- What is the environment?
- Environmental Justice!
- The effect of the environment on people
- The effect of the people on the natural environment
- How does the environment affect health and well-being?
What is the environment?
The environment is the conditions and things that surround us. The environment includes conditions and things made by people and natural systems. Part of the environment is things created by people, such as roads and houses, and conditions created by people, like a feeling of love or social belonging. This human-created environment is part of the larger natural environment. The natural environment includes all living things. It includes systems like the ones that create rocks and the weather. The natural environment is not created by people, but people can harm or protect the natural environment.
The environment includes the conditions and things very near to you, like the ones found in your home, school, and neighborhood. The environment also includes things and conditions all around the world. Sometimes it might be helpful to think about the local and global environments or the human-created and natural environments separately. But these environments cannot really be separated. They are all are connected. You are part of the environment, and the environment is part of you.
In the Environmental Justice! guide, when you think about your environment you will be thinking about both the human-created environment and the natural environment.
Environmental Justice! is the new community response guide from the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project. In this free guide, young people explore the question “How can we create environments that are healthy for everyone?”
Beginning by pondering their own identity and relationship with their environment, young people also investigate their ideas about justice, environmental impacts on health, local examples of environmental problems and injustices, and ways they can act. Opportunities to gather data, consider causes, and interrogate the systems that create problems help young people develop research and critical thinking skills.
Guided to find out more about the environmental situations within their own communities, young people are prompted to share this information and join others in finding innovative solutions to the problems they identify. The guides were developed in consultation with over two dozen groups of experts, activists, and young people from ten countries around the world. Quotes and ideas from individual scientists, researchers, and activists are shared to help inspire youth and provide guidance on ways to take action to make their local and global communities more just.
The effect of the environment on people
Every day people around the world are affected by their environment in lots of different ways. Some ways are good and help keep you healthy and happy. Some ways are bad and may harm your physical or mental health. As highlighted at page 16 of Environmental Justice!, the effect of the environment on you includes:
- Things in the environment enter your body through food, water, air, or things on your skin like soaps or lotions.
- You may be exposed to things in an indoor environment such as toxic substances like smoke, lead, or mold.
- You may experience environmental situations that scare you or upset you, such as a hurricane or wildfire, or ones that awe you like a beautiful sunset or an amazing view.
- Conditions outside such as temperature, weather, and noise might affect you in positive or negative ways.
- Your environment might provide opportunities such as exercise, recreation, or a sense of peace or connection.
The effect of the people on the natural environment
People have changed local and global environments in big and small ways. As highlighted at page 18 of Environmental Justice!, these ways include:
- Changing the natural water systems of the Earth through pollution, water use, and changing the way water flows, such as by using dams.
- Changing what is in the air on Earth by burning fossil fuels.
- Making changes to land to meet human needs for agriculture, housing, business, resources, and transportation.
- Extracting resources through drilling and mining.
- Releasing human-made chemical and other waste products into the water, air, and soil.
- Disrupting natural ecosystems and other living things. Ecosystems are communities made of living things and nonliving things.
- Making human-created environments such as buildings, highways, and airports.
- Some changes may hurt the natural environment more than others. The choices made by people, governments, and organizations can decide whether the natural environment is protected or harmed.
How does the environment affect health and well-being?
Air pollution, rising temperatures, natural disasters, biodiversity loss—the environment and environmental factors influence pretty much every health problem that there is out there.
—Dr. Sadhbh Lee
Sadhbh Lee is a doctor from Ireland and a founding member of the organization Irish Doctors for the Environment. Her motivation comes from a great love of nature, especially the ocean, and a desire to protect the health of both her patients and the planet.
People who live in highly polluted areas are more likely to become ill with many diseases. Climate change is actually leading to faster transmission of many infections.
—Dr. Paramdeep Singh
Paramdeep Singh is a doctor and is working as an additional professor of radiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Bathinda, India.