CHAPTER 3. THE EARTH AS HUMANITY'S HOME
This chapter introduces you to the physical and environmental aspects of the Earth, both past and present, and the impact of human occupancy. It also focuses on the development of humanity during one of the most fascinating geologic epochs, the Holocene. During this epoch, humanity developed socially, politically, and economically. In addition, the number of humans occupying Earth soared. There is much to learn from this chapter, both to lay the foundation for the remainder of the text and to broaden your knowledge of human and Earth history that led to the world we live in today.
Despite what you may think, the Earth's environment is not stable and environmental change is humankind's constant companion. To understand the geography of culture, it is necessary to under-stand the complexity of the environment within which humanity lives. Many changes in the environment have occurred since early hunter-gatherers began to exploit the Earth's resources and deal with their environment. The survival of humanity may well depend on an understanding and appreciation of environmental conditions.
Earth's environment frequently changes, and warming and cooling of the planet are natural. Far more of the Earth's surface is water than land, as a glance at any world map will reveal, and only a small percentage of the total surface is suitable for human occupancy. Humanity is quite old, but compared to the age of the Earth, we are recent occupiers. The Earth is currently in the grip of a long series of glacial advances (cooling periods) and retreats (warming periods); modern human civilization emerged during a warm spell between glaciations.
Technological progress notwithstanding, terrain and climate continue to influence the distribution and nature of human life and activity. Compare, for example, text Figure 3-4 (Global Terrain), text Figure 3-5 (World Climates), and text Figure 4-1 (World Population Distribution). Ask yourself why people are where they are and why they are not in other places. In essence, humans are "where they have always been," relative to terrain and climate. What has changed are the numbers.
Human Development and Innovation
The various stages in Earth history have been divided into periods of geologic time. The most re-cent geologic time period, the Holocene epoch, refers to the most recent 12,000 plus years of Earth's history. Because of the unique cultural-geographical characteristics of this period of great environmental variation, it is sometimes referred to as "Holocene humanity." Within this short time humanity did what it had not done in previous interglaciations.
Perhaps the single most significant event of the early Holocene was the domestication by humans of plants and animals, which may have occurred nearly simultaneously in areas as far re-moved as the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Agriculture developed and surpluses were stored for future use. Villages grew larger, towns and cities emerged, and political organization became increasingly complex; inventions multiplied, and tools became more efficient. Certain communities thrived, sometimes at the expense of others. The earliest states appear to have emerged about 5500 years ago in the middle East and southeastern Turkey. The spiral leading toward empires, colonial realms, and global power struggles had begun.
Humans have always used resources (sometimes defined as anything that humans value), but that use is dependent on, among other things, the number of humans and the technology available to them. The human population growth spiral began during the Holocene epoch. Numbers at the be-ginning of this epoch have been estimated at between 4 and 8 million. Population growth during the Holocene began slowly at first, then accelerated. Modern humanity is indeed the product of the Holocene epoch.
During the Holocene the Earth changed as never before, not because of geologic forces but because of humanity’s humanity. That imprint has become stronger over time, especially over the last 200 years when human population growth and pressure on resources have reached unprecedented levels. This began with the Industrial Revolution in Europe and spread globally during the period of Europeanization and colonialization. During the twentieth century, the Earth especially felt the strains created by the human population. Raw materials were used up at an ever faster rate while the air, water, and land became polluted or damaged. Together, these events have rendered environmental change one of the key issues of the twenty-first century.