The Impact of Travel on the Evironment
Human history has been defined by movement and expansion, as humans slowly moved throughout the globe. Even after humans had populated the entire world, humans continued to travel for many reasons: war, trade, adventure, and religion. It would seem that the human species is filled with inveterate travelers. Throughout history, those nations and civilizations that had the best modes of transportation seemed to have a real competitive advantage. The “northern barbarians” who savaged and conquered much of Europe in its early history, the Greeks, the Romans, and eventually all of Europe in the age of Exploration dominated because they had superior transportation. Horses, boats, and well-built roads are all examples of this general trend. Travel has had a significant impact in human history, and it has also had a significant impact on global ecological history. However, it is not the movement of humans that seems to carry environmental significance. If humans moved throughout the world, empty-handed and naked perhaps the effects of travel would have been minimal. Instead it seems that often the things that humans carried with them caused many more calamities then humans themselves. The plants, animals and technologies, which travelers carry with them often had devastating affects on the environment.
When humans travel, they often brought their plants and animals with them. Early man brought their dogs with them, even to the Americas, while much later settlers also brought their cows, horses, and agricultural plants to the New World. However, things also traveled the other way, and potatoes and corn became widespread in the rest of the world after the Europeans brought it back from the Americas. The Irish potato famine, and the dependence on potatoes that caused it, would not have been possible if many years earlier, settlers had not traveled to the New World and discovered and cultivated the crop. Even plants that naturally occurred in certain areas were changed by human travel. Native plants to an area, such as cotton or flax, were crossbred with other forms of the plant from elsewhere to produce a better crop. The result of better, more durable crops is the inevitable over-use of the land, because the plant can survive increasingly difficult conditions.
The animals that traveled with humans also caused major ecological side-effects. The horse, the cow, and the other large domesticated animals were unknown in the Americas before the Europeans “discovered” it. The addition of the horse to Plains Indian lifestyles made the damage that they did to the buffalo herds much more severe. In general, the excessive graining and over-planting that caused the...