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Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

Howling WolfDo you think humans should decide whether or not another species lives or dies?

I would think that the answer to this question to be an obvious no.  That is, if we are talking about simply, as if this could be a simple discussion, the existence of a species, period.  If a species were to fade into extinction, it should only be at the hands of an evolutionary demise.  I believe all humans have some basic type of understanding about the importance of each individual species’ role in its habitat or environment, our environment.

Should we knowingly disregard the extermination of any species at the hands of human society?  NO

Should we continue to study the effects of human society on the global environment to prevent any species’ extinction, and work to aid the recovery of any endangered species?  YES

However, the slant of this discussion where the line blurs and the black and white blends to gray is the debate that ensues when a species is no longer a welcome inhabitant of a geographical space, or is perceived to be an alien intruder in that space.

The reality is civilization’s encroachment on the unique habitats throughout the world causes the confrontation between humans and the most visible threatened species; the large mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and trees.  It is a debate that began with the advent of the agricultural age, when human proliferation began to threaten the surrounding and coexisting species.  Whether directly affected by the urbanization caused by the rampant, relatively recent, explosion in the human population, or disrupted by the blatant misuse or mistreatment of our natural resources by the increasing agricultural and economical demands imposed on our natural capital, the first and biggest losers will always most likely be the species that require the most space in comparison to our own demands.  In competition with the human species, they don’t stand a chance.

But what about the invasive species of the world’s unique habitats?  Are these species invasive because we deem them to be a threat to the invaded ecosystem and our way of life, or is it part of the evolutionary cycle?  Certainly Eurasian watermilfoil, sea lamprey, zebra mussels, and Asian carp for example are negative influences to the delicate balance in the ecosystems of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers.  But I would argue that, while undesirable, these intruders still deserve the right to coexist with humans because of their intrinsic, and possibly yet to be discovered, value.

Also, there is this question, are we the invaders in every ecosystem on the planet?

Check out the following sites to learn more about invasive species:

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Have we reached the Earth’s carrying capacity?  Well, perhaps I can offer my answer to this question by first defining carrying capacity and then establishing the Earth’s carrying capacity as assessed under current natural and social conditions.

As defined in The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition:

  • car·ry·ing (kār’ē-ĭng) ca·pac·i·ty (kə-pās’ĭ-tē) n.  
    • The maximum number of persons or things that a vehicle or a receptacle can carry: a van with a carrying capacity of 12.
    • Ecology The maximum number of individuals that a given environment can support without detrimental effects.

As explained by the Carrying Capacity Network, a watchdog organization of sorts, presenting “Real Solutions for America’s Problems”:

A common fallacy is to equate existing and seemingly open or “unused” spaces with the kind of resources and ecologically productive land needed to support human life under modern conditions. In fact, the criterion for determining whether a region is overpopulated is not land area, but carrying capacity.

Carrying capacity refers to the number of individuals who can be supported in a given area within natural resource limits, and without degrading the natural social, cultural and economic environment for present and future generations. The carrying capacity for any given area is not fixed. It can be altered by improved technology, but mostly it is changed for the worse by pressures which accompany a population increase. As the environment is degraded, carrying capacity actually shrinks, leaving the environment no longer able to support even the number of people who could formerly have lived in the area on a sustainable basis. No population can live beyond the environment’s carrying capacity for very long.

The average American’s “ecological footprint” (the demands an individual endowed with average amounts of resources, ie, land, water, food, fiber, waste assimilation and disposal, etc. puts on the environment) is about 12 acres, an area far greater than that taken up by one’s residence and place of school or work and other places where he or she is.

We must think in terms of “carrying capacity” not land area. The effects of unfettered population growth drastically reduce the carrying capacity in the United States.

In a post titled “Living Above the Line,” Environmental Research Foundation Precaution Reporter, Peter Montague, reiterated the assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme‘s fourth Global Environmental Outlook Report (GEO-4) in order to answer this question

…GEO-4 concluded that we humans presently require 22 acres per person to support our global average lifestyle — but, the report said, Earth has only 15 acres per person available.

In other words, we have already exceeded the Earth’s “carrying capacity” — it’s capacity to “carry” (or support) 6 billion humans. And the human enterprise is poised for a massive spurt of economic and population growth — expected to raise our numbers to 9 billion by roughly mid-century and to double the size of the human economy every 23 years….

Looking at the findings for the world as a whole presented in GEO-4, taking into consideration my own personal results I found in the ecological footprint quiz, and taking into consideration all of the other factors we have been discussing in People and the Environment lectures, such as the rate at which the Earth’s population is doubling, it is hard to argue against the fact that not only have we reached the Earth’s carrying capacity, but for many reasons we have long since exceeded the upper limits of population the global ecosystem can support.  However, I hope that we have recognized these statistics in time to correct the situation.  I believe the global society’s recognition of the mismanagement of our natural capital in time to continue to make strides toward a sustainable society, and setting and attaining hard and fast goals to meet sustainability, may provide the hope for our future and our grandchildren’s future.

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To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.

– Excerpt from the Seventh State of the Union Address by Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, December 3rd, 1907.

This is my first journal entry in a new category entitled “People and the Environment.”  The category title comes from a Bemidji State University (BSU) course of the same name in which I have enrolled during summer session in order to complete my last liberal education requirement towards my bachelor’s degree.  The class fulfills the BSU Category 10 requirement of the liberal education requirements for bachelor degree graduates.  Category 10 also goes by the same name of People and the Environment, and is part of BSU’s commitment to an awareness of the planet’s global community and the future we are providing for ourselves and generations to come by acknowledging modern society’s influence on our planet’s limited natural resources in a global ecosystem.

In order to fulfill its mission and its responsibilities as a public university, Bemidji State University will:

  1. Promote an uncompromising pursuit of knowledge, excellence, civic responsibility, and environmental impact.

Excerpt from the Bemidji State University mission statement.

During the next month you will see journal entries made into this category stemming from lecture in association with the text Sustaining the Earth by G. Tyler Miller, Jr., reflections on activities and field trips into the discovery of the interweaving of our natural capital, and reactions to small group discussions from the global pollution perspective as I analyze my own ecological footprint.

With that introduction, in our first journal entry, we were asked to respond to the following question:

  • What does the term “environment” mean to you and why?

My environment.  When I think of my environment, I think of a place, a location, where I am in my element, or more specifically, where I feel the most comfortable spiritually and emotionally as well as where I get the most satisfaction physically and socially.

For me, my environment will always be the small town, countryside, and the wide open spaces of this wonderful world in which we live.  I grew up in a small town, a central Minnesota town of some industry and technology, but mostly a community supported by and risen from the surrounding industry of the agricultural community – the farming families.

I didn’t grow up on a farm myself, but I had many relatives and friends who did and both my parents came from families who worked the land.  My connection with this environment came through them and the countless days I spent in the woods, on the lake, the prairie, or on the farm itself.

Summers were filled with camping trip after camping trip in which our main activity was fishing.  My dad loved to camp and fish and if there was a weekend between fishing opener and football season that we weren’t gone fishing or on a excursion to some far away place, something was peculiar or amiss.  Falls meant football seven days a week unless we were in the woods harvesting timber to heat the family house for the long Minnesota winter ahead.  Winters were snowmobiling and ice-fishing, and spring meant crappie fishing with my dad and brother at our secret spot before the obligations of school and work.

Lumberjacking with my dad and bothers was hard, strenuous, and sometimes dangerous work, but those days spent working together in the outdoors are some of my fondest memories of childhood.  Another of my fondest memories from childhood is making homemade summer sausage using the family recipe with beef from my Uncle Dan’s farm and smoking it in the old smokehouse at my Uncle Ray’s farm, the farm that previously belonged to my grandparents and where my father grew up.  It’s been 25 years or more since I set foot in that little old smokehouse that now has long since been gone – given back to the land from where it came – but I can still smell the penetrating aroma like it was yesterday.  This was also an important dietary staple as homemade summer sausage and homemade strawberry jam sandwiches were the required pail lunch for a day spent lumberjacking in the woods!

My upbringing in a place where environment meant the outdoors and a way of life has shaped the way I have chosen to live my own life.  I spent a decade in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul after leaving home.  Other than the first couple years of college when I spent summers at home, I was living the city life.  Although there were still weekend escapes, outdoor refuges inside the city, and even a career in the outdoors industry, it was never a sufficient substitute for the outdoors lifestyle of the lakes, woods, and countryside of rural Minnesota.

I relocated to Bemidji, Minnesota – a community similar to my hometown – in the early spring of 2003, with no intention ever to return to the city lifestyle.  The decision to fight for the opportunity to come back to where I’m from was a choice I made for the improvement of my life.  The fact that Bemidji is located in the middle of lake country in Minnesota’s North Woods amplified then, and now, the reasons why my environment is dependent on my surroundings, earth and timber instead of concrete and steel.

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