The Holocene: Global Change and Local
MARCHANT AND DE VRIES
Climatic and environmental catastrophes are only catastrophes because human
beings and activities are involved. For nature alone, climate changes, floods, earth-
quakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. are a self-evident part of its dynamic processes.
Messerli, 2000: 477
Nature is change. Geological forces of change are a mixture of slow, constant processes and sudden pulsed events such as earthquakes; such forces have been in operation ever since planet Earth came into being. Their domain, the lithosphere, interacts with the hydrosphere and the atmosphere, each having its own suite of processes. How these processes interact, particularly with human populations, is the focus of this chapter. Let us start at the beginning. As life evolved over the course of time, large parts of the earth's crust became covered with vegetation. The biosphere was born. Animals appeared, which in turn modified the vegetation cover. Natural landscapes developed from the interplay of geological, physico-chemical and biological processes. Then, only recently on the geological clock, the genus Homo entered the scene–another step in the unfolding complexity of the earth. With the emergence of cognition, language and culture, the notion of an environment-for-humans got its meaning. The anthroposphere had come into existence. The 'natural' landscape became, as an environment-for-humans, dotted with 'human' imprints, the material remains of which now help us to construct the puzzle of past changes. In addition to these artefacts, numerous symbolic and religious structures were built, some of which are present, others are lost but all are harder to reconstruct than material remains.
There is little doubt that the physical, biological and climatic environment has influenced human populations as civilizations emerged, rose and declined. Transformation