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3 Tutorials that teach Environmental Concepts
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Environmental Concepts

Environmental Concepts

Author: Paul Hannan

Recognize the key concepts related to the human relationship with the environment. 

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Images from; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on environmental concepts. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today I'm going to go over some environmental concepts and how a couple of them tie into the sociological perspective. So the first thing we're going to look at is natural environment. We need a definition of what exactly we're looking at.

Well, the natural environment is the natural world found on the Earth's surface and the atmosphere. This can include animals, plants, physical landmasses, water, all these natural things in the world. That's the natural environment. Basically, any natural thing can be a part of the natural environment.

Now, when we look at the environment, on its own, that wouldn't really fit sociology. Sociology is concerned with human interaction. Well, we're going to get to that.

On the screen here, you have two terms that are really looking at interactions in the environment. Now, ecology is broadly the study of human interaction with the environment. So some sociologists really look at how humans interact with the environment and how the environment changes the way humans interact. And that's really their focus.

And they're doing that within specific ecosystems. So an ecosystem is the natural interactions of an organism within an environment. A good way to think about that is you have to define the area you're looking at. So you're going to choose an environment. If we're looking at the ecosystem of a pond, the environment we're looking at is the pond. And we're going to see what interactions are happening in there.

Now, sociologists generally aren't looking at the pond because there aren't a lot of humans in that pond environment. But they're going to look at an environment that really has a lot of human interaction based on or within that environment.

Now, when we start to look at human interaction with the environment, there's an important term to learn. And that's "environmental deficit." And as you can see in that image there, you have that boot stepping on the world. The idea of the environmental deficit is that we are running a deficit as human beings. We are spending more than we're putting away. And it's in terms of the environment. So we are damaging the natural world.

As a species, humans-- we're seeking relatively short-termed rewards. And by seeking these rewards, we're really jeopardizing the Earth. And in fact, we're jeopardizing it long term. So some of the things that we're doing now might take thousands and thousands of years to fix. So that's the environmental deficit.

One way you can look at that is this equation here, IPAT. So first we have I, the Impact. What impact do humans have on the environment? How are we going to figure out how a population impacts the environment?

Well, we have to look at three different things. First we have to look at the population. How big is the population? We can be looking at the impact of all humans on the whole world. That would be looking at the whole human population. Or if you're looking at a smaller population, we can be looking at the effect of nomadic hunter-gatherers in the rainforest. So then we'd look at their population.

The second thing we need to consider is affluence. So how much money and wealth and power does this group have? The last thing we look at is their level of technology. How technologically advanced are they?

So the way this equation works-- population times affluence times technology-- an increase in any one of these three aspects will majorly affect the amount of impact. So a large increase in population-- large effect on impact. Large change in technology-- large effect of impact. All three of those things really play together to show how much impact humans have on the environment.

Now, this is a very typical equation for sociology because you can't necessarily quantify population and technology and affluence that easily. It's more about the theoretical combination of these three aspects to make the impact.

So today's takeaway message-- we looked at a couple of basic terms, the first one being ecology. And that's the study of human interaction on the environment. We also looked at the natural world. And that's everything in the natural world, the Earth's surface and atmosphere. An ecosystem is the natural interactions of organisms within an environment.

Environmental deficit is the idea that humans are damaging the natural world with long-term consequences. And IPAT is the equation that attempts to explain how much impact a population has on the environment.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know

The study of systemic interactions within the environment.


The natural interactions of organisms within an environment.

Environmental Deficit

The idea that humans are causing lasting damage to the natural world, we're taking more than we're giving.


An equation that attempts to explain how much of an impact a population has on the environment.

Natural Environment

The material reality of the natural world found on the Earth's surface and atmosphere.