Chapter 1: Introduction

What is Environment?

Environment is more than just water, land, and air; it is everything around us, which we interact with.

Environment includes:

Biotic: Living things (Ex. Animals, plants, trees, forests, soil etc.)

Abiotic: Non-living things (Ex. Clouds, rocks, oceans etc.)

Our Built Environment

  • Roads, buildings, schools etc.

Social Relationships and Institutions

  • Government, religion, political, economical, culture
  • Environment dates from 1600s
  • From an old French verb “environer” which means “to form a circle”

Be careful when defining the “Environment”

  • Environment is a legal entity since it has legal standings
  • Environmental policies/practices need to be defined by various organizations (Ex. Country Ecuador has legal standings to the environment)

Environmental Science

Explores the connection between humans and the physical and biological world. It is the study of how the natural world works, how our environment affects us, and how we affect our environment.

  • How natural resources and process support life
  • How the natural world works
  • How humans effect the environment
  • Interdisciplinary

The Nature of Environmental Science

  • Environmental scientists aim to understand how the Earth’s natural systems function
  • How humans are influenced by those systems and how we are influencing those systems

Environmental Science is Interdisciplinary

Environmental Science is interdisciplinary because more than one order (Geology, Chemistry, Biology, Engineers etc.) is required to find a solution to the complex problems in our environment today, which could be Abiotic, biotic or built environment problems.

In Between resources have limited regeneration due to physical rate process. Renewable Natural Resources such as sun, wind and wave energy are always renewed, whereas Non-Renewable Natural Resources like copper, crude oil and coal are formed much slowly, which is why they are limited.

Environment is NOT the same as Environmentalism

Environmentalism is a social movement dedicated to protecting the natural world, by warning people of how are environment today is being affected.

What is science and how does it work?

Science is a systematic process for learning about our world and testing our understanding about it. The term ‘Science’ is also used to refer as the accumulated body of knowledge that arises from this dynamic process of observation, testing, and discovery.

The Scientific Method (Practiced by individual researcher or research group)

Scientific Method is a technique to test ideas through observation, questioning and experimentation.

Scientific Method relies on the following assumptions:

  • The universe works according to natural laws
  • All events arise from causes, which lead to other events
  • We use logic, systematic testing and our senses to understand natural laws

Scientists first make observations and ask questions. Then they make a hypothesis, which gives initial explanations. Then they use hypothesis to generate predictions, which are specific statements that can be tested. The hypothesis then is reviewed and tested in order to decide whether the hypothesis should be supported or rejected.

Different Ways to Test a Hypothesis

Manipulative Experiment

An experiment in which the scientist chooses to manipulate the independent variable.

Natural Experiment

An experiment that is naturally conducted, rather than manipulating the independent variable.

The Scientific Process (Practiced by scientific community)

  • Includes scientific paper, peer review, paper either accepted or rejected
  • Publication of paper (if accepted) in a scientific journal
  • Further research by the scientific community
  • A consistently supported hypothesis later becomes a theory
  • Some theories may lead to ‘paradigm shift’

Paradigm Shift

A process in which a theory may be reviewed, changed or abandoned for another. It’s an appropriate process in environmental science as there is always new information being gathered daily.

People Differ in Their Perception of Environmental Problems

The understanding of what is part of an environment problem may differ from person to person or one context to another. Different factors such as the age, race, genre, class of an individual can affect whether an individual thinks a given environmental change is a “problem”.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

A comprehensive (large and complete) scientific assessment of the state of the world’s ecosystems and their ability to support life and civilization.

Findings of Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

  • Rapid and extensive changes in the ecosystems over the past 50 years, mainly to meet the rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel
  • Large and permanent loss in biodiversity (diversity of life on Earth)
  • Reductions in the ecosystems are likely to worsen

Population, Poverty, and Over-consumption

  • Human population growth exacerbates (makes worse) environmental problems
  • Consumption of resources has risen faster than population (this has made our lives more pleasant)
  • Poverty: people sell off their environmental qualities in order to survive

Sustainable Development

The use of renewable and non-renewable resources in a manner that satisfies our current needs, without compromising future availability of resources. In order to be successful in sustaining our environment, we need to keep in mind our actions today and how they are effecting the environment.

What Sustainability Does?

  • Meet current human needs
  • Leaves future generations with a rich and full Earth
  • Preserve (store up) Earth’s natural resources
  • Maintain fully functioning ecological (environmental) systems

3-Legged Sustainability tools

  • Economic Leg: Good jobs, Fair wages, Fair trade, security.
  • Social Leg: Working conditions, Health services, Education services, Social Justice, Community & Culture.
  • Environmental Leg: Renewable energy, restoration, 0 Pollution & Waste.

3 Interconnected Goals (The Triple Bottom Line / 3-Nested-Dependencies Model)

  • Environmental goals
  • Social goals
  • Economic goals

Requires Humans to Apply Knowledge From Science and other Sources

  • Limit environmental impact
  • Maintain functional ecological systems

Emergent Properties

The idea that something is greater than a sum of a part.

Carrying Capacity

A measure of the ability of a system to support life.


  • Manufacturing
  • Agriculture         
  • Transportation
  • Production of energy


  • Lithosphere
  • Hydrosphere
  • Atmosphere
  • Biosphere


  • Environmental science helps us understand our relationship with our environment and informs us our attempts to solve and prevent problems
  • Observing and critically analyzing are the first steps toward scientific understanding
  • Global community today are facing many environmental problems
  • Environmental Science can help us find balanced and sustained solutions to the environmental problems we face today

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