United States Human Geography

Global change and the human dimension of environmental problems

The U.S. constitute a privileged laboratory for the analysis of global trends in the relations between man and the natural environment, because they allow us to observe in advance the evolution of the mechanisms that give ever greater complexity to societies and the spaces they contain. organized. The US plays a primary role in the process of world transnationalization, both because they remain the economically and militarily most powerful state body and because they historically experience within them great processes of transnationalization and globalization, deriving from immigration (on average 1million individuals per year, mostly of Latin American and Asian origin) and by the presence, in the socio-territorial and strategic structure of the country, of a plurality of capitals and economic operators.

The human dimension of global environmental change finds expression in the intentions and actions for sustainable development, which in the US are officially represented by the Council of Sustainable Development, set up by President Clinton in 1993, to try to “lead the population to meet the needs of the present without endangering the future “, in the wake of the principles enunciated in 1987 by the United Nations World Commission for the Environment and Development (Bruntdland Report). The paradoxical yet unavoidable challenge that the US, as the vanguard of the developed world, and the rest of the planet are facing at the beginning of 21Century consists in creating individual economic opportunities and social and economic solidity, such as to allow the overcoming of environmental risks and social inequities that have characterized the economic development of the past. This challenge makes the US the desirable leader of international policies necessary for the achievement of sustainable development goals. Some pilot projects of environmental recovery or rethinking of consolidated concepts in the use and consumption of the territory are significant of a trend that is expanding in the United States. We review some of them below.

Rethinking urban sprawl. – California is the state-symbol of urban sprawl, that is, the widespread expansion of the peripheral settlements of metropolitan areas; this uncontrolled growth of human sites affects both society and the landscape, with enormous costs that California, like many other regions in the US, can no longer bear. The Beyond sprawl study . New patterns of growth to fit the New California (Bank of America, California Resources Agency, Greenbelt Alliance, Low Income Housing Fund, 1995) highlights how the development of settlements in large areas very distant from historical urban centers – the latter subject to an increasingly serious decline – determines a notable increase in the use of cars, with time diseconomies; moreover, vast agricultural and forest areas are irretrievably rendered sterile, while taxes and other costs increase for the population in order to create new infrastructures. The report demonstrates the need to return to more compact settlements for more efficient communities, in order to conserve agricultural spaces and revitalize cities; it considers not only the Californian situation, but also that of the historical industry region of the Northeast (between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic coast), the Middle West, the Sun Belt (the “belt of the sun”, especially as regards Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico) and the North-West. Only with the joint action of public and private interests will it be possible to multiply ‘sustainable communities’.

Chattanooga, a city remade. – Chattanooga, Tennessee, had experienced a rapid urban and economic decline since the 1950s, with the simultaneous expansion of the outer city, the suburban suburb, as an effect of urban sprawl. In 1969 Chattanooga was classified as the most polluted city in America. But from 1984 onwards a series of projects involving public and private structures, with the direct participation of citizens, has achieved such improvements that the city boasts excellent air quality in recent years, to the point of being considered an ‘environmental city’. (environmental city). The projects have halted the decline of downtown, revitalized the neighborhoods bordering the Tennessee River, created new employment, revived the conservation and expansion of parks, natural areas, alternative transport.

Cleveland and the revitalization of brownfield sites. – Cleveland, Ohio, exemplifies the problem of the very numerous brownfields, the abandoned and often heavily polluted industrial areas in many large cities, especially in the Northeast (the old industrial region called Rust Belt, that is, “rust belt”, via of the partial decay of the productive fabric). The reclamation and reuse of abandoned areas contribute to limiting the external expansion of settlements, therefore the transformation of agricultural or natural areas. In 1990, the unused area in Cleveland was estimated at 13 % of the total. In 1993three pilot projects for the remediation of as many abandoned areas led to the approval of a law of the State of Ohio to stimulate the voluntary remediation of brownfield sites. These initiatives are spreading to many other cities in the US, with the help of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Coastal wetland protection in Louisiana. – Each year an area of ​​approximately 60 km ²of coastal wetlands of Louisiana is submerged by the sea. Rapid erosion is disrupting natural ecosystems and ruining hundreds of human communities in the Mississippi Delta. In recent years, the situation has been slowly improving, also thanks to the action of the Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Interfaith Stewardship Plan, an organization that brings together religious congregations of different faiths, aimed at protecting coastal wetlands. The presence of religious bodies in attempts to solve environmental problems may seem strange, but their involvement allows for fruitful contact with local communities and their problems (eg fishermen who lose their jobs). This association operates alongside other bodies, in which they are represented, sometimes in conflict with each other, on the one hand, the oil companies operating in Louisiana and the Association of Landowners, on the other, environmental protection organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Louisiana Wildlife Federation. In 1989 The State of Louisiana passed and funded a Coastal Wetland Conservation Act, and in 1990 the US Congress passed an All-US Wetland Act, in which $ 1.5 billion was earmarked for Louisiana., which is home to one of the largest river deltas in the world.

In 1995, the US had a thousand protected areas in various capacities, covering an area of 982,400 km ², that is 10, 3 % of the total area of ​​the country. On the same date, the National Park System included 368 protected sites, for a total of 333,212 km ², including 54 national parks, covering 206,846 km ², 10 National Seashores (2,370 km ²) and 4 National Lakeshores (916 km ²)), that is coasts, beaches and marine and lake coasts (on the Great Lakes) of particular naturalistic and historical-cultural importance. The National Park System includes not only large natural parks, but also historical and archaeological sites and national recreation areas, which often serve to relieve visitor pressure on the most famous parks, frequented by millions of people. But the parks are not isolated realities, but inserted in a territorial reality that changes quickly: for this reason the National Park Service has launched some awareness and study campaigns, with private financial support, both by individuals and large companies, and with the involvement of the communities in which the parks are located. In 1996 the Expedition into the Parks program it involved numerous volunteers, mostly university students, scouting organizations and other non-profit organizations, for targeted surveys and studies in 20 parks.

United States Human Geography