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Environmental Problems

     The species Homo sapiens-that is, human beings-appeared late in the Earth’s history, but was ultimately able to modify the Earth’s environment by its activities. Although human beings apparently first appeared in Africa, they quickly spread throughout the world. Because of their unique mental and physical capabilities, human beings were able to escape the environmental constraints that limited other species and to change the environment to meet their needs.

     Although early human beings undoubtedly lived in some harmony with the environment, as did other animals, their retreat from the wilderness began with the first, prehistoric agricultural revolution. The ability to control and use fire allowed them to modify or eliminate natural vegetation, and the domestication and herding of grazing animals eventually resulted in overgrazing and soil erosion. The domestication of plants also led to the destruction of natural vegetation to make room for crops, and the demand for wood for fuel denuded mountains and depleted forests. Wild animals were slaughtered for food and destroyed as pests and predators.

     While human populations remained small and human technology modest, their impact on the environment was localized. As populations increased and technology improved and expanded, however, more significant and widespread problems arose. Rapid technological advances after the Middle Ages culminated in the Industrial Revolution, which involved the discovery, use, and exploitation of fossil fuels, as well as the extensive exploitation of the Earth’s mineral resources. With the Industrial Revolution, humans began in earnest to change the face of the Earth, the nature of its atmosphere, and the quality of its water. Today, unprecedented demands on the environment from a rapidly expanding human population and from advancing technology are causing a continuing and accelerating decline in the quality of the environment and its ability to sustain life.



It is only in the most recent, and brief period of their tenure that human beings have developed in sufficient numbers and acquired enough power to become one of the most potentially dangerous organisms that the planet has ever hosted.                                                                              

--John McHale