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Humanity's Footprint

Humanity's Footprint: Momentum, Impact, and Our Global Environment

Walter K. Dodds
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Humanity's Footprint
    Book Description:

    For the first time in history, humans have exceeded the sustaining capacity of Earth's global ecosystems. Our expanding footprint has tremendous momentum, and the insidious explosion of human impact creates a shockwave that threatens ecosystems worldwide for decades-possibly centuries.

    Walter K. Dodds depicts in clear, nontechnical terms the root causes and global environmental effects of human behavior. He describes trends in population growth, resource use, and global environmental impacts of the past two centuries, such as greenhouse effects, ozone depletion, water pollution, and species extinctions and introductions. Dodds also addresses less familiar developments, such as the spread of antibiotic resistant genes in bacteria and the concentration of pesticides in the Arctic and other remote ecosystems. He identifies fundamental human activities that have irreversible effects on the environment and draws on recent social science and game theory results to explain why people use more than their share. Past behavior indicates that as resources grow scarce, humans will escalate their use of what remains instead of managing their consumption. Humanity's Footprint paints a lively but ultimately sobering picture of our environmental predicament. Dodds calls for a consilient approach to socioenvironmental restoration that draws on new thinking from across disciplines to develop sustainable solutions to global environmental problems.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51304-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Economics, Political Science, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 Collision Course: An Expanding Appetite for Resources Coupled with Population Growth on a Finite Planet
    (pp. 1-10)

    Power, wealth, and security are inextricably linked to what our Earth provides us and how we treat the planet that sustains us. In the sixteenth century, power and wealth revolved around trade, with the nations of Europe (the global superpowers of the day) racing to establish reliable and quick trade routes with India, China, and Japan. The search for the Northwest Passage to circumvent South America and sail directly to Asia began in the early sixteenth century and continued until the beginning of the twentieth, when, in 1906, Roald Amundsen, the famous Norwegian explorer, sailed a dangerous, iceberg-cluttered route from...

  6. 2 The Insidious Explosion: Global Trends in Population Growth and Resource Use Expand Our Footprint
    (pp. 11-33)

    Growth in human population and resource use rates is undeniable. In this chapter, I document those rates and the global momentum behind increases in standard of living and population growth. Although the numbers for population growth are solid and available, the rates of resource use, habitat destruction, and other human activities contribute as much to the cumulative impact of humans on Earth. But because it is difficult to account for their exact impacts on the environment, resource use rates are emphasized here. For example, calculating how much environmental damage each gallon of oil burned will cause depends on numerous factors,...

  7. 3 Shock Wave from the Insidious Explosion: Momentum of Human Effects on Our Planet
    (pp. 34-62)

    Global increases in population and resource use are creating a shock wave that is ripping through the global environment supporting humanity. Just as a large explosion creates a shock wave that carries the explosion’s power far from a detonation site, momentum of resource use rates is extensive and has spread to all parts of Earth, even those far from human habitation. Such broad global impact is unique in human history. Human changes to the environment are occurring at such a large scale and with so much momentum that reversing them will take at least de cades, but probably centuries, even...

  8. 4 Weeds and Shrinking Violets: Pests on the Move and the Ecological Holocaust
    (pp. 63-82)

    In many parts of the world, urban areas are almost completely devoid of native plants; gardens, whether commercial or personal, are planted with species bred by humans for show or hardiness under polluted conditions. On the Hawaiian Islands, which once contained numerous unique species that evolved there, human-caused species introductions and habitat destruction have made it so almost all plants and animals there now are nonnative. All other areas inhabited by humans are experiencing similar issues to varying degrees. Today, native species around the world are either endangered or already extinct. We are close to losing some of the iconic...

  9. 5 Survival on a Finite Earth: The Ultimate Game, or Why Human Nature Destines Us to Use More Than Our Share
    (pp. 83-107)

    We will have to work together as a global society to control our impacts on the planet; individuals, businesses, and societies only looking out for themselves without considering the global implications of their actions have bought us to where we are now. Social scientists and biologists have conducted considerable research on cooperation. This research bears directly on how humans will achieve the global cooperation required to sustainably inhabit Earth. Keeping in mind the tendencies toward resource use discussed already, how might we overcome some negative aspects of human behavior with regard to environmental issues and excessive resource use?

    Game theory...

  10. 6 Why Humans Foul the Nest: Cultural and Genetic Roots Run Deep
    (pp. 108-135)

    People use far more than they need for survival and reproduction, leading to tremendous rates of resource use in developed countries and a disproportionate burden on the global environment exacted by the wealthy. Because the root behavioral causes of resource overuse shape the relationship between humans and the global environment, considering the roots of behavior is essential for the development of successful educational programs, as well as the establishment of policy to minimize global environmental impacts.

    Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University is the father of sociobiology and one of the leading biologists of our time. He has established fundamental...

  11. 7 Searching for Answers: Can We Achieve Sustainability, or Are We Screwed?
    (pp. 136-170)

    We cannot predict with absolute certainty what our future world will be like. Many possible scenarios exist, but it is impossible to continue to increase our total population and environmental impact indefinitely. Given the tremendous momentum of global environmental problems, humanity could be headed for some rough times if the trends documented in this book continue unabated. Earth’s capacity to sustain us is finite. We know that our total population and resource use must be controlled; the question is how.

    It will take decades, if not centuries or more, to mitigate the negative impacts of humans on the capacity of...

  12. 8 No More Business as Usual: Transcendence, Enlightenment, Rationalization, Hope, and Action
    (pp. 171-188)

    A quote from Woody Allen provides a caricature of environmentalists from those who would prefer to ignore our problems: “More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”¹

    I prefer the inspirational view of Nobel Prize winner Wangari Matthai, as expressed in her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. Matthai is Kenya’s most celebrated environmentalist and an advocate for democracy and human rights. She established the Green Belt Movement, which encourages farmers (mostly...

  13. 9 Consilience: Socioenvironmental Restoration and Sustainable Inhabitation of Earth
    (pp. 189-214)

    Evidence presented in this book overwhelmingly illustrates that global environmental impacts have momentum that puts us on a collision course with Earth’s ability to support us. The environmental catapult imparts momentum that supersedes individuals, single nations, or a generation of people. All major indicators of our global footprint—human population, economic activity, water use, energy use, global greenhouse gases, and global pollution—are increasing exponentially.

    In chapter 1, I noted the contradiction between the following observations:

    1. The best predictor of future behavior of large groups of people is prior behavior: cultural trends have inertia in part because they are driven...

  14. Appendix 1 Data Sources Used to Make Graphs
    (pp. 215-220)
  15. Appendix 2 Reading the Graphs in This Book
    (pp. 221-224)
  16. Appendix 3 Putting Global Environmental Impact into a Quantitative Framework That Links Impact and Behavior
    (pp. 225-228)
  17. Appendix 4 Some Organizations Involved with Global Environmental Issues
    (pp. 229-234)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 235-262)
  19. Index
    (pp. 263-270)