Human Interaction with the Environment: Facts You Need to Know!

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.

Defining Human Environmental Interactions

Human environmental interactions 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. composting). With that said, the negative interactions that humans have on the environment far outweigh the positive interactions.

The Three 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 requires 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.

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 a few examples of human environment interactions:

1. 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.

2. Deforestation

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.

3. Littering

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.

4. Overfishing

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 at 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.

History of Human Environmental Interaction

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’s impact on the environment.

Increased human activity, resource extraction and development have led to climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and pollution.

Two Notable Events Influencing Human Environmental Interaction:

1. The population bomb

Human overpopulation has been affecting the environment for hundreds of years. Accommodating population growth has been one of the main reasons humans have impacted the environment.

2. Agriculture, domesticated animals and genetic modification

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.

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 interacts 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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