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Exploring Environmental Studies: Scope, Importance, and History

Environmental studies is a multidisciplinary academic subject that examines the interactions between humans and the natural world

By Ground report
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Exploring Environmental Studies: Scope, Importance, and History

Environmental studies is a multidisciplinary academic subject that examines the interactions between humans and the natural world. It encompasses a broad range of topics, including ecology, conservation biology, environmental policy, environmental justice, sustainability, and climate change. In this article, we will explore the scope, importance, sustainability, and history of environmental studies.

Scope in Environmental Studies

The scope of environmental studies is vast and diverse, as it covers various aspects of the environment and its relation to human society. Environmental studies can be divided into three major disciplines: environmental sciences, environmental engineering, and environmental management.

  • Environmental sciences: This discipline focuses on the natural processes and phenomena that shape the environment, such as the structure and functioning of ecosystems, the biodiversity and distribution of species, the biogeochemical cycles, the climate system, and the environmental hazards and risks.
  • Environmental engineering: This discipline applies the principles of engineering and technology to solve environmental problems, such as the design and construction of green buildings, the development and implementation of renewable energy sources, the treatment and disposal of waste, and the remediation and restoration of polluted sites.
  • Environmental management: This discipline deals with the planning and decision-making processes that affect the environment, such as the formulation and evaluation of environmental policies and laws, the assessment and mitigation of environmental impacts, the management and conservation of natural resources, and the promotion and education of environmental awareness and ethics.

Importance of Environmental Studies

Environmental studies is an important field of study for several reasons. First, it helps us understand the complex and dynamic relationships between humans and the environment, and how they affect each other. Second, it helps us identify and address the current and emerging environmental challenges and opportunities, such as the loss of biodiversity, the degradation of ecosystems, the pollution of air, water, and soil, the depletion of natural resources, the adaptation and mitigation of climate change, and the transition to a low-carbon and circular economy. Third, it helps us develop and apply the knowledge, skills, and values that are essential for creating a more sustainable and equitable future for ourselves and other living beings.


Sustainability is a key concept and goal of environmental studies. It refers to the ability of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It implies a balance between the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of human development, and a respect for the rights and interests of all stakeholders, including non-human species and ecosystems.

Environmental studies contributes to sustainability by providing the scientific basis and the practical tools for achieving it. For example, environmental studies can help us measure and monitor the environmental indicators and trends, such as the ecological footprint, the carbon footprint, the environmental performance index, and the planetary boundaries. It can also help us design and implement the sustainable solutions and strategies, such as the green economy, the circular economy, the sustainable development goals, and the Paris Agreement.

History of Environmental Studies

Environmental studies has a relatively short but rich history as an academic discipline. It emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in response to the growing environmental awareness and activism that was sparked by the publication of books such as Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, and The Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome.

These books exposed the environmental problems and crises that were caused by the rapid industrialization, urbanization, and population growth of the post-war era, and called for a radical change in the human attitude and behavior towards the environment.

Since then, environmental studies has evolved and expanded as a field of inquiry and action, incorporating new perspectives and approaches from various disciplines and sectors. Some of the major milestones and developments in the history of environmental studies include.

Adoption of key environmental treaties

  • The establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972, as the leading global environmental authority and the coordinator of environmental activities within the UN system.
  • The 1972 Stockholm UN Conference on Human Environment, which initiated the global environmental governance and cooperation, adopted the Declaration and Action Plan for the Human Environment.
  • In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development introduced sustainable development, defining it as meeting present needs without jeopardizing future generations' ability to meet theirs, in their report, Our Common Future.
  • The 1992 Rio UN Conference adopted numerous environmental initiatives like the Rio Declaration and conventions on biodiversity, climate change, and desertification, also establishing the Sustainable Development Commission.
  • The launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the UN in 2000, which set eight goals and targets for reducing poverty and improving human well-being by 2015, with several of them related to the environment, such as ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.
  • The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1997, which entered into force in 2005, and committed the industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5% below the 1990 levels by 2012.
  • The UNFCCC ratified the Paris Agreement in 2015, launched in 2016, with a goal to minimize global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and ideally limit it to 1.5°C, as a response to climate change threats.
  • The UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, establishing 17 goals and 169 targets for sustainable development by 2030.


Environmental studies is a vital field for the future, as it provides the scientific knowledge and the practical skills for understanding and addressing the environmental issues and challenges that we face today and that we will face tomorrow. It also fosters environmental awareness and the environmental ethics that are necessary for living in harmony with the natural world and with each other. By studying and practising environmental studies, we can contribute to the sustainability and well-being of ourselves, our communities, and our planet.

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