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The world has evolved, and throughout the study of geography, there have been a number of theories that have come up in a bid to explain the development of the world’s cultures and societies. One of the theories received prominence in geographic history is environmental determinist, however; it is important to note that this theory has been declining in recent decades. Environmental determinism is the belief that it is the environment which includes physical factors such as climate, and landforms that determine the pattern of societal development and patterns in human societies.
Sachs and Jared Diamond are some of the notable scholars and authors that subscribe to this school of thought and argue that the human population often looks at patterns of the environmental change, and geographical difference in order to understand trajectories of human social development. They argue that by observing the environment, it becomes possible to explain why some societies often flourish while other continues to languish in poverty or sometimes collapse altogether.
The main argument that environmental determinism possesses is the fact that than area’s physical characteristics like climate, often have a strong impact on the psychological outlook of all its inhabitants. This, therefore, means that there are outlooks which then spread throughout a big population and consequently help in the definition of the overall behavior as well as culture of the society. One of the example given was that areas in tropics were less developed that those at higher attitudes because of the warm weather. The warm weather made it easy to survive and consequently people who lived there did not work hard in a bid to ensure their survival. Another example that is prominent is the fact that island nations often have unique cultural traits; this is because there is isolation from other continental societies.
Origins of the theory
Environmental determinism goes back to the fifth century where a medical treatise written by Hippocrates. The medical treatise argued that humans are controlled by climate, and it is the climate of a place that controls behavior. Further, the Greek geographer Strabo also wrote on the subject and argued that it was climate influences that cause the existing psychological dispositions of the different races. However, it was in the 19th and early 20th century that environmental determinism took shape; it was taken up as a central theory in the discipline of geography. Evolutionary biology was instrumental in the ever rising profile of environmental determinism, however, after some time the theory started to crumble.
Decline of theory
The theory lost most of its luster in the early to the mid twentieth century as most decolonization scholars launched an attack after an attack on the theory. The intellectual backlash was focused on the discipline that was closely associated with environmental determinism; geography (Van, 2008). At this time, Ivy league institutions were embarrassed with the obvious association with imperialism and racism, and it is at this point most of them dropped geography departments in mass.
The embarrassment and the shame that came with being associated with the theory meant that it was largely ignored as opposed to being buried. Therefore, this is why it can be seen that the theory has mounted a surprising comeback in recent years. Sachs, an economist at Harvard and a key advisor to the United Nations secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, argues that the redistribution of wealth cannot resolve global inequality, this is because there exists geographical as well as unequal distribution of poverty and affluence which is a result of complex geographic and climatic dynamics which nave nothing to do with capitalist expansion and colonial conquest.
The theory came under heavy criticism and repeated attacks that its claims were severely faulted and wrong. Some geographer completely refused to acknowledge the theory of environmental determinism but instead developed a softer notion of the theory that they referred to as environmental possibilism. Critics argued that the theory was biased, and it was intended to justify imperialism and racism (Van, 2008). The fundamental argument that was used by the proponents of environmental determinism was the fact that it was the aspects of physical geography, and particularly climate, which influenced the mindset of individuals and consequently influenced the behavior and culture of the society.
Therefore, they argued that in order to understand why some people behave the way they do, it was important for them to trace the climate that the people existed in this was why evolutionary biology was a key factor and central point in this theory (Newcomer, 1972). However, there are some scholars who pointed out that disapproval was not actually based on inaccurate findings but methodological process, which were against science. They argued that massive generalization, which were premature which came from environmental determinism.
The most influential factor in environmental determinism is climatic determinism. Climatic determinism is also referred to as equatorial paradox. This theory states that about 70% of the economic development that exists in a country can be predicted by the distance that exists between the country and the equator. Therefore, the close a country is to the equator, the less the development in the country (Wu, 1995).
The paradox occurs in hemispheres, the north and south. For example, the northern U.S states are more developed as compared to the Southern U.S states. This is supposedly because they are closer to the equator. However, Singapore is a counter example to this argument. This is because it is located at 1.22 degrees north of the equator and currently it is one of the most prosperous countries in the world.
One theory that gained recognition in the 19th century and early 20th century is that development is often not very necessary in tropical regions; this is supposedly because one can lie on a hammock and pick bananas. This is as opposed to the need to have a robust economy and invent agriculture in a bid to survive and prosper. This theorem, however convenient finds it difficult to be able to sufficiently explain the complex nature of the equatorial paradox (Diamond, 1998).
Another theory in environmental determinism is the fact that tropical countries often tend to be plagued with diseases. Some of the diseases mentioned include Malaria, whose transmission is entirely dependent on a warm climate. Consequently, the tropical country’s workers often tend to be sicker, and they have a low life span. This means that they are often less productive and when it comes to time, the cooler and disease free economies experience faster economic growth as compared to the tropical countries.
However, environmental determinism according to 21st century scholars should not just be ruled out. This is because it contains some truth in it; Africa is one of the prime examples that indeed environmental determinism affects the psychological mindset of an individual. Africa has unfavorable variables that exist from the theory of environmental determinism which has over the years led to its poor economic development. It is imperative to note that Africa’s per capita income has been on a constant decrease over the past 50 years (Diamond, 1998).
The continent has a large land mass in the tropics; however, most of the population is often concentrated in the interior. More than one fourth of the population in Africa lived in landlocked countries, and there exists a low population density when it comes to the coastal regions. Therefore, Africa as a whole, when looked from the point of view of the entire continent has a lot of ingredients that have contributed to its underdevelopment.
For example, the continent has many small landlocked countries which often brings high transportation costs, there is little cohesiveness when it comes to governing and policies, the decent agricultural land is often patch and climate conditions often bring low rainfall as well as the increased probability of drought (Newcomer, 1972). These correlations despite not being the exact causation of the poverty that exists in Africa have a very large role to play (Wu, 1995).
There exists a very deep relationship between the poor economic growth in Africa and the massive unfavorable variables which directly or indirectly influence lack of development. Therefore, environmental determinism incorporates factors of environment in trying to explain why there is difference in development from place to place. The theory puts into focus the role of nature and geography when it comes to the distribution of growth as well as development.
Diamond, J. M. (1998). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Wu, J., & Loucks, O. L. (December 01, 1995). From Balance of Nature to Hierarchical Patch Dynamics: A Paradigm Shift in Ecology. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 70, 4, 439-466.
Van, S. L. (2008). 'The Ornithorhynchus of the Western world': Environmental determinism in Eric Anderson Walker's South African history, 1911-1936. South African Historical Journal, 60, 1, 7-40.
Newcomer, P. J. (1972). The Nuer are Dinka: An essay on origins and environmental determinism. Man, 7, 5-11.
Ground water is very resourceful both in the U.S as well as all around the world. Ground water forms the source of water especially where surface water that occurs in lakes and rivers is not accessible. This forms the backup source for water to people all over the world. Ground water is the source for nearly half the population as well and almost all the population living in the rural areas (Luzier, 1974). The water provides more than 50 billion gallons of water every day both for human consumption as well as agricultural production. Ground water is defined as long-term declining in the level of water that is caused by sustained pumping of the ground water is a very important issue which arises in all case scenarios dealing with the use of ground water. Most areas in the U.S are experiencing groundwater shortages.
Depletion of ground water has been mainly attributed to the excessive pumping. The water in the ground can be compared by money that has been kept in a bank account. When one makes a withdrawal at a rate that is higher than the one that they are depositing, they account holder are likely to have account-supply problem (Luzier, 1974). This cases scenario is very similar to withdrawal of water from the ground at a higher rate than the water is pumped back into the ground. This is especially true if the pumping is done over a long period. The level of ground water is decreasing at an increasing rate due to the problem of pumping (Missouri Basin States Association, 1982). Ground water shortage has been mainly contributed to the problem of continues pumping of the water out of the ground. This has caused many negative effects.
The depletion of the ground water has caused the lowering of the water table. This is one of the most significant consequences of excessive pumping of the water. This means that he ground below which the ground is saturated with water can be easily lowered. The process of pumping water from the ground requires that the water be pumped from a level that is below the the water table.If it happens that the the water table declines, then the owners of the well are forced to dig the well deeper in order to get to the new level of the water table. As the water declines the rate of water which the well is capable of yielding continues to decline (United States, 1985).
Ground water depletion has caused increased costs for the users. As the depth of the water continues to increase, the water has to be lifted higher so as to reach the land surface. When the pumps are used in lifting the water, more energy is required in order to drive the pump. This leads to increased cost for the user. Therefore using the well becomes a task which is prohibitively expensive.
Reduced water in the ground causes reduction of water in the streams and the lakes. There exists an interaction between the water that is contained in the lakes as well as in the rivers and the groundwater than most people can actually imagine. The greatest deal of water comes from water that flows into rivers come from the seepage of water from the ground into the beds of the streams. The contribution made by ground water in most of the physiographic and climatic settings. There is yet another problem which is linked to the groundwater pumping is that of having the levels of the groundwater lowered below the level that the stream side needs to survive. The effect of this is that there occurs loss of vegetation as well as wildlife habitat.
Land subsidence is a problem of having reduced support from the ground. This happens especially when there is water that has been taken from below the ground which leads to a loss of the support which comes from the ground. The problem of land subsidence is mainly triggered by human activities especially because of the removal of subsurface water.
Depletion of the groundwater has also contributed to a deteriorating quality of after supply. One of the biggest threats facing the supply of fresh water supplies is the problem of contamination by saltwater intrusion. Most of the water that is found below the ground is saline. Normally the boundary between the freshwater and salt waters tends to be relatively stable, though pumping cases saltwater to migrate to inland and upward and thus resulting in contamination of the water supply.
The exploitation of an aquifer has caused negative impacts in the production of crops in the U.S since 90% of the irrigation depends on groundwater (Warner, 1983). The depletion of the groundwater in the irrigated High Plains of Central California Valley has accounted for more than 50% of the groundwater depletion in the United States (United States, 1985). A recently developed map of High Plains shows that the high recharge in the southern High Plains has resulted to more than 330 km square kilometres of fossil groundwater. Irrigation resolves the few problems associated with water problems which are associated with water supply, as well as the demand for the water. This is because it allows for the growth of crops in the semi deserts.
Irrigation has consumed more than 90% of the global resources of fresh water in the period of the past one century. During the past decades, groundwater has become an increasingly important source of irrigation and currently accounted for 40% of food productions (Mahajan, 1993). The expansion of the use of groundwater ha been attributed to the ubiquity of the groundwater, ready access to the resource, minimal or no infrastructure requirements and in general continuity of the supply that provides a buffer against droughts. The production of crops is threatened in the future by the fact that there has been an increasing over-dependence of unsustainable groundwater use. The ground-based monitoring, satellites as well as modeling have been used in the estimation of depletion of the groundwater in the various irrigated regions(United States, 1985) .The maximum available water resources have just been depleted by only 10% suggesting that we may not be running out of water. However, the U.S might be running out of water due to the spatiotemporal variability in the depletion.
Research has shown that if the current rate of water depletion continues, nearly 70 percent of the aquifer could be depleted in the next 50 years. According to the study, more than 3 percent of the aquifers water had already been used by 1960 and the figure rose to 30 percent by 2010. Even with the anticipated irrigation technology improvements taken into account, it is estimated that 39 percent of the volume will be gone over the next ten to fifteen years. Therefore with the current rate of groundwater depletion, the U.S might be facing a big water problem in the coming years.
Luzier, J. E., Burt, R. J., & Geological Survey (U.S.). (1974). Hydrology of basalt aquifers and depletion of ground water in east-central Washington. Olympia: State of Washington, Dept. of Ecology.
United States. (1985). Review of ground water contamination and depletion problems in the Northwest: Hearing before a subcommittee of the Committee on Government Operations, House of Representatives, Ninety-eighth Congress, first session, November 28, 1983. Washington: U.S. G.P.O.
Warner, W. W. (1983). Distant water: The fate of the North Atlantic fisherman. Boston: Little, Brown.
Mahajan, G. (1993). Ground water recharge. New Delhi: Ashish Pub. House.
Missouri Basin States Association. (1982). Missouri River Basin hydrology study: Technical paper, ground water depletion. Omaha, Neb.: Missouri Basin States Association.
The society is increasingly becoming aware that there are limits to what the planet earth can continue to absorb from us and still be expected to produce resources to sustain the existence of man. Historical and contemporary events remind us that abrupt ecological changes can happen. This has motivated researchers and scientists to identify the leading indicators for impending changes in the ecosystem. For example, we understand that ‘desertification’ is the gradual change of land from a “self-organized, self-sustaining and productive state, to one that is disorganized, of low productivity and functionality.” Theoretical studies suggest that the trend in patchiness of an ecosystem’s vegetation can indicate how close the system is to adopting desert-like state. Empirical studies take a different approach. It relies on the overall vegetation cover of a system to determine whether an ecosystem is changing positively or negatively (Grace 1).
Scientists agree that combining these two approaches creates a single perspective from where the indicators are likely to be found. Several approaches to identifying these indicators include analyzing the trend data, characteristics of the temporal dynamics, and spatial configurations all give insightful predictive signals. In theory, desertification indicators lead point to an expectation that patch-size in a sample obey a mathematical law called the power law. This law presumes that vegetation aids in water percolation into the ground where the patches may be. This improves the conditions for plant growth. Critics, however, portend that vegetation doesn’t strictly follow the power law, and that self-organization or the lack of it thereof, determines how vegetation in a location responds viz a vis the power law (Grace 2). A key discovery is that an ecosystem functionality exhibits a bimodal distribution, which indicates the duality of an ecosystem functionality and that more integrative measures of function were needed to detect other alternative conditions. Similarly, the causal network models also provided consistent results on the tests on the ideas (Grace 4).
The author agrees that more sampling and integration of man’s understanding of the spatial and temporal indicators can give more credibility to the conclusions of the research.
Grace, James B. "Ecology: Signals of impending change." Nature Ecology & Evolution (2017): 2-10. 15 March 2017.
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