Warner Pacific College
January 12, 2012
Centuries ago, there was little need to take an inventory of lands occupied by humans, for nature still held sway over the destiny of human survival. In the early agricultural era, although little consideration was given to how human activity affected the environment – the earth’s human population was not large enough to have the global impact that it does today. Humans were constrained at the time by the negative feedback loop that manages the population of most species today, however within the last two centuries, advancements in agricultural technology and the economic growth that came with it, have enabled the human species to grow exponentially. Between the eighteenth century and today, the earth’s human population grew from its first billion individuals to the seven billion that it carries today. Additionally, where industrialized nations population growth has stabilized, in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, population growth is rapidly increasing as technological advancements spread to these societies (University of Michigan, 2000).
However, there is a deep cultural belief in the supremacy of humankind, that manifest destiny guides our actions, and that conquering nature and “managing” natural resources is a divine right and responsibility. Additionally, there is the longstanding sense of entitlement that accompanies the ownership and possession of land. Social resistance to taxes and regulations in difficult economic times have further complicated any goal of balancing long-term environmental benefits with any short-term economic needs. Moreover, the human impact upon the environment takes place very slowly and any negative impact is unseen over the short-term, leading to the lingering notion that nature will supply the needs of society in perpetuity (Whitfield, 2011).
At the turn of the twentieth century, after experiencing the results of poor stewardship of the environment, attempts to put wise-use reforms into place were made. Within the first decade of that century, and spearheaded by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, and his forester Gifford Pinchot – the National Parks System, Wildlife Refuge System, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service were ushered in to mitigate the damage done over the last century (Radford University, n.d.). Thus it was that the United States Government began to assert its power to make decisions about environmental policy.
Throughout the following decades, the U.S. Government performed reasonably well in its role as environmental steward, and developed a healthy image of itself in that role (see Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl.) However, in spite of its stated good intentions, the government was pushed to be more accommodating to a growing population that demanded greater access to the nation’s natural resources. Urban areas pushed out to encroach upon the very lands that were needed as resources to serve its needs. Battles over land rights and uses have now become more desperate and heated. Add to that, the current disdain for the actions of government, the aggressive refusal to accept the findings of scientific research, and the fact that commerce has many lobbyists and nature very few, the environment is being driven ever closer to its ultimate carrying capacity (Withgott, & Bennan, 2011).
The growth in the number of industrialized nations around the world, and their need to compete and survive in the global economy, now adds to the relentless and unsustainable extraction of earth’s natural resources. It is with hope that the push toward responsible environmental stewardship that is slowly developing within technologically advanced nations will spread to the rest of the world as the unsustainable practices of the past had. However, as our government, and the governments of emerging nation’s ability to provide responsible stewardship over the environment wanes – and pressure to provide natural resources to serve the needs of society advances – it increasingly falls upon civil society to alter its culture of consumerism and accept the factually supported truth that nature is indeed limited.
Radford University. (n.d.). Environmental History Timeline 1890 - 1920 The Progressive Era. Radford University. Retrieved from: http://www.radford.edu/wkovarik/envhist/5progressive.html
University of Michigan. (2000). Demographic Transition: An Historical Sociological Perspective. University of Michigan. Retrieved from: http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/pop_socio/pop_socio.html
Whitfield, J. (2011). Dr. Hern's Diagnosis: Humans as a Cancer of the Earth. Swarthmore College Environmental Studies. Retrieved from: http://fubini.swarthmore.edu/~ENVS2/S2003/jessiewhit/humansandcancer.htm
Withgott, J., & Bennan, S. (2011). Environment: the science behind the stories (4th Ed.) New York, NY. Pearson Benjamin Cummings ISBN-13: 9780321715340