By Haley Trumble
Since the earliest human civilizations our species has been adding its own impact on the Earth much like any other organism from history. Just like other living creatures, both extinct and extant, there are evidences of the impression from Homo sapiens. This evidence can be seen in many different ways expanding from early hominid skulls to historic pottery to even more modern technologies. This array of different objects illustrates the levels of impact over the history of human species on this planet. This essay will look at a modern example of the impact of human species on the planet by looking at how satellite technology gave us the ability to communicate more efficiently as a species, allowing for faster transfer of ideas and data which gives us the ability to understand how historical and present events put pressure on our planet.
Recently, scientists have been evaluating the impact of human species on the Earth, some have concluded that there is strong evidence of significant impact from humans on the planet’s geology, climate, and ecology. These premises have led to the notion of the Anthropocene. This highly debated theory seeks out proof of how humans have utilized the Earth and its resources to make it what it is today. Proof is in human consumption of resources and how we disturb land surfaces for use. For example, in the early 21st century there is data showing that human populations had control over 60% of the world’s surfaces and had reshaped 41% of the marine ecologies. Such heavy-handed influence over the ecologies of the planet has made a lasting impact on many different environments and ecosystems. Not only has human-kind altered landscapes and seascapes, as a species we have also induced changes in the atmosphere and resulting climate and weather patterns. These changes in global climate are alarming as it pertains to the future of our planet and the species which inhabit it. Upheld by evidence from quickly expanding carbon dioxide concentrations, from the sudden increase in use of new technologies created by man for better production methods. The rate of acceleration from the recent past, with a 22% increase in the last fifty years, consequences of human actions are foreshadowing a grave future for our planet.
As technology improved over time new ways to monitor the world came about, one of the most successful being the satellite dish. In present time the satellite dish is a common object, seen everywhere from on top of roofs for TV to up in space for communication, but that was not always the case. In 1957 when, what was then the USSR, launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, into space many people were impressed with such a feat while many were also skeptical of the metal object which was flying in the sky. Not long after, the United States sent a satellite up to orbit, this advancement sparked many ideas of how to utilize such technology and what the “Space Age” would bring for everyday life. These initial satellites were not as long-lasting as modern types but they did provide new information about how to reach space. To the public this was very exciting to witness such advancements of human achievement and many people began to wonder how satellites would be used in the future. It was thought that they would provide many uses from military to commercial while expanding the capabilities of scientific research.3 Even though such concepts seem very exciting there was a sense of fear of what taking to the sky and beyond would bring. With talk of guided bombs onboard satellites it is understandable that the early satellite dishes were not well received by the public. Not only was there concern for the intent of satellites but there was concern about how this technology would affect human lives.
At the very beginning of the space race it was debated whether the United States would attempt to put a satellite of their own into orbit. Arguments were being made that based on the size and what a satellite was able to hold, as far as extra instruments, there was no way any sort of militarized weapon or technology would be supported by such a small piece of equipment. In these early years the satellites being developed were extremely small, capable of holding only small scientific tools which were used to collect data about what is beyond Earth’s atmosphere. The fight to be first and furthest in space created distance between nations, as the US and Russia competed against one another, driving one another’s scientific advancements. As the two nations fought to outdo the other the advances taken on space and satellite technology made great leaps into the future.
The impact satellite dishes have had on human culture are extraordinary. Allowing for long distance communication, visuals of our planet from space and visuals of things in space, and the ability to track changes over time are only some of the innovations that the human race has seen since the 1950s when the first satellites were launched into space. Of course these technological advances come with a cost. An average satellite dish is neither cheap nor easy to make, at the beginning of the space age it could cost up to $20,000,000 to put a satellite into space. As one can imagine that number has only increased as satellites have become more technologically advanced. Along with the high price, the materials used for satellite construction, like copper, steel, and generally fiberglass and aluminums as well, are not easily accessible and typically need lots of alterations in order to be used. Not only are the materials and processing expensive but the labor hours spent to design, create, and operate a satellite dish are extensive. Sending materials like these out into Earth’s orbit and even into space can have lasting impacts. With expanding populations on Earth the number of satellites being launched is increasing dramatically and when these satellites stop working or collide with another they create space junk. It is estimated that there is about 6,000 tons of this junk in orbit around the Earth. This expanse of human influence into orbit and theoretically into space shows the true expanse of human-kind on the Anthropocene.
Not only have satellites had a very literal effect on the environment in the form of space junk but they have also changed the way the world population is able to communicate and work together. The implementation of satellites have allowed for communication through telephones, internet, and television images. This variation has allowed the global population to come closer as a species. The ability to communicate quickly across any distance has made it much easier for ideas to be exchanged. This has allowed for our species to expand much quicker than in past. The expansion of human population places a huge weight on the planet, one which has not been accounted for in the use of resources.
Along with all the other influences satellites have had on human population and global ecologies the use of satellites for recording data about climate change provides evidence of the Anthropocene. For the past couple decades different nations and organizations have been using satellite technology to track, observe, and collect data on phenomena such as the growing hole in the ozone layer, weather patterns such as El Nino, vegetation coverage, and rising sea levels. The use of such technology has allowed us to witness how human activity is changing global climate. For example, satellites observing the polar icecaps allowed scientists to observe 190 tons of ice lost in 2006. Data such as this gives strong evidence that human actions have been influencing the climate and Earth’s geology. The ability of satellites to provide such data is a giant leap in human technology. Without this technology human-kind would essentially be living in the dark ages, unable to track phenomena such as tornados and hurricanes, or temperature patterns. Even the small-scale data for weather tracking has changed human life in an enormous way.
Although this seems very beneficial, especially in the dispute for the Anthropocene, there are certain challenges to using satellite data. Most of the historical data, from the early satellites back in the 1950s, is not complete either because the satellites themselves were not designed for such rigorous climate measurements or because the satellite stopped functioning. This insufficient data from the past makes it difficult to compare and contrast with the climate data being collected by modern day satellites. To help reduce these inefficiencies, meteorological organizations have proposed the use of micro satellites, which will help track greenhouse gasses like methane and carbon dioxide. The data collected from these along with the weather satellites will help determine the cause of the global climate changes.
Satellite technology has given human-kind the advantage of being able to observe weather and climate patterns in the present and compare the data to data collected from the past. This technology has had an impact on the environment through the consequences of the space race during the 1950s, through the “junk” that is left in space when man-made satellites breakdown or collide with one another, and through the advantages from observing how human activities have impacted the planet. Not only do satellites provide evidence for the Anthropocene, but they have also given humans ways to change the world by advancing communication technologies allowing for transfer of ideas and materials at a much faster rate. This technology is illustrative of the Anthropocene in two ways, first by the materials of the satellites dishes themselves leaving an imprint on the environment, and secondly by giving rise to faster ways of human interactions across the globe which consequentially impact the planet.
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