Defining Environmental Science
The word environmental broadly refers to everything around us: the air, the oceans, and the continents as well as the plants, animals, and microorganisms that inhabit them. Science, of course, refers to the deliberate and pains-taking search for facts and natural laws, It seeks exactness through mathematics, insight through close observation, and foresight through theories.
Environmental science is a new name for an activity our species has been engaged in throughout time: learning how to live on this planet without damaging it or threatening our own existence in the process.
Today, environmental science is practiced by many thousands of specialists, ranging from researchers testing new metals to naturalists searching for new plants, to astronauts in space learning how to better monitor the earth’s activities
In early human history, environmental science did not exist as a recognized endeavor. Nonetheless, our earliest ancestors were avid students of the environment, observing plants and animals and learning to protect themselves from harmful ones and make use of others. When our ancestors turned to farming and began to settle in towns, thery learned to make better use of animals and plants, and how to follow the movements of the stars to time annual planting and harvesting. As modern industries and nations arose, humans turned to resources such as coal and mineral ores-learning where they could be found, how they could be extracted efficiently, and how they could be made to serve our needs. In the process, we learned to master many forms of energy and matter, ultimately becoming manipulators of the environment with an awesome power to change the destiny of our planet.
Today, environmental science has come into being as an identifiable science in response to enormous environmental problems. These problems, the stuff of the daily headlines, include the many signs of overpopulation, the pains in the world economy as natural resources begin to grow scarce, pollution of all kinds, and the symptoms of societal despair and political instability.
At the root of these problems is a development never known before: we humans have now reached numbers that many experts believe threaten our own existence. For many reasons, the ”out of sight, out of mind” philosophy so prevalent in past times is no longer acceptable. When we smelt metals or plow up prairies to plant corn and wheat, more often than not we find that some harm accompanies the short-term benefits we gain.
Modern environmental science is aimed at helping us master our own actions in the natural world to avoid irreparable damage; in this sense, environmental science means learning to improve self-mastery.
Environmental science, the study of how humans affect and are affected by their environments, was given a tremendous boost by writers who warned that we are not merely altering the earth but are rendering it unfit for human habitation. Unless we change our ways, said pople such as Rachel Carson, Garrettt Hardin, and Paul Ehrlich, we face a decline in living standards, and eventually, the extinction of the human species. is this true, or do these prophets of doom exaggerate? People wanted to know, and so the study of environmental science was born.
Like many modern disciplines, environmental science is a hybrid between established academic subjects. It relies on geology and meteorology to describe the physical nature of the world we live in. It draws on political science, demography, anthropology, archeology, economics, and psychology for an understanding of how people function separately and in groups. And ultimately, it tries to fit this information into a framework of ecology, the biological study of how living things interact with their environments.
A New Kind of Science
Solving the highly complex problems mentioned above-overpopulation, resource depletion, pollution, and social unrest-requires a knowledge of many scientific fields, including chemistry, biology, sociology, geology, cimatology, anthropology, forestry, agriculture, and other traditional disciplines. This wide range of knowledge requires a new discipline, one that spans the traditional fields and offers new insights. Thus environmental science emerges as the study of the complex and interrelated issues of population, resources, and pollution.
The new science takes on the colossal task of under-standing environmental issues in their entirety. As such, it is an often awkward melding of science, engineering, and liberal arts that requires broadly educated men and women in an age of specialization. More and more, though, human survival depends on the lessons we can learn from this science.
At a time like today, when men and women float freely in space and robots work in factories, a knowledge of science and its tools has become essential. As voters, consumers, and homeowners, we consider scientific evidence in all our decisions. In our jobs and in our homes we work and play amid the products of science.
A knowledge of science is necessary not only to understand environmental issues but also to solve these problems. In that repect, environmental science is a new kind of science, different from the traditional ”pure”, or objective, science, which seeks knowledge for its own sake. Instead, environmental science offers a great deal of urgent advice and reaches many conclusions that challenge beliefe and practices held dear by us. In contrast to the astronomer in a mountaintop observatory or the mathematician at the blackboard, the environmental scientist is in the thick of things, at the heart of today’s hottest debates.
With these facts in mind, it is time to define this discipline more carefully. Environmental science e is the study of the environment, its biological and non biological components, and especially the interactions of these components. It focuses its attention on the way in which human societies fit into the complex network of connections It seeks to learn how we affect the environment and, in turn, how we are affected by it. This sketchy definition will take on more substance as we survey some of the more pressing issues with which this science concerns itself.