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San Francisco Friday, 16 February, 2001, 13:14 GMT
Atlas shows man's 'footprint' on the planet
Map showing humankind's impact on the world
Man's impact: "A force of nature comparable to volcanoes"
By Jonathan Amos in San Francisco

An extraordinary new atlas has been produced that shows humankind's impact on the world and how we are stretching the planet's resources to the limit.

The book is a pull-together of the most up-to-date information available, much of it obtained by remote-sensing satellites.

The atlas details how man has ploughed over or concreted about a quarter of the world's surface.

The researchers behind the book say humans have now become a force of nature akin to volcanoes, forcing all other species to adapt in their wake.

One of the main authors, Paul Harrison, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Francisco that humanity was "overreaching itself ... threatening the key resources on which we depend".

The graphics, maps and tables quantify man's impact on ecosystems and biodiversity in terms of changing land use, the alteration of the atmosphere and the dumping and leaching of waste materials and chemicals.

Man has altered half the world's surface
11% taken for farming
11% used for managed forests
26% given over to pasture
2-3% used for housing, industry, services and transport
The atlas has been put together by the AAAS. Graphics illustrate, for example, the Earth's fresh water resources, as well as the world's top per-capita water consumers and how each nation allocates its water use.

Lars Bromley, the main cartographer on the project, said: "These maps are essentially billion-dollar products of years of data gathering from US, European and other space agencies which have then been synthesised into one data source. What they show is very sobering, but it's not all bad.

"Governments are starting to taking note of these issues. They are being put on the table with the same sort of seriousness that economic and security issues were in the past."

Adapt and evolve

Researchers like to characterise humanity's impact on the environment through three factors: population, consumption and technology.

Disappearing world
There are 484 animal and 654 plant species recorded as extinct since 1600
These act together to accelerate the drain on the Earth's resources, leading to the production of more waste and pollution.

The atlas notes: "We have become a major force of evolution, not just for the 'new' species we breed and genetically engineer, but for the thousands of species whose habitats we modify, consigning many to extinction; compelling others to evolve and adapt to our pressures.

"We have become a force of nature comparable to volcanoes or to the cyclical variations of the Earth's orbit."

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