Humans are the only species on Earth that uses both living and non-living things to take care of most of our everyday functions. There are other species that use tools; primates use sticks to dig ants out of their holes; blue jays can use leaves to dig food out of places that are hard for them to reach. However, no other species uses technology like we do, which means that we affect the Earth in ways that other species do not.
Among other things, humans use land for farming, mining and timber (trees). Since we have chosen a few crops to farm over other crops, we have changed the equilibrium of the ecosystems around us. Corn is a good example of a crop that we use all of the time. Of course, we get corn on the cob, popcorn, cornmeal, grits and corn syrup. But did you know that we also use corn to get oil, ethanol, buildiing materials, paint, various food ingredients, shoe polish, cosmetics and even toothpaste? Can you imagine what our society would be like without any one of these products? There is so much corn grown on Earth that other species have adapted to feed off of corn and other crops that we farm.
The first farmers on Earth had small farms, and changed where they farmed every season. Now, we have farms where the same crop is grown every year, in the same place. This has a negative impact on the soil because minerals are removed from the soil and there is not enough time for decomposers to get those minerals back into the soil. This means that farmers have to use chemical fertilizers to replace the minerals, which causes excess nitrogen runoff. The high levels of nitrogen disrupts the nitrogen cycle and interrupts plant and animal growth elsewhere.
One way that farmers can make sure that the soil is healthy is crop rotation. When a farmer rotates crops, the farmer does not plant the same crop every year, and they also don’t plant crops in every plot every single year. By letting natural decomposers add minerals back into the soil, it reduces the amount of minerals that need to be artifically added in by the use of fertilizers.
When we mine resources from the Earth, we take them away from the Earth and then use them in products. Those resources don’t get returned to where they are; the land does not get end up the way we found it. We are changing equilibrium in two major ways when we mine: certain resources are unable to be used by plants and organisms are driven off of the land they previously used. Furthermore, when we mine resources like coal, we then burn that coal. The coal is gone, and we have put carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. This means that more plants need to do more work in order to keep the amount of carbon dioxide in equilibrium.
Timber is often taken from forests that can’t grow trees as fast as they are cut down. This is known as an unsustainable behavior, which is behavior that cannot continue because it is destructive. In order to make sure that forests aren’t completely destroyed, there are several ways to get timber but not destroy an entire forest. However, current human society uses wood for construction, paper products, fuel, tools and even packaging. Even though we do plenty of recycling of wood materials, new wood needs to be obtained from the environment.