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Lecture

REM 100 Lecture Notes - The Great Transformation (Book), Hunter-Gatherer, Global Change


Department
Resource & Environmtl Mgmt
Course Code
REM 100
Professor
Neil Braganza

Page:
of 5
REM 100
September 14th 2012
Terminology
Global change
-Human induced transformation of the global environment.
Environment
-The complete range of external conditions, physical and biotic, in which an
organism lives, including soil, water, climate and food supply.
-It includes social, cultural, and (for humans) economic and political
considerations.
Institution
-an elemental structure required for functioning of a society
-Institutions embody the particular sets of values, norms and roles that a
society believes to be essential for its continued existence
Examples
-politics, governments and the law
-the economy and work
-the arts and education
What makes a problem global?
-the problem has global or large scale regional effects.
-It cannot be solved by any one country acting alone.
-its solution challenges the status quo in world order.
-It challenges global institutions.
-It captures world-wide attention usually from an event or series of events
-the problem is persistent
-It arouses our compassion
-It is inter related to other global issues
-it exposes the inter-dependence between countries and regions
Fundamental principle of ecology
-you can never change just one thing
Fundamental principle of economics
-there is no such thing as a free lunch
Corollary
-everything is connected to everything else
Fundamental principle for interpreting politics
-anyone who says they have the answer hasn’t understood the question
Biosphere
The part of the earth that consists of all living organisms and their
perspective environments
Sometimes referred to as the “ecosphere”
Includes the following elements:
. incident energy – primarily solar, but includes radioactive decay
. land – soils and wetlands
. freshwaters – rivers, lakes and icecaps
. oceans, sea – ice and the seafloor
. atmosphere – oxygen, nitrogen, H2O, CO2 and trace gases
The Great Transformation
-The transformation of the biosphere from its “natural state” by human
action
-During the great transformation the elements of the biosphere have been
altered by human activities, often substantially
-However, the natural state of the environment is a difficult concept
because the environment has undergone considerable change since the
end of the last ice age
-This becomes an enduring questions in environmental debate: how much
of the change we see is due to human activity versus that arising from
natural variability?
Mode of adaptation
-together with the physical limits of the environment, a mode of adaptation
determines the population size can be supported by a given environment
EG: hunting and gathering, agriculture, industrialisation
Environmental impacts of hunter gatherers
-It is a popular belief that a hunter gatherer lived in harmony with nature
-However, harmony with nature is a vague notion – hunter – gatherer
societies do substantially alter their environments to increase its utility
-E.G. use of fire to make it easy to move around, increase productivity of
game and in hunting
-Hunter-gatherers may have been a driving force in the mass extinctions of
the late Pleistocene
-The population densities supportable by the mode of adaptation are low
and ecologically sustainable
Environmental impacts of agrarian societies
-simplification of natural ecosystems to a smaller number of domesticated
species
-elimination of predators and competitors
-the invention of agriculture and herding allowed for higher human
population densities
-agricultural surpluses allowed for specialisation, political organisation and
the development of urban elites
-however, sometimes high population densities led to the overexploitation
of resources and the collapse of the cultures dependent on them
e.g. Indus valley, Mesopotamia, Mayans, Khmers, Anasazi, Easter Island
-although they transformed the landscape, most agrarian societies were
ecologically sustainable
Partly because:
-Farming methods evolved to limit environmental degradation e.g. crop
rotation