Environmental management and organisations
Environmental management and organisations

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1.2 Natural or human?

There is also another dimension to the problem of ‘the environment’, which is linked to ideas of nature and naturalness. Does a reference to ‘the environment’ include humans and their activities? The dictionary definitions I presented suggest not – the environment is something surrounding, but it is not part of humans. There are some quite extended philosophical arguments on whether humans are part of nature or the environment, which we won’t explore here, but it is important to be aware that these debates exist. Returning to Figure 1 helps give us a sense of the debates.

The solitary tree sits in a grassy landscape. Some would say it is not a natural environment, even if the individual elements themselves (the grass, tree and insects) are natural. This environment only exists in this particular arrangement because of ancient clearances of woodland for farming and subsequent sheep and deer grazing on the chalk hills in Hertfordshire, UK. A more natural environment here would probably be forest, but this too depends how far back in time one is prepared to consider. Would you include the marine environment that created the chalk bedrock the most ‘natural’ environment?

The stand of trees in the second image is a picture from the Ardennes area in Belgium. The environment here is also not entirely natural: the straight planting lines and uniform age of the trees betray human influence in planting for a purpose.

Few would argue the European environment is wholly natural. Perhaps the view of the Earth from space is the only offering of ‘the environment’, but with pollution and atmospheric changes this too might be considered no longer a natural environment.

Indeed some argue that we have moved into the Anthropocene era (Crutzen and Stoermer, 2000): a new era of Earth’s history where, for the first time, humans are dominant in shaping Earth processes and systems, giving rise to a shift in thinking about human–environment relationships. In 2011, The Economist noted this debate on its front cover [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

The Economist also produced this short video of an interview with the ecologist Erle Ellis where he gives his ideas and examples about the Anthropocene era, and the ways in which environments are influenced by humans:

You can access this video here: Tea with Erle Ellis on the Anthropocene

Some of Erle Ellis’s views are quite challenging and the ideas have implications for what is natural and how environments should be managed. There is no agreement on whether we have entered the Anthropocene or when it started, but for many it does have an intuitive appeal as assessments of environmental change at many scales continue to point to direct human influences.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371