When people hear the term ‘environmental science’, the concept that most probably pops up in their minds is ‘pollution’; and if they process their thoughts a little further, they might think of another concept, that is ‘climate change’. This is because most of the people are not familiar with the depth and complexity of environmental science. This makes it a very misunderstood field of study and results in the association of only the two aforementioned concepts with this field.
In fact, the scope of environmental science is way beyond our perception about it. At one moment we might be standing in a laboratory to detect heavy metals in water samples; on the other moment we might be sitting in front of a computer to analyze the land cover changes through any GIS software; and on another moment we might be conducting a survey to calculate the economic value of a natural recreational site. This is how it works. Environmental science is the amazing amalgamation of many fields of study; like biology, chemistry, physics, sociology, meteorology, geography and epidemiology to name a few. In this way it merges these different fields and makes an interesting unit.
Environmental biology, for instance, is a sub-field of environmental science that includes biodiversity conservation along with the relation between biological systems and their environment (ecology). On the other hand, environmental chemistry deals with the study of the ongoing chemical processes taking place in the environment and the impact of human activities on these processes. Plus, it also deals with the alterations in these environmental chemical processes (including pollution) along with the impact of these alterations on living organisms and non-living environment. In short, environmental chemistry involves the study of aquatic, atmospheric, and soil chemistry.
Moreover, environmental physics studies and applies the principles of physics on environment. It includes the study energy and heat flow (in and out) of ecosystems; circulation of ocean currents; transport of greenhouse gases through atmosphere etc. In addition, environmental geology focuses on the interaction between Earth processes (involving rocks, fluids and sediments) and human beings. Along with this, it includes geologic hazards and disasters; managing waste disposal and stewardship of geological sources (land use, fossil fuels and minerals).
Furthermore, environmental economics focuses on environment and economy both. The key concepts in this sub-field of environmental science are: assessment of environmental externalities (negative or positive environmental impacts of economic activities that are outside market mechanism or transaction), valuation of environment (assigning monetary values to environment) and cost-benefit analysis of projects to ensure environmental protection. On the other hand, environmental sociology involves the study of the interaction between environment and society. It focuses on the relation between population dynamics with health and environment; inequitable distribution of natural/environmental resources; and difference in the impact of environmental hazards on different classes of society.
Moreover, environmental governance is a decision-making sphere of environmental science, which focuses on the management of natural resources and environment in a sustainable way. It involves the interaction of stakeholders/actors (market, state/government and civil society) on local, national and international level. Similar to this, environmental politics inculcates the environment-related political theories, environmental movements and public policymaking. For instance, ‘environmentalism’ is considered to be very important mass movement, which falls under the umbrella of environmental politics.
They say, ‘there is unity in diversity’. Interestingly, this statement applies on environmental science also. Therefore, by getting insight of environmental science, one can gain knowledge about a multitude of topics and processes that are part of natural and social sciences that are linked with the environment. In this way, one becomes able to apply the aforementioned knowledge for solving environmental problems.