Environment and Society in a Changing World




This module was designed to introduce you to systems analysis as applied to coupled human-environment systems. A system is a collection of components that interact with each other to form some aggregated whole. A coupled human-environment system is a system in which there are both human components and environmental components which interact with each other, i.e., are coupled to each other. Here, humanity affects the environment and the environment also affects humanity. For example, landscapes are systems in which human activity interacts with the natural environment to produce specific patterns on Earth's surface.

Interactions in human-environment systems often occur in a variety of often complex ways. The complexity can often be well represented in a system diagram, which displays system components and their interactions. Systems often contain positive and negative feedback loops, such as in exponential population growth (positive) or in the population regulation that occurs when a population exceeds its ecosystem's carrying capacity (negative). A population that exceeds the carrying capacity is unsustainable, as is a system that receives a disturbance that exceeds its resilience. Disturbances (or impacts) of human activity on the environment is often conceptualized as the product of population, affluence, and technology, but many scholars have questioned this conceptualization.


Sources for this module include:

Adams, W.M. 2001. Green Development: Environment and Sustainability in the Third World. London: Routledge (Second edition).

Beck, U. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a new Modernity. Sage: London.