Nature and Society

Perhaps you spend your downtime in the relaxing environment of the natural world. Or perhaps you prefer a bustling city, surrounded by many people. Nature and society are often considered distinctively separate ideas, but is this really the case? What are the different perspectives of the two? Nature and society both occur on a variety of scales, and this creates plenty of interactions between nature and society.

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Table of contents

    Nature and Society Definition

    Nature can be explained as all elements of the physical world, from landscapes to flora and fauna. It is associated with wildlife and the outdoors. Contrast this with society, which is normally associated with entirely different terms, such as cities and humans. Society is the people who exist in the world in communities, it is a human creation.

    Nature and Society, The Natural World, StudySmarterFig 1. The Natural World.

    But, how are these two features of the world related? What are the different ways in which the relationship between nature and society has altered over time and space?

    Nature can influence society's actions and behaviors. Additionally, society can modify and adapt nature for its own needs. This is one of the main interactions between humans and the environment.

    Check out our explanation of Human-Environmental Interactions!

    Simply, humans walking through a natural space, such as a National Park, can be considered a way in which nature and society interact. At the other end of the scale, deforestation (a consequence of society on nature) is another more harmful way that society interacts with nature.

    Nature and Society Geography

    Within geography, the main geographical concepts include location, space, place, pattern, regionalization, globalization, flows, networks, and nature and society. Therefore, nature and society are considered major elements of geography.

    Nature and Society, Society, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Society.

    Both nature and society exist across many spatial aspects, and there are numerous ways in which nature and society interact with each other. These interactions include (but are not limited to) deforestation, energy resources, water use, waste, pollution, and urban expansion.

    Depiction of Nature and Society

    Throughout the history of geography, there have been many shifts in the geographic perspective of nature and society.

    Physical geography focused on studying the natural world, and human geography studied human activities. However, there was an aspiration to explore the relationship between the two, due to the idea that nature lays the foundation of human activities and that nature is impacted by these human practices.

    Alternatively, there have been suggestions within geography that nature does not influence society in any way. Nature has also been viewed as something that is socially constructed. This allows nature to be perceived as either pristine and natural or an economic resource. Ultimately, there is little agreement on what nature is and how exactly it should be studied in relation to society.

    Environmental Perspective

    Environmental perspectives of nature and society include the theories of environmental determinism and possibilism.

    Environmental Determinism

    This is the view that nature determines and influences human behaviors, experiences, and actions. However, this theory has received many criticisms; is racist and encourages colonialism and imperialism.

    Don't forget to check out our explanation of Environmental Determinism!

    Possibilism

    The alternative environmental perspective to environmental determinism is possibilism. Possibilism is the theory that although the environment influences society, it does not limit society and humans can also influence and shape the environment.

    See our explanation on Possibilism.

    Nature and Society Example

    Sustainability, natural resources, and land use are three examples of how society interacts with nature.

    Sustainability

    Sustainability is the preserving of a resource for the present needs of society, whilst maintaining it to meet the needs of future generations, without economic, social and environmental damage.

    Using renewable energies instead of relying on finite, non-renewable energies.

    This is a way society can interact with nature whilst protecting the natural world because it is enforcing sustainable methods of development (sustainable development.) Essentially, sustainability allows society to use nature (such as natural resources) for its needs, without causing irreparable damage.

    Natural Resources

    Natural resources are a type of item or material found in its natural state that can be used by society.

    Oil, gas, coal, stone, timber, sunlight, and soil are all examples of natural resources.

    Natural resources are extracted from nature to be used by society. Non-renewable resources are resources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, and oil. These resources are finite and therefore will eventually run out. Renewable resources, on the other hand, are infinite. Renewable resources include wind, solar, wave, and hydropower.

    There are also abiotic and biotic natural resources. Abiotic natural resources are non-living resources, whereas biotic natural resources include living organisms.

    Land Use

    Land use is the way that society alters the land to suit its requirements and needs. Land use includes agricultural, industrial, commercial, residential, recreational, and transportation uses of the land.

    Similarly to natural resources, land use can have negative effects on the natural world if the land use is not planned or executed sustainably. Therefore, sustainability plays a huge role in the interactions between nature and society.

    See our three different explanations on Sustainability, Natural Resources, and Land Use for more detail.

    Nature and Society in a Warming World

    Today's world can be described as 'warming' due to global warming and climate change, but how does this relate to nature and society?

    Both nature and society are impacted by our warming world. Both counterparts have to adapt to the changing climate of our planet. Society is relying more heavily on the environment, and the environment is struggling to adapt to the pressures of the societal needs of nature and the warming world.

    The geological period called the Anthropocene has been introduced to describe this warming world. The Anthropocene is the time on Earth during which human activities have started having an effect on the natural world. For example, society's recent behaviors since the Industrial Revolution have caused an increase in global warming, which has exacerbated the impacts of climate change.

    Impacts in a warming world

    As you know, there is a range of ways society interacts with nature, and these interactions can create a variety of impacts on the environment. Due to the different ways and rates nature is used worldwide, there is an uneven distribution of human impacts on the natural environment across the world. The table below shows these impacts.

    ImpactsExplanation
    Accelerating Species Extinction

    There is an increase in the number of species that are facing decline and extinction due to human activities. This can affect food chains and ecosystems within natural environments.

    Global Climate ChangeClimate change is the changing trends in climate and weather patterns. Globally, climate change is accelerating due to human actions, such as the use of fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming. This impacts natural ecosystems and leads to loss of habitat and species extinction.
    DeforestationDeforestation is the clearing of forests to use the land in a variety of ways, including commercial and subsistence agriculture, mining, and the use of wood for means of paper and furniture. It can impact ecosystems through habitat loss and therefore species extinction.
    DesertificationDesertification is the degradation of land. It occurs in hot and dry climates. The land lacks nutrients and therefore not much grows in these areas. It often occurs due to poor irrigation, commercial agriculture, over-grazing, and deforestation. This also impacts the local ecosystem.
    MiningMining is a land use change. The resource extraction that occurs can negatively impact the environment, causing pollution, contamination, and erosion.
    Resource ScarcityResources such as oil and water are becoming increasingly scarce due to human activities.
    PollutionPollution also occurs as a consequence of human impacts and causes damage to ecosystems.
    OverpopulationThis is placing increasing pressure on the natural world, as the demand for natural resources and land is increasing. (Be aware that overpopulation is an outdated theory! The issue is overconsumption rather than overpopulation.)
    Urban ExpansionThe expansion of urban areas negatively impacts the natural environment, as habitats a lost to new urban environments. This can lead to species loss and extinction.

    However, the impact of society on the environment depends on society's environmental perspective. A focus on the environment would suggest society is largely negatively impacting the environment. On the other hand, a priority of society would imply that the impact humans are having on nature is not detrimental but is necessary for human survival.

    Nature and Society - Key takeaways

    • Nature is all elements of the natural world, and society is the people within the world as a community.
    • In geography, it is critical to study nature and society as a relationship, focusing on interactions between the two.
    • Depictions of nature and society have changed over time, and this has led nature to be viewed as a natural resource or an economic commodity.
    • Sustainability, natural resources, and land use are all different methods of human interaction with nature.
    • Accelerating species extinction, global climate change, deforestation, desertification, mining, resource scarcity, pollution, and overpopulation are all consequences of society interacting with nature.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Nature and Society

    Explain major geographical concepts underlying the geographic perspective nature and society?

    Major geographical concepst underlying the geographic perspective of nature and society include location, space, place, pattern, regionalization, globalization, flows, networks, and nature and society.

    What is nature and society?

    In geography, nature and society is the interactions and relationships between people and the natural world.

    What is the role of nature in society?

    The role of nature in society can be perceived in a variety of ways. One perspective is that nature can to influence societies actions and behaviours, another is the goods and services nature provides for humans, from improving mental well-being of humans, to providing resources such as water and timber for human use.

    How does society affect nature?

    Society affects nature by modifying and adapting nature to suit societies needs. This can lead to negative environmental impacts such as global climate change, deforestation, desertification, and pollution.

    What is the relation between nature and society?

    The relation between nature and society is the ways that nature can influence society and vice versa. It is the interaction between the two and how that impacts one another.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Fill in the blank. ____ is the people who exist in the world as a community. 

    Fill in the blank. ____ is all elements of the physical world, from landscapes to flora and fauna.

    Which of the following is NOT a natural resource?

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