1.3 Whose environment?
There is another consideration to take into account about ‘the environment’ that is raised by the images in Figure 1. They are a particular view of a particular environment from a particular perspective: mostly a western and northern hemisphere perspective. Do they convey your understanding of what is an environment? If you live in a desert landscape or in a highly polluted, highly urbanised city, you may not consider an open landscape and green grass are representative of ‘the environment’, whether natural or otherwise, from your perspective.
For all these reasons, particular care is needed when using the term ‘the environment’. In this free course, ‘environment’ is generally used instead of ‘the environment’. This is deliberate to avoid falling into the trap of assuming there is a single, known, universally recognised and describable set of ‘things’ that exist in relation to each other that everyone agrees constitute ‘the environment’. Where we are forced, for reasons of grammar, to use ‘the environment’ we do so with awareness of its contested nature.
In fact, we use the term ‘environment’ in two main ways. First to refer to a set of things, such as plants, animals, rivers, buildings and so on, which exist in relation to each other as defined by someone. In other words, what is meant by ‘environment’ can include natural and non-natural elements and, most importantly, what is included is also observer-dependent. Your understanding of environment may differ from another person’s. The second use of environment is explored later on in relation to systems.
For the moment, however, the immediate concern is to recognise that ‘environment’ when referring to natural or human environments is a complicated term. The meanings attributed to it shift depending on context, scale and who is assigning the meaning. These aspects make it particularly important that you recognise and understand how and why the term environment is being used when you encounter it. This is also true for the term ‘management’.