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Title: The Human Footprint: a global environmental history
Author(s): Anthony N Penna
Date of Publication: 2010 Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Pages:xvi + 354 ISBN: 978 0 4051 8771 8
Price: Format:Paperback
Target Readership Senior Secondary







Content: Introduction; 1 – An evolving Earth; 2 - Evolving humanity; 3 - Foraging, cultivating and food production; 4 - Populating the Earth: diet, domestication and disease; 5 - The making of an urban world; 6 - Mining, making and manufacturing; 7 - Industrial work; 8 - Trade and consumption; 9 - Fossil fuels, wind, water, nuclear and solar energy; 10 - A warming climate.

Review: There have been numerous texts looking at human impact on the Earth but most have taken a purely temporal/historical perspective whilst others have taken an areal view. The former lists changes through time; the latter lists changes in an area. Although this is useful, it lacks the dimension of tracking changes through both space and time. This is the unusual perspective adopted here and there is much to commend.

An introduction sets the scene by outlining the focus of the text - to track human input from the beginning to show how it has affected the Earth. This beginning is not the Industrial Revolution as one normally expects but the real origin - the formation of the Earth. The aim is partly to show how the Earth has changed (climate really is dynamic over time) but also to highlight human impact. This is coupled with the subsequent chapter that describes the rise of Homo sp. It's interesting to see this approach because it highlights that human impact has evolved alongside human species development. Human impact is not just something that has happened recently but has been growing through time. From this point in time (and the text) humanity has developed to the stage where it can expand. This depends upon sufficient resources and so chapter three starts with the most fundamental - food. The first point is not foraging as one might expect (i.e. the origins of food acquisition) but the first farming systems. We lose foraging but gain from a perspective that encompasses Asian as well as European farming systems. Gradually brought through time we see the way in which modern food demand has been satisfied. Chapter four links with this to study the way in which diet has changed and the implications of this. Static acquisition i.e. farming and domestication improves the efficiency of the system but also means health outcomes are changed. together, usually, this leads to an increase in population which needs to live somewhere. This somewhere is increasingly in housing agglomerations i.e. urban areas. According to the UN we are now a predominantly an urban humanity and whilst this saves space it has an environmental cost. however, as this story unfolds in chapter five it also has benefits with the advent of writing and the development of urban systems around the world. The conventional story goes that urban surplus labour is used to create goods and so chapter six outlines the development of raw material production and consumption through time and space. We see that its not just Europe but also India and China that have impacts here. Although the story stops at colonial America it is continued in the next chapter which has the broad scope of industrial work. This is not labour but energy - physical work - that is the focus; the rise of inorganic sources of energy and the loss of biological power. Goods manufactured need to be consumed and its not surprising that chapter 8 studies the way in which trade has developed alongside the interest in consumption (or mass/over-consumption according to many). What links all these chapter together is the need for energy. Chapter 9 describes the rise of energy types and usage. A final chapter ties all the preceding work together by suggesting that the end result of this pathway is a warming climate that threatens us all.

This is a very unusual text. High points are the topic perspective and the truly global focus. The former allows the reader to see connections that are not often apparent; the latter is a welcome antidote to the more US/Euro-centric approach. It's also highly practical given the imminent rise of these two nations to see they also have an impact. In the fine print there are some less conventional explanations but these are unlikely to trouble the beginner. Again, a lack of data reduces the impact but does keep the text in manageable proportions. Overall, a very good approach that is worthy of further examination.





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