How did the development of European colonies in the Americas alter the natural environment? (The Earth and Its Peoples, 474)
The development of European colonies in the Americas drastically and permanently changed not only the environment of the New World, but also those of multiple countries around the globe. Many species of plants, animals, diseases, and races of people were dispersed throughout North and South America. Important Native American crops such as the potato and corn were brought back to the Old World of Europe and significantly changed diets and lifestyles there. This widespread exchange of plants and animals is referred to as the Columbian Exchange, after Christopher Columbus, whose historical voyage arguably started the movement.
The introduction of Old World diseases was a substantial catalyst in the building of American colonial societies. Diseases such as smallpox devastated the native people’s populations. According to one estimate, within the span of the 16th century, the native population of central Mexico was reduced to about 700,000 from at least 13 million. (The Earth and Its Peoples, 475) Other regions were similarly affected by the disease and others such as measles, typhus, influenza, and malaria. These diseases, in effect, cleared the way for European settlers, although, in a somewhat gruesome fashion.
A significant factor in the transformation of the land of the New World was trading and hunting. Before Europeans arrived, the natives had manipulated the land themselves to create herds of buffalo and other animals for food, clothing, and other resources. After European colonization, the hunting and trade systems of both groups of people changed. The natives acquired guns and horses for hunting, and did so for trading as opposed to survival. Species like the buffalo were hunted almost to extinction. The horse expressively changed the landscape and the lifestyles of the native peoples of the Americas, North America especially. It altered their battle strategies, hunting tactics, and provided for easier travel. Pigs were another animal that transformed the landscape; most crops and small shoots disappeared in their wake.
Another significant factor in the transformation of American lands was logging. Wood provided a basic building material, and fuel for cooking and heating, as it had in the old world. However, building was a huge case of need for wood in the colonies, as the land was undeveloped and other building materials were not readily available.
The effect of the Spanish American mining industry was also notable. Large quantities of lumber were required to build and maintain the silver mines and refineries of Bolivia and Peru. The livestock required to refine the metal and transport the ingot depleted the surrounding crops and caused increased erosion. In addition, gaseous mercury and other toxic substances were...