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Environmental Revolutions and Biogeochemical Cycles

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1. Revolutionary changes in human culture have greatly changed the relationship between humans and the environment. How have the Neolithic and Industrial Revolution impacted the natural environment, and what is meant by the Environmental Revolution?

2. The recycling of elements is another vital functional process occurring in all ecosystems. Describe the biogeochemical cycles for carbon, phosphorous, and nitrogen. How have humans impacted these three cycles?

3. The goods and services performed by natural ecosystems are essential to human survival. What is their overall value, and of what significance is it to measure this value?

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Solution Summary

This solution explains the impact of the Neolithic and Industrial Revolution on the natural environment, and what is meant by the Environmental Revolution. It describes the biogeochemical cycles for carbon, phosphorous, and nitrogen and how humans have impacted these three cycles. Descriptions of the overall value of the goods and services performed by natural ecosystems, as well as significance of measuring this value are also provided. Supplemented with two supporting and highly informative articles.

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1. a. Revolutionary changes in human culture have greatly changed the relationship between humans and the environment. How have the Neolithic and Industrial Revolution impacted the natural environment?

Historians have labeled "technological revolutions" in the past: Stone Age, Neolithic Age, and the Bronze Ages. In the 1800's it was called the Industrial Revolution, then in the 1960's, the Space Age, now the Technological Age.

Neolithic Revolution

The Neolithic Revolution established a new set of standards that made an important change in our way of human living. Between 8000 and 6000 B.C., the Neolithic Revolution was the transition from a food gathering society to a food producing society; when humans settled down to cultivate their food, instead of following their food. Many significant economic, political and social changes, both beneficial and detrimental, occurred during this change in lifestyle. Eventually, a new type of political structure had to be established. Society went from a small, informal society to a large, impersonal hierarchy. Military and religious leaders were given authority over the group. Distinctions in social class began to arise based on the value of material goods. Property was based on private wealth, not on the wealth of the group. Finally, this new structured society established specified tasks for people of these communities to help. Women stayed home with their children, while men went out and plowed the fields or did other tasks. A mineral, Obsidian, allowed people of the group to become crafts people who carved wood with the Obsidian. Agriculture also established other new items as well such as clothes. Before cloth, people wore pelts of skin, which were hot and unsanitary. Now people could create all kinds of materials such as linen, wool and leather. All of these developments changed tremendously the way of life. (See http://tiger.towson.edu/users/awarni1/neolithic_revolution.htm for more details)


In a Maltese Environment, the stresses placed on the environment by the increasing agricultual efforts of Late Neolithic man contributed to the eventual decline of the community. The Neolithic Temple culture of the Islands of Malta in the Central Mediterranean disappeared around 2500 BC. Several attempts have been made to unravel the mystery of how and why this splendid civilization came to such an abrupt end after reaching heights of artistic and architectural achievement, but none of the theories suggested so far is entirely satisfactory. The most plausible one seems to be that the population was compelled to abandon the islands following a series of drought that ruined their thriving, but sensitive, agricultural economy. Scarcity of food, with accompanying deaths from malnutrition and disease, broke down the social relationships of the Temple Culture. The abrupt climatic change could very easily have been caused by a series of volcanic eruptions in the region which gave rise to the fall of a number of Old World Eastern Civilizations, all of which apparently fell at about the same period [Weiss, 1996]. The Neolithic Revolution changed the way humans daily lived their lives. This change was beneficial because it created a consistent food source, new materials, and new tasks. On the others hand, health declined, the social and political atmosphere became impersonal, and a gap was created between the wealthy and the poor. Although some of these things are not favorable, the importance of this first major progression in civilization has shaped our society today. (See article attached for more information)

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries was concentrated mainly in England. Natural resources available in England and countries that they controlled saw great technological advances using iron, coal and steam. They produced a society that would be forever dependant upon the machinery that they created. The Industrial Revolution came to America about the time of the war for Independence. A country that takes part in the Industrial Revolution must have natural resources in order to participate. What happens when a nation has no coal? They must import it into their country, which takes money from that nation into the hands of another nation. The United States is an excellent example of a country that has many natural resources. After all the acquisitions of territory, there were very little resources that this nation had to import. The United States was also fortunate not to have one religion dominate its politics, because religious fervor, no matter how well intended, causes a restriction of creativeness, if forced on a society.

Thus, the Industrial Revolution, which began in the United Kingdom, quickly spread throughout the rest of the world and opened an era of mass production, mass consumption, and mass disposal. As shown in Figure 2 (see attachment "Environment", p. 4), people began acting as if they were not a part of the natural environment, and the damage caused by society to the natural environment drastically increased.

b. What is meant by the Environmental Revolution?

Environmental revolution is a global revolution could lead to an environmentally driven restructuring of the global economy. For many who track environmental trends, such as collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, rising temperatures, and the wholesale loss of plant and animal species, it has been clear for some time that economic progress can be sustained only if the economy is restructured so that its natural support systems can be protected. (See attachment "environment" pp. 1-3 for full article from which this is to a large extent drawn)

"Not all environmentalists will agree with me," said author Lester Brown, "but I believe that there are now some clear signs that the world is in the early stages of a major shift in environmental consciousness. What is not clear to me is whether we will cross this threshold in time to avoid the disruption of global economic progress."
For example, for those not already convinced of the need to replace the Western, fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy with an economy that would be environmentally sustainable, what is happening as China modernizes offers compelling new evidence. For example, a car in every garage in China, American style, would not only deprive China of scarce cropland, but would also drive China's oil consumption to some 80 million barrels a day, well above the current world production of 67 million barrels per day.

"If the western industrial development model will not work for China, it will not work for India, whose population will reach 1 billion later this year, or for the other 2 billion people in the developing world," said Brown. "And in an integrated global economy, it will not work over the long term for the industrial countries either." Brown argues that there is an exciting alternative economic model that promises a better life everywhere without destroying the earth's natural support systems. The new economy will be powered not by fossil fuels, but by various sources of solar energy and hydrogen. Urban transportation systems will be centered not around the car, but around high-tech light rail systems augmented by bicycles and walking. Instead of a ...

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