Landscape Ecology and Geographic Analysis Program

The last several decades humans have spent on Earth will leave a mark beyond artifacts and history. We will leave a measurable footprint that tells a story of not only the conditions we lived in, but also the carelessness of our actions. Eric Sanderson, an associate director in the Landscape Ecology and Geographic Analysis Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society Institute, defines the human footprint as a quantitative measure of humanity’s impact on earth (892). Our footprint will be one of trash, pollution, and spilled fossil fuels. Recently, this footprint has been increasing faster than we are able to reverse its effects. Toxins, gas emissions, and harmful wastes have been on the rise since the mid-1800s due to industrialization of countries and the ability to mass produce.

Although the footprint is clearly more visible in larger developed areas such as China, America, and Europe, the effects are global. Sanderson and his team map this footprint by using, “four types of data as proxies for human influence: population density, land transformation, accessibility, and electrical power infrastructure” (892). Population density, in this case, is a measure of the human population per unit area. Areas with a high population density will typically contain more man-made structures, while areas with a low population density will have more open land with grazing animals. Land transformations, “the single greatest threat to biological diversity,” takes in to account the different land uses and the extent to which they modify ecosystem processes (Sanderson 893). Accessibility includes roads, major rivers, and coastlines which “provide humans opportunities for hunting, extraction of resources, waste disposal and pollution” (894). Essentially, the more access humans have to an area, the more likely they are to transform it. Power infrastructure is the amount of fossil fuels needed to power everything (894). As each of these factors increase, there is an equal decrease in the amount of natural land left on Earth. This causes a disproportion in the amount of resources we have and the amount of resources we need. This disruption of equilibrium means millions of people will not have access to the basic necessities such as clean water and air.

Currently, our biggest concern is the amount of gasses produced in the atmosphere by humans. They significantly warm up the planet. This is known as the greenhouse gas effect. The greenhouse gas effect is the exchange of incoming and outgoing radiation that warms the earth. Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. Human activities warm the earth faster than the gas is able to leave which leads to an increase in temperature. According to Mikael Hook, a 2° C increase in temperature can be life threatening for species living in artic environments. This increase can not only cause ice caps to melt but also cause severe droughts in already dry regions. It’s predicted to cause water scarcity amount 1.8 billion more people by just 2025 alone (Hook 807). The effects of excess greenhouse gases in the environment are drastic.


Similarly, Mariarosaria Lombardi, a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Foggia, blames large industrialized cities as the main reason for climate changes. Her research shows that large cities produce 80% of all gases on Earth, including those that are known to contribute to the greenhouse gas effect, such as carbon dioxide and methane gas (43). She claims that although urban areas only cover about 2% of the earth, over 50% percent of the world’s population lives in these areas and therefore have a higher level in the consumption of natural resources (45). The depletion of natural resources by large cities are causing a significant environmental impact. Lombardi argues that the over use of fossil fuels in these cities is the sole cause of global warming (85). She pushes for the monitoring of urban greenhouse gas emission trends for planning adaption strategies, in addition, to conducting studies focused on midsized cities that have the potential to become urban cities (50).

Earths 4.5 billion-year-old form has helped sustain life for around 14 million species through the course of its time. How much longer it’ll last is unknown to us, but it is a responsibility of ours to make sure it’s in good condition for the next wave of species. As residents of this planet we have an obligation to keep it safe, clean and healthy for as long as possible. The only footprint mankind should behind is one that consists of history, artifacts, and culture, not gas emissions and plastic bottles. Waste and pollution have slowly crept up on civilization and found a place to reside without humans even realizing the drastic effects it could have.  

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