Mappae Mundi: Humans and Their Habitats in a Long-Term Socio-Ecological Perspective : Myths, Maps and Models

By Bert De Vries; Johan Goudsblom | Go to book overview

12
Conclusions: Retrospect and Prospects

GOUDSBLOM AND DE VRIES

After ten thousand years of breaking the soil, after a hundred thousand years of
setting fire to the forests and the plains, after a million years of chasing game,
human influence is woven through even what to our eyes are the most pristine
landscapes.

Budiansky 1995: 5


12.1. The discovery of the biosphere

The interaction of humans with the biosphere is as old as the human species itself. It has acquired a new momentum over the past 250 years when, in the course of industrialization, people developed new means of technology and organization which enabled them to reach further and deeper into the natural environment than ever before and to incorporate more and more 'nature' into their societies.

Social trends rarely occur without eliciting counter-trends. The rise of modern industry in the 19th century was generally hailed as progress, but from the very beginning it also met with protest and resistance. Resistance was at first mainly directed at the social but from early on also to some extent at the environmental consequences. These were noted with most alarm in two very different contexts: in the urban centres, where the massive burning of coal for industrial and domestic purposes vitiated the air and caused serious health problems, and in rural areas, where people felt that the last vestiges of unspoilt nature were being destroyed.

Concern about the quality of air and water in cities is probably inherent in city life. The high concentration of people and domesticated animals has always created problems regarding the regular supply of food and water as well as the disposal of waste. In the 19th century, the situation was deemed more and more unbearable in many European cities–perhaps in part because objectively the level of foul emissions exceeded all earlier

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