September 24, 2015. Earth / A Gift of Nature

The Human Footprint

“The human footprint” is a complex metric expressing relative human influence as a percentage in every biome on the Earth’s surface.

Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier, Vance G. Martin.

It is indisputable—and largely discussed throughout the CEMEX Conservation Book Series—humans have caused a biodiversity crisis; the main drivers of these ecosystem changes are alterations to habitat and large scale industrial farming, overexploitation, invasive alien species, pollution and climate change.

According to the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005, the planet’s ecosystems have been altered more rapidly and more extensively in the modern era than “any other comparable period of time in human history.”

Employing a vast array of previous unavailable data collection tools, our impact commonly known as “the human footprint” can be measured. It is a complex metric expressing relative human influence as a percentage in every biome on the Earth’s land surface.

Until recently, mapping the human footprint was not possible; data on human activities at the global scale were simply unavailable. During the 1990s several factors made this possible. One of them was the ability to observe the Earth using satellite technology, led by NASA and other space agencies.

Conversely, one of the best ways to measure human impact on biodiversity would be to measure the changing state of biodiversity itself, for which species loss has proved to be a very reliable measure. The global standard for the threat status of species worldwide can be found in the IUCN Red List which reveals, for example, the startling fact that one in eight birds, one in four mammals, and one in three amphibians is at risk of extinction in the near future.

Finally, advances in computers and the software required to produce combined maps (called geographic information systems or GIS) provided the necessary technology to collate data on the world’s people, land use, roads and technology.

It is not too late to correct our path, soften our tread and tidy our trail and the book The Human Footprint: Challenges for Wilderness and Biodiversity, the 13th in the CEMEX Conservation Book Series, makes this case in extensive detail. In order to create a world that will support twelve billion human beings and maintain a functional biosphere, we need to change the human footprint.

This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Conservation Series Book Gift of Nature (2012).


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