Environment: Definition,Scope and Applications of Environmental Studies

What is environment ?

Everything that surrounds and affects living organisms is environment. 'Environment' is derived from French word Environner, which means to encircle or surround. All the biological and non-biological entities surroundings us are included in environment.
As per the definition given in Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, environment includes all the physical and biological surroundings of an organism along with their interactions. Environment is thus defined as "the sum total of water, air and land and inter-relationships that exist among them and with the human beings, other living organisms and materials." The concept of environment can be clearly understood from following figure:

This figure depicts the environment of human beings. Air, water and land surroundings us constitute our environment, and influence us directly. At the same time we too heaven influence on our environment by overuse of over- exploitation of resources or by discharge of pollutants in the air, water and land. The flora, fauna and micro-organisms as well as the man-made structures in our surroundings have a bi-directional interaction with us directly or indirectly. The totality of all this components and their interactions constitute the environment. 

Does urban environment differ from rural environment ?

Urban environment differs from rural environment as there is profound influence of human beings in the former. Most of the natural landscapes in the cities have been changed and modified by man-made artificial structures like multi-storeyed buildings, commercial complexes, factories, transportation networks and so on. Urban air, water and soil are loaded with various types of chemicals and wastes. Diversity of plants and animals is much less as compared to rural environment. Urban population is more dense and has a greater energy demands. Consumerism is very high in urban environment.

How is Environmental studies Multi-Disciplinary in nature ?

Environment is complex and has multifarious aspects.
Environmental studies deal with the working of earth, its life-support systems, its interaction, influences, its problems and solutions. Keeping in view the complex nature of environment, knowledge and information from various disciplines of science, social science, law and engineering have to be included in the Environmental Studies to understand it completely. Given figure depicts the multi-disciplinary nature of the environmental studies.

  • Life Sciences including botany, zoology, microbiology genetics and biochemistry help in understanding the biotic components and their interactions. Genetics and biotechnology are emerging as useful tools for finding solutions to the environmental problems.
  • For understanding the physical and chemical structure of abiotic components of environment along with mass and energy transfers we have to make use of the basic concept of physics, chemistry, geology, atmospheric science, oceanography and geography.
  • Mathematics, statistics in computer science likewise serve as effective tools in environmental modeling. 
  • Subjects like economics, management and sociology provide the input for dealing with the social-economic aspects associated with various development activities.
  • A synthesis of civil engineering, hydraulics, chemical engineering and nanotechnology provide the technical solution to environmental pollution control and waste treatment that are extremely important for protection of the environment.
  • Environmental laws provide the guidelines and legal measures for effective management and protection of the environment.
  • Environmental education and mass communication are two important subject that are instrumental in disseminating environmental awareness.
  • Environmental ethics provide the guidelines for a sustainable life style.
Environmental sciences, therefore, is a multi-disciplinary subject where we deal with different aspects using a holistic approach.

What is the scope of Environmental Studies ?

Due to its complex and multi-disciplinary nature environmental studies as a subject has a wide scope.
It encompasses a large number of areas and aspects, which may be summarized as follows:
  • Natural Resources- their conservation and management.
  • Ecology and biodiversity.
  • Environmental pollution and control. 
  • Social issues in relation to development and environment.
  • Human population and environment.
These are the basic aspects of environmental studies which have a direct relevance to every section of the society. Environmental studies can also be highly specialized concentrating on more technical aspects like environmental science, environmental engineering or environmental management.

In recent years, the scope of environmental studies has expanded dramatically to the world over. Several career options have emerged in this field that are broadly categorized as:
  1. Research & Development (R & D) in environment: Skilled environmental scientists have an important role to play in the examining various environmental problems in a scientific manner and carry out R & D activities for developing cleaner technologies and promoting sustainable development. There is a need for trained manpower at every level to deal with environmental issues. Environmental management and environmental engineering are emerging as new career opportunities for environmental protection and management. With the pollution control laws becoming more stringent, industries are finding it difficult to dispose of the waste produced. In order to avoid expensive litigation, companies are now trying to adopt green technologies, which would reduce pollution. Investing in pollution control technologies will reduce pollution as well as cut on costs for effluent treatment. Market for pollution control technology is increasing the world over. Cleaning up of the waste produced is another potential market. It is estimated to be more than $100 billion per year for all American businesses. Germany and Japan having more stringent laws for many years have gained more experience in reducing effluents. Still there is a $200 billion market for cleaning up the former East Germany alone. In India also the Pollution Control Boards are seriously implementing pollution control laws and insisting on upgradation of effluents to meet the prescribed standards before they are discharged on land or into a water body. Many companies not complying with the orders have been closed or ordered to shift.
  2. Green advocacy: With increasing emphasis on implementing various Acts and Laws related to environment, need for environmental lawyers has emerged, who should be able to plead the cases related to water and air pollution, forest, wildlife. etc.
  3. Green marketing: While ensuring the quality of products with ISO mark. now there is an increasing emphasis on marketing goods that are environment friendly. Such products have ecomark or ISO 14000 certification. Environmental auditors and environmental managers would be in great demand in the coming years.
  4. Green media: Environmental awareness can be spread amongst masses through mass media like television, radio, newspaper, magazine, hoardings, advertisement, etc for which environmentally educated persons are required.
  5. Environment consultancy: Many non-government organizations (NGOs), industries and government bodies are engaging environmental consultants for systematically studying and tackling environment related problems. 

What is the importance of Environment ?

Environment belongs to all, influences all and is important to all. Whatever be the occupation or age of a person, he/she will be affected by environment and also he/she will affect the environment by his/her deeds. That is why it becomes very necessary to make everyone aware and conscious about the importance of environment. There is an internationally observed environment calendar to mark some important aspect or issue of environment, so that people think, discuss, carry out campaigns and act for the cause of those environmental issues. 

Global vs. Local importance of Environment

Environment is one subject that is actually global as well local in nature.

Issues like global warming, depletion of Ozone layer, dwindling forests and energy resources, loss of global biodiversity, etc which are going to affect the mankind as a whole are global in nature and for that we have to think and plan globally.

However, there are some environmental problems which are of localized importance. For dealing with local environmental issues, e.g. impact of mining or hydro-electric project in an area, problems of disposal and management of solid waste, river or lake pollution, soil erosion, water logging and salinization of soil, fluorosis problem in local population, arsenic pollution of groundwater,etc., we have to think and act locally.

In order to make people aware about those aspects of environment with  which they are so intimately associated, it is very important to make every one environmentally educated.

Individualistic Importance of Environment 

Environmental studies are very important since it deals with the most mundane problems of life where each individual matters, like dealing with safe and clean drinking water, hygienic living conditions, clean and fresh air, fertile land, healthy food and sustainable development. If we want to live in a clean, healthy, aesthetically beautiful, safe and secure environment for a long time and wish to hand over a clean and save earth to our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, it is most essential to understand the basics of environment.


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