Before discussing what environmental study is, will it not be proper to explain both environment and its study separately. So, let us understand the meaning of term environment and its study separately and thereafter proceed further.
In simple words environment means conditions of life. Environment is the physical and biotic habitat (living place of organisms) which surrounds us; that which we can see, hear, touch, smell and taste.
The environment of earth is combination of two things. One is called physical environment and the other biological environment. The physical environment includes the non-living elements. These non-living elements are land, water and air.
The biological environment includes plants, animals and microorganisms. So, the environment of earth covers two things viz., natural products and manmade products. The natural products are created by God/Nature.
They are climate, weather, land forms, water, vegetation, animal life, soil and minerals. The man made products are growth of crops, clothing’s and designs of buildings in which man lives and like to work.
A common error is usually committed by man. He equates global environment with the biosphere. The biosphere is only that region of the earth where life exists, extending from some 10,000 in below sea level to 6000 m above sea level. Problems arise to man outside the biosphere that is the upper layers of the atmosphere or the deep geological strata (layer).
The biosphere has been broken up into biogeographica regions biomass, habitat, physical environment, biotic environment and ecosystem. These terms are explained briefly in order to avoid any confusion that may arise in the subsequent discussion.
1. Those parts and regions of the earth’s surface that separated from one another having their different flora and fauna (flora = flowers and plants and fauna = animals) are called biogeographical regions. These regions are Australia, North America, South America and Eurasia.
2. Biomass is a major type of environment. It includes desert and tundra (land with no vegetation). It is different from biogeographically regions. But in case of polar (situated near an end of the axis of the earth) regions biomass and biogeographically regions coincide.
3. Habitat is the local environment of a group of organisms where they live.
4. Physical environment include non-living elements within the biogeographically region, biomass or habitat. Examples are temperature, relative humidity, topography, salinity and types of soil.
5. All the living components in the environment refer to biotic environment. Examples are plants and animals.
6. Physical and biotic components of a stable environment constitute an ecosystem.
Environmental study deals with the analysis of the processes in water, air, land, soil and organisms which lead to pollution or environmental degradation (damage). Its study makes us to understand the scientific basis for establishing a standard which can be considered acceptably safe, clean and healthy for man and the natural ecosystem. Natural ecosystem includes both physical and natural science. Natural eco-system constitutes animals, birds, aquatic life (life in water) and vegetation.
Environmental science as a field of study is not new. Its beginnings are rooted in the early history of civilization. Many ancient cultures of course saints and sages of Indian Society expressed reverence (worship)for the plants, animals and geographic features that provided them food, water and air.
Credit goes to philosophers like Thoreau and many more which stimulated current interest in the state of environment. Since then, environmental science is a standard course. Most of the concepts covered by environmental science were taught in ecology, conservation and geography etc.
But now, environmental science has come up a separate branch of knowledge. It definitely incorporates the scientific aspects of social sciences such as economics, sociology, and political science. This is so because the field of environmental science involves an understanding of scientific principles, economic influences, and political actions.