Essay: Dependence of Man on the Environment

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¶ … Man on the Environment

Dependence of Man on Environment

The dependence of man on the environment is crucial as the environment provides us with every basic necessity of life such as food, energy, power, shelter as well as relative climactic constancy (WHO 2005). Ecosystems are the planet's -- and man's -- life support system (2005). A clean, safe, and healthy earth and environment can provide man with a clean, safe, and healthy life on earth, but the present worsening condition of the environment means trouble not only for us living in the world today -- but for generations to come as well. We must ask ourselves how we have managed to split and fuse atoms, penetrate the most microscopic and cosmic of spaces and yet we have simultaneously shown an strange ability to damage ourselves with pollution, sickness, and our own creations and inventions (Daily, Kibert & Wilson 1999). In a bit more than 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, we have caused massive change and damage of intricate natural systems in our environment. Easton and Goldfarb (2008) suggest that all human activities have the potential to do major harm to the environment. Respecting and protecting our environment is where the future has promise, not only for our physical, economic, and social endurance, but also for our spiritual ambitions (1999). We are often faced with the destructive power of nature, however, mankind still has not come to realize how completely vulnerable we truly are relative to the forces in which nature challenges us. This paper will take a look at mankind's environment and the complex Ecosystems that make up the total environment, giving us not only healthy lives, but social, economic, political and emotional security. Man's dependence on the environment is immeasurable, yet man still tends to take all of its intricate ecosystem services for granted.

Every single species on earth is related to one another -- either directly or indirectly -- with a plethora of other species in the ecosystem. Plants provide us with food to eat, refuge from the rougher elements of nature, and nesting locations for thousands of living things. In the case of plants, they mot often rely upon on animals for assistance in their reproduction process (e.g., bees pollinate our flowers) as well as for specific nutrients like minerals in animal waste products (Rutherford & Ahlgren 1991). All animals make up a complex food web that consists of plants and animals of other species -- and, in some cases, the same species. The predator/prey bond is common, with its offensive tools for predators -- for example, teeth, claws, beaks, and venom, and its defensive tools for prey -- for example, camouflage to hide from predators, speed to flee the scene if that camouflage does not work, spines to threaten when danger is near, and annoying substances to use as a last resort to fend off prey. There are a number of certain species that come to depend very intimately on others (for example pandas and koalas can only eat a certain species of trees) (1991). Some species have become so well adapted to each other that neither could survive without the other (for example, the wasps that nest only in figs and are the only insect that can pollinate them) (1991). Many of us do not realize how complex these systems are and that if one species is taken away, another may die because of it, and then another, and another… Eventually, it will be the humans who will go because of the fact that we rely indirectly on these species that make up our great ecosystems and give us all of the elements for a happy and healthy life on earth.

For those individuals who live in comfortable urban homes, taking for granted the ecosystems is a common thing. Many will assume that good health has to do with the decisions that they make as consumers -- what foods they pick out at the grocery store, what vitamins to take, what doctor to see in their PPO plan, etc.; however, this is ignoring the role of the natural environment and the plethora of ecosystems that allow them to have good health, economic abundance, social organization, and built environment -- and, in general, life itself (WHO 2005).

We must consider the important relationships between organisms to understand our own dependence on our environment. One example is how parasites get their nourishment from their host organisms, oftentimes with negative consequences for the hosts (Rutherford & Ahlgren 1991). Scavenger animals feed only on dead animals and plants. There are some organisms that have symbiotic relationships -- like the bees that drink nectar from flowers and incidentally carry pollen from one flower to the next, or the bacteria that live in our own intestines and incidentally synthesize some vitamins and protect the intestinal lining from germs (1991). Knowing these facts, we cannot assume that good health and constant environments come from our prudent behaviors (WHO 2005) (such as buying the most expensive tofu or buying the real as opposed to generic brand of vitamins), but rather from these delicate ecosystems that make up our total environment.

The interaction of all these living organisms does not occur on some kind of passive environmental stage (Rutherford & Ahlgren 1991). Ecosystems are built by the nonliving environment of land and water -- "solar radiation, rainfall, mineral concentrations, which creates a wide variety of environments: freshwater and oceanic, forest, desert, grassland, tundra, mountains, and many others" (1991). In every single one of these types of environments, organisms use essential earth resources, each looking for its share in certain fashions that are limited by other organisms (1991). In every area of the habitable environment, different organisms compete for food, space, heat, light, water, air, and shelter (1991). The related and unpredictable interactions of life forms and environment make up a complete ecosystem; understanding any one single part of it well necessitates knowledge of how that part interacts with the others.

To understand how delicate these ecosystems are we can look at how overexploitation of ecosystems in certain societies has led to their own demise. "There is the observable tendency for powerful and wealthy societies eventually to overexploit, damage, and even destroy their natural environmental support base. The agricultural-based civilizations of Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, the Mayans…and Easter Island" (WHO 2005). It is thought that even industrial societies -- often very far away from the source of ecosystem services on which they rely -- may reach very similar limits (2005).

"Ecosystem services are the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfill human life. Ecosystem services maintain biodiversity and the production of ecosystem goods" (Daily 1997). Some examples of ecosystem goods are seafood, biomass fuels, forage, natural fiber, a plethora of pharmaceuticals, and industrial products (1997). Harvesting and trading of these products are a very important part of the human economy. The production of goods is vital to human well-being, but ecosystem services are the "actual life-support functions, such as cleansing, recycling, and renewal, and they confer many intangible aesthetic and cultural benefits as well" (1997).

One way to appreciate the nature and value of ecosystem services…is to imagine trying to set up a happy, day-to-day life on the moon. Assume for the sake of argument that the moon miraculously already had some of the basic conditions for supporting human life, such as an atmosphere and climate similar to those on earth. After inviting your best friends and packing your prized possessions, a BBQ grill, and some do-it-yourself books, the big question would be, Which of earth's millions of species do you need to take with you? & #8230;No one knows which -- nor even approximately how many -- species are required to sustain human life. This means that rather than listing species directly, you would have to list instead the life-support functions required by your lunar colony; then you could guess at the types and numbers of species required to perform each (Daily 1997).

The interdependence of living things in an ecosystem most often results in estimated constancy over hundreds or thousands of years (Rutherford & Ahlgren 1991). As one organism reproduces at a rapid rate, it is held in check by one or more environmental factors: "depletion of food or nesting sites, increased loss to predators, or invasion by parasites. If a natural disaster such as flood or fire occurs, the damaged ecosystem is likely to recover in a succession of stages that eventually results in a system similar to the original one" (1991).

Going back to the question about which species to take with you to the moon, the spaceship would basically have to be filled with species that would be able to supply a whole list of ecosystem services that we tend to take for granted. Some of these services would be:

Purification of both air and water; mitigation of floods and droughts; detoxification and decomposition of wastes; generation… [END OF PREVIEW]

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