An environmental problem is a condition of the biophysical environment that negatively affects
humans. It can be naturally occurring, or caused by humans.
A world environmental problem is the same, except it is a condition of the global biophysical
environment. Examples include:
o Anthropogenic climate change [systemic]
o Deforestation [cumulative]
o Pollution [systemic and cumulative]
o Biodiversity loss [cumulative]
o Ozone depletion [systemic]
A geographical perspective focuses on human and biophysical processes, spatial and temporal
scales, and is solutions-based.
Do I understand the key concepts and terminology used by scientists studying environmental
Can I explain the difficulties of attributing change in biophysical systems?
Can I identify the key human drivers of environmental problems?
Can I describe the state of knowledge on human and biophysical processes causing environmental
There are 4 basic elements to the environment. They include:
o The lithosphere- the outer solid portion of the planet earth, made up of the earths crust
and upper mantle (igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock).
o The atmosphere- the gases surrounding the earth.
o The biosphere- the part of the earth and its atmosphere where organisms live.
o The hydrosphere- any part of the earth or its atmosphere in which water vapor is found
(this includes fresh water and saline).
o These 4 elements/spheres can overlap.
Cycles occur when molecules are formed and reformed by chemical and biological reactions, and
are manifested in physical changes in the material concerned.
There are 4 reasons for biophysical complexity:
o Timescales- changes occur over different time scales such as geological time (earths
entire history), geomorphic time (time in terms of landforms), and anthropogenic time
(time in human terms).
Timescales are important to the perception and understanding of environmental
Present issues can be superimposed on the past.
o Feedback- is a process whereby some proportion of the output signal of a system is
passed back to the input. Negative feedback inhibits and slows change, while positive
feedback enhances and accelerates change.
o Thresholds- the point that must be exceeded to begin producing a given effect or result
to illicit a response. It may take sufficient accumulation of a stimulus to produce visible
o Time-lags- There is often space between the onset of a force for change and the change
o These factors make it difficult to attribute causality to environmental issues. A system may be:
o Resistant- has the ability to maintain original conditions in the face of disturbance.
o Resilient- has the ability to return to original condition after disturbance.
o Vulnerable- susceptible to harm because of inability to resist and recover from change.
Biophysical systems are dynamic and non-linear. This makes attributing cause and effect
difficult, thus making prediction complicated. It also gives way to unintended magnification of
unforeseen environmental impacts. The fact that these systems are open systems also contributes
We know more now about the human impact on the environment due to improved scientific
methods and the development of advanced computing.
Anthropocene- indicates the human agency as powerful in natural processes.
Resources are anything in the natural environment useful to man (relative to time and location).
These resources can be continuous, renewable, or non-renewable.
o Population (P) is the main cause of increased environmental impact. Population
increases cause increases in consumption. The population has increased substantially
over the past 100 years. However, some resources are finite and thus unable to keep up.
There are some positive effects of population increase such as urbanization leading to
efficiency, and the existence of more people to tackle problems.
o Affluence (A) increases resource consumption.
o Technology (T) increases the demand for resources, thus increasing resource
exploitation. It also creates new impacts (e-waste, etc.). However, it also brings about
increases in efficiency and pollution reduction, which mitigates the effects of population
o Socio-cultural (S) factors such as political, social and economic institutions affect
resource valuation and ownership. Inaccurate valuation can lead to the tragedy of the
Valuation is how resources are appreciated in society. Undervaluation of things like air leads to
externalities on the part of polluters.
Am I able to describe the key features of a geographical approach?
Am I able to apply a geographical approach to understand a world environmental problem?
Historical collapses (such as the Maya) have been small-scale and the result of a limited number of
environmental conditions. They werent long lasting in scope because of lower populations and
Current issues, however, can be small but are mostly larger because of IPATS.
There are two types of world environmental problems:
o Systemic- there is a direct human impact on global biophysical systems, such as the
greenhouse effect and global warming.
o Cumulative- these changes become global because of their distribution, such as
Geography is the study of the earths landscapes, peoples, places and environments. It is an
interdisciplinary study that has evolved over the years, from discredited pre-20 centuryenvironmental determinism, dropped regional geography, the 1960s quantitative geography, the
1970s revolutionary geography, to todays contemporary geography. Contemporary geography
is approach-focused, spatial and temporal, qualitative and quantitative, and focuses on how
humans and biophysical systems interact with each other.
The pressure and release model explains how a root cause leads to dynamic pressures, which
result in unsafe conditions and impacts. These conditions and impacts lead to hazards and
environmental problems, which contribute to the root causes.
Can I describe the historical evolution of the concept of sustainable development?
Can I identify key aspects of sustainable development?
Can I explain the strengths and weaknesses of the concept of sustainable development?
Can I describe and asses policy options to promote sustainable development?
Resources can be needed for:
o Subsistence, which is small-scale and for survival. It has a localized impact.
o Agriculture, which involves small to medium productions of specialized trades. This
increases impact from local to regional.
The Maya civilization collapsed as a result of human and natural factors. It was the onset of the
medieval warm period, and they used too much soil. This led to disruption of water storage, which
led to lower p