A subject-specific approach to solution building has been an important element of progress historically. However, as low-hanging fruit solutions have been achieved, the remaining issues are typically complex solutions that involve multiple systems. Environmental science studies the relationships between organisms and the environment, and includes all fields of natural sciences in addition to technology, ethics, economics and human behavior as well (McKinney, et al. 2019, 4). This systems-focused approach to environmental problems is necessary to solve the ever-growing complex issues of our interconnected world.
An example of how environmental science is needed can be illustrated with the drought issues seen in the Sahel region of Africa. There is already a natural positive feedback loop where low rainfall from the hydrosphere leads to reduced plant growth in the biosphere. This leads to drier conditions in the lithosphere further decreasing the moisture to the atmosphere, continuing the feedback loop. This system is already complex, however, the addition of human overpopulation and behaviors of cutting down vegetation to burn as fuel or feed animals creates even more issues for the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere (McKinney, et al. 2019, 151). The fact that all of these interactions are occurring to intensify drought in the region, reinforcing the issue, requires an environmental science approach to understanding how actions in one area, like reducing the removal of vegetation from the land, can create impacts in another area, like the ability of the plants to hold dew that keeps soils more moist and less likely to blow away as dust.
Figure 1. Desertification Positive Feedback Loop
Source: (Higginbottom and Symeonakis 2014)
This is just one specific example, but it showcases the need for environmental science approaches to issues because actions can often have unintended consequences in other areas. This environmental science approach also leads to focusing on the most material aspects of a problem, allowing the complex and often unpredictable systems to be understood in a way that drives effective actions that were derived from the most useful information.
Author: Logan Callen
Higginbottom, Thomas, and Elias Symeonakis. 2014. “Assessing Land Degradation and Desertification Using Vegetation Index Data: Current Frameworks and Future Directions.” Remote Sensing 6(10):2014: 9552-9575. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs6109552.
McKinney, Michael L., Robert M. Schoch, Logan Yonavjak, and Grant A. Mincy. 2019. Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions. 6th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.