Humans depend on the environment for survival and are connected to the environment. The interaction between humans and the environment has evolved and transformed over time.
As society transitioned from hunting and gathering to a farming society and from nomadic lifestyles to sedentary lifestyles, the impact associated with human-environmental interactions evolved.
Human-environmental interactions are beneficial for humans. No other species on earth has interacted with the environment as humans have. The way humans have adapted to the earth has allowed them to reign superior over the environment and related ecosystems.
The following will provide an overview of what human-environmental interactions are and the significance of this topic.
What is Human-Environment Interaction?
Human environmental interaction can be defined as connections between the human social system (i.e. humans) and the rest of the ecosystem (i.e. natural environment). It refers to how humans interact with the environment to fulfill their needs and how the environment responds to these interactions (e.g. cutting down a tree).
The human-environment interaction also describes how humans have adapted to their environment for survival.
Both the human social system and environment are considered adaptive systems because of their feedback systems and ability to support survival under changing conditions.
Although a lot of attention is placed on the negative impacts of human-environmental interactions (e.g. deforestation), there are also a lot of positive human-environmental interactions (e.g. upcycling or recycling).
With that said, the negative interactions that humans have with the environment far outweigh the positive interactions.
The 3 Types of Human Environmental Interaction
Human-environment interactions can be categorized into three types:
1. Dependence on the Environment
To get essential resources, humans depend on the environment for survival (e.g. air, water, food, shelter). Humans cannot survive without some form of interaction with the environment.
2. Modification of the Environment
To fulfill their needs, humans modify the environment to meet their own goals and needs. Human activities can impact the environment in both positive and negative ways.
Everything humans do require resources provided by nature for things, such as energy.
Humans have modified the physical environment by clearing land for agriculture or building dams and continue to change the environment through industrialization and the development of homes.
3. Adaptation to the Environment
Humans can change and adapt to various environmental conditions for survival and to meet their needs. Humans have settled and adapted to natural settings all over the world (e.g. the Arctic) and created advanced systems (e.g. heating) to help them survive and thrive.
Top 12 Examples of Human-Environment Interactions
Humans impact the environment through their interactions in many different ways, such as overpopulation, pollution, and the burning of fossil fuels. Human environment interactions have resulted in impacts, such as climate change, soil erosion, and air pollution.
Below are the 12 examples of human-environment interactions:
Human interaction with the environment has changed drastically over time. Humans have evolved from hunters and gather living a nomadic lifestyle to farming and industrialization living a sedentary lifestyle. This transformation took place because of a growing population.
Before industrialization, the impacts of human activities were minimal because the technologies used were not capable of modifying the environment on a large scale. For example, agricultural activities were performed using hand tools and simple technologies.
When industrialization began in the 18th century, human-environmental interaction started to change.
Industrialization allowed for greater exploitation and extraction of natural resources. For example, machinery was developed to cut down trees at a faster rate and chemical fertilizers were manufactured to aid crop production.
While these changes rapidly increased the number of resources available to humans, they also increased human impact on the environment. Increased human activity, resource extraction and development have led to climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and pollution.
2. Use of Natural Resources
Natural resources, such as oil, metals and timber, play a significant role in humans’ day-to-day lives. The demand for natural resources continues to increase as the global population keeps growing.
Natural resources can be non-renewable or renewable. Non-renewable resources are limited in supply and cannot be used sustainably. The four major non-renewable resources are oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy.
Renewable resources will replenish to replace the portion depleted by usage and consumption, either through natural reproduction or other recurring processes in a finite amount of time. Renewable resources include solar energy, hydropower and wind energy.
The extraction of non-renewable natural resources is concerning because these resources cannot be renewed or replaced. In addition, fossil fuels have played a key role in globalization and resulted in climate modification.
Check out our other article post on how to conserve natural resources.
3. Energy Generation
The environmental impacts associated with energy generation and consumption include air pollution, climate change, water pollution, thermal pollution and solid waste disposal.
The generation of energy for electricity involves three major categories:
- Fossil fuels (e.g. coal, natural gas, and petroleum)
- Nuclear energy
- Renewable energy
Fossil fuels are an inexpensive method for generating electricity because extraction is straightforward and has been done for many years.
However, fossils generate a lot of industrial waste (e.g. mercury) and emit large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Unlike energy generated from fossil fuels, nuclear energy does not produce air pollution or carbon dioxide. However, it produces radioactive waste, which is an environmental concern that is also dangerous to human health.
Renewable energy, also known as clean energy, includes hydropower, solar power, and wind power. They provide many environmental and human health benefits and are considered unlimited resources as they are non-extractive.
Mining is the process of extracting materials and resources from the earth, such as coal, gold, or iron ore.
Mining operations often increase rates of deforestation, land degradation, and destruction of farmlands as significant areas of land are needed.
This extractive activity also has severe effects on the environment, such as loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, inadequate availability of clean water, poor air quality, noise pollution, and contamination of surface water, groundwater, and soil.
Chemical leaching and leakage from mining sites into the soil and nearby water sources can have long-term effects on the health of populations living nearby. Some landscapes and ecosystems never recover from the effects of mining, while others take years to heal.
Manufacturing involves the creation of new products from raw materials or related components. The demand for manufactured goods steadily increases as the human population increases and the consumption of resources increases.
Industrial factories, where goods are manufactured, are a major contributor to environmental degradation and pollution.
Factories emit wastes that pollute the air (e.g. carbon dioxide and methane) and discharge waste that pollutes the water (e.g. fertilizers, pesticides, dyes, soaps).
While manufacturing has negative effects on the environment, sustainable measures can be adopted to reduce energy usage, related emissions, and pollution.
6. Environmental Degradation
Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the natural environment through the depletion and consumption of resources (e.g. air, water, soil). This process can be entirely natural or it can be accelerated or directly caused by human activities.
The degradation of the environment can be driven by economic and population growth, urbanization, agricultural activities, manufacturing, and the extraction of resources. These activities can lead to the degradation of land and soil, water, atmosphere, wildlife, plants, animals and micro-organisms.
Environmental degradation limits the earth’s ability to meet the social and ecological needs of all species.
Deforestation results from poor resource management and negative human-environment interaction. Deforestation occurs when too many trees are cut down too fast and the trees cut down, not replaced, or given adequate time to grow back.
Many developing countries have cleared a lot of their forests for economic and agricultural purposes. This has resulted in a steady loss of forested areas and several negative impacts.
Deforestation decreases biodiversity, is a major contributor to soil erosion, and impacts water supply.
Pollution is the human-driven introduction of harmful materials into the environment. It can be either visible (e.g. garbage) or invisible (e.g. air pollution) while generating effects on the environment.
Land can be polluted by household garbage, which ends up in landfills or elsewhere (e.g. in the ocean).
Water pollution occurs when harmful toxins are introduced to water through things like sewage, agricultural runoff, or metals.
Air pollution is the result of various gases being released into the atmosphere for energy production, manufacturing, or resource extraction.
The effects of pollution are widespread as they can affect the quality of the soil, water and the air we breathe.
Pollution can also create smog, result in long-term health effects, and contaminate food sources (e.g. seafood). It is estimated that over 200 million people worldwide are affected by toxic pollutants. Reducing the number of pollutants our environment is exposed to is critical.
Humans often don’t realize how simple actions and activities can affect the environment.
Littering and the improper disposal of garbage can have a lot of negative effects on the environment. For example, plastics and garbage can end up in waterways, drainage pipes and sewers, and natural areas.
Approximately 60% of water pollution is linked to litter.
As litter degrades in waterways or the soil, chemicals, and microplastics are released and contaminate the local environment. It can also cause harm to the ecosystem as wildlife ingests, gets tangled, and even suffocates from litter.
10. The Population Growth
Population growth has several effects on the environment. As the global population increases, so does the strain on the environment as resource extraction (e.g. trees, oil and gas, water) and related activities increase.
Alongside resource extraction, consumption of resources and disposal of resources (e.g. waste) increases, resulting in pollution in the atmosphere, on land and in the ocean.
What makes population growth particularly challenging is that it is not evenly distributed across the globe, nor are the effects. Accommodating population growth and the advancements in technology have been one of the main reasons humans have impacted the environment.
11. Agricultural & Domesticated Animals
Because of an increased population, the demand for agriculture has also increased. Early agriculture allowed hunters and gathers to settle in an area and cultivate their food.
The industrialization of agriculture led to the introduction of non-native species into new areas, the prioritization of certain crops and animals, and advances in genetic modification.
The domestication of livestock and other animals altered the environment through grazing and emissions.
Fishing has been practiced for hundreds of years for subsistence. It has evolved into one of the most significant drivers of declining ocean wildlife populations because of overuse.
The act of fishing is not inherently bad for the environment or the ocean. However, the problem emerges when fish are caught faster than stocks can replenish.
The impacts of overfishing extend beyond fish stocks. When fishing is performed on a commercial scale, it often results in the capturing of unwanted marine species (e.g. sea turtles) that die as a result.
In addition, many people around the world rely on fish for subsistence, but because of commercial fishing activities, stocks have been depleted.
Why Human Environmental Interacts Matter
Humans modify the environment for their own purposes and benefits. Humans need to interact with the environment to get food, water, fuel and shelter.
Technological advancements and science have helped humans to exploit the environment, resulting in pollution and environmental damage.
Humans must be aware of the environmental impact that their interactions will have on the environment. The problems that humans cause can affect human activities, such as human health or socio-economic development.
How Humans can Have Positive Environmental Interactions
Not all interactions are negative. Humans can have contributed to the environment by sustaining it. Sustainability means meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Examples of positive human-environment interactions include:
- Renewable energy: solar, wind and geothermal energy sources
- Urban green projects: planting trees and urban gardens
- Eco-tourism: purchasing carbon credits for air travel or engaging in activities that reduce the environmental impact
- Protection of natural parks and areas: preserving areas and ecosystems
- Waste Management: recycling and composting
Human activity and related environmental interactions have occurred for thousands of years since Homo sapiens first walked the earth.
Humans have been changing the environment through agriculture, industrialization, travel and urbanization. It is critical for humans to realize their impact and adopt sustainable practices to minimize their impact.
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