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Human Geography: Places and Regions in Global Context, 5e Chapter 4: Nature and Society Paul L. Knox & Sallie A. Marston PowerPoint Author: Keith M. Bell

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Human Geography: Places and Regions in Global Context, 5e

Chapter 4: Nature and Society

Paul L. Knox & Sallie A. Marston

PowerPoint Author: Keith M. Bell

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OverviewThis chapter focuses on the relationship between human beings and their environment, with technology as a mediating force between them. An important point is that the environment, as nature, must be viewed as a social concept or construction as well as the physical universe. As a social construction, the idea or interpretation of nature may vary across different cultures and societal groups. Moreover, this understanding of nature may change over time. Students should be aware that the Western understanding of nature, largely derived from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, is only one of many possible ways of understanding and making sense of nature.The remainder of the chapter traces the interaction between society and nature in selected cultures. The chapter looks at the transformation of the environment by early humans, before turning to more recent interactions. Among the most influential of these was the Columbian Exchange, or interaction between the Americas and the other continents as part of the conquest and settlement of the Americas by Europeans. Human actions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have had an even greater impact on the environment than did events of previous centuries. The latter part of the chapter explores recent environmental problems and their links to the process of globalization. Students should remember that with the process of globalization, environmental impacts and problems also become global in scope.

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Chapter Objectives

• The objectives of this chapter are to:– Understand nature as a concept

– Investigate Earth’s transformation by ancient humans

– Explore European expansion and globalization

– Examine recent environmental change through human action

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Chapter Outline• Nature as a Concept (p. 128)

– Rachel Carson and the birth of modern environmentalism

– Nature is partially a social construction

– Cultural ecology and political ecology

– U.S. environmental philosophies– Origins of the concept of “nature”

• The Transformation of Earth by Ancient Humans (p. 139)

– Paleolithic impacts– Neolithic peoples and

domestication– Early settlements and their

environmental impacts

• European Expansion and Globalization (p. 144)

– Disease and depopulation in the Spanish colonies

– The Columbian Exchange• Human Action and Recent

Environmental Change (p. 148)– Environmental problems deriving

from burning of fuels– Environmental problems deriving

from land-clearing• The Globalization of the

Environment (p. 163)– Environmental politics and political

organization– Environmental sustainability

• Conclusion (p. 169)

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Geography Matters

• 4.1 Geography Matters—Cultural Ecology and Political Ecology (p. 136)– Latin American and American Southwest examples of

these two approaches

• 4.2 Window on the World—Peak Oil (p. 152)– “Peak Oil” theory and the rate of global petroleum


• 4.3 Geography Matters—Global Climate Change (p. 164)– Global Climate Change as an international issue, and

mitigation efforts

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Nature and Society

Nature and Society constitute a complex relationship. Nature is both a

physical realm and a social creation.

The most prominent view of nature in Western culture is derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is

founded on a belief that humans should dominate nature.

The early human history included people who revered nature, as well as

those who abused it.

Urbanization and industrialization have had extremely degrading impacts on the


Globalization of the political economy has meant that environmental problems

are global in scope.

Sustainability has become a predominant way of approaching

global economic development and environmental change.

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Nature as a Concept

2002 Earth Summit Deformities in frogs

One model of the nature–society relation is that nature limits or shapes society, called environmental determinism. Another model posits that society also shapes and controls nature, which in itself is a very complex relationship.

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Nature and Society Defined• Nature is a social creation as much as it is the

physical universe that includes human beings.• Society is the sum of the inventions, institutions, and

relationships created and reproduced by human beings across place and time.

• Technology is:– Physical objects or artifacts

– Activities or processes

– Knowledge or know-how

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Global Emissionsof Carbon Dioxide

Each square represents one year’s global emissions of carbon dioxide, measured by the weight of carbon it


Industrial countries have higher carbon dioxide emissions,

contributing to rising temperatures through the trapping of heat in

Earth’s atmosphere.

The rural poor are often impelled to degrade their immediate environment

by cutting forests for fuel wood, plants which would otherwise take in

carbon dioxide and cool Earth’s surface.

Thus, both the core and the periphery are contributing to the problem of

global climate change.

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Generalized AquaticFood Chain

This illustration of the food chain in a Long Island estuary

demonstrates the nineteenth-century naturalist’s view.

Although most ecosystems have complex food chains

containing numerous relationships among the

different parts, one rule holds for all:

The higher the entity is in a food chain, the fewer there are

of it.

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Nature and Society DefinedThe Dong Family: Urban setting

The Cuis Family: Weitai Village

The “I = P A T” formula relates human population pressures on environmental resources to the level of affluence and the access to technology in a society. Compare these families’ level of affluence. Whose meal traveled the farthest to get to their table? How far does your food travel to get to you?

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Cultural Ecology and Political Ecology

• The cultural ecology approach incorporates three key points:– Cultural groups and the

environment are interconnected by systemic interrelationships.

– Cultural behavior is examined as a function of the cultural group’s relationship to the environment through both material and nonmaterial cultural elements.

– Most studies in cultural ecology investigate food production in rural and agricultural settings in the periphery in order to understand how change affects the relationship between cultural groups and the environment.

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West Nile Virus in CaliforniaThe relationship between people and the environments they create (e.g., an abandoned pool) that encourage the proliferation of mosquitoes explains the “Ecology” part of political ecology. But the political part is also important.

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U.S. Environmental Philosophiesand Political Views of Nature

• Henry David Thoreau– Walden; often credited as the

originator of U.S. ecological philosophy

• Ralph Waldo Emerson– Transcendentalism

• George Perkins Marsh– Man and Nature, or Physical

Geography as Modified by Human Action

• Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt

• Rachel Carson– Silent Spring

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U.S. Political Views of Nature

• Conservation and Preservation

• Ecoterrorism• Environmental Ethics• Ecofeminism

– Wangari Maathai, Kenyan environmental activist (photo)

• Deep Ecology• Environmental Justice

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Paleolithic ImpactsClovis Points: New Mexico, United States

Cave Paintings: Southern France

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The Settlement of the World

Early Stone Age people constantly moved over great distances (hunting and foraging for food), which ultimately made them a dispersed species. The map depicts over one million years of migration and potential settlement.

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Neolithic Peoples and Domestication

Massive animal kills Wheat and flint sickle blade

The credit for the development of agriculture—a technological triumph with respect to nature—goes to the Neolithic (or late Stone Age) peoples and occurred about 10,000 years ago.

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Irrigation System Near El Centro, Southern California

Poorly informed management may have led to the demise of the ancient Mesopotamian cities, but increasingly saline soils also currently plague agriculture in California and southwestern Arizona. Siltation and deforestation have been problematic for a substantial portion of human agricultural history.

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European Voyages of Exploration

This map shows the voyages and missions of Columbus, Pizarro, Cabral, and Cortés. Columbus’ contact with the Americas became a watershed historic event, forever changing the world.

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Population Growth and Environmental Change

Exponential population growth, coupled with environmental modification (such as this pottery furnace in China), have stressed ecosystems. E. O. Wilson created the HIPPO acronym to describe the loss of biological diversity and extinction: Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Pollution, Population, and Overharvesting. (Source: The Future of Life)

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The Impact of Energy Needs on the Environment

Coal mining A tanker oil spill

From mountain-top mining in West Virginia to Gulf War oil well fires in Kuwait, nuclear waste disposal in Novaya Zemlya to global warming, our desire for industrial fuels is having a dramatic impact on the planet.

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Disease and Depopulation inSpanish Colonies

• Little disagreement exists among historians that European colonization of the New World was eventually responsible for the greatest loss of human life in history.– Virgin soil epidemics: where the population at risk has no

natural immunity or previous exposure to the disease

– Columbian Exchange: interaction between the Old and New Worlds initiated by the voyages of Columbus

– Demographic collapse: phenomenon of near genocide of native populations

– Ecological imperialism: the introduction of exotic plants and animals into a new ecosystem

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Tenochtitlan, circa 1500The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan (as painted by Miguel Covarrubias), was built on an island in the middle of a large lake (today called Lake Texcoco). The Aztec were responsible for dramatic environmental modifications through cultivation techniques, such as the chinampas, or “floating gardens” depicted above.

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Global Deforestation

A net loss in forests acreage around the Amazon Basin is troubling, but dramatic gains in forests in Scandinavia and the Appalachians is impressive. Can we reverse the trend of deforestation and species loss?

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Global Energy IssuesGlobal natural gas reserves

Predictions of future oil production

Energy experts predict output by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned natural gas monopoly, will decline due to poor investments in technology. Energy Watch Group’s prediction for the global oil supply shows a marked decline in production.

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Nuclear Reactors, 2008

Most of the dependence on nuclear power is concentrated in core countries. For example, France has 59 nuclear reactors in 20 locations, providing 77 percent of the total electrical output. The United States has 104 reactors producing nearly one-fifth of its output.

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Percentage of Hydropower, 2002

Three Gorges Dam, China

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Impacts of Land-Use Change on the Environment

Conversion is the wholesale transformation of land from one use to another (for example, felling a forest for development). Modification is an alteration of existing cover (for example, when a grassland is stripped bare by too many grazing animals).

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“Development” of Nature

A review of old probate records shows that “unimproved” land was valued less than “improved” (i.e., cleared) land. Our modern concept of nature is valued in capital worth, not intrinsic value. Edward Abbey, the famed environmentalist, once wrote: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

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Global Acid Emissions

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Global Climate Change• Greenhouse Gases (GHGs):

– Water vapor– Carbon dioxide– Methane– Nitrous oxide– Chlorofluorocarbons– Ozone

• Observations of Climate Change• Observed Effects of Climate

Change• Causes of Climate Change

(Natural and Anthropogenic)• Some Projected Impacts• Mitigation Efforts

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Global Climate Change

This diagram represents human-induced drives, impacts of and responses to climate change, and their linkages.

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End of Chapter 4

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• Romanticism and Transcendentalism were largely literary and artistic movements that also had an impact on environmental thought. What were some of the literary and artistic products of these movements, and how did they demonstrate a concern with nature? Though both movements are now out of fashion, how is their impact felt today? Are there any examples of neo-Romantic or neo-Transcendentalist movements?

– One of the best-known Romantic novels is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—its theme is the destruction caused by humankind’s tampering with nature. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is perhaps the most notable example of Transcendental naturism, as are Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays. Romantic and Transcendental ideas still are very much a part of much contemporary thinking about the environment and have heavily influenced the preservationist perspective on the environment, as well as various environmental groups.

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• Conservation and Preservation were movements that flourished in the United States in the early twentieth century. Both are still prominent today—Conservation in the form of government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the “Wise Use” movement, and Preservation in the form of the Sierra Club and allied organizations. Both movements demonstrate a concern over how the environment, and especially public lands, are used. How, then, are the movements different?

– Conservation is primarily concerned with managing and stewarding (but not exploiting) natural resources so that they can be sustainably used by human beings. Preservation advocates preserving and protecting some natural resources for their own sake.

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• A common American myth is that of a pristine, untouched natural environment in North America prior to European conquest and settlement. In fact, indigenous cultures had noticeable impacts on their environments, often with negative consequences. Discuss the environmental changes taking place in pre-conquest America. How did the impact of these changes differ from the impacts after conquest?

– An excellent source for this discussion is the series of articles on “The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492” in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 82, No. 3, 1992.

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• Discuss notable impacts of the Columbian Exchange. What products were “exchanged”?

– Students should be aware that some items, such as corn, chili peppers, chocolate, tomatoes, potatoes, and tobacco were native to the Americas and did not exist in Europe until after the fifteenth century. Speculate on how European culinary practices and foods might have been different before the exchange (no tomatoes in Italian cooking, for example), and how the exchange impacted these practices. Then consider the impacts of products brought by Europeans into the Americas, especially wheat, cattle, sheep, and horses (horses and other animals transformed many Native American societies, for example).

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• What are the major sources of energy in the world today? Which of these are most important in the United States? What are the costs and benefits associated with each energy source?

– Major sources of energy include fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) and nuclear fuels, as well as renewable sources such as hydropower and biomass (wood, charcoal, crop waste, dung). The United States is highly dependent on fossil and nuclear fuels.

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• Why has the amount of land covered by forests been steadily decreasing throughout human history? What environmental and social impacts has this deforestation had?

– Forest land has been cleared for a variety of reasons including settlements, farming, grazing, and obtaining wood for fuel.

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• What is the difference between cultural ecology and political ecology, in terms of questions asked and research results?

– Cultural ecologists study the material and nonmaterial practices of cultural groups in order to understand how cultural processes affect groups’ adaptation to the environment. Political ecology additionally incorporates political and economic relationships. See the Geography Matters 4.1 boxed text for further information.

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• What impacts has uranium mining had on the interests of indigenous peoples in Australia?

– For information on this topic consult David Lawrence, Kakadu: The Making of a National Park (Melbourne: Miegunyah/Melbourne University Press, 2000) and do Internet searches for “Jabiluka” to get the most recent information.

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• Using Figures 4.23 and 4.24, compare different kinds of fuels in use. What patterns are noticeable?

– Nuclear reactors for nuclear power production are mainly found in core regions, whereas high fuelwood use is mainly a practice of the periphery. These differences are largely related to national wealth.

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