Domesticating Nature. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD)
Researchgate DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.36812.51848
Some days ago I came across the picture that you can see below. Despite the fact that it is a digital composition (the bird has been included in the picture by the author whom I haven´t been able to identify) it represents a very cute scene. And since it was shared open to make comments about it, I could not resist and share my point of view about what it could represent.
Bird: I am worried. With all the good things that we get from the humans I don´t know what is going to happen to us if they stop sharing. Sometimes I wonder about how other animals survived before humans existed. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)
This image raises many questions about the implications coming from the constant transformations which have been being imposed for centuries over the natural systems and the whole environment, which, in turn, has led to an increasing “Domestication of Nature”.
The definition given by the Encyclopaedia Britannica is as follows:
Domestication, the process of hereditary reorganization of wild animals and plants into domestic and cultivated forms according to the interests of people. In its strictest sense, it refers to the initial stage of human mastery of wild animals and plants. The fundamental distinction of domesticated animals and plants from their wild ancestors is that they are created by human labour to meet specific requirements or whims and are adapted to the conditions of continuous care and solicitude people maintain for them.
This definition contains what I believe it has become a very significant issue when trying to understand feedback synergies between the environment and potential alterations in the climate: The fundamental distinction of domesticated animals and plants from their wild ancestors is that they are adapted to the conditions of continuous care and solicitude people maintain for them.
In order to adapt the performance from Natural resources to Human needs, the whole spectra of Natural expression (animals, plants, water cycle and soil) has been increasingly tampered with, generating dependence from Human care.
The continuous interference from Human “care” has led to the modification of animal and plants behaviour, geographical distribution, size of population, biodiversity and genetic pool. The performance of soils have been changed in some places in order to produce more, and in other places just from alterations in Land use and cover as well as modifications in the Water cycles due to deviations and compartmentalization.
The implications raising from such kind of alterations are directly linked with the Natural balance established between all different parts of every ecosystem before Human activity started to impose such pressure.
And there are two major areas demanding attention:
- The more Natural systems depend on “human care” to exist, the more are the resources and Energy required to maintain them. When at the same time there is room for discussion on which Natural systems perform better thanks to Human interference (e.g. GMOs, Oregon water defences). Is it ever going to be less Energy demanding to develop, manufacture, maintain and repair technology designed to absorb and fix Atmospheric CO2 than trees?
- The transformation induced in the Natural system from the activity of Domesticating Nature “to fulfil Human Needs” goes all the way around the chain of synergistic interrelations existent between Atmospheric Composition; Oceanic, Inland and Atmospheric Water circulation and quality as well as changes over albedo due to changes in Land Use and Cover (Following images show Land Use change. Notice that when looking at desserts, constant green means no change in land use).
Altogether, those transformations become part of the Energy flows dominating climatic events and atmospheric behaviour.
The demands of Energy required for our adaptation to the surrounding environment relies on its stability. An unstable environment demands more energy and resources from humans. But the stability of our environment depends on the stability of its structure and its resources in order to maintain a strong level of resilience against perturbations.
So, how much perturbation can our environment absorb before it looses the capacity to absorb interferences from external forces and becomes unstable?
Here I share some of the data available looking at the extent of Land Cover Change over the years due to Human activities “Domesticating Nature”.
Humanity’s impact on the biosphere’s structures (e.g., land cover) and functioning (e.g., biogeochemical cycles) is considerable. It exceeds natural variability in many cases. Sanderson and others have classified up to 83% of the global terrestrial biosphere as being under direct human influence, based on geographic proxies such as human population density, settlements, roads, agriculture and the like; another study, by Hannah et al., estimates that about 36% of the Earth’s bioproductive surface is “entirely dominated by man”.
HANPP, the “human appropriation of net primary production,” is an aggregated indicator that reflects both the amount of area used by humans and the intensity of land use. NPP is the net amount of biomass produced each year by plants; it is a major indicator for trophic energy flows in ecosystems. HANPP measures to what extent land conversion and biomass harvest alter the availability of NPP (biomass) in ecosystems. It is a prominent measure of the “scale” of human activities compared to natural processes (i.e. of the “physical size of the economy relative to the containing ecosystem;” Daly, 2006). As human harvest of biomass is a major component of HANPP, it is also closely related to socio-economic metabolism as measured by material flow accounts.
Global land cover change from 8000 BP to -50 BP
In 2011 ARVE Group. published an animation showing the global pattern of human land use over the last eight thousand years, a time when human populations began expanding following the origins of agriculture.
The earliest areas of human land use are in Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent areas of southwest Asia, followed by increasing areas of land use in China, India, and Europe. Watch for the areas of intensive land use developing in India, especially along the Ganges River plane, and in Northern China along the lower Yellow and Yangtze rivers. As time goes on, you will see areas of land use developing in South America, along the Andes, and in Africa, especially in the Sahel region. By classical times, land use in Europe is very intense with up to 60% of the land under human uses, but we start to see fluctuations around this time too, with some areas abandoned corresponding with wars, famine, and other historical events that affected human populations. As time continues through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, land use in Europe and Chine increase greatly following the development of cities and towns. Now pay careful attention to South America. Following the first contact with Europeans around 1500, nearly 90% of the indigenous people of the Americas were killed, mainly by disease. This collapse in populations led to massive regrowth of natural vegetation, especially forests in the Amazon, Andes, and Mesoamerica. As we race towards modern times we see the settlement of the Americas and Australia by Europeans spreading across the continents, and the development of the human-dominated world we have today.
Review. Global consequences of land use. (2005)
Foley, J. A., DeFries, R., Asner, G. P., Barford, C., Bonan, G., Carpenter, S. R., … & Snyder, P. K.. science,309(5734), 570-574.
Land use has generally been considered a local environmental issue, but it is becoming a force of global importance. Worldwide changes to forests, farmlands, waterways, and air are being driven by the need to provide food, fiber, water, and shelter to more than six billion people. Global croplands, pastures, plantations, and urban areas have expanded in recent decades, accompanied by large increases in energy, water, and fertilizer consumption, along with considerable losses of biodiversity. Such changes in land use have enabled humans to appropriate an increasing share of the planet’s resources, but they also potentially undermine the capacity of ecosystems to sustain food production, maintain freshwater and forest resources, regulate climate and air quality, and ameliorate infectious diseases. We face the challenge of managing trade-offs between immediate human needs and maintaining the capacity of the biosphere to provide goods and services in the long term.
Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature467,555–561(30 September 2010)
Global effects of land use on local terrestrial biodiversity. Nature520,45–50(02 April 2015)doi:10.1038/nature14324
Throughout the publications that I post in this blog I have looked into all the parts of the ecosystem which might play a role driving atmospheric circulation and climatic events.
All those previous publications show enough evidence linking atmospheric processes with inert and active mechanisms happening over continental land surface. Inert mechanisms such as the change in Albedo due to changes in Land use and Cover as a result of urbanization, deforestation or agricultural practises and the presence of natural water sources involved in Atmospheric circulation. And Active mechanisms such as those defining the relationship between biological productivity and atmospheric cloud developments, and human activity affecting inert mechanisms and atmospheric composition (aerosols and gases).
Looking at the extension of the transformation imposed over our environment and natural systems, we are facing the possibility of loosing the capacity for our environment to absorb interferences from external forces, and therefore, carrying ourselves with the task to idealize forms of replicating such capacity (at cost of expending more resources).
Greenhouse is a term which defines what our planet might become. But not only because of greenhouse gases might retain heat and alter our atmospheric dynamics, but also, because the production system imposed over our environment is becoming closer to what it is a greenhouse, domesticating space and species, requiring constant care and investment in energy and resources.
The energy balance applied to describe our system contemplates the fact that our Sun is the only source of energy and that the excess of energy reaching our planet gets dissipated into space so the net balance between E entrance and release is zero.
And yet, changes in Land cover and Atmospheric Composition would affect the capacity for the system to reflect, absorb (through Carbon fixation) and dissipate Energy due to changes in Albedo, photosynthetic storage capacities and Greenhouse gases composition. When, at the same time, human activity has become the second strongest force introducing Energy into the system, released from breaking Carbon bonds which were created throughout photosynthesis fixing Solar Energy in an inert form throughout millennia.
Changes in Solar Radiation throughout Solar cycles have been considered strong enough to have an impact over our climatic system from a variation of 0.1%.
So what would imply to have a variation of more than 40% for the only force absorbing the impact from variations in the Energy balance, our Environment?
- reduces the capacity for Natural systems to absorb perturbations, potentially breaking the stability of our climatic system, but also
- diminish its capacity to fix Energy, whiles
- releases stored energy into the system.
What we call “Energy consumption” actually implies that Energy gets liberated from an inert form, fossil carbon bonds, into active forms of energy. Energy which does not disappear through consumption, it only gets liberated, transformed and incorporated into the system.
Our environment is facing the challenge of coping with a second source incorporating Energy into the system coming from human activity. And, in comparison with previous periods of time, thanks to our domesticating system, our environment is not fully developed or strong enough, to confront the challenge of having even more sources of energy coming into place, like volcanic eruptions.
The biotic component of our environmental system is the only one capable of interacting against thermodynamic entropy, against instability. And for as long as Human activity can not replicate such mechanisms in equilibrium with the resources consumed, it might be time to think about domesticating Human activities and invest on strategically maintaining the capabilities derived from wild natural systems to absorb perturbation and interact taming our weather and climatic transitions.
See also: NOAA “Historical Land-Cover Change and Land-Use Conversions Global Dataset”
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(This post is part of a more complex piece of independent research. I believe that the hypothesis that I have presented in previous posts in this blog (here, here and here) could help to understand present and possible future scenarios in atmospheric circulation. However, this is an assessment based on observation which needs to be validated throughout open discussion and data gathering. So please feel free to incorporate your thoughts and comments in a constructive manner.
Any scientist working in disciplines related with the topics that I treat in my blog knows how to judge the contribution that my work could potentially add to the state of knowledge. Since I am in transition looking for a position in research, if you are one of those scientists, by just acknowledging any value you might see from my contribution would not only make justice to my effort as independent researcher, but ultimately, it will help me to enhance my chances to find a position with resources to further develop my work.
If you feel like sharing this post I would appreciate to have a reference about the place or platform, by private or public message, in order for me to have the opportunity to join the debate and be aware of the repercussion which might generate d.fdezsevilla(at)gmail.com)
For anybody interested in the posts related with this discussion here I leave you those more relevant in chronological order (there are comments bellow some of them. Please check them out):
- New theory proposal to assess possible changes in Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on October 21, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-k3
- Why there is no need for the Polar Vortex to break in order to have a wobbling Jet Stream and polar weather? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on November 14, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-mt
- Gathering data to make visible the invisible (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on December 22, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-pN
- State of the Polar Vortex. Broken? From 29 Nov 2014 to 5th Jan 2015 (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla). Posted on November 29, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-o7
- Probability in the atmospheric circulation dictating the Weather (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on January 15, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-rm
- Meteorological Outlook Feb 2015 (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on February 7, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-sU
- Revisiting the theory of “Facing a decrease in the differential gradients of energy in atmospheric circulation” by Diego Fdez-Sevilla. Posted on February 10, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-to
- Matching Features Between Land Surface and Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) April 23, 2015
- Climate. Looking at the forest for the trees (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) April 9, 2015
- Steering climate´s course (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) March 27, 2015
- Drops of Weather. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) March 7, 2015