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Humans Use 83 Percent of Earth's Surface 719

Posted by michael
from the area-51-still-pretty-vacant dept.
belloc writes "CNN is reporting on a Wildlife Conservation Society report that states that humans take up 83 percent of the Earth's land surface to live on, farm, mine or fish. The article rerers to a WCS human footprint map, but the WCS site seems to have been CNN'd. Funny: I just got back from a little road trip across the southwest, and from all the nothing you see out there, you would think that 83% is a bit high. I guess Arizona farmlands must look a lot like wild, untouched desert."
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Humans Use 83 Percent of Earth's Surface

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  • Hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:30PM (#4514732) Homepage Journal
    They use the Earth's surface to fish? Now that is a technological breakthrough worth discussing...
    • by Damek (515688)
      They use the Earth's surface to fish? Now that is a technological breakthrough worth discussing...

      If you aren't aware of boats and related marine technology...

      Seriously, I don't think fishing occurs under the surface of the earth (ie, beneath the crust).
    • They are probably referring to fish farms & hatcheries.
    • Re:Hmmm (Score:2, Funny)

      by Frothy Walrus (534163)
      yeah man, didn't you hear about that invasive species of Japanese that can flop on land for fifteen miles and fashion crude tools out of stones, twigs, and beer empties? they practically own the eastern seaboard at this point. i hear the govmint is giving subsidies to fishermen and poachers too...
    • Ice fishing?
      I can't imagine that those little huts on the frozen lakes take up that much space though.
    • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by darkonc (47285) <stephen_samuel@@@bcgreen...com> on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:33PM (#4515464) Homepage Journal
      They use the Earth's surface to fish? Now that is a technological breakthrough worth discussing...

      Well, they ban logging on lakes....

      Back in 1993, the BC government was under a lot of pressure over their decision to allow logging in most of Clayoquot sound (one the last large areas of relatively pristine old-growth forest). In the midst of the public protests, they found a way to add thousands of acres to the preserved area: They banned logging on Kennedy lake. Now, I'm not talking about logging the shores of the lake, I'm talking about logging the surface of the lake. They then added the surface of the lake to their 'protected areas' statistics.

    • Fish naturally spin about a foot off the surface of the earth naturally... They're worth about 100 points and when you catch one it makes an amusing noise.

      On another note that first map looks extremely bogus. Download and look at it... PDF file. I think it gets the general trends right but I'd like to know EXACTLY where all this data is coming from. The chart lists quantities which I assume to be people per square mile or kilometer... Also the accuracy of data that you collect in third world nations is suspect because they have more things to worry about than counting people accurately...
      Also city regions like Miami and LA are made to look sparse compared to Cuba... The ENTIRETY of Cuba is ~11,200,000... Just looks odd...
  • Statistics (Score:2, Funny)

    by Doomrat (615771)
    95% of statistics are wildly inaccurate or out of context.
    • No, no your data is all wrong.

      Recent scientific studies conclude that only 99.723% Of statistics are made up.
    • Re:Statistics (Score:3, Informative)

      by inputsprocket (585963)

      The statistics regarding the World Wildlife Fund's footprint are accurate for TODAY the 'ecological footprint' is defined as the 'area of productive land and water that people need to support their consumption and to dispose of waste'. London's footprint is 120 times as big as the land it covers, and as extrapolated by the WWF, Earth's ecological footprint is in danger of growing larger than the entire planet.

      The problem is, this 'footprint' statistic, while accurate, is only accurate for today (ok, tomorrow as well). But people (eg the WWF) are using it to extrapolate 50 years in the future. The WWF say we will need between 1.8 and 2.2 Earth-sized planets to meet our needs by 2050 - this is using an ecological snapshot of the footprint today. The prediction holds true if we continue our current trend of fossil-fuel consumption, but statistics have shown that we are beginning the hard process of moving over to renewable or alternative energy sources - hybrid cars as a good example.

      Thus, if we continue to invest in alternative energy sources, the ecological footprint will decrease, something the WWF didn't even consider in their statement

      Also, there are a lot of factors to consider when drawing up the size of a footprint, especially a global one. Every time you collapse lots of diverse information you lose something, and that loss will increase the bigger your evaluation. Still, as a yardstick for measuring human consumption per capita, it's not bad (so long as you don't use it to predict!)

      • Re:Statistics (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Latent IT (121513) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:25PM (#4515366)
        Every time there's a slashdot article regarding the World Wildlife Fund, I have to make a post like this.

        Looks like it's that time again. ;p

        They're an alarmist group that really doesn't know what they're talking about. Let's take your first paragraph:

        The statistics regarding the World Wildlife Fund's footprint are accurate for TODAY the 'ecological footprint' is defined as the 'area of productive land and water that people need to support their consumption and to dispose of waste'. London's footprint is 120 times as big as the land it covers, and as extrapolated by the WWF, Earth's ecological footprint is in danger of growing larger than the entire planet.

        Great, that's very informative. The problem is, it's entirely misleading. So, okay. London has a footprint 120 times as big as the land it covers, but so what? The problem lies here: they're assuming that if an acre of land is used to support human (farming/fishing/living/whatever) that it's completely used. As in, that land marked used is somehow fully used.

        If it's used for farming, odds are it's not being used to it's full potential. If it's used for trash, you can just keep putting more trash on top of it... or use it to create *more* land. (Tip: It's called landfill.) What the WWF is neglecting is that there's no reason, aside from a preserve, to *not* use land. Just like a house seems to take up the same 'footprint' as an apartment building doesn't mean that if we want to double the number of people, we need two houses.

        It's just flawed, lousy logic. But that's okay. They're cruising for donations.
        • Re:Statistics (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Damek (515688)
          I would agree that they're alarmists cruising for donations. However, I think they have a kernel of a point to their sensationalism.

          Is it really necessary to just keep adding to landfills? Can we reduce our waste? Can we waste more wisely? On the flip side, but entirely related to waste, can we consume more wisely? If so, why not? What's wrong with wanting to have less of an impact on the environment?

          What does it really mean to use land to its full potential? Does that mean raping it? Or having a relationship more like stewardship, so the land continues to be fertile and usable long into the future? Personally, I'm not anti-technology, but I am a little anti-growth, and I don't think "sustainability" is just a new buzz-word... At least, it isn't to me.
    • Re:Statistics (Score:5, Insightful)

      by yorgasor (109984) <[ten.shcetirt] [ta] [nor]> on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:40PM (#4515561) Homepage
      Ah yes, but these are no ordinary statistics! Taken from their site,

      Although just estimates, these few statistics are testament to the unprecedented escalations in both human population and consumption during the twentieth century

      These are estimated statistics! What we have here is an alarmist group making up statistics and drawing radical conclusions based on them. And what am I supposed to do about it? Oh, I'd guess that they're looking for donations so they can publish more insightful reports just like this, to keep me informed of all of these possible catastrophic consequences that are just around the corner.
  • only 83%? (Score:5, Funny)

    by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:32PM (#4514749) Homepage
    We've only got 83% of the globe? God must be disappointed. [inhymn.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:32PM (#4514754)
    That reminds me of the movie, "The Truman Show" where Truman wants to be an explorer and his teacher pulls down a map and says, "Awww, you're too late, everything's been explored already."

    --
    Lookerup.com - your technology resource.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:32PM (#4514755)
    In case of further CNN'ing (a new version of slashdotting?)

    The Human Footprint

    Human influence is driving conservation crises on a global scale. There is little debate in scientific circles about the importance of human influence on ecosystems. Scientists have shown that we appropriate over 40% of the net primary productivity (the green stuff) produced on Earth each year either taking it directly or keeping other organisms from using it through our agriculture and land use practices (Vitousek et al. 1986, Rojstaczer et al. 2001). We consume 35% of the productivity of the oceanic shelf, are fishing down food webs, and taking 60% of the available freshwater run-off. Although just estimates, these few statistics are testament to the unprecedented escalations in both human population and consumption during the twentieth century, resulting in entirely new environmental crises in the history of humankind and the world. E.O Wilson, the famous naturalist, claims it would now take four Earths to meet the consumption demands of the current human population, if all humans consumed at the rate of the average North American. The influence of human beings on the planet has become so pervasive that it is hard to find an adult person in any country who has not seen the environment around her reduced in natural values during her life time - woodlots converted to agriculture, agricultural lands converted to suburban development, suburban development converted to urban areas. Think of your life, of your neighborhood, of the neighborhood you grew up in -- what it was and what it is now.

    The cumulative effect of these many local changes is the global phenomenon of human influence on nature, poorly understood and needlessly destructive. Human influence is arguably the most important factor affecting life of all kinds in today's world. Yet despite the broad consensus among biologists about the importance of human influence on nature, this phenomenon and its implications are less appreciated by the broader human community, which does not recognize them in its economic systems or most of its political decisions.

    Formerly it was difficult to visualize this influence across the entire planet, but recent advances in the quality of geographic data now allow us to systematically measure human influence on the land's surface. We used a series of map overlays representing human land uses, power infrastructure (based on lights visible at night to a satellite), settlements, roads and other access points, and human population density to map the "human footprint" on the land's surface.

    Click here for a larger version in PDF format
    The Last of the Wild

    Analysis of the Human Footprint indicates that 83% of the land's surface is directly influenced by human agency. 98% of the areas where it's possible to grow rice or wheat or corn (maize) are similarly influenced. It is within the remaining 17% of the land's surface that some of the best remaining opportunities for conservation lie. We located 568 "last of the wild" places as targets for conservation action. Although these wild places vary enormously in their biological productivity and diversity, they represent the least influenced or "wildest" areas in each of their respective biomes on each continent. As such they provide a promising opportunity to conserve wildlife and wild places while minimizing conflicts with existing human structures and demands.

    Meanwhile individuals, institutions and governments must find solutions across the gradient of human influence in order for conservation to succeed. Human influence presents a problem to the co-existence of people and wildlife, and human ingenuity is the key to transform the human footprint and save the last of the wild.

    References:

    Rojstaczer S, Sterling SM, Moore, NJ. 2001. Human appropriation of photosynthesis products.

    Vitousek PM, Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH, Matson PA. 1986. Human appropriation of the products of photosynthesis. BioScience 36: 368-373.

    Wilson EO. 2002. The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
    • The site is screaming in terror, but I managed to grab a mirror (thanks to that nice feature in Mozilla):

      here [folk.uio.no]

      Won't keep it there for long.

    • The Club of Rome (Score:5, Informative)

      by theonomist (442009) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:50PM (#4514991) Homepage

      Using similar methods, the Club of Rome predicted in the early 1970s that the world would run out of oil by 1992. They and others also predicted that the West would be hopelessly overpopulated by... right around now. Both predictions have proven to be wildly inaccurate, but they got a lot of press at the time, and they were taken seriously by what passes for "intellectuals" (whose only measure of "truth" is how well a given story dovetails with their ideology).

      In other words, this kind of nonsense is a great method for people like the WWF to solicit donations and get their names in the paper, but you shouldn't mistake it for meaningful information.

      This was covered in The Economist already, by the way. Old news. They've got some amusing observations about how slipshod the "study"'s methods are, and how many hidden assumptions it relies on.

      • by dhogaza (64507) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:27PM (#4515384) Homepage
        Actually the Club of Rome used entirely different methods and the folks being quoted aren't making any predictions whatsoever.

        Since it appears that you didn't RTFA, here's what they say:

        "As such they [the relatively unimpacted areas they've identified] provide a promising opportunity to conserve wildlife and wild places while minimizing conflicts with existing human structures and demands."

        All they're doing is trying to identify areas in which conservation efforts might have the biggest bang for the bucks. No doomsday, sky-is-falling scenarios. No political manifesto.

        As for the Economist, I read it regularly and I'd have to say that "slipshod" applies to a bunch of their efforts to shoehorn the world into their narrowly conservative world view.
      • Re:The Club of Rome (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Eric Damron (553630)
        "Both predictions have proven to be wildly inaccurate..."

        Not really. In 1970 cars were gas-guzzlers but the fears that those predictions produced caused change. As far as the population goes I think that environmentally we are close to the limits.

        What scares me the most, more even than our situation, are people who refuse to see our situation. It is the chipping away at our eco system that will eventually doom the human race. Eventually we will chip away just a little too much and our eco system will collapse. It won't collapse all at once but rather in a cascade effect that may take years. But once started, it will be impossible to stop. It will be too late for the human race and many other species who will fall victim to our unbridled greed.

        I believe that man-kind will spend all of its time gathering wealth until the eco-system starts to collapse. Then it will spend all of its gathered treasure in a search for a way to save itself but will only find a grave.
        • Re:The Club of Rome (Score:3, Interesting)

          by cheezedawg (413482)
          Oh brother.

          In 1970 cars were gas-guzzlers

          Uh-huh. And we use sooo much less gas today. BTW- have you noticed that oil prices have hovered around $20-$25/barrel for the past 30 years? I guess the supply isn't decreasing after all...

          As far as the population goes I think that environmentally we are close to the limits.

          Oh no! A tree-hugger sitting at his computer thinks that our earth is close to its limits! Too bad he doesn't even try to back his statement up with any facts.

          Eventually we will chip away just a little too much and our eco system will collapse.

          Why will it collapse?

          But once started, it will be impossible to stop.

          Why?

          What scares me the most is that people listen to opinions like yours. You have bought into the same doomsday theories that have been proven incorrect time and time again. I know it might make you uncool at the next Sierra club meeting, but try to at least consider the possibility that the world is not ending.
  • by certron (57841)
    I had heard somewhere that humans only use 5% of the actual surface to live on. Now I have to ask myself what that means, if they counted the number of 1-meter squares it would take for each person... So much for my murky memory and weird statistics.

  • Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14 percent of all people know that.
  • by 512k (125874) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:35PM (#4514785)
    "Antarctica and a few Arctic land patches were not included in the study because of the lack of data and near absence of human influences"

    isn't that the point..there's a whole continent that's basically uninhabited..but since that would lower their numbers, they threw it out.

    • Of course, including those would have diminished the fraction of land used and you can see why they would want to delete those areas. But those areas are not very productive ecologically/economically- not much potential for farms at the south pole. If my subsistence depened upon it, I would happily trade a hundred square miles of Antarctica for a dozen acres in a temperate, productive climate. The notion of variable productivity is hard to capture, so they ignored it (unwisely, perhaps, to make a simplified point.) The point is still that we should be paying more attention than we are now, presumably.
    • People also have taken advantage of 98 percent of the land that can be farmed...

      Please note where it says "can be farmed" If the land isn't readily farmable, they didn't include it. So basiclly what they are saying, is we are farming on all but 2% of our farm land.

      Ummm... No shit.

    • by dhogaza (64507) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:59PM (#4515085) Homepage
      If they wanted to skew the numbers, they wouldn't tell you that they left out Antartica and portions of the Artic.

      And if you would RTFA a little more carefully, the purpose of the study was to identify areas to prioritize for conservation - in other words the 17% not impacted by humans. Now, the article may've been written in a somewhat sensationalistic manner, but the conservation organization involved makes it clear they're trying to figure out how to best spend their money.
    • by abhinavnath (157483) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:04PM (#4515136)
      Reading from the Sanderson et al article on their website ("The Human Footprint and the Last of the Wild."):

      Their figure of 85% may well be correct, but their methodology is suspect to say the least.
      1) As you say, they ignored Antarctica and other islands.
      2) They used nine datasets to plot human influence, of which two were RIVERS and COASTLINES. Given that they used independant plots for population density etc, I have to wonder exactly why they feel humans are responsible for the distribution of rivers and coastlines. They assume that the possibility of access by humans implies human interference.
      3) They assumed that roads would affect the environment for 2 km to each side, when the highest estimate for ecological impact was 600 m!
      4) They assumed that all settlements would also affect environments upto an arbitrary distance of 2 km, based on the error in *position*, not *extent* of map data.
      5) Random assertions like: "Hunting no longer supplies a major source of in the Western world, but it does in most of the rest of the world." This is patently false. Very few communities use hunting as a major food source. The vast majority of people around the world are fed by agriculture. But the authors use this statement to justify scoring human influence as "moderate" (4) up to 15 km from settlements on this basis. (They estimated 15 km to be a day's travel.)

      I'm sure there are more errors, this was a very cursory reading.

      I'm disappointed that this was published in a peer-reviewed journal. This article is in no sense good science, although it makes a fine political manifesto.
  • Bogus (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fastball (91927) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:35PM (#4514800) Journal
    I do not have square mileage of certain terrains, but this is poppycock when you consider several areas of land including deserts, mountain ranges, and even Antarctica, a sizeable land mass under ice. No this report is incorrect.
  • Considering the deserts of the Sahara, Mongolia, SW US, and Australia. Combine that with rainforest (shrinking) in South America, and the vast forests of Siberia. I have not yet read the article, but does it also include Antarctica, and the frozen wastes of Greenland? There's alot of land that just isn't useable out there.
  • by VirtualDestructor (573772) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:36PM (#4514813)
    It very well may be true, but what point would there be for the Wildlife Conservation Society if wildlife was not in need of conservation? I couldn't get to the site, but it would be interesting to see their definition of land being in use. Aren't huge portions of the 2 biggest countries on earth, Canada and Russia, barren?
  • Incorrect summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theRhinoceros (201323) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:37PM (#4514819)
    CNN is reporting on a Wildlife Conservation Society report that states that humans take up 83 percent of the Earth's land surface

    This is not a good summary of what the rWCN report states. 83% of the earth's surface is "directly influenced by human agency" (their words). This does not mean humans occupy or farm in 83%; this measure could be anything as simple as "takes water from an aquifer that flows though land x".

    To me, the more shocking claim is that humans appropriate directly or indirectly 40% of the NPP of world as a whole. That's a hell of a lot of caloric consumption by any standard.
    • Re:Incorrect summary (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Zathrus (232140) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:51PM (#4515003) Homepage
      Quoting from the article:

      Scientists have shown that we appropriate over 40% of the net primary productivity (the green stuff) produced on Earth each year either taking it directly or keeping other organisms from using it through our agriculture and land use practices.

      Which answers the "what the hell is NPP" question.

      And in response I say "so what?".

      We are the top of the food chain. We are one of the few animals that changes the environment to suit us rather than the other way around. We are one of the few animals that can exist in nearly any environment because of that. Of course we've bent most of the resources on the planet toward our whim. In fact, I'm surprised it's not a higher percentage based on whatever nebulous methodology these "researchers" want to use.

      Quite frankly the numbers put forth in this study are trash. They've perverted things like the percentage of earth's surface used to make alarmist numbers while using negative language and exploiting the average person's lack of scientific knowledge to try and prove their points. Which is basically that we humans are horribly evil and Ma Earth would be better off without us.

      Fine by me. I expect them to suicide first to prove their devotion.
      • by dhogaza (64507)
        Nowhere is the claim made that humans are evil and that Ma Earth would be better off with us.

        In fact, the purpose of the exercise is to identify those areas in which *human* conservation efforts can be most effectively applied.

        Frequently the cheapest and most effective means of wildlife conservation is to minimize human interference in those areas which are currently least disturbed by human activity.

        RTFA rather than rant and rave. If you actually care about conservation. It seems pretty clear that you don't.
    • the more shocking claim is that humans appropriate directly or indirectly 40% of the NPP of world as a whole. That's a hell of a lot of caloric consumption by any standard.

      Well..there ARE a hell of a lot of fat people around.
  • Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nege (263655) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:37PM (#4514820) Journal
    Well - farmland and all that count too - rice fields, etc. So it does seem like a lot of space. Plus I dont think they count antartica since it is pretty much uninhabitable. I think this just further makes us realize how important it is for humans to start expanding into the universe in order to maintain the specis. A somewhat related article here [kurzweilai.net]
    • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stratjakt (596332)
      It doesn't matter that antarctica is 'uninhabitable', the argument is that it is still 'influenced' by 'human activity'. Ie; if you take the global warming (caused by humans) theory to be true, then antarctica is affected, therefore falls into the 83%.

      Its another environmento-political scare tactic. There are a lot of examples of lands directly used by humans, yet provide a truly excellent habitat for wildlife at the same time.

      The thousands of acres of lands used by a military airfield, for one example - wildlife thrives there, and the planes flying around overhead don't seem to bother them. But if you ask these guys, humans are 'affecting' it, therefore it must be completely barren and dead.

  • Crap (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .101retsaMytilaeR.> on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:37PM (#4514828) Homepage Journal

    And people wonder why environmentalists come under attack. It's bullshit reports like this that make absolutely no sense and assume a static technology level.

    First of all, drive through Nevada some time. Mile after mile of empty space, but according to this report, humans have "appropriated" it. Technically, I'm sure they're right in the sense that someone owns it, but it's not as if the land is being used for anything.

    Another thing that's stupid is that they claim that 98% of the land that can grow crops have been farmed. That is just ludicrous, and reminds me of the other wackos that claim that it would take 8 Earths or whatever to support everyone at the level of the US. There are numerous technological solutions to creating more farmland. Sheesh, how about irrigating the desert? How about huge multi-level greenhouses built in the middle of nowhere?

    Sure, that would be more expensive than what we're doing now, but so what? The point is that very few resources are actually limited. Technology almost always fills whatever needs arise.

    We'll stabilize population way before then, but this planet could support hundreds of billions of people.

    • Re:Crap (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dhogaza (64507) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:50PM (#4514987) Homepage
      Drive through Nevada some time. Mile after mile of empty space, but according to this report, humans have "appropriated" it.

      Most of that empty space is BLM land which either is currently or has been historically grazed by cattle and (to a lesser degree nowadays) sheep.

      Have you ever wondered why towns like Winnemucca have annual Basque festivals? Basque sheepherders were imported into the northwest corner of the Great Basin to herd vast numbers of sheep.

      As I said above, nowadays it's mostly cattle. It requires a large number of acres to support a single cow in the Great Basin. Many of the valleys that are too dry to graze cattle support large herds of feral horses. "feral" means "escaped from captivity". The modern horse is not native to North America and their presence is indeed a human impact.

      Does the fact that I know far, far more about the historical and modern use of the land in Nevada make me a whacko? Or does your willingness to spew nonsense make you an ideologue?

      You can't irrigate deserts without water, BTW. The Imperial Valley is the largest desert irrigation project in the world. Because of it and various other water demands in many years the mouth of the Colorado is dried up. In other words, the river is overallocated. Where will all the extra water to irrigate those parts of the Mojave desert that aren't currently irrigated come from? Not from the only major river system in that desert ... ain't none left. Conservation can help. Putting an end to green lawns in San Diego can help. But to state "there are no limits" is to state nonsense.
      • Re:Crap (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Billly Gates (198444) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:39PM (#4515547) Journal
        Agreed. I live in Las Vegas and people here grow large pine and palm trees with large lawns of grass. The residents read the local newspapers which talk about how the drought is drying up the colorado river. They wonder if there is anything they can do. The residents here just don't get it. They are the problem and its silly to use water like this.

        Did you know during the hot summers here that grass needs to be watered on a daily basis just to survive? When the temperature soars over 105, the soil literally bakes the roots of the grass! If you skip watering the lawn for just one day, then the lawn dies! Watering lawns in San Diego is one thing but here and in places like phoenix its insane. Watering grass in the hot desert uses alot more water then you would in a cooler or non desert climate.

        American Indians never understood why white men water lawns in the desert. If you want lawns then move out east. I feel like its the equalivant of growing palm trees outdoors in Detroit and having a big 3,000 watt heater and fan blowing on them 24/7 during the winter. Its dumb and pointless and wastes a lot of resources.

        Most newer mini-malls now use more desert native palm trees, yucca, and desert bushes which are more native to this environment and require less work to maintain. Finally someone realizes that water is not very plentifully here.

        In non desert regions like Chicago and New York, watering lawns and washing cars are restricted if the reservoirs are low. Why not ban them here in the desert which gets like %10 of the rainfall of these big cities?

        • Re:Crap (Score:3, Informative)

          by Reziac (43301)
          One of the MAJOR causes of deserts is lack of surface vegetation (albeit often having been stripped by goats, a la the middle east) so there is nothing to prevent evaporation and erosion. Once topsoil is lost, there's nothing much to hold root moisture for plants.

          Also, surface vegetation tends to hold any nighttime condensation, which in turn waters the plants. That's why the desert where I live is in bloom right now, and why every weed seed around has suddenly erupted from the dirt -- fall nighttime temps have dropped below the dew point. (We haven't had any RAIN to speak of in almost FIVE YEARS.)

          Anyway, point is that if you increase surface vegetation, particularly with self-shading plants (ie. that keep their own roots cool, like palms and pines do), and add some tough ground cover like drought-tolerant grasses, over the long haul it actually conserves soil moisture.

          BTW, some pines, and even some deciduous trees, tend to do quite well in the desert. California digger pines, osage oranges, and cottonwoods (of all things) are surviving our drought just fine.

    • Re:Crap (Score:3, Interesting)

      by khendron (225184)
      I think this is the attitude that is the basis of all the troubles.

      You talk about irrigating the desert. Where, exacty, is the water to irrigate the desert going to come from? What about the resources to build your "multi-level greenhouses"? Where are they going to come from?

      Resources *are* limited. You are correct that technology help to fill in the gaps, but the required technology is not always available. Often it becomes a race between technology and the dwindling of resources. And more often than not the technology gets ignored because of greed and corruption.

      I strongly believe that the Earth us going to hit an environmental catastrophe within 100 years.
    • Re:Crap (Score:3, Funny)

      by jamirocake (456380)
      "First of all, drive through Nevada"

      Ah! yeah I forgot about the naturally grown highways!
    • Re:Crap (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ArcSecond (534786)
      I can't believe this post got modded up. Well, I *can* believe it, considering the amount of people who don't want to hear that we are on course to a full-blown crisis. So of course, anything that challenges their point of view by actually attempting to analyse the problem (even just with rough estimates, which this report admitted it was using) must be crap.

      COME ONE GUYS!! Do more than read the /. summary before you attack an article. Maybe even go as far as *gasp* looking at the data notes and refernces. That, of course, would require a genuine interest in the subject, as opposed to a pre-formulated and self-serving set of beliefs used as a blanket "whatever" defence to a fearless discussion on the subject.

      Go ahead, keep repeating your mantra: "there's nothing wrong with the environment". You are harldy rocking the boat with your conventional anti-environmental ideology.
    • Re:Crap (Score:4, Insightful)

      by r_j_prahad (309298) <r_j_prahad&hotmail,com> on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:13PM (#4515239)
      First of all, drive through Nevada some time. Mile after mile of empty space, but according to this report, humans have "appropriated" it. Technically, I'm sure they're right in the sense that someone owns it, but it's not as if the land is being used for anything.

      If you drive it, you're missing a lot. Try flying the central corridor as I've done and you'll get a better appreciation for all that "desolation". You'll see widely separated but huge tracts of farmland under cultivation for hay and alfalfa. That hay and alfalfa is used to augment the natural growth in feeding hundreds of thousands of head of open-range cattle that occupy the "empty" between those farms. You'll see thousands of acres of mine tailings, land permanently removed from use because of its toxicity. You'll see on your sectional that there's a huge part of Nevada you can't fly over because it's used for testing aircraft and nuclear weapons. You'll see a watershed that eventually keeps a half million people from dying of thirst. You'll see that almost the entire state is checkerboarded with fences. Those fences are there only because someone is using the land for their purposes and wants to keep all the other uses out.

      All those thing sure meet the definition for "appropriated" to me.
    • Re:Crap (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ACK!! (10229)
      >That is just ludicrous, and reminds me of the >other wackos that claim that it would take 8 >Earths or whatever to support everyone at the >level of the US.

      The stat may be wrong in the final number but the US and Europeans for that matter consume an extreme amount of reasources in comparison to its place in terms of population and such to other parts of the world.

      However, the US economy which fuels a large hunk of the global economy absolutely feeds off the giant bloated tit of over-consumption. Getting us and even our European friends to turn down the consumption while not destroying the world-wide economy is a major issue. There are only so many resources and not all of it can just be re-produced.

      The natural resources of the world are not like the chips commercial where they just promise to make more. Yet, we are not on any ledge of abyss as some alarmists like to say but we are driving up to the edge quick. Moderation in talk and management of resources is the key.

      >Sheesh, how about irrigating the desert?

      Where the heck are you going to get the fresh water to irrigate a desert? No, I am not a crazed environmentalists about to spout about a fresh water shortage. However, I also understand that there is a finite amount of fresh water available for human use. You can create a huge water shortage (especially in the drought-ridden parts of the US) quick with such a plan.

      Technology has been wonderful at destroying natural ecosystems with half-baked perposals from folks like you and half-baked proposals from environmentalists who think a dose of technology can turn back the clock. Both sides are wrong.

      >We'll stabilize population way before then, but >this planet could support hundreds of billions >of people.

      Man sign me up for that! I want to live an over-crowded hell sprawl with everyone in the world living at population density rates that would drive someone from Tokyo nuts.

      If the US can control its consumption and the third-world can control its population expansion then half the environmental problems we see can today can be dealt with in a reasonable fashion.

      ________________________________________________ _
    • Re:Crap (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MKalus (72765)
      >>First of all, drive through Nevada some time. Mile after mile of empty space, but according to this report, humans have "appropriated" it.

      I guess the road just grew there by itself?

      Michael
  • by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:37PM (#4514829)

    ... bacteria use 99% of the Earth's surface for, er, bacterial purposes ...

  • I have some pretty serious environmentalist leanings, and I wonder about the sanity of those who don't. But at the same time, I wonder a little about this when it comes from these sources. They have a vested interest in seeing this report show very high numbers.

    I mean, MS-backed studies show all kinds of strange crap. Studies that come out of pro-gun groups show that we should all have guns and crime would go away, and from anti-gun groups we get that we all have to be totally disarmed in order for crime to go down.

    I always am pretty skeptical about reports from highly polarized sources.
  • by cybrthng (22291) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:39PM (#4514847) Journal
    Being a private pilot i get to see lots of ground from high above.

    To tell you the truth, i don't see *ANY* land that ISN'T marked by humans.

    Even the most dense forrests and pristine areas are loaded with new houses, barns, trucks, trailers, roads, pipes, power lines or something that we have planted there.

    In a way, i'm jealous of the people who got to see the wild west and walk across america and stake out a piece of the world. Now i can't even go to a public park after dark! Sure wish there was some "free" land somewhere!!
  • See all that RED in the upper MidWest US?
    That's not necessarily human influence, I think it's really body heat from all the DEER.

    Go out and kill some this season before they invade the city and give you CWD. Give a hoot! Eat a deer!

    (Note: The odds of any organism other than Deer actually getting Chronic Wasting Disease is slim and none. I'm merely using scare tactics that are opposite of the tree-huggers' so we aren't using taxpayers money to pay Snipers to shoot deer..)

  • is the ICE on Antarctica [odci.gov] [ CIA World Fact Book] considered surface or is it only the actual land part thats considered surface.

    If it is considered surface with regards to this 83% number - what percentage of earth's surface does it make up?

    I know that its a rather large mass, and I think it might reflect on the acuracy of this number. I would think that if it is part of the 17% percent of the surface that we do not occupy - it would make a large percentage of that 17%.

    Acording to the CIA World Facts USA is 9 million square Km - Antarctica is 14 million square Km.
  • by N8F8 (4562)
    Just look at a map folks. Does 83 percent make any sense? Northern Canada? Antarctica? Siberia? Arabia and Africa? They must have used a very loose criteria for defining land in use. I'd guess somthing more on the order of 20 or 30 percent. Now, if we narrow it down to arable land, sure I'd probably agree. Arable regions tend to also be most suitable to habitation of any sort.
  • by stefanlasiewski (63134) <slashdot@@@stefanco...com> on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:42PM (#4514898) Homepage Journal
    (Some interesting tidbits about the data, in their words the maps "should not be read too literally". Sounds like someone at CNN decided to take it too literally, which is not suprising considering the quality of their other news coverage)

    ---------

    About the Data

    Last updated 6 September 2002

    General issues:

    The maps of the human footprint and of the last of the wild should not be read too literally. Although there is no doubt that the human footprint and last of the wild express an important perspective on the world, it is also true that, in its details, these maps contain inaccuracies (acknowledged below) and are mapped at a scale coarser than most conservation efforts

    These maps are based on geographic proxies for drivers of human impact: human population density, land cover and land use mapping, lights regularly visible from a satellite at night, locations of roads, rivers and coasts, settlement patterns, etc. However drivers are not inevitably impacts. One of the roles of conservation is to find ways for human beings to lessen their impacts while still making their living.

    The input datasets used to map the human footprint are enormously expensive to maintain and update, as a result they tend to lag behind the patterns they depict. All the datasets used here were released in the 1990s, however some are based on much older datasets or datasets which are incomplete. In all cases they do not depict the current 2002 extent of roads, settlement or population density. This problem leads to underestimates of the amount of human influence.

    The methods used to produce the input datasets themselves have problems. For example, there are known problems mapping grazing lands, particularly in arid regions. Settlements data and roads are not identified by the type of settlement or road. The lights data sometimes over-estimates the "lit" area for over-bright pixels. The population dataset relies on population estimates made in different countries using different census techniques, which sometimes results in marked changes across national boundaries. These problems probably lead in most instances to underestimates of human influence, but may result in overestimates in some cases.

    Our interpretations of the amount of human influence based on the input factors relies on simplified scales from 0 to 10 which do not vary by region, biological or cultural context. The understanding of the human influence on nature is in its infancy, and despite 100 years of ecological science, not known very well; however we do know enough to be concerned. We tried to be conservative and common sensical in our determinations of human influence from the various input factors, using advice from the scientific literature and our colleagues.

    We probably overestimate the direct effect of roads in some cases. Direct influence from roads in terms of pollution, soil compaction, modification of stream courses and waterways, introduction of new species, and road kill is known to vary from a few meters to up to several hundred meters from roads. The roads dataset we used maps roads only to an accuracy of 2 km, so we treated all of this 2 km region as influenced by roads. We also treat human access from roads as up to 15 km from roads of all types, though this may be less in some countries and more in others.

    The level of access from rivers is probably also incorrectly estimated in some instances. We defined access along all major rivers, where a major river was defined as one depicted as one or more polygons in the input database and connected continuously to the sea. However access along all rivers is probably more likely, since any river large enough to be mapped is probably large enough to support a canoe or other boat. But our rivers dataset does not include the effects of waterfalls or dams, which can impede access up rivers.

    The human footprint and the last of the wild do not directly take into account war and conflict between groups of human beings, though these effects may dramatically influence the outcomes of human influence on wildlife and wild places. In some cases, for example, conflicts lead to increases in the levels of hunting because of increased access to weapons, even long after the war has ended (for example, in Cambodia.) In other cases, conflicts result in lower human population densities and less investment in infrastructure (for example, in Angola) with the result that areas become wilder.

    The human footprint and the last of the wild are not the complete story of conservation. In fact they do not directly consider conservation targets (animals, plants, air, soil or water processes) at all. Conservation planning requires understanding what is important to conserve in a given area (the conservation targets), how those conservation targets respond to human influence, and the type and degree of that human influence. The last of the wild is not a complete prescription for nature conservation. Even if we saved all of the last-of-the-wild areas, our task would be incomplete.

    Specific points:

    Brazil - a tile of the roads dataset is missing in central Brazil along the eastern edge of the Amazon rainforest in the region of the Chapadas das Mangabieras.

    Democratic Republic of Congo - another tile of roads is missing in the central part of the country.

    New Guinea - in Irian Jaya human influence from the Taritatu River is over estimated, because although it is a large river connected to the sea, there is little human movement up the river into the Foja Mountains Reserve, a relatively pristine area that appears heavily influenced on the human footprint map. In general the human footprint map seems to over-estimate influence in many parts of New Guinea and should be used with caution.

    Tundra and boreal forest biomes - Access during winter months is not restricted to roads or rivers, but can occur wherever the snow is packed enough to support a motor vehicle.

    Note: We welcome specific comments about the human footprint and the last of the wild, especially notations of specific areas where the level of human influence seems to be over- or under-estimated. Send your comments to last-of-the-wild@wcs.org.
    • Really, Slashdot does need some sort of mirroring system to help these poor sites.

      I can't reach the page that I _just_ posted anymore... frack.
    • Now I get it (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209)
      The roads dataset we used maps roads only to an accuracy of 2 km, so we treated all of this 2 km region as influenced by roads. We also treat human access from roads as up to 15 km from roads of all types, though this may be less in some countries and more in others.
      The CNN article should be titled, "Humans Use 83 Percent of Earth's Surface, Assuming All Roads are 32 Kilometers wide."
  • by Kphrak (230261) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:43PM (#4514903) Homepage

    I think this would fall under the "statistics" portion of "lies, damned lies, and statistics". I'd feel a lot less skeptical if:

    A. The report was put out by a more impartial group than the Wildlife Conservation Society (that's like an endangerment study put out by a big-game hunting club),

    B. they included their method and analysis, and

    C. they did not preface their findings by "Scientists say..." which usually is shorthand for, "You're stupid, they're smart, we're quoting them, so believe whatever we tell you."

    Is there any further information? How did they arrive at a figure of 83% and four Earths?

  • by weird mehgny (549321) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:43PM (#4514910)
    It's actually infinite (coastline paradox).

    83% doesn't compute.
  • by asv108 (141455) <(gro.oiduatahp) (ta) (xela)> on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:43PM (#4514911) Homepage Journal
    How can you make the assessment that 83% of the earth is used by humans? If Billy bob manages to go to a remote Montana location to hunt, what kind of radius is used to determine the amount of area that was now used for hunting? More importantly, how would they ever know that Billy bob hunted in that particular area? I don't know how they could develop a sample size to accurately reflect global land usage for hunting and fishing without a ridiculously large amount of resources and budget. This study looks like BS to me, in fact most of these "wacky studies" featured in the mass media look like bs. I especially love "cigarette smoking increases SAT scores" and "coffee drinkers have better sex."
  • by joshamania (32599) <jggramlich@@@yahoo...com> on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:44PM (#4514921) Homepage
    I hate to bring this up, but we are all still subject to laws of conservation of mass and matter, which roughly translate into an equilibrium.

    I really have a tough time stomaching environmentalist arguments about "overuse" and "overpopulation", because those arguments invariably ignore any idea of equilibrium. There will be an equilibrium to everything humans do. If we eat too much food, one of two things will happen: we figure out how to make more food, or we die. Period.

    So I have a serious problem with this being an issue. Also, if you look at the map, a good percentage of the land surface was left out of the equation because of "no data". So what, no data. Just because it's inhospitable doesn't mean you leave it out of your equation. Add Antarctica (artica? arctica? I can never remember...) and I'll bet that number drops a good bit. No one can really live easily in Death Valley or the Sahara, but people still do it.

    Hell, looking at the green area of the map really tells me that only about 50% of the land on Earth is really being used or exploited.

    This article is just more of the same sensationalist crap that we have come to know and love from our environmentalist whacko friends.
    • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionaryNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:02PM (#4515115) Journal
      How is this insightful? Someone says there is a problem, and you respond with 'Well, either we will figure out how to fix it or we will all starve, so why even talk about it?'

      Why not talk about it now so we DON'T starve?
  • by unicron (20286)
    and from all the nothing you see out there, you would think that 83% is a bit high

    Yes, but you see the nothing. The article said "directly affected by human agency", it never said it was developed land. A 4 lane highway running through the desert is still human influence. Not to mention all the shit you can't see, such as military outpost, radio communications equipment, and ESPECIALLY all the dirt roads probably running through that, and every area of North American desert. Have you ever flown over the south western United States at night. I've done it quite a few times, and you can ALWAYS see some light down there, it's never completely dark. Be it a farm, a house, a ninja training camp, whatever. It's all developed, if even only slightly.
  • by hndrcks (39873)
    Humans use 83 percent of Earth's surface, but only 10 percent of their own brains.

  • by phriedom (561200) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:51PM (#4514998)
    "People Take Up Most of the Planet, U.S. Study Says"

    That sounds materially different than "Humans have influenced 83% of the land that we chose to count." So if there are any roads or trails into a Wilderness Area, then it doesn't count as real wilderness. That is an interesting definition.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:57PM (#4515065) Journal

    According to this guy [google.com], 83% of all statistics are made up on the spot. However, a broader Google search revealed that this figure is in much dispute.

  • by N8F8 (4562) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @02:57PM (#4515069)
    Since the earth a land surface of roughly 148,300,000 sq kilometers [hypertextbook.com] and the current human population ow the world in about 6,228,394,430 [census.gov]equals about .02381 square kilometers or 0.009193041 Square Miles = 256287 Square Feet per person.
  • Poppycock! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aengblom (123492) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:01PM (#4515100) Homepage
    This is a poppycock story. I am a journaist and usually defend the media... but this article claims humans "use" and not "influence" this land. They have different meanings!

    Analysis of the Human Footprint indicates that 83% of the land's surface is directly influenced by human agency. 98% of the areas where it's possible to grow rice or wheat or corn (maize) are similarly influenced.

  • by MrNybbles (618800) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:12PM (#4515229) Journal
    Funny: I just got back from a little road trip across the southwest, and from all the nothing you see out there, you would think that 83% is a bit high. I guess Arizona farmlands must look a lot like wild, untouched desert."

    Arizona is not that void of human contact. With over *5,130,632 people living here, cattle ranches (Yes, cows somehow live out here), ATV trails, and people walking through the national parks around here, it's a wonder that not everything has been touched yet.

    Here are some reasons to come over and put your human footprint on Arizona.
    1) The Grand Canyon (A big hole in the ground.)
    2) The Mine Tours of actual old mines. (A trip through a big hole in the ground.)
    3) Kartchner Caverns (A walk through a big hole in the ground.)
    4) Old Tucson Studios (A themepark-like place based on when people came to Arizona to dig holes in the ground.)
    5) Sedona, Arizona (A beautiful city where you can take jeep tours to help disturb nature.)
    6) Tombstone, Arizona and other ghost towns. (Where people use to live when they dug a bunch of holes in Arizona.)
    7) Biosphere 2 (A big artificial hole above ground)

    http://www.pr.state.az.us/parkhtml/kartchner.html
    http://www.oldtucson.com/
    http://www.sedona.net/
    * http://www.census.gov/census2000/states/az.html
    http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/QTTable?ds_na me=DEC_2000_SF1_U&geo_id=04000US04&qr_name=DEC_200 0_SF1_U_DP1

  • by Hard_Code (49548) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:17PM (#4515292)
    Find your ecological footprint [earthday.net]

    and then...

    compare it to the rest of the world's [rprogress.org]

  • by call -151 (230520) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:34PM (#4515494) Homepage
    One thing that is a very troubling about much of the qualitative information presented in almost any argument (such as this 83%, conveniently deleting the polar regions to get a higher/more impressive number) is that it undermines the credibility of claim trying to be established.

    Even if the underlying claim is sound, when it is presented in a way that is obviously desgined to exagerrate the effect (hasn't everyone read How to Lie with Statistics [amazon.com] and How to Lie with Charts [amazon.com] by now?) it ruins the credibility and undermines whatever (possibly valid) point they were trying to make.


    For example:

    • If a baseball announcer says someone has "19 hits in their last 33 at-bats" you can bet that the 34th at-bat ago was not a hit, and probably not the several before that, either. Why 33? They are biasing the impression by choosing the statistic that most inflates the impression they want to convey.
    • If the quarterly results of a corporation were +$34, +$2, -$900million, +$75 you would probably expect to hear something like "profitable in three of the last four quarters!"
    • Political debate about just about everything is rife with distorted, possibly true but carefuly crafted to be misleading, data that it makes it very hard as (in principle) an unbiased observer to decide what is really going on.

    True honest analyses are unbelievable rare, but there have been some uplifting ones memorable to me:

    I remember in the late 80s when David Gaines was forming the Mono Lake committee [monolake.org] to fight the drop in water levels at Mono Lake in California. The members were primarily biologists, and after some study, the decision was that the lake level should not be below x feet (I don't remember the exact value.) So the lawsuits were filed to prevent the lake from dropping below x. Some of the more political-type folks around were saying- "we should ask for x+50- that way, there is some room for comprimise when they don't give us what we want." All the biologists and science-types said "No, there is no compromise- our science shows the lake needs to be at level x, end of story. No inflated demands expecting comprimise- this is what needs to happen." That was a refreshing instance of increasingly-rare honest quantitative analyses of public policy decisions, and unfortunately such examples are few and far between in the public debate.
  • by mudshark (19714) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @03:45PM (#4515627)
    I suppose that to the casual observer, a lot of the western US looks like barren desert. But nearly every square inch of it, with the exception of a few military installations and national parks/monuments, is used by ranchers. In fact, the primary reason that most of this land is degraded and less productive from a biological standpoint is precisely because of grazing pressure and the corollary activities (predator control, fire suppression, introduction of exotic plants, herbicide usage, clearcutting, etc.) practiced by livestock interests.

    One case study:

    The desert grasslands of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico supported herds of pronghorn, deer, elk and even the occasional bison prior to the arrival of the railroad in the 1870s. Historical accounts tell of grass that reached the belly of a horse spreading across the valleys, and perennial streams that held beaver, otter and enough fish to support a bald eagle population.

    Of course, this was a perfect setting for Manifest Destiny to play its hand. Wealthy cattle companies rapidly overstocked the ranges with millions of head of cattle, which devoured the forage available. Then severe drought in the 1890s and a series of devastating floods from 1900-1905 carried away topsoil from the denuded land, and the greatly increased sediment load in the watercourses cut deeper channels which altered the drainage and aquifer recharge of entire watersheds. The rivers became dry ditches, cactus and tough scrub took hold where the grass once thrived, and the regional economy crashed hard.

    Similar scenes to the one described above played out across the West. In fact, most places in the world that support vegetation but are not suitable for farming (everything except tundra, boreal forest, and virgin rainforest) are grazed and have been altered considerably from their pre-agricultural baseline conditions. So the figure of 83 percent is in fact very plausible, and may in fact be conservative.

    It wouldn't be too tough to start turning this tide -- if Americans would simply cut their beef consumption by one third, there would be an economic impetus for the most marginal and habitat-damaging operations to cut back or ceases altogether. India, OTOH...how the hell do you fix that?

  • by Restil (31903) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @04:00PM (#4515824) Homepage
    Pretty losely defined as it is, it would mean to say that anyone who so much as wanders on a piece of land is "using" it. And they're probably right. Even "undeveloped" area is typically used for farming. The farms are the first to go when the cities move in, but the land is there, someone owns it, and it rarely sits idle.

    The the 17% of unused land can be easily taken up by Antarctica and the major deserts. There isn't much farmland or fishing going on in Antarctica.

    -Restil
  • Arizona (Score:5, Funny)

    by rppp01 (236599) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @04:42PM (#4516339) Homepage
    Let me tell you about arizona farms.

    They are mostly used to raise dirt and rocks. Sometimes scrubs, as they are worth a lot in the black market. But, we arizona farmers are after the ripe harvest of dirt. Good, clean dirt, too. None of this wet 'mud' stuff everyone else seems to prize. Sure, it doesn't grow much, but that's exactly what we want. We can then harvest it, and then lay it down in front of our houses for a wonderously rocky/sandy type of look. Oh, and don't forget, it brightens things up a bit, too.
  • by WoodsDweller (557552) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @04:55PM (#4516500)
    There seems to be a disproportionate number of /. readers who, while technically and scientifically savvy, will reflexively state that exponential growth in a finite volume (Earth) is sustainable. More water use per capita, more energy use per capita, more miles driven, bigger houses, more sprawl, expanding economy, and more people every year, forever.

    One post stating that environmentalists are "wackos" gets a 5:Insightful, one saying Earth can support "hundreds of billions of people" gets a 4:Interesting, while a carefully written post pointing out grazing patterns and water supply issues is labeled a "Troll". Go figure.

    This is a fine forum to talk about tech, but a tough audience to talk about the non-artificial world. I suppose that too many are born, live, and die in cities where a lawn qualifies as "nature". Use /. for its strengths, and don't sweat the rest.

  • by geekotourist (80163) on Wednesday October 23, 2002 @06:27PM (#4517330) Journal
    I can just see it, over on Biomassdot, news for ecologists /biologists. "Colleb writes: A study by CERT (via CNN) says 83% of computer networks are insecure. Funny: I just went for 3 months without getting a virus...I guess insecurity looks like my Powerbook" The comments include:
    • "Ha, this institute is biased because they promote computer security. They'll get more support if everyone is scared."
    • "How do you define a network? Maybe they define one unprotected computer on a network as an insecure network!"
    • "They didn't have full data on networks in China, so they could be completely wrong everywhere else."
    .If you aren't a computer scientist / sysadmin, you can still learn to recognize an insecure system. If you aren't an ecologist, you can still learn to recognize an ecological system which has been significantly changed by human activity. But in both cases it takes some studying. Examples of ecological systems which might look untouched but aren't include:
    • The golden hills of California- the non-forested areas used to be covered with perennial grasslands- tall (four feet), long lived (200+ years) but slow reproducing (live 200 years- you are a k-selected plant) grasses that could take periodic droughts and wildfires. Less than 1% of these grasslands exist today compared to 400 years ago due to weeds, plowing/ag, viruses and grazing.
    • The entire midwest tallgrass prairie- the non-farmland land isn't covered with 8 foot tall mixed grasses and 100 million buffalo.
    • Old growth vs second growth forests
    • desert land like the Sahel and much of the middle-east. These areas weren't always deserts.
    • Parklands which are too small to preserve genetic diversity. Can you tell if a set of parks are connected by a sufficient number of wildlife corridors?
    All to say that dismissing results due to one's intuition isn't the best reaction if one's intuition isn't all that informed. Especially as peer-reviewed research on this is as close as a Google search away.

The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent. -- Sagan

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