When looking at the changes that the world is going through, scientists love to consider facts. The population of humans has risen by this much; the quality and quantity of drinking water is changing; once fertile areas are suddenly becoming barren. While a small portion of these events are due to natural change, many are expedited by the actions of humans and how they use the land. To find solutions to these problems, scientists must consider how culture and society affect the planet and how solutions must work successfully within the context of cultures and societies to be successful.
The problem first arose when humans began to modify the ecosystems around them to fit the need of the growing human population. Many scholars agree that “agriculture, forestry, and other land-management practices have modified entire landscapes and altered plant and animal communities of many ecosystems throughout the world” (Clark et al. 1986, Ehrlich et al. 1977, Turner et al. 1990, 1993 via Ojima et al. 1994). When a forest is cut down to make room for a field, species diversity goes down considerably. Since all of those animals are displaced without a place to live and have lost their food sources, they die off or adapt. When this concerns indigenous species, highly adapted species that generally have very specific environmental requirements, they physically can’t adapt and the species is lost. Additionally, when humans meddle with the natural order of ecosystems, they become polluted or natural nutrient cycles are altered.
Now if these major changes only happened sporadically every few decades, it’s possible that the ecosystem would eventually recover. However, that cannot be the case. With world population growing, there’s higher demand for food, cloth, water, and space. To accommodate the world population, we’re wiping out natural ecosystems so people can eat and have livelihoods. However, not all land modification is bad. Sometimes small changes can help everyone. On the other hand, small changes could completely ruin an ecosystem and the community around it. How land is used depends on the cultural, economic, and societal climate surrounding it.
Climate change can also have an impact on the success of an ecosystem, be it natural or synthetic. Changes in temperature, precipitation, and cloud cover can stress an ecosystem enough to change a lush, field or forest into a barren desert in only a few decades.
In the end, society faces a catch-22. To feed themselves, live happy lives, and support their cultures, humans must abuse the resources of the earth. But on the other hand, people wouldn’t be able to eat or have any sort of real life and would starve, unless there was some radical reform on how resources were managed. As the authors say, “Seeking solutions to these kinds of questions will take a joint effort of the natural and social science communities. The ability of humans to adapt to these rapid and unprecedented changes will be tested during the coming decades” (1994).
D. S. Ojima, K. A. Galvin and B. L. Turner, II. (1994). Global Impact of Land-Cover Change. BioScience. 44(5), 300-304