Human-Environmental Interaction

Have you ever thought about how you interact with the environment? Even just going for a walk at your local park, beach, or forest is an example of human-environment interaction. Of course, there is more to it than that, as human-environment interactions occur on a variety of scales. Keep reading this explanation to gain a better understanding of human-environment interaction whilst examining some examples of this concept.  

Human-Environmental Interaction Human-Environmental Interaction

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Table of contents

    Human Environmental Interaction Definition

    Human-environmental interaction is the connection between human society and the environment. It is a complex system due to the fact both society and the environment have many elements.

    Human-environment interaction can affect human life, as society impacts the environment in everyday activities. This occurs in examples such as driving (releasing carbon dioxide emissions), and your diet (the food you eat based upon the natural resources around you). Human-environment interaction focuses on three main ideas. These are how society depends on, adapts, and modifies the environment. Let's take a closer look.

    How Does Society Depend on the Environment?

    Within society, there are many ways in which humanity depends on the environment. The most essential way in which this occurs is through the resources and services that the environment provides. These are essential for life and include food and water, as well as climate, clean air and raw materials. This is a way in which human-environment interaction takes place.

    How Does Society Adapt to the Environment?

    As human-environment interaction takes place, adaption to the environment often occurs due to society. This adaptation can transpire due to different factors, for example, civilizations will adapt to the climate they are located in, or they will adapt to the physical environment they are faced with.

    How Does Society Modify the Environment?

    Finally, in addition to adaptation, society also modifies the environment as a process of interaction with the environment. This can include deforestation, agriculture, and building dams, which is done to gain development within society.

    The Importance of Human-Envrionmental Interaction

    What makes human-environmental interaction so significant? The natural environment is critical to human survival due to all the natural resources we depend on, and society will continue to depend on these resources in the future. That is why it is so vital that nature and society collaborate so that human-environment interactions are positive going forward, without resources running out. This is typically done through sustainability. Sustainability is the continued maintenance of resources so that they can be used by future generations.

    Take a look at the explanation on Sustainability to gain a more profound understanding of the topic.

    Examples of a Human Environmental Interaction

    Often, the human relationship with the environment is perceived as negative due to the damage that is caused to the environment because of humanity, which is why sustainability must be maintained in these human-environmental interactions. There are many examples of how humans interact with the environment. These include:

    • Deforestation
    • Energy Resources
    • Water Use
    • Waste
    • Pollution
    • Tourism
    • Urban Expansion

    Let’s take a closer look at each of these examples and why they are perceived as negative.


    The human-environmental interaction of deforestation showcases how society depends on, adapts, and modifies the environment.

    Deforestation is the clearing of forests to utilize the forest or the land differently, such as in agriculture.

    Deforestation occurs for a number of reasons; infrastructure, agriculture and to house and feed livestock. These can regularly be seen as negative human-environment interactions because the action of deforestation removes a precious natural landscape and habitat that is key to a variety of species.

    Human-Environmental Interaction, Deforestation is a Human-Environment Interaction That is Seen as Negative Due to the Environmental Damage it Causes, StudySmarter.Fig 1. Deforestation is a Human-Environment Interaction That is Seen as Negative Due to the Environmental Damage it Causes.

    Energy Resources

    Energy resources, such as renewable and non-renewable energies, are commonly used by society. The table below shows the list of renewable and non-renewable energy resources.

    Renewable Energy ResourcesNon-Renewable Energy Resources
    Solar – the generation of energy from sunlight.Coal
    Tidal - energy generated from breaking wavesGas
    Hydropower – fast flowing water (often from a dam) is used to generate energy.Nuclear
    Geothermal – generates energy through the Earth's thermal energy, which is found in the Earth's crust.

    Society uses energy resources to generate power for buildings, transport, and other electrical and communication systems. This energy generates heating and electricity, both essential to society. These energy resources are found in the natural environment. Therefore, we modify the environment in order to ultilze the energy for human consumption.

    The extraction and continued use of finite resources such as fossil fuels has caused harm to both the natural environment and human health (due to the release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide). Whereas, the human-environmental interactions that occur while using renewable energy sources are far less damaging to the environment than non-renewable energy sources.

    Water Use

    Water is a natural resource that humans highly depend on-- in fact, it is essential to human survival. Water has a number of uses from drinking to industrial processes such as agriculture and the development of infrastructure. Water is depended upon, and modified for human use as an interaction with the environment. Due to its essential nature, human have modified their natural environment in order to increase their access to precious water sources.

    High dependence on water creates water scarcity, wherein society can suffer consequences of no water for crops or drinking use, which can lead to health issues and economic issues, and in some cases; war. Furthermore, the environment can face pressures such as droughts. As the continued modification of the environment can lead to desertification and the continuation of desertification as part of a positive feedback loop.


    Waste is produced by humans and deposited in the natural environment. It is therefore an inevitable product of human-environmental interactions. Waste increases along with the world's population, modifying the landscape during waste disposal at landfill sites. This negatively impacts both the environment and human health.

    Human-Environmental Interaction, Waste at a Landfill Site, StudySmarter.Fig 2 - Waste at a Landfill Site.


    Pollution also creates a negative impact on ecosystems. This human-environment interaction is created by humans in a variety of ways. There is pollution connected to waste, such as pollution from agriculture, landfill, and littering. There is also air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution as well as pollution from burning fossil fuels, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

    Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides. They are mostly produced through the burning of fossil fuels. The greenhouse gas effect is the trapping of heat around the earth by these greenhouse gases, which heats the Earth's surface and is contributing to climate change and global warming.

    Human-Environmental Interaction,Pollution is an Example of Human-Environment Interaction That is Perceived as Negative, StudySmarter.Fig 3. Pollution is an Example of Human-Environment Interaction That is Perceived as Negative.


    The economy often relies on tourism because it provides many jobs and encourages many visitors; thus it is a major industry that provides a high amount of revenue. This means the human interaction with the environment in this case is to change it in order to make it more hospitable to human visitors. However, this modification is often to the detriment of locals and animals.

    Additionally, popular destinations in tourism are typically located in more natural environments. This can impact the environment negatively, as an increasing number of tourists creates increasing pressure on natural ecosystems. Therefore, sustainability is crucial in tourism.

    Urban Expansion

    Urban expansion is occurring as the world’s population increases. As the world's population increases, more space is needed to house the growing population. Urban expansion modifies the natural environment, and the surrounding areas often have to adapt to the change in land use. Rural workers are pushed out of these spaces to create room for urban expansion, and this creates economic and social issues such as people losing their homes and jobs. It also creates environmental issues such as less green space and habitat loss for animals, which are instead faced with a new environment of urban land that they have to adapt to.

    Human Environment Interaction and Environmental Determinism

    Environmental determinism studies how physical geography and the environment influence society.

    Environmental determinism is a geographical theory that states the environment can control and limit humanity.

    Environmental determinism is a philosophy which claims that human-environment interaction occurs in specific ways, i.e., it focuses on the idea that physical features of the natural world influence human behavior.

    This concept suggests that within human-environment interaction, the environment has more control over human actions. However, this philosophy has received many criticisms.

    Don’t forget to refer to the explanation of Environmental Determinism to gain a further understanding of the topic.

    Human Environmental Interaction and Possibilism

    As a counter to environmental determinism, possibilism was introduced as a theory by geographers. Possibilism is the idea that culture and society are not fully limited to their environmental features, unlike environmental determinism. Possibilism proposes that there are many possibilities thanks to the natural environment that humans can utilize and adapt during human-environmental interaction. This theory is another way that human-envrionmental interaction occurs.

    Don’t forget to refer to the explanation of Possibilism to gain a further understanding of the topic.

    Positive Human Environmental Interaction

    Although there is much evidence that human-environment interactions are negative, there are positive examples of human-environment interactions.

    The environment benefits society in many ways since it provides so many vital resources such as water, energy, and food. Additionally, society recognizes the environmental impacts it is having on ecosystems and is therefore attempting to prevent further environmental harm. This is done by maintaining resources via sustainability. Examples of this include reducing deforestation or managing land use better such as maintaining urban expansion but in a sustainable way so that less environmental damage occurs, conserving energy resources, preventing over-consumption and reducing waste. These are all ways human-environmental interaction occurs, but they are considered positive because the focus is on conserving the environment whilst still benefitting humanity.

    Human-Environmental Interaction - Key takeaways

    • Human-environment interaction is how society and the environment behave towards one another. It includes the connections between humans and environments and how they co-exist and interact.
    • Humans depend on, adapt, and modify the environment. These are the three main elements of human-environment interaction.
    • Examples of human-environment interaction include deforestation, energy resources, water use, waste, pollution, and urban expansion.
    • Environmental determinism is a theory that suggests the natural environment has the ability to control and limit society. Possibilism is a concept to counteract the theory of environmental determinism, stating that humans can overcome the limitations in the physical environment and instead face many possibilities because of the environment.
    • There are positive interactions between humans and the environment as society maintains the use of the environment whilst being aware of environmental harm it may cause.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Human-Environmental Interaction

    How does human-environment interaction affect your life?

    Human-environment interaction can affect your life as the surrounding environment may influence your way of living, food and water intake and infrastructure of your home.  Additionally, your life will impact the environment based on how much you consume or how you travel (how much you contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. 

    What is human-environment interaction and how essential is good human-environment interaction?

    Human-environment interaction is the way society and the environment interact with one another. /it is the elements of humans and environments and their connections. Good human-environment interaction is extremely essential to benefit the environment but to also sustain human society so that society can maintain living with the natural environment which it so heavily relies upon. 

    Which items are examples of human environmental interaction?

    Examples of human-environment interactions include deforestation, energy resources, water use, waste, pollution, tourism, and urban expansion. 

    What is the definition of human-environmental interaction?

    The definition of human-environmental interactions is the connections between humans and the environment. Human-environmental interactions examine how society contributes and takes from the environment, and how the environment contributes to society. 

    How can geography help us understand human-environmental interactions?

    Geography can help us understand human-envrionmental interactions through concepts such as environmental determinism and possibilism. We can also understand different human-environmental interactions across different spaces and locations through geography.  

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following is NOT a natural resource?

    Which of the following are abiotic natural resources? Select ALL that apply. 

    Which of the following is NOT a non-renewable resource? 


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