3 Urbanisation and globalisation as the drivers of Anthropocene

Urbanisation and globalisation are not independent of landscapes. The two processes are the leading symbols of the 21st century. It is important to examine how the two relate with the Anthropocene, big data and landscape sustainability. With half of the human race living in cities, the United Nations marked the 21st century as the urban century (Bogardi, 2008). According to Beaverstock et al. (2011), “the city is the global fulcrum for production, exchange and consumption.” Mass consumption of natural resources is a trademark of urbanisation. Trends of urbanisation continue to soar, with differentials within and between various global regions. In Asia, the pace of urbanisation is between 100% in some countries, and 50 to 60% in others (Poddar, 2007; Yuen and Kong, 2009). Africa is also ranked one of the most urbanising regions, and 70% of its urban areas are designated as slums (UN-Habitat, 2003; World Bank, 2009). Similarly, Latin America and the Caribbean are rapidly urbanising at the rate of 80%. These trends are embedded within threats of climate and land use change (Krellenberg et al., 2010). The rate of urbanisation underscores the intensity of pressure on the landscape within and around urban areas. Cities across continents and regions are linked to each other via economic and socio-ecological systems (Marcotullio, 2008Jump To The Next Citation Point; Sassen, 2009Jump To The Next Citation Point). Mega and large cities are located across ecological regions – drylands, rainforests, highlands and coastal zones. In terms of spatial size, by 2000, the size of the world’s urban areas was around 2.8% of the world’s total land area (SEDAC/CIESIN, 2005). Another estimate puts the size at around 0.3% of the earth’s land mass (Martine, 2008).

Linking urbanisation and the Anthropocene, Meybeck and Vörösmarty (2005) observe that megacities cause global river fluxes. The authors characterise this as a feature of the Anthropocene. Urbanisation escalates land use and land cover change, carbon emission, and the redistribution of terrestrial energy (Stone Jr, 2009; Ellis, 2010; Dawson et al., 2010). Urban areas consume 70% of the global net energy and its emissions (Seto and Satterthwaite, 2010). Cities also constitute most of the overarching means of earth modification through their intense material dependency (Kolbert, 2011). Proponents of the Anthropocene extend their debates to a number of major cities. Urban archaeologists argue that London, Istanbul, Beijing, Mexico City, Rome and Novgorod have traces of stratigraphic artificial grounds that reveal the onset of the Anthropocene (Edgeworth, 2010). Based on the above revelations, urbanisation can be considered as a hub that carries all other driving forces associated with the Anthropocene. The pressures that urbanisation exerts on the landscape could be studied through multiple types and forms of data.

Globalisation and urbanisation overlap each other due to their direct impact on landscape. Researchers find a strong correlation between the two processes, as illustrated by time-space telescoping theory and global city theory (Marcotullio et al., 2003Jump To The Next Citation Point; Marcotullio, 2005, 2008Jump To The Next Citation Point; Sassen, 2009Jump To The Next Citation Point). The two theories explain that globalisation deepens and intensifies urbanisation between countries. Globalisation, economic liberalisation and the presence of multinational corporations bring about rapid changes to the morphology of landscapes (Hamouche, 2004; Wilcox et al., 2011). In places, such as urbanised Singapore, industrial globalisation creates scenarios for urban spatial structuring (Zhu, 2002; Al Kuwari and Kaiser, 2011). This overlapping of the two processes breeds the concept of glurbanisation. Glurbanisation underscores the transformation of urban landscapes through the interconnectedness of cities and their patterns of resource consumption (Dalby, 2009; Hodson and Marvin, 2010). Globalisation makes the world more open and interconnected. Hence, Bradbury and Seymour (2008) conclude that the earth’s transition to the Anthropocene is triggered by the force of globalisation. Allenby (2008) links cities, information and the Anthropocene through the interconnectedness of information and communication systems. On the other hand, Sassen (2009) argues that the global urban network is embedded within ecological implications. The concentration of population, industries and energy needs, and the culture of mass consumption of natural resources place cities at the heart of the Anthropocene debate. Based on the role of urban areas in the anthropocene debate, landscape scientists should focus on systematic landscape changes within and around cities. It is also important to measure the externalities or impacts of one city on the landscapes of other urban and rural areas to which they are connected through globalisation.

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