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., the 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.
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).
That said, the negative interactions humans have with the environment far outweigh the positive ones.
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, and 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 worldwide (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 ways, such as overpopulation, pollution, and burning fossil fuels. Human environment interactions have resulted in impacts such as climate change, soil erosion, and air pollution.
Here 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 could not modify 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 faster, 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 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 inexpensive 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 power 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 deforestation rates, land degradation, and destruction of farmlands as significant land areas are needed.
This extractive activity also severely affects 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 nearby populations. Some landscapes and ecosystems never recover from the impact 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 manufactured goods 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, and soaps).
While manufacturing adversely affects 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, accelerated, or directly caused by human activities.
Economic and population growth, urbanization, agricultural activities, manufacturing, and resource extraction can drive environmental degradation. These activities can lead to the degradation of land and soil, water, atmosphere, wildlife, plants, animals, and microorganisms.
Environmental degradation limits the earth’s ability to meet all species’ social and ecological needs.
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 are not replaced or given adequate time to grow back.
Developing countries have cleared many 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 environmental effects.
Land can be polluted by household garbage, resulting in landfills or elsewhere (e.g., ocean).
Water pollution occurs when harmful toxins are introduced to water through sewage, agricultural runoff, or metals.
Air pollution results from 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 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 contaminants our environment is exposed to is critical.
Humans often don’t realize how simple actions and activities can affect the environment.
Littering and improper garbage disposal can have many negative effects on the environment. For example, plastics and garbage can end up in waterways, drainage pipes, 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, contaminating 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, 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.
Population growth is particularly challenging because it is not evenly distributed globally, nor are the effects. Accommodating population growth and technological advancements 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 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.
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 captures unwanted marine species (e.g., sea turtles) that die as a result.
In addition, many people worldwide rely on fish for subsistence, but stocks have been depleted because of commercial fishing activities.
Why Human Environmental Interacts Matter
Humans modify the environment for their purposes and benefits. Humans must interact with the environment for 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 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 contribute 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 its impact.
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