Human Behaviors that Threaten Environmental Sustainability

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  • 0:02 The Natural Environment
  • 0:50 Environmental Sustainability
  • 1:24 Population
  • 2:40 Depletion of Natural Resources
  • 5:05 Pollution
  • 6:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The environment has a remarkable ability to sustain itself. However, human behaviors disrupt the natural environment and threaten environmental sustainability. Learn how population growth, depletion of resources, and pollution threaten nature.

The Natural Environment

Take a weekend camping trip, and you will notice that nature has a way of taking care of itself. Plants, trees and animals use the natural resources of their surroundings to meet their needs, yet never take more than what is required for their survival. You will also notice that wastes, such as fallen leaves, decaying plants and even animal droppings, are all recycled back into the environment to enhance and perpetuate future life.

Nature does pretty well when it's left alone. Unfortunately, we see that humans have a way of meddling in the affairs of the natural environment. In this lesson, we will look at specific human behaviors that threaten environmental sustainability, including rapid population growth, depletion of natural resources and pollution.

Environmental Sustainability

In order for natural resources to be available for future generations, humans need to practice some degree of environmental sustainability, which is defined as the responsible interaction with the environment to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources and allow for long-term environmental quality. In other words, if humans exploit natural resources or leave a path of destruction and pollution as they strive for more prosperity, without allowing the environment an opportunity to replenish itself, future generations will be unable to meet their needs.


Though you might be reluctant to call the birth of children one of the human behaviors that threaten environmental sustainability, we see that the rapidly growing human population puts many demands on the natural environment.

The world population has exploded over the past century. In the year 1900, the total world population was less than two billion people. By the year 2000, that number had increased to nearly seven billion, and this is only the beginning. According to reports from the United Nations, the world population is expected to reach a peak at about 9.2 billion people later in the 21st century. The consequences for the natural environment are easy to see when you consider the simple fact that more people equals a higher demand for food, water and energy.

If we look more deeply at the threat that a growing population holds over the environment, we see that there will be an increased need for housing, which could result in the clearing of more land for living space. Also, more people could very easily contribute to the depletion of natural resources and increased pollution. We will explore these threats more closely as we move through our lesson.

Depletion of Natural Resources

I think it's a fair assumption to say that man does not intentionally set out to destroy the natural environment. Sometimes the destructive behavior develops without conscious awareness until the impact is felt. This can be said for the depletion of natural resources, which is another human behavior that threatens environmental sustainability.

There are two types of natural resources: those that are renewable and those that are not. Renewable natural resources include water, forests and even food sources, such as fish. While these resources can be replenished over time, if man consumes them too quickly, they could be depleted to a point where nature could not keep up with the demand.

A specific threat to natural resources, such as water and forests, is agricultural practices. Industrial agriculture used in many developed countries relies heavily on irrigation. This overuse of water can drain stores of groundwater faster than they can be replenished.

In undeveloped countries, many people rely on subsistence farming, which is farming that provides only for the farmer and his family. These types of subsistence activities in overpopulated and less-developed countries are one of the leading causes of deforestation.

Deforestation, which is the clearing of woodlands, is carried out to make room for the farmland. The loss of trees worldwide carries with it many environmental threats, including soil erosion. Deforestation can also lead to drier climates because trees draw water out of the ground and transfer it to the atmosphere. The destruction of trees also increases carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere because live trees absorb and store this gas.

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