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Meaning and History of Environmental Science

written by: Sonal Panse•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 11/30/2010

To understand the meaning of environmental science, it is necessary to study assorted scientific disciplines and the associations between them. By then creating a public awareness of the environmental issues before us, it may perhaps be possible to take concrete steps towards resolving them.

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    Environmental Science

    Mosaic of Clouds from ESSA-5 satellite 

    What is the meaning of Environmental Science? It encompasses various physical and biological science disciplines as well as social sciences, in order to understand how natural phenomena as well as human activities influence and affect the environment. By examining man's impact on the environment it may be possible to devise solutions or to take appropriate steps to mitigate the negative effects and to preserve the positive.

    Science fields contributing to Environmental Science

    The scope and meaning of environmental science includes social sciences and the following disciplines in conjunction with one another -

    Biology – This covers the study of the different varieties of flora and fauna, their contributions to the environment, their mutual interactions, and their reactions and adaptations to environmental changes.

    Chemistry – This covers the study and analysis of the chemicals present in the atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere, and their effect on the biosphere.

    Physics – This covers the study of atmospheric, lithosphere and hydrosphere dynamics.

    Geology – This covers the study of landforms, soil types and composition, and rock and mineral types.

    Meteorology – This covers the study of the atmosphere – climate changes, greenhouse gas phenomena, infrared radiation transmission and so on.

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    History of Environmental Science


    Awareness of the environment is, of course, not a modern concept. Human beings have been concerned with it since quite ancient times when human activities began to have a noticeable effect on their surroundings. For example, there was depletion of forest lands for timber and fuel, overgrazing of pasture lands, soil erosion due to intensive agricultural practices, air pollution due to wood burning, water pollution due to human and animal waste and so on. There is mention in ancient texts of people being forced to leave their homelands due to loss of sustainable forests or pastures, and of edicts issued by various rulers to protect forests and wild-life. It is known that as forests were depleted on the European continent, the Greek and Roman civilizations began to make limited use of solar energy as an alternative to wood fuel. In India and China, farmers practiced crop rotation and other agricultural methods to counter soil erosion.

    From the middle ages to the industrial revolution, with the growth of urban populations in cities and the development of technology, public health began to be a concern. With epidemics of plague, typhoid and cholera wrecking havoc, people began to be more concerned with the need for clean water and better sanitation. At the same time, the sources of pollution increased, with industrial waste being dumped in water bodies and smoke from industries leading to high smog levels.

    In more modern times, from World War I to the present age, with all the technological advances made, the scope of a modern person's environment has expanded and, with it, the levels of air, water and soil pollution have only gone up. As well, we face a risk of nuclear waste contamination and the increasing problems of ozone depletion and global warming. Modern wars have also brought about several environmental disasters.

    Importance of Environmental Science

    The overall impact of these problems has been felt through drastic climatic changes, and there is more need than ever of public awareness of the impact of collective human activities on the environment. The establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA in 1970, and the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987 have been steps in the right direction, but much more is needed to balance issues of economic development with environmental conservation. By understanding the meaning of environmental science and your role in it, you could take appropriate measures to ensure that you lessen your carbon footprint and help preserve the planet for future generations.

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    Environmental History Timeline

    Environmental Science -

    Photo Sources

    Mosaic of Clouds from ESSA-5 satellite - Photo by NASA -

    North Pole - Photo by NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory - and

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