Biosphere in Distress

By Rapport, David J. | The World and I, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Biosphere in Distress


Rapport, David J., The World and I


The widespread degradation of landscapes, loss of biodiversity, and pollution of air, water, and soil have weakened our life-support systems and placed our planet in critical condition.

"To health and prosperity!" So goes a commonly heard toast. Indeed, good health and adequate wealth are among the desirable goals of most people. Yet many of our actions seem to be turning our future away from these goals. In our zeal to achieve immediate economic prosperity, we have compromised the health of individuals, populations, and ecosystems, and we have depleted the wealth of our natural resources.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Rev. Thomas Malthus of England was among the first to sound the alarm that the human population would outstrip its food supply and become trapped in menial subsistence. Then came the Industrial Revolution, and new agricultural methods allowed the production of food to rise dramatically, forestalling the Malthusian predictions of doom in much of the Western world. Malthus was regarded as having been mistaken.

On the other hand, the population booms in Asia and Africa have greatly aggravated the problems of poverty, nutritional deficiency, and inadequate hygienic facilities there. Today, despite the "green" revolution, two-fifths of the world's population of six billion suffer from chronic malnutrition. Nearly half the total population live on a per-capita income of under two dollars per day. In addition, 1.3 billion people live without clean water, 2 billion without proper sanitation, and 2 billion without electricity. It is only from the perspective of the economically privileged that the world looks rosier.

Nonetheless, the ramifications of biospheric degradation will be (and in some instances are being) felt by all people, rich or poor. With this realization, governments and international bodies have come together to upgrade efforts to improve the environment. James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, has stated that "responses to global environmental issues are not fringe activities. They are central to meeting human needs and reducing poverty."

The first step to an adequate response is an appraisal of where we are today. What is the state of the biosphere and its ecosystems? By what criteria can their health be assessed? What are the sources of stress? What are the opportunities to turn things around? These questions are now being addressed by national and international organizations, private groups, academics, and citizens and communities around the world.

One common ground in these discussions is the need for a more integrative approach to environmental challenges--one that takes into account the relations between the biophysical, social, psychological, economic, ethical, and political dimensions. As is often said, we have only one earth--and all these aspects must be seen as part of a whole.

What constitutes ecosystem health?

In 1935, Alfred George Tansley coined the term ecosystem, in referring to an integrated system of plants, animals, and their environment, including the myriad interactions between them. Ecosystems are "open systems," but they are bounded in physical space, often in terms of local or regional landscape features. For example, ecosystems can be forested, prairie, mountainous, coastal, estuarine, and so on.

Tansley considered ecosystems as part of the grand hierarchy of nature-- from the atom to the universe. The term biome, referring to a larger biotic community of plants and animals, may be seen as the next step up in the hierarchy. Biomes in the Arctic, for example, consist of such distinct geographical regions as the tundra (polar desert), taiga (cold coniferous forest), cold deciduous forest, and cold mixed forest.

The biosphere stands at the top of the hierarchy of living systems. First proposed by the Russian geoscientist Vladimir Vernadsky in 1926, the concept refers to the thin layer of our planet between the lithosphere and the stratosphere--the layer where living organisms exist and interact with their environment. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Biosphere in Distress
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.