Multidisciplinary Nature of Environmental Studies


The word environment is derived from the French verb ‘ environner ‘ which means to ‘ encircle or surround ‘ . Thus our environment can be defined as the physical , chemical and biological world that surround us as well as the complex of social and cultural conditions affecting an individual or community . This broad definition includes the natural world and the technological environment as well as the cultural and social contexts that shape human lives . It includes all factors living and nonliving that affect an individual organism or population at any point in the life cycle ; set of circumstances surrounding a particular occurrence and all the things that surrounds us .

Objective of this course is to develop concern for our own environment which will lead us to act at our own leve I to protect the environment we all live in . There are three reasons for studying the state of the environment . The first , is the need for information that clarifies modern environmental concepts like equitable use of nature resources , more sustainable life styles etc. Second , there is a need to change the way in which we view our own environment , using practical approach based on observation and self learning . Third , there is a need to create a concern for our environment that will trigger pro – environmental action , including simple activities we can do in our daily life to protect it.

Environmental science is essentially the application of scientific methods and principles to the study of environmental issues , so it has probably been around in some forms as long as science itself . Environmental science is often confused with other fields of related interest , especially ecology , environmental studies , environmental education and environmental engineering . Environmental science is not constrained with any one discipline and it is a comprehensive field .

Environmental science is not ecology though that discipline may be included . Ecologists are interested in the interactions between some kind of organisms and its surroundings . Most ecological research and training does not focus on environmental problems except as those problems impact the organism of interest . Environmental scientists may or may not include organisms on their field of view . They mostly focus on the environmental problem which may be purely physical in nature . For eg . Acid deposition can be studied as a problem of emissions and characteristic of the atmosphere without necessarily examining its impact on organisms .

There are two types of environments :

  1. Natural environment

2. Man made environment

Natural : The environment in its original form without the interference of human beings is known as natural environment . It operates through self regulating mechanism called homeostasis i.e , any change in the natural ecosystem brought about by natural processes is counter balanced by changes in other components of environment .

Man made or Anthropogenic Environment : The environment changed or modified by the interference of human beings is called man made environment . Man is the most evolved creature on this earth . He is modifying the environment according to his requirements without bothering for its consequences . Increased technologies and population explosion are deteriorating the environment more and more .


Scope of environmental studies :

Because , the environment is complex and actually made up of many different environments , including natural , constructed and cultural environments , environmental studies is the inter disciplinary examination of how biology , geology , politics policy studies , law , geology , religion engineering , chemistry and economics combine to inform the consideration of humanity’s effects on the natural world . This subject educates the students to appreciate the complexity of environmental issues and citizens and experts in many fields . By studying environmental science , students may develop a breadth of the interdisciplinary and methodological knowledge in the environmental fields that enables them to facilitate the definition and solution of environmental problems .

The scope of environmental studies is that , the current trend of environmental degradation can be reversed if people of educated communities are organized and empowered ; experts are involved in sustainable development . Environmental factors . greatly influence every organism and their activities . The major areas in which the role of environmental scientists are of vital importance are natural resources , ecosystems , biodiversity and its conservation , environmental pollution , social issues and environment human population and environment .

It is essentially a multidisciplinary approach and its components include Biology , Geology , Chemistry , Physics , Engineering , Sociology , Health Sciences , Anthropology , Economics , Statistics and Philosophy It is essentially a multidisciplinary approach . An Understanding of the working of the environment requires the knowledge from wide ranging fields . The table below shows a list of topics dealt commonly in air pollution and the related traditional fields of knowledge illustrating the interdisciplinary nature of the subject .


Importance of environmental education :

Environment is not a single subject , it is an integration of several subjects that include both science and social studies . To understand all the different aspects of our environment , we need to understand biology , chemistry , physics , geography , resources management , economics , and population issues . Thus , the scope of environmental studies extremely wide and covers some aspects of nearly every ma jor discipline .

We live in a world where natural resources are limited . Water , air , soil , minerals , oils , the products we get from forests , grasslands , oceans and from agriculture and live stock , are all a part of our life support systems . Without them , life itself would be impossible . If we use them more and more , the earth’s resources must inevitably shrink . The earth cannot be expected to sustain indefinitely due to over utilization of resources , misuse of resources . We waste or pollute large amount of clean water . We discard plastic , solid wastes and liquid wastes from industries which cannot be managed by natural processes . These accumulate in our environment , leading to a variety of diseases and other adverse environmental impacts , now seriously affe cting all our lives . Air pollution leads to respiratory diseases , water pollution to gastro intestinal diseases and many pollutants are known to cause cancer .

This situation will only improve if each of us begins to take action in our daily lives that will help to preserve our environmental resources . We cannot expect Government alone to manage the safeguarding of the environment , nor we can expect other people to prevent environmental damage . We need to do it ourselves . It is a responsibility that each of us must take on as one’s own .

Environmental Issues of Global Concern :

The main environmental issues today are wide ranging and all – encompassing are deforestation , biodiversity , soil erosion , climate change , pesticide build – up , industrial and municipal pollution . All these problems can be categorized into three main issues :

1. Population explosion

2. Land degradation

3. Environmental pollution : Industrialization , agriculture / fertilizer / pesticide / green house gases , air pollution , acid rain , ozone depletion , green house effect , water pollution and deforestation .

Environmental problems in India can be put into three classes : Poverty , problems arising as negative effects of the very process of development and problems arising from improper implementation of the directives and laws of environmental protection

Values of Nature : This can be discussed under three categories i.e.

i ) Productive value ,

ii ) Aesthetic value or recreational value and

iii ) Option value

Productive value of nature : Worlds ‘ species contain an incredible and unaccountable number of complex chemicals . These are raw materials used for developing new medicines and industrial products . When we permit the destruction of a forest , wet land or other natural area and do not protest about it , future generations are being denied the use of these valuable resources . Thus the urgent need to protect all living species is a concept that we need to understand and act upon . There is close link between agriculture and the forest , which illustrates its productive value . For crops to be successful , the flowers of fruit trees and vegetables must be pollinated by insects and birds . Their life cycle frequently require intact forests .

Aesthetic / recreational value of nature : Nature encompasses every aspect of living ( biodiversity : flora and fauna ) and non- living ( sea , desert ) part of the earth and it enlivens our existence on earth . This is created by developing national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in relatively undisturbed areas . In an Urban setting , there will be green spaces and gardens psychological and physical health of city dwellers and provides aesthetic value and visual appeal . It also gives access to certain amount of peace . Nature tourism or wildlife tourism or eco tourism is a pleasurable experience and also creates a deep respect and love for nature .

The option value of nature : Nature provides us with various options on how we utilize its goods and services . This is its option value . We can use up goods and services greedily and destroy its integrity and long term values or we can use its resources sustainably and reduce our impact on environment . The option value allows us to use its resources sustainable and preserve its goods and services for the future . ” The earth provides enough to satisfy every persons need but not every persons greed ” is the vision of Mahatma Gandhiji .

Need for public awareness : As the earth’s natural resources are rapidly dwindling and our environment is being increasingly degraded by human activities , it is evident . that something needs to be done .

The following measures may help for the environmental awareness .

1. Join a group to study nature , such as WWF – 1 or BNHS or another environmental group

2.Begin reading news paper articles and periodicals like Down to Earth , WWF – 1 News letter , BNHS , Hornbill , Sanctuary magazine etc which will tell you more about our current environmental issues . There are also several environmental websites .

3. Lobby for conserving resources by taking up the cause of environmental issues during discussions with friends and relatives . Practice and promote issues such as saving paper , saving water , reducing use of plastic , practicing the 3Rs principle of reduce , reuse , recycle and proper waste disposal .

4. Join local movements that support activities like saving trees in your area , go on nature treks , recycle waste , buy environmentally friendly products .

5.Practice and promote good civic sense and hygiene such as enforcing no spitting or tobacco chewing , no throwing garbage on the road , no smoking in public places , no urinating or defecating in public places .

6. Take part in events organized on World Environment Day , Wildlife Week etc.

7. Visit a National Park or Sanctuary or spend time in whatever natural habitat you have near your home .

Institutions in environment : Managing natural resources require efficient institutions at all levels i.e. local , national . regional and global . Institutions , as defined by Young ( 1999 ) , are systems of rules , decision – making procedures , and programs that give rise to social practices , assign roles to participants in these practices , and guide interactions among the occupants of the relevant roles . Institutions often figure prominently in efforts to solve or manage environmental problems . Several Government and Non- Government Organizations ( NGO’S ) are working towards environmental protection in our country . They play a role both in causing and in addressing problems arising from human – environment interactions . They have led to a growing interest in environmental protection and conservation of nature and natural resources . Among the large number of institutions that deal with environmental protection and conservation , a few well – known organization include government organizations like the BSI and ZSI , and NGOs like the BNHS , WWF – 1 , etc.


The Bombay Natural History Society ( BNHS ) , Mumbai : It was founded on 15 September 1883 , is one of the largest non – governmental organizations in India engaged in conservation and biodiversity research . It supports many research efforts through grants , and publishes a popular magazine called the Hornbill and also an internationally well – known the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society . Its other publications include salim Ali’s Handbook on Birds , JC Daniel Book of Indian reptiles . SH Prater’s book of Indian mammals and PV Bole’s book of Indian trees . Many prominent naturalists , including the ornithologists Sálim Ali and S Dillon Ripley have been associated with it . The BNHS has over the years helped the government to frame wildlife – related laws and has taken up battles such as the ‘ save the silent valley ‘ campaign .

World Wide fund for nature – India ( WWF – 1 ) , New Delhi : The WWF – 1 was initiated in 1969 in Mumbai , after which the headquarters were shifted to Delhi with several State , Divisional and Project offices spread across India . In the early years it focused attention on wildlife education and awareness . It runs several programs , including the nature clubs of India program for school children and works as a think tank and lobby force for environmental and development issues .

Centre or science and environment ( CSE ) , New Delhi : is a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi . CSE researches into , lobbies for and communicates the urgency of development that is both sustainable and equitable . It has published a major document on the State of India’s Environment , the first of its kind to be produced as a citizen’s Report on the environment . It also publishes a popular magazine , Down to Earth which is a science and environment fortnight It is involved in the publication of material in the form of books posters , video films and also conducts workshops and seminars on biodiversity- related issues . The Centre’s efforts are built around five broad programmes : Communication for Awareness , Research and Advocacy , Education and Training , Knowledge Portal and Pollution Monitoring .

C.P.R Environmental Education Centre , Madras : the CPR – EEC was set up in 1988 CPREEC ) is a Centre of Excellence of the Ministry of Environment and Forests ( MoEF ) , Government of India , established jointly by the Ministry and the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation . It conducts a variety of programs to increase awareness and knowledge of public i.e. , school children , local communities , woman as main key target groups about the various aspects of environment Its programs include components on wildlife and biodiversity issues . CPR – EEC also publishes large number of text books for school children and video – on wheels for rural public .. The C. P. R. Environmental Education Centre received the Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar for the year 1996 .

The Centre for Environment Education ( CEE ) in India was established in August 1984 as a Centre of Excellence supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests . The organisation works towards developing programmes and materials to increase awareness about the environment and sustainable development . The head office is located in Ahmedabad . The Centre has 41 offices including regional cells and several field offices , across India .. It has international offices in Australia , Bangladesh and Sri Lanka . CEE’s primary objective is to improve public awareness and understanding of the environment with a view to promoting the conservation and sustainable use of nature and natural resources , leading to a better environment and a better quality of life . To this end , It undertakes demonstration projects in education , communication and development that endorse attitudes , strategies and technologies which are environmentally sustainable . CEE is committed to ensuring that due recognition is given to the role of education in the promotion of sustainable development .

Bharati Vidyapeeth University , Institute of Environment Education & Research , Pune was established in 1993.This is part of the Bharati Vidyapeeth deemed University . Its major focus is to spread the message of the need for pro – environmental action in society at large through a dual strategy of formal and non formal integrated activities . BVIEER is a one of a kind institution that caters to the need of Environment Education at all levels PhD , M.Sc and Diploma . The distinctive characteristics of BVIEER are its wide mandate of teaching , research and extension . It implements a large outreach program that has covered over 435 schools in which it trains teachers and conduct fortnightly environment education programs . Biodiversity conservation in a major focus of its research initiatives . It develops low – cost interpretation centers for natural and architectural sites that are highly locale – specific as well as a large amount of innovative environment educational material for a variety of target groups . It has developed a teachers handbook linked to school curriculum and a textbook for UGC for the compulsory undergraduate course on environment . Its director has developed a CD – ROM on India’s biodiversity .

The Salim Ali Center for Ornithology and Natural History ( SACON ) : It is an autonomous organization with headquarters at Coimbatore . It is a national centre for information , education and research in ornithology and natural history in India . This institution was Dr. Salim ali’s dream , which became a reality only after his demise and was named in honor of Salim Ali , the leading pioneer of ornithology in India . Its mission is ” To help conserve India’s biodiversity and its sustainable use through research , education and peoples ‘ participation , with birds at the centre stage ” .

Wild life Institute of India ( WII ) , Dehradun : Is an autonomous institution of MOEF , GOI , established in 1982. It is an internationally acclaimed Institution , which offers training program , academic courses and advisory in wildlife research and management . The Institute is actively engaged in research across the breadth of the country on biodiversity related issues . Its most significant publication has been ‘ Planning wild life and protected area network for India ( Rodgers and Panwar , 1988 ) . It has environment impact assessment cell . It trains personnel in ecodevelopment , wildlife biology , habitat management and nature interpretation .

Zoological survey of India ( ZSI ) : is a premier organisation in zoological research and studies . The activities of the ZSI are coordinated by the Conservation and Survey Division in the MoEF , GOI . This is the only taxonomic organization in the country involved in the study of all kinds of animals from Protozoa to Mammalia , occurring in all possible habitats from deepest depth of the ocean to the peaks of Himalaya , was established on 1st July , 1916 to promote survey , exploration and research leading to the advancement in our knowledge of the various aspects of the exceptionally rich animal life . It has over the years collected type specimens on the basis of which our animal’s life has been studied over the years . Its origins were collections based at the Indian museum at Calcutta , which was established in 1875. The older collections of the Asiatic society of Bengal and of the Indian museum were also transferred to the ZSI . Today , it has over a million specimens . This makes it one of the largest collections in Asia . It currently operated from 16 regional centers .

The madras Crocodile Bank Trust ( MCBT ) : MCBT , the first crocodile conservation breeding in Asia , was founded in 1976 to conserve Indian crocodilians and establish program for the conservation and propagation of other species of endangered reptiles Head quarters are at Madras . Over years , over 1500 crocodiles and several hundred eggs have been supplied to various state forest departments for restocking programmes in the wild , and for setting up breeding facilities in other state in India and neighboring countries . It is the one which started the first sea turtle surveys and conservation program in India , including a sea turtle hatchery . It is involved in environmental education programs for the villages and schools that include nature camps , training workshop for teachers and youth from fishing villages .

The Andaman and nicobar islands Environmental team ( ANET ) a division of the MCBT was constituted in 1992. A base was set up by Harry Andrews in south Andaman for herpetological and other ecological studies in these islands . The Crocodile bank is the site of the irula Snake catchers ‘ cooperative society , which is an adivasi self – help project and supplies all of India’s snake and scorpion venom needed for the production of anti – venom and for medical use . MCBT personal also initiated the Irula Tribual Women’s welfare society , which is primarily a society for reforestation of wastelands and income – generation projects for irula women .

Uttarakhand seva nidhi ( USKN ) , Almora : It is a public charitable trust founded in 1967. This organization was appointed as a nodal agency in 1987 by the Department of Education , Ministry of Human Resources Development , Government of India to undertake locale – specific environmental education programmes both in rural schools and villages in the hill districts of Uttar Pradesh , now Uttaranchal . Subsequently , a research and resource centre , the Uttarakhand Environmental Education Centre ( UEEC ) , was set up in 1993 , also with support from the Department of Education . As activities continued to increase , a separate organisation , the Uttarakhand Seva Nidhi Paryavaran Shiksha Sansthan ( USNPSS ) , a registered society , was set up in 1999 to handle all the environmental activities of the Nidhi . As Uttaranchal is a fragile ecological zone where human activities can cause extensive land degradation ( deforestation and soil erosion ) if not carried out in an environmentally- sound manner . The organization conducts education , training and on the spot problem solving programmes with the aim of helping people to understand their surroundings from a broad ecological point of view and encourage them to organise themselves to deal with environmental problems that affect their daily lives , and to provide training in technical know – how and practical skills . Its main target is sustainable resource use at the village level through training school children . Its environment education program covers about 500 schools .

Kalpavriksh : This NGO , initially Delhi – based , is now working from pune and is active in several other parts of India . Kalpavriksh worked on a variety of fronts : education and awareness ; investigation and research ; direct action and lobbying , and litigation with regard to environment and development issues . Its activities include talks and audio – visuals in schools and colleges , nature walks and outstation camp , organizing student participation in ongoing campaigns including street demonstrations , pushing form consumer awareness regarding organic food , press statements , handling green alerts , and meeting with city administrators . Kalpavriksh was among those responsible for developing India’s National Biodiversity Strategy and action plan in 2003 .

The Botanical Survey of India ( BSI ) is an institution set up by the Government of India in 1887 to survey the plant resources of the Indian empire . The Botanical Survey was formally instituted on 13 February 1890 under the direction of Sir George King , who had been superintendent of Royal Botanic Garden , Calcutta since 1871. King became the first ex – officio Director of BSI . Presently , it has nine regional centres . It carries out surveys of plant resources in different regions .. It monitors botanical resources by analyzing their occurrence , distribution , ecology , economic utility , conservation , environment impact , etc.

People in environment :

There are several internationally known environmental thinkers . Among those who have made landmark contributions include Charles Darwin , Ralph Emerson , Henry Thoreau , John Muir , Aldo Leopold , Rachel Carson and EO Wilson . Each of these thinkers looked at the environment from a completely different perspective .

Charles Darwin : wrote the origin of species , which brought to light the close relationship between habitats and species . It brought about a new way of thinking about man’s relationship with other species that was based on evolution .

Ralph Emerson : spoke of the dangers of commerce to our environment way back in the 1840s .

Henry Thoreau : in the 1860s wrote that the wilderness should be preserved after he had lived in the wilderness for a year . Thoreau had many theories and beliefs , which he poured out in his journals and books . Among these was the concept of human ecology : of the relationship between humans and nature . He saw unity and community as important aspects of nature , and he saw all disturbances in these links as caused by human beings . ” Thank God men cannot fly , and lay waste the sky as well as the earth ” is his famous quotation .

John Muir : He was a Scottish – born American naturalist , author , and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States . His letters , essays , and books telling of his adventures in nature , especially in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California , have been read by millions . His activism helped to save the Yosemite Valley , Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas . He is remembered as having saved the great ancient sequoia trees in California’s forests . In the 1890s he formed the ‘ Sierra club ‘ , which is major conservation NGO in the USA .

Aldo Leopold : was a forest official in the US in the 1920s . He designed the early policies on wilderness conservation and wildlife management . He was considered the father of wildlife ecology and a true Wisconsin hero . His book , ‘ A Sand County Almanac ‘ is acclaimed as the century’s literary landmark in conservation , which guided many to ‘ live in harmony with the land and with one another ‘ .

Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist and conservationist whose writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement . She was nature writer , and some of the books like ‘ The Sea Around Us ‘ and ‘ The Edge of the Sea ‘ are to her credit . In the late 1950s , Carson turned her attention to conservation and the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides . Then in 1962 , she wrote ‘ Silent Spring ‘ , which was met with fierce denial from chemical companies , spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy leading to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides and the grassroots environmental movement the book inspired led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency . Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter .

EO Wilson : is an entomologist who envisioned that biological diversity was a key to human survival on Earth . He wrote ‘ Diversity of life ‘ in 1993 , which was awarded a prize for the best book published on environmental issues . He emphasised the risks to mankind due to manmade disturbances in natural ecosystems that are leading to the rapid extinction of species at the global level .

There are several individuals who have been instrumental in shaping the environmental history of our country . To name a few with their significant contributions goes as follows :

Salim Ali : was an Indian ornithologist and naturalist , Known as the ” birdman of India ” , Salim Ali was among the first Indians to conduct systematic bird surveys across India . He was instrumental in creating the Bharatpur bird sanctuary ( Keoladeo National Park ) and prevent the destruction of what is now the Silent Valley National Park . He was awarded India’s second highest civilian honour , the Padma Vibhushan in 1976. His autobiography ,

fall of a sparrow , should be read by every nature enthusiast . He was our country’s leading conservation scientist and influenced environmental policies in our country for over 50 years .

Smt . Indira Gandhi : as PM played a very significant role in the preservation of India’s wildlife . It was during her period as PM , that the network of protected areas ( Pas ) grew from 65 to 298 and the wildlife protection act was formulated . The Indian Board of wildlife was extremely active as she personally chaired all its meetings .

SP Godrej was one of India’s greatest supports of wildlife conservatio n and nature awareness programs . Between 1975 and 1999 SP Godrej received 10 awards for his conservation led to his playing a major advocacy role for wildlife in India .

M. S. Swaminathan : He has founded the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai , which does work on the conservation of biological diversity .

Madhav Gadgil is a well – known ecologist in India . His interests range from board ecological issues such as developing community Biodiversity Registers and conserving sacred groves to studies on the behavior of mammals , birds and insects . His research interests include population biology , conservation biology , human ecology and ecological history and he has published over 215 research papers and 6 books and and the editor for the series ‘ lifescapes of peninsular India ‘ ..

M. C. Mehta : Environmental lawyer . Initiated the Government to implement Environmental education in schools and colleges , struggles for protection of Taj mahal and cleaning of Ganga water .

Anil agarwal : a journalist who wrote the first report on the state of india’s environment in 1982. He was the founder of CES , an active NGO that supports various environmental issues .

Medha Patkar : known as one of rural India’s champions , has supported the cause of the downtrodden tribal people whose environment is being affected by the danis on the Narmada river .

Sunderlal Bahuguna chipko movement has become an internationally well known example of a highly successful conservation action program through the efforts of local people for guarding their forest resources .


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