From nature-dominated to human-dominated environmental changes

Messerli, B; Grosjean, M; Hofer T.; Nuñez L.; Pfister, C


To what extent is it realistic and useful to view human history as a sequence of changes from highly vulnerable societies of hunters and gatherers through periods with less vulnerable, well buffered and highly productive agrarian-urban societies to a world with regions of extreme overpopulation and overuse of life support systems, so that vulnerability to climatic-environmental changes and extreme events is again increasing? This question cannot be fully answered in our present state of knowledge, but at least we can try to illustrate, with three case studies from different continents, time periods and ecosystems, some fundamental changes in the relationship between natural processes and human activities that occur, as we pass from a nature-dominated to a human dominated environment. 1. Early-mid Holocene: Nature dominated environment - human adaptation, mitigation, and migration. In the central Andes, the Holocene climate changed from humid (10,800-8000 BP) to extreme arid (8000-3600 BP) conditions. Over the same period, prehistoric hunting communities adopted a more sedentary pattern of resource use by settling close to the few perennial water bodies, where they began the process of domesticating camelids around 5000 BP and irrigation from about 3100 BP. 2. Historical period: An agrarian society in transition from an enduring to an innovative human response. Detailed documentary evidence from Western Europe may be used to reconstruct quite precisely the impacts of climatic variations on agrarian societies. The period considered spans a major transition from an apparently passive response to the vagaries of the environment during the 16th century to an active and innovative attitude from the onset of the agrarian revolution in the late 18th century through to the present day. The associated changes in technology and in agricultural practices helped to create a society better able to survive the impact of climatic extremes. 3. The present day: A human dominated environment with increasing vulnerability of societies and economies to extreme events and natural variability. The third example, dealing with the history and impact of floods in Bangladesh, shows the increasing vulnerability of an over-exploited and human-dominated ecosystem. Measurements exist for a short time only (decades), historical data allow a prolongation of the record into the last century, and paleo-research provides the long-term record of processes operating over millennia. The long-term paleo-perspective is essential for a better understanding of future potential impacts on an increasingly human-dominated environment. Understanding today's global change processes calls for several new perspectives and synergisms: the integration of biophysically oriented climate change research with research about the increasingly dominant processes of human forcing, a focus on overexploited or limited natural resources and on vulnerable and critical regions, fuller use of our understanding of variability on a range of different timescales:The present without a past has no future. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Más información

Título según WOS: From nature-dominated to human-dominated environmental changes
Volumen: 19
Número: 1-5
Fecha de publicación: 2000
Página de inicio: 459
Página final: 479
Idioma: English


Notas: ISI