What is Environmental Science? - Definition and Scope of the Field

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  • 0:06 What Is Environmental Science?
  • 1:00 Interdisciplinary Field
  • 2:04 Importance of…
  • 5:34 Environmental Science…
  • 6:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

This lesson will explore the exciting and broad field of environmental science. You will learn what environmental science is and also discover what disciplines it incorporates. Also, the importance of environmental science will be explained.

What Is Environmental Science?

What do you think would happen if all of the trees in the rainforest were cut down, or if chemicals were spilled in a river, or if snow and rain fall increased drastically?

These are some of the many topics that are studied in the field of environmental science. Overall, environmental science is the field of science that studies the interactions of the physical, chemical, and biological components of the environment and also the relationships and effects of these components with the organisms in the environment. The field of environmental science can be divided into three main goals, which are to learn how the natural world works, to understand how we as humans interact with the environment, and also to determine how we affect the environment. The third goal of determining how humans affect the environment also includes finding ways to deal with these effects on the environment.

Interdisciplinary Field

Environmental science is also referred to as an interdisciplinary field because it incorporates information and ideas from multiple disciplines. Within the natural sciences, such fields as biology, chemistry, and geology are included in environmental science. When most people think of environmental science, they think of these natural science aspects, but what makes environmental science such a complex and broad field is that it also includes fields from the social sciences and the humanities.

The social science fields that are incorporated into environmental science include geography, economics, and political science. Philosophy and ethics are the two fields within the humanities that are also included in environmental science. By combining aspects of the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, the field of environmental science can cover more concepts and also examine problems and topics from many different points of view.

Importance of Environmental Science

At this current time, the world around us is changing at a very rapid pace. Some changes are beneficial, but many of the changes are causing damage to our planet. The field of environmental science is a valuable resource for learning more about these changes and how they affect the world we live in.

Let's examine a major change that is currently occurring and its relationship to environmental science. The large change is the dramatic increase in the number of humans on earth. For most of human history, the population has been less than a million people, but the current population has skyrocketed to over seven billion people. This equals out to seven thousand times more people!

Due to this increase in the human population, there has also been an increase in pressure on the natural resources and ecosystem services that we rely on for survival. Natural resources include a variety of substances and energy sources that we take from the environment and use. Natural resources can be divided into renewable and nonrenewable resources. Renewable natural resources are substances that can be replenished over a period of time, such as sunlight, wind, soil, and timber. On the other hand, nonrenewable natural resources are substances that are in finite supply and will run out. Nonrenewable resources include minerals and crude oils.

Due to the increase in the human population, natural resources are being used up at a more rapid rate than in the past. Although renewable natural resources can be replenished, when they are used too rapidly, they cannot be replenished fast enough to meet human demand. Even worse, when nonrenewable natural resources are used too rapidly, they become closer to running out completely and being gone forever.

Natural resources have been referred to as the 'merchandise' produced by the environment, and in this respect, ecosystem services are the 'facilities' that we rely on to help produce the merchandise. Ecosystem services are the environment's natural processes that provide us with the resources we need to support life. Common ecosystem services include water and air purification, nutrient cycling, climate regulation, pollinating of plants, and the recycling of waste. Just like some natural resources, ecosystem services are also limited and can be used up if not regulated.

Now, let's tie it together and think about population growth and its influence on both natural resources and ecosystem services. As the human population increases and natural resources and ecosystem services are used rapidly and potentially degraded, the future of humans on earth is in jeopardy. This is one major example of why environmental science is important and valuable.

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