SEEING THE WORLD AS IT REALLY IS:
GLOBAL STABILITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE
Peter H. Raven and Joel Cracraft
Over the course of the 4.5-billion-year history of this planet, including the last 500,000 years when Homo sapiens appeared and established itself as the dominant species, the world has been transformed in astonishing ways (Turner et al. 1990; Tolba and El-Kholy 1992; McMichael 1993; Simmons 1996). But only after the introduction of agriculture 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, and the development of increasingly sophisticated technologies, did human-driven global change and environmental impact accelerate to the point that a major proportion of the earth's biodiversity is on the cusp of an extinction event fully congruent with the five major extinction events of the geological past. And it is the only event of its kind created by the activities of a single species.
When agriculture arose, there were far fewer people in the entire world than there are in metropolitan New York today. When our ancestors built Stonehenge, the great monolithic monuments of Europe, and the great pyramids of Egypt, there were fewer people in the world than there are in New York State now. At the time of Christ, there were only 130 million or so people in the entire world, about the same number that inhabited the United States during World War II. But global numbers have since exploded to 2.5 billion in 1950 and to nearly 6 billion people now, with 80 million people being added each year. This, along with unprecedented technological change that enables more efficient and expansive exploitation of the biosphere, has created a unique situation: no time in world history has even remotely resembled our present capacity to assault the natural resources of this planet.
It is sometimes said that human societies have arrived at a good point in world history because more people are better off than they ever were in the past. The latter part of the statement is true; the former part of the statement is clearly
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Publication information: Book title: The Living Planet in Crisis: Biodiversity Science and Policy. Contributors: Joel Cracraft - Author, Francesca T. Grifo - Author. Publisher: Columbia University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 287.
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