Environment is the whole of conditions and influences that are essential for the life of organisms such as humans, animals, plants and for biotic communities. It is the environment in which the organisms live.
The term environment refers, among other things, to the physical environment, the natural environment. The relationships between organisms, populations or biotic communities and their environment is the central theme of ecology. In the study of these conditions and influences, biotic and abiotic environmental factors can be distinguished. Lourens Baas Becking formulated the hypothesis Everything is everywhere, but the environment selects with regard to the occurrence of organisms in 1934.
The term environment also refers to the relationships within populations of a species, the intraspecific dependency relationships. Population biology is, among other things, concerned with the study of this.
Ecosystems can be divided into two mutually influencing components: the ecological community (the living or biotic part) and the biotope (the physico-chemical or abiotic part). When studying the environment as part of an ecosystem, a distinction can be made between biotic environmental factors – the organisms of other species that can affect life and a population and the other individuals of the same species – and abiotic environmental factors – external factors that have no biological origin.
Among the abiotic environmental factors can be further distinguished:
- climate: precipitation, humidity, temperature, day length and brightness, wind and wind strength
- soil: mother rock, humus, soil type, groundwater, acidity, relief, slope and exposure
- water: current, tides, salinity, electrical conductivity, trophy, saprobie, water depth, turbidity, transparency, wave action
Biotic environmental factors involve intraspecific interaction, dependency relationships between individuals of different species, such as:
- anthropogenic factors, man-made influences
People and the environment
Ecosystems and landscapes without significant human influence are called natural landscapes and wilderness.
Man and his activities are the most predominant biotic environmental factors worldwide, because man adapts his environment to his needs and goals. These anthropogenic factors include dewatering, opening up, parceling, felling, mowing, grazing, working soil, cultivation. Areas where humans exert their direct or indirect influence are called cultural landscapes, such as agricultural areas (for example arable farming, horticulture, livestock farming, forestry), urban areas and industrial areas.
In the sense of human living environment or living environment, the environment is the part of the natural environment (living and non-living nature) in which human life and human existence is possible and takes place. An important aspect is the relationships within society and between people. The concept of the environment can therefore refer to the social environment or the social class. There are several specialisms that investigate the relationship between humans and their environment, such as environmental sciences, environmental economics, environmental sociology and environmental philosophy.
Human action is partly aimed at changing its natural environment. Unintentional actions can also lead to various forms of damage to the environment and nature:
- depletion of natural resources
- environmental pollution
- environmental degradation, i.e. a structural or irreversible change in the landscape or the global ecosystem resulting in a reduction in its diversity or quality
Limitation of environmental damage
Various parties play a role in limiting environmental damage, including:
- government: because the environment is a collective good with a risk of the tragedy of the commons and externalities, whereby the use of environmental goods and the pollution of the environment are irrelevant, it is the task of the government to protect the environment. To this end, it implements an environmental policy using various instruments, such as environmental education, regulations, taxes and subsidies. The extent to which governments must intervene in the market and other parts of society to protect the environment is the subject of much debate. Liberal parties want the government to leave the market alone as much as possible, while green parties want to do as much as possible to protect the environment
- civil society organizations: in addition to governments, civil society organizations are also involved in protecting the environment and providing information about it. All of these organizations are called the environmental movement
- the social setting or environment is the set of social, cultural, economic, religious factors that influence behavior