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Environment and Ecology

‘Environment’ is a term derived from the French word ‘Environner’ that means ‘to surround’. There was a time when environment just meant surroundings. It was used to describe the physical world surrounding us including soil, rocks, water and air. Gradually it was realized that the enormous variety of plants, animals and micro-organisms on this earth, including human beings are an integral part of the environment. Hence, to make a sensible definition of environment, it was necessary to include the interactions and inter-relationships of all living organisms with the physical surroundings. Later, it was further recognised that all types of social, cultural and technological activities carried out by human beings also have a profound influence on various components of the environment. Thus various built structures, materials and technological innovations also became a part of the environment. So now all biological (biotic) and non-biological (abiotic) entities surrounding us are included in the term ‘environment’. The impact of technological and economic development on the natural environment may lead to degradation of the social and cultural environment. Thus, environment is to be considered in a broader perspective where the surrounding components as well as their interactions are to be included. As per Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, environment includes all the physical and biological surroundings of an organism along with their interactions. Environment is thus defined as “the sum total of water, air and land and the inter-relationships that exist among them and with the human beings, other living organisms and materials.” The concept of environment can be clearly understood from Fig. 1.1. Figure 1.1 depicts the environment of human beings. Air, water and land surrounding us constitute our environment, and influence us directly. At the same time we too have an influence on our environment due to overuse or over-exploitation of resources or due to discharge of pollutants in the air, water and land. The flora, fauna and micro-organisms as well as the man-made structures in our surroundings have a bi-directional interaction with us directly or indirectly. The totality of all these components and their interactions constitute the environment.









Living organisms Water Humans Land


Fig. 1.1.

Concept of Environment: air, water, land, living organisms and materials surrounding us and their interactions together constitute environment.

Urban environment is somewhat different from rural environment. In urban environment we can see profound influence of human beings. Most of the natural landscapes in cities have been changed and modified by man-made artificial structures like multi-storeyed buildings, commercial complexes, factories, transportation networks and so on. Urban air, water and soil are loaded with various types of chemicals and wastes. Diversity of plants and animals is much less as compared to rural environment. Urban population is more dense and has greater energy demands.

Environmental studies as a subject has a wide scope. It encompasses a large number of areas and aspects, which may be summarized as follows: l Natural resources—their conservation and management l Ecology and biodiversity l Environmental pollution and control l Social issues in relation to development and environment l Human population and environment These are the basic aspects of environmental studies which have a direct relevance to every section of the society. Environmental studies can also be highly specialized concentrating on more technical aspects like environmental science, environmental engineering or environmental management. In the recent years, the scope of environmental studies has expanded dramatically the world over. Several career options have emerged in this field that are...
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