Implications of manufacturing habitability


From my earlier post and that of Ingo, there is agreement that humans have become the most successful environment altering species; modifying our surroundings to meet our needs by manipulatingthe global supply of resources. Our success in this realm not only engineers novel habitat for other organisms by creating urban environments to exploit, but also creates novel networks that move materials, elements, energy, organisms, and capital. Coupled human-natural systems research strives to understand the social and biophysical aspects of these networks and how concentrations of people affect biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity, land cover, and climate- linking humans with the planetary boundaries discussed by Antonio. The question that arises for me in the new urban-centered Anthropocene is this: what does a future earth look like when habitability for all is driven by an individual species?

One could argue that while humans are drivers of environmental change, other species are quick to follow. Noah and Ingo pointed out that the success of human engineering is due, in part, to our plasticity and our ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions. In a captivating example, Lynn discussed how we have adapted from living on, to living in, to cultivating loess deposits. While very few (if any) organisms possess the behavioral adaptability that we do, the urban environment presents many examples of rapid adaptation to human systems. Consider the never-ending evolutionary arms race we engage in with bacteria to prevent them from causing illness or the many common feral mammals that live exclusively in urban settings. There are also those species that benefit from our adaptive behavior itself such as invasive species- succeeding as a result of efficient human transport networks.

Unfortunately, the selection pressures that urban environments and human activities create are guiding us to a new unknown. As Meghan addressed in her previous post, planning the urban environment is our only chance to mitigate not only the environmental, but also the social inequalities created by urban landscapes.

Habitability in the Anthropocene will be an ever changing and ever adapting concept. As people continue to concentrate in urban centers and the footprint of the human ecosystem expands, we will define habitability for a growing proportion of other organisms. How this process advances will be driven as much by the social connections and networks within human ecosystems as by the biophysical ones. We created the concept of habitability to help us define something that is abstract and as a result, it is ambiguous. As Noah highlighted, habitability is plural yet best self-determined. How will we choose to define habitability moving forward? I hope for the greater good.

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