- Like all creatures on this planet, human beings too depend on their environment for survival. Living beings, including humans, interact with the environment in several ways. Below are some human environment interaction examples.
What are human environment interactions?
Simply put, human-environment interactions are the interactions that play out between humanity (the society as a whole, also called the social system) and the rest of the ecosystem. In other words, these interactions are the human activities that directly impact the environment.
The vast world of land, sea, and atmosphere is what is referred to here as the environment.
For example, we depend on water that we acquire from our surroundings, we cut wood, we mine minerals, and we use other natural resources. All these are examples of human-environment interactions.
All these activities greatly impact the environment. However, the changes in the environment affect humans as well. For instance, when the weather changes from hot to cold or cold to hot, we change clothes to adapt.
Although humans have depended on the environment ever since humanity first walked on earth. With time, we have come up with clever ways to make use of everything that the planet has to offer.
In fact, with industrialization and advancements in technology, our ability to, modify the environment grew significantly. Today, our use of these resources is now bordering on the exploitation of our planet.
This exploitation has resulted in negative consequences like climate change and pollution, which in turn greatly affect not just the human social system but individuals as well.
Human Social System
To understand human-environment interactions better, we first need to understand what exactly is the human social system and what its characteristics are. This is important because the type of social system (or society) determines the impact it has on the surroundings.
Typical human social systems have characteristics like population size, social organization, values, technology, wealth, education, and knowledge, among others.
The particular set of values of the society and the knowledge an individual has, determine the relation people might have with the environment and the action they take.
Consider, for example, the fact the richest one per cent of the population emits double the carbon dioxide than the poorest fifty per cent.
Or the fact that the rich and developed nations have polluted the planet more than poor and/or developing countries.
It must be noted that the characteristics of the environment also affect how individuals and societies behave. For instance, a hilly or mountainous terrain will be sparsely populated in comparison to a geographically plain area.
Another example would be the type of habitations humans build depending on the kind of environment they live in. House, for example, in plains are built of bricks and concrete while those Eskimos live in snow houses.
11 best human environment interaction examples
Types of human environment interactions
The human environment interactions may be grouped into three categories. They are –
Dependence of humans on the environment
Every organism on earth depends on the environment it lives in. The world and the life it sustains is a highly complex and intricate system in which all life is interconnected and interdependent. Plants depend on their surroundings for water, sunlight, and air. A lion depends upon the water, the prey, and the shelter it receives from the environment.
Thus, it is easy to see how all lives are intertwined. Humans, however, have taken this dependence to a whole new level. We drink tea or coffee that might come from thousands of miles away. We wear clothes for which the raw materials could have been gathered in one place and the manufacturing took place someplace else.
Modification of the environment by humans
Human activities can and have modified the environment in several ways. We cut trees for timber and use the land for building artificial shelters. We have created skyscrapers, schools, hospitals, shopping centres, roads, and flyovers. Changing the original landscape of this planet to a great degree.
The environment we see around us, consisting of the houses, buildings, transmission lines, and towers is not at all the natural environment that man first lived in. These modifications have had both positive and negative consequences.
Humans adapting to the environment
Humans have shown that they are capable of adapting to an extreme degree. They can adapt and survive almost anywhere on the planet. This is not true of any other species. For instance, humans can be found living in the coldest of places (the arctic) or the driest of places (deserts). They can even live in space now!
Human Environment Interaction Examples
Given below are some human environment interaction examples that have impacted the environment negatively.
Negative human environment interaction examples
1. Humans use natural resources
A natural resource occurs in nature. Anything that nature provides that can be useful to human society is a natural resource. Water, land, air, wood, metals, minerals, and petroleum are some examples.
We use several such resources or products made of natural resources every day. The water we drink is a natural resource. The timber we use comes from trees, the clothes we wear are a product of some natural resources, the energy we use to run our electronic devices and appliances is created with the help of natural resources and fossil fuels like petroleum and coal are natural resources we use as well.
We are so dependent on such resources that we cannot even imagine our lives without the convenience they provide. Further, the demand for these resources is increasing at a drastic rate because of the increasing population. The advancements in technology have made the demand go up significantly and have also made extracting these resources easy.
As a result, we are exploiting nature and depleting it of its resources. This has resulted in environmental degradation and has caused several environmental problems. Some of the damage that human beings have caused seems to be irreparable.
In general, it is seen that with more socio-economic development, the demand for natural resources grows as well. This is one of the most common human environment interaction examples.
2. Pollution and waste
Another byproduct of socio-economic development via the use of natural resources is waste and the pollution that results from it. This is, arguably, the most dangerous problem that needs to be addressed immediately. There are seven kinds of pollutions that are a result of mismanagement of different types of wastes.
- Air pollution – Burning of fossil fuels like petroleum and coal, the emissions by vehicles, various fumes and gases that result from manufacturing processes like that of plastic and paints, and radiation spills and nuclear accidents pollute the air.
- Land pollution – Land pollution refers to the degradation of the earth’s surface. Oil spills, littering of roads and streets, illegal dumping of waste on natural habitats, chemicals like pesticides used in agriculture are all factors that contribute to the degradation of land.
- Garbage pollution – Mismanagement of solid waste leads to pollution as well. This results not just in bad odour but spreading harmful bacteria in the surroundings as well.
- Plastic pollution – Plastic is a non-biodegradable material. This means that they will take at least a thousand years to decompose. Most biodegradable products that we use are decomposed in a matter of days.
- E-waste pollution – Electronic waste needs to be handled with care because it may contain toxic materials like lead, mercury, and flame retardants. Mismanagement of e-waste can lead to contamination of landfills and even water bodies.
- Nuclear waste pollution – Nuclear waste, if not taken care of, can prove to be highly dangerous to humans, animals, and plants. Radioactivity can cause cancerous growths and genetic problems in animals, plants, and human beings.
- Medical waste pollution – Medical waste is the waste generated by hospitals, pharmacies, and medical labs. Medical waste can contain toxic, flammable, corrosive, infectious, pathological, medical sharps, and even radioactive waste. As such, it needs to be treated properly.
All types of pollution and untreated waste are human environment interaction examples. It is essential to improve the condition of pollution on our planet.
3. Deforestation at a huge scale
Forests sustain life. Forests are extremely complex ecosystems that provide habitat to wildlife and provide clean air to breathe to humans as well as other animals. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that majority of the so-called ‘irreparable’ damage to the environment can be reversed simply by increasing the green cover of the planet. Yet, as our society advances, the rate of deforestation increases at an alarming rate.
We cut down forests for many purposes. We may require land for agricultural processes and we may cut down trees for the wood they provide. We deprive the animal and plant species that depend on the forest ecosystem of a home. Deforestation has resulted in many species going extinct and many face the same danger.
Further, cutting down forests reduces biodiversity. Biodiversity is essential for our species to survive because all life is interdependent. Deforestation also leads to increased greenhouse gases as well as soil erosion. Soil erosion results in the soil losing its fertility. Deforestation is one of the most dangerous human environment interaction examples.
4. Utilization of energy resources
Another example of human-environment interaction is the utilization of energy resources by humanity.
We use and depend on energy in several ways. We are familiar with electricity as a form of energy that we use every day. Our transportation system, our communication systems, our electric equipment, all use some form of energy.
We use fuels like coal to generate electricity and petroleum to operate our vehicles. Our society has depended on fossil fuels more than anything for its socio-economic growth. However, their use in such a manner has had several negative consequences.
Continuous use of fossil fuels promotes global warming and global climate change because burning them results in greenhouse gas emissions. Continuous use of natural resources affects the environment in many ways. This is one of the uncontrollable human environment interaction examples.
5. Use of water resources by humans
Humans depend greatly on water resources and derive many uses from them. Other than the fact that we need it for survival, it finds use in agricultural, domestic, and industrial processes.
Even though two-thirds of the earth’s surface is covered with water, the amount of freshwater available for consumption is only about 3 per cent. A lot of this freshwater is in the form of glaciers and that leaves very little for us to consume.
This means that freshwater is a scarce resource and should be used judiciously. Moreover, water pollution is also a problem that needs to be tackled. Water is a very essential element of our planet. Polluting and wasting water resources can greatly affect our planet. This is one of the most impactful human environment interaction examples.
6. Human activities that impact the environment
There are several other ways in which humans interact negatively with the environment, causing environmental damage. As the population increases, more and more resources are needed, and hence, we continue to modify our environment to meet our needs.
We build dams to produce energy which in turn cause flooding and are harmful to the aquatic animals. We drill for oil and gas knowing that drilling makes the land more prone to earthquakes. Oil spills in seas destroy marine life.
We dump and litter without caring about the consequences. We use aerosols without realizing that the fumes coming out of aerosols increase the number of greenhouse gases. Even the modern CFC-free aerosol sprays emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
These VOCs add to ground-level ozone levels, the main ingredient that causes asthma. These activities are one of the most impactful human environment interaction examples affecting the environment.
Positive human-environment interaction examples
There are certain interactions between humans and the environment that have a positive impact rather than a negative impact on the environment. For example –
7. Renewable energy
We have started using renewable sources of energy instead of conventional, exhaustible ones. Human society is making a transition to clean energy and advances are being made in this sector. Alternatives to fossil fuels include solar energy, geothermal energy, and wind energy. However, we are still a long way from making a full transition. Utilising renewable energy is one of the most beneficial human environment interaction examples.
8. Green urban projects
Many people and urban planners have started taking a different approach to living in the city. More public parks are being built and wastelands and rooftops are being transformed into urban gardens. Many initiatives have been taken to improve the environment. Green urban projects have been proven to be one of the best human interaction examples.
The international ecotourism society defines eco-tourism as “responsible travel that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Tourists greatly impact the environment they travel to. The goal of eco-tourism is to minimize that impact. Ecotourism is one of the efficient human environment interaction examples.
10. National parks
Government agencies in many countries are protecting their national parks and the overall green cover. However, developing nations are still lagging in these aspects. National parks are a great way to protect nature and wildlife. National parks are one the best human environment interaction examples.
11. Reduce, reuse, and recycle
People are becoming more aware of the impact their actions have on their environment. The goal is to make sure that a minimal amount of waste reaches landfills. This is the most common human environment interaction example.
Measurement of the impact on the environment
Scientists have devised various methodologies to measure the impact society has on the environment. One way to calculate the negative effects is to calculate ‘environmental footprints.’
By measuring the said footprint, we can deduce the negative effects that an individual, institution, region, or nation has on the environment. Three footprints are typically used when assessing such an impact. They are –
1. Carbon footprint – A carbon footprint is simply the total amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) that the actions of an individual (or a household/region/nation) generate. Since carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, reducing the carbon footprint by reducing emissions is essential. You can calculate your carbon footprint here.
2. Ecological footprint – An ecological footprint helps us answer the question, ‘how much of the resources do we consume?’ In other words, it is a way of accounting for the demand for natural ecosystems’ supply of resources and services. To calculate the demand of the resources, the ecological assets that a given population or product requires to produce the natural resources it consumes and to absorb its waste are added up.
It tracks the use of the productive surface areas (like cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, built-up land, etc). To calculate the supply, the region or nation’s biocapacity (the productivity of these assets and productive surface areas) is calculated. The ecological footprint may be calculated for an individual, a household, or an entire nation. You can see your ecological footprint here.
3. Water footprint – A water footprint is a method to calculate the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use. It may be calculated for a process like that of growing wheat, producing a pair of trousers, or for an entire factory of steel. It is a measure of how much water a nation or region consumes and/or pollutes. You may find your water footprint here.
Sustainable development is the idea that human beings should use the available resources in such a way that they meet their needs without compromising the needs of the future generation. For sustainable development to happen, we need to preserve the environment and its natural resources while maintaining social and economic equality and promoting public health.
It is about time that humanity changes its ways. We are faced with challenges like climate change and the threat of extinction of several species. For the sake of economic growth, the environment and other fellow creatures have been exploited and thus, the need of the hour is to focus on sustainable development.
This means using the available resources judiciously while maintaining the ecological balance, protecting the environment and socio-economic advancement happens without overexploitation of resources. It also means increasing our green cover, reducing our emissions, and using renewable energy.
The idea has been supported by global organizations like the United Nations and other NGOs and activists. Governments of several developed and developing nations are working on reducing their emissions and are sponsoring efforts for the achievement of the sustainable development goals put forward by the UN.
These were a few human-environment interaction examples. Some negatively affect the environment and some positively. Human interaction with the environment is significant and essential. Though it’s inevitable, it’s important to make this interaction positive. Human environment interaction examples include the most common interactions with the environment.
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