Sauer, Carl O. 1956. The Agency of Man on the Earth. Chap. In Man’s role in changing the face of the earth, edited by William L. Thomas, Jr. 2 Vols. Chicago, III.: The University of Chicago Press. Vol 2: 49-69.


The main argument in Carl O Sauer’s article “The Agency of Man on the Earth” is that human action can modify the earth and he has the capacity to “alter his natural environment, the manner of his doing, and the virtue of his action…the physical and biologic processes that man sets in motion, inhibits or deflects, and with the differences in cultural conduct that distinguish one human group from another” (p. 49). There are many ways that a human can alter the environment. His actions have disturbed and displaced the organic world, affected the course of organic evolution, changed the terrain, soil, and the waters on the land and minerals, and effected local alterations of the atmosphere (p. 49).

Saur begins with the man’s survival against the harsh climatic condition: “the four glacial and three interglacial stages” and his struggle through the modern age where literally has control over the environment, as he claims “slowly and bit by bit only are we likely to see the pieces fall into their proper order” (p. 52).  Man has seen the fire, and has made attempts to control/suppress the fire, made a wise selection of “certain plants and animals…and bred into domesticated form” (p. 56) and modified the earth’s surface establishing the “system of the terracing of slopes” (p. 57) as per his convenience, traveled overseas and established a civilization.  Saur further writes about how human activities like “…the development of beets and turnips as field crops, rotation of fields with clover, innovations in tillage, improved livestock breeds-all joined to raise agricultural production to new levels” in western Europe and different parts of the globe (p. 64) and how the wars affected the organic horizons and color of soil, the temperature, and the climate. “In the spirit of the present, this mission is to “develop the underdeveloped” parts of the world, material good and spiritual good now having become one…that the ways of the West are the ways that are best for the rest of the world” (p. 68).

It is obvious there are lots of changes occurring in nature, and for Saur, it is the man who is responsible for the changes either good or bad—for, the measure of progress is “standard of living” (p. 66). For him, the goal of a society is “living beyond one’s means” which could be stopped by economic limits of physical matter (p. 68). However, man will not stop progressing, but yes show some concerns over the renewable resources and act like not spending the resources thriftily.

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