Environment and Society

Element 5: Environment and Society is tied to human-environment interaction and the first two standards are essentially mirror images.

How Human Actions Modify the Physical Environment

How Physical Systems Affect Human Systems

16) The Changes That Occur in the Meaning, Use, Distribution, and Importance of Resources

The goal of Standard 14 is to consider the impact of how we, the human species, affect, change, and/or modify the physical environment. Perhaps the most telling example of this impact is the increasing evidence that the planet is warming, and that warming is being accelerated by human processes and resource usage. Global warming became center stage when the Nobel committee recognized Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. However, global warming is only one example of how humans impact the physical environment around them every day. For example, water is one of the most vital resources on Earth, and human population pressures and pollution are seriously threatening people’s access to fresh water.

Standard 15 is the mirror of 14 with a focus on how physical systems affect humans. One of the more obvious examples of this can be seen in natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, avalanches, etc). Beyond the extreme events of natural disasters, there are everyday examples of how physical processes impact the way we live our lives. To take the example of water again, access to fresh water plays a crucial role in where people can live. In fact, the combination of weather patterns over the last few years and increased consumption from rising populations has led to drought and conflicts over water in both the southeastern and southwestern United States.

We close the day out with Standard 16, in which the role of natural resources is considered. To use our water example from above, the increasing populations in warm areas of the United States have magnified the importance of water as a valuable commodity due to its scarceness. However, in other areas of the world such as the monsoon areas of Southeast Asia, where the climate and weather patterns are different and rainfall is overabundant, water can actually be a hindrance to local human populations. It is important for students to recognize the importance in not only managing natural resources but also in understanding the differences in meaning, use, and distribution of those resources in different contexts.