.

  • Agricultural and livestock societies. When about 10,000 years ago, humans went from being gatherers and hunters to being farmers and ranchers, a sedentarization took place that originated the first human populations. The environmental impact they produced was very small. They were numerous groups that lived in villages or cities. Different trades appeared, people became specialized, and commerce emerged. They had more material goods. Its environmental impact was greater, although within a limit acceptable to nature.

With the appearance of the great civilizations, such as the Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Arab, resources such as wood and many minerals and rocks were intensively exploited, which altered the natural environment and caused the disappearance of many species.

  • Industrial societies. At the end of the 18th century, with the appearance of the steam engine and the use of fossil fuels (coal and oil), the Industrial Revolution arose. The cities grew with people who emigrated from the countryside, and the economy went from being based on agriculture and livestock to being based on industry and services. Many jobs were mechanized and the consumption of raw materials and fossil fuels increased. There was a large amount of material goods since there were machines to make them. The environmental impacts were important, especially in the atmosphere , where the many polluting gases (and especially CO2) increased their concentration producing climate change. The improvement of living conditions, such as hygiene, food , medicine, etc., brings with it an increase in the population and its needs. The food consumption of certain species, together with the alteration of natural habitats, has caused damage to biodiversity and even the extinction of many species.
  • Technological or post-industrial societies. Although oil is still used, the use of nuclear energy and renewable energies stands out. Electric power is necessary for the use of any appliance. People live in the most developed areas, the big cities (megacities). The environmental impacts are global, affecting the entire planet. It should be noted as economic activities the production and transmission of information using information technology and telecommunications.