Human impact on the
environment can be explained in two
important ways. One is how humans have
adapted to and changed
their environment to survive and make life more comfortable and
convenient. The other is the effects of these changes and
Humans have made many changes to their geographical situations
to better suit their needs and wants. Most of these
changes/adaptations have had a positive impact on the lives of
humans, but were not necessarily good for the environment.
Irrigation systems bring water from nearby sources, often
rivers, to areas where crops are grown. Early
civilizations such as those in Egypt and China used irrigation
systems to grow more food, enabling them to expand and grow.
In modern times, more advanced irrigation systems have been
developed to grow crops in areas once thought barren.
Terrace farming involves cutting out flat areas (terraces) into
near vertical slopes to allow farming. Terrace farms
appears as steps cut into a mountainside. This adaptation
allowed both the early Chinese, and the Inca of
grow enough food for their large populations.
The development of roads allowed civilizations to exchange goods
and services with other cultures as well as invade and conquer.
Incan Empires built elaborate road systems
throughout their empires. These roads allowed them to
maintain good communication and establish a strong,
government. Today, the various systems of roads that
crisscross most of the continents of the world continue to
allow for good communication, trade, and cultural diffusion.
Canals & Dams
Canals are man made waterways used for
trade and transportation.
The early Chinese civilization built an extensive canal
that allowed them to trade and communicate with most of their
population. In modern times, canals such as the
Suez Canal linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and the
Panama Canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, have
contributed heavily to global trade and communication.
Dams are man made structures that block water from flowing.
Dams can be used on rivers and streams, or as a protective
measure against floods. Dams have been used throughout history
for a variety of tasks. An example would be the
Dam in Egypt. The building of this dam has allowed the
Egyptians to control the flooding of the Nile River, and has
resulted in the creation of much new farmland.
Fossil fuels are any carbon bases fuel derived from the
decomposed remains of prehistoric plants and animals. The
burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, peat, petroleum, and
natural gas have allowed human to develop many different
technologies to improve life. The
that changed the world was fuel by this resource. Today,
fossil fuels power our cars, heat our homes, and run the
factories that manufacture everything we use in our lives.
However, recent science has suggested that the use of fossil
fuels has damaged the environment, and many groups are pushing
for cleaner forms of energy. The Middle East is a major
producer of fossil fuels, while the industrialized nations in
Europe and North America are the major users.
Nuclear power is usually electrical power produced from nuclear
fusion or fission. Nuclear power is supposed to be cleaner
to produce than the energy created by the burning of fossil
fuels. Whereas fossil fuels will someday run out, the
ability to produce nuclear power should not. However,
nuclear power does have dangerous side effects.
Radioactive waste products must be stored somewhere, and the
threat of nuclear accidents, like the incident at the
power plant in Ukraine.
Effects on the Environment
Pollution is the contamination of the environment by human acts.
Pollution is harmful to all living things and can take many
forms including, air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels,
and water and soil pollution form the dumping of waste products
and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Pollution
has caused health problems in humans including respiratory
disease and different forms of cancer. Pollution is also
responsible for destroying various animals, plants, and insects
as it destroys their natural habitat.
The Ozone Layer is the upper portion of the Earth's atmosphere
that screens out most of the Sun's harmful ultraviolet
radiation. Recent science has suggested that industrial air
pollutants, such as
chlorofluorocarbon, has damaged the ozone
layer by creating a hole in it. Through this hole,
damaging UV radiation penetrates to the Earth's surface.
Increased exposure to this radiation can cause skin cancer in
humans, damage crops, and destroy the marine ecology. Many
nations around the world have ceased using CFCs in the
production of industrial materials.
Deforestation is the widespread destruction of the world's
forests. One of the largest areas of destruction are the
tropical rainforests. These forest are cut down for the
hardwood lumber, to clear space for farming, for building
settlements, and for grazing animals.
Rate of Destruction(1)
(1 hectare) per second: equivalent to two U.S. football
(60 hectares) per minute
acres (86,000 hectares) per day: an area larger than
New York City
million acres (31 million hectares) per year: an area
larger than Poland
provided by the Rainforest
The effects of this destruction include a change in weather
patterns, continued buildup of CO2, a
extinction of plants and animals, which will result in the
destruction of entire ecosystems. Many worldwide
organizations are attempting to stop deforestation, but as most
of it occurs in developing nations dependent on the financial
revenues from such destruction, stopping it is very hard.
Global Warming is the rising of the average temperature
worldwide. Scientist are concerned about this because of
the potential destructive effects of this phenomena.
Global warming, if it continues, will reach a point where the
arctic glaciers begin to melt, causing worldwide floods.
Scientists believe global warming is caused by the greenhouse
effect, which is a build up of warm air in the lower atmosphere.
This occurs from the use of CFCs, the burning of fossil fuels,
and deforestation. many countries around the world have been
working to limit these destructive forces.
Desertification is the process of fertile land being transformed
into desert land. This is generally resulting from human
interaction either by deforestation or by the over grazing of
farm animals. As the plant life is destroyed, winds blow
the fertile soil away, thus spreading the desert. The
Sahara Desert in Africa is spreading about 50 miles a year due
to this process. In North Africa, where this problem is
most prevalent, attempts to halt desertification include
reducing the use of the threatened land and improved irrigation
Acid rain happens when rain is polluted by airborne contaminants
such as those left by the burning of fossil fuels, automobile
exhaust, and the use of CFCs. Acid rain is damaging to
farmland, bodies of water, and can travel large distances due to
strong winds. Like other environmental problems, steps are
being taken in the international community to stop the
production of these pollutants.
The use of nuclear power and the building of nuclear weapons
represents a very great threat to the environment. The
comes from nuclear accidents, such as the accident at the
Chernobyl Power Plant in Ukraine in 1986. This accident
release large amounts of radiation that not only affected the
immediate area, but also was carried on strong winds across many
countries in Europe. The effects of this accident have to
date been an increase in cancer victims, numerous birth defects,
and the destruction of many acres of good land.
The other problem with nuclear power is the waste products
produced. Storage of this material and the potential for
accidents with it are the concern of the major nuclear powers.
The dumping of this material into the sea or burial underground
has been outlawed by international treaty, but many of these
countries are still searching for safe disposal solutions.
As the use of nuclear power becomes more prevalent, these issues
will have to be addressed.