Learning about the Earth as a system of interconnected events, entities, and phenomena (Fig. 2.1) is relevant to the sustainable development of our civilization. This global relevance—which extends from local communities across continents—commonly is represented by terms that connect human populations around the planet, such as global change, global economy, or global warming. Underlying these global perspectives are the technologies for viewing the entire planet at once across time with unprecedented resolution and for sharing information instantaneously around the world. We are beginning to work together as a global community—building an international society that preserves the legacy of nations while resolving global issues of common concern.
Historical perspectives on the progress of human civilization provide benchmarks for understanding our current situation and the challenges that lie ahead. As the last continent on Earth to be occupied by humans, Antarctica is unique in reflecting the succession of stages in our increasingly international society.
For all new worlds or unseen environments there are periods of speculation about riches followed by exploration of the unknown
(Chapter 3: Terra Australis Incognita). For Antarctica, this speculation emerged in early Greece with theories about the ''unknown southern land''—Terra Australis Incognita. Millennia after the Greek philosophers—only at the end of the 18th century—James Cook (1728-1779) ignited the era of Antarctic exploration by traveling beyond the south polar circle. Within decades, industries began exploiting new resources. This ''establishment phase'' continued into the early 20th century, with nations ultimately claiming priority so that they could slice the continent into sovereign territories like pieces of a giant pie.
On all other continents, concerns about territorial boundaries have led to confrontations among nations. In Antarctica, fortunately, science gained a foothold and began demonstrating a mechanism for cooperation among nations (Chapter 4: Awakening Science). The International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958, with its 12-nation contingent in Antarctica, became the catalyst for the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed only a year later in 1959. With this international framework in place—ensuring that the region south of 60° south latitude ''shall be used for peaceful purposes only''—human involvement in Antarctica moved into an ''international accommodation phase'' when nations continuously identify and build on their common interests (Chapter 5: International Stewardship).
Throughout the past half century, the Antarctic Treaty consultative process (introduced in Chapter 2 as a model decision-making framework) has enabled diverse stakeholders to safeguard the only continent dedicated for peaceful purposes. However, like the rest of the Earth system, Antarctica is increasingly exposed to resource and environmental impacts from human activities. In resolving these human impacts, the Antarctic Treaty has matured into a model system for fusing scientific insights with economic, governmental, and other societal interests to produce visionary policies for managing human activities on an international scale (CD-ROM on the Antarctic Treaty Searchable Database: 1959-1999).
Humans are an integral part of the Earth system—depending on it, affecting it, and responding to its variability. Geometric expansion
Was this article helpful?