What Is Human Environment Interaction?

human-environment-interaction Credit: Carlos Ciudad Photos/Moment/Getty Images

Human environment interaction refers to the way people change their environment and how the environment changes them.

Human environment interaction is one of the five themes of geography created by the National Council for Geographic Education and the Association of American Geographers in 1984. It is an overarching theme in the study of geography that concerns the many relationships, both positive and negative, between people and their surroundings. This examination includes how people depend on and modify the environment and how people adapt behaviorally and physically in response to the environment. The study of human environment interaction focuses more on groups of people or cultures rather than on individuals. Therefore, human environment interaction looks at the interplay between human social systems and larger ecosystems.

Populations and the Land

There are many different types of land in the world, most of which have been modified to allow for human habitation. Even deserts and floodplains have been transformed into cities, like Israel. Throughout history, humans have also shaped the waterways by creating new channels, like the Panama Canal. Also, the Mississippi River was modified by the Army Corps of Engineers to allow for easy passage of large steamboats.

Environmental Impacts

In addition to climate change, there are many environmental impacts caused by human environment interaction. These include mining and refining oil. Another illustration of human environment interaction is found in the discussions about climate change. The majority of scientists believe there is evidence that human activities contributed to the ongoing changes in global temperatures and climates. In response, people are now attempting to change these actions. Many speculate that humans will be forced to adapt to the effects of climate change in the future, as well as how humans might modify the environment in attempts at countering the changes. This is a global issue.

Environmental Policies
Another example of environmental impacts include overfishing in certain oceans. This has led to an imbalance in the ecosystem, as well as limiting the diversity of the fish. In order to restore the ecosystem as much as possible, governments apply policies.

Natural Disasters and Diseases

Natural disasters impact humans in many ways, including in food security and economic downfalls. Additionally, diseases, particularly outbreaks, can spread quickly over a big area. Some believe that the natural disasters are directly linked to human interactions with the environment.


Overpopulation in certain sectors of the world also has major environmental impacts. These include a higher demand of water and the clearing of natural spaces to make way for new developments. Also, as human habitations creep into the natural world, the wildlife is directly affected and pushed further out. This disrupts the ecosystem and causes strain.

Interdisciplinary Approach
The topic of human environment interaction encompasses not only the Environmental Sciences, but is also related to other areas of academia such as Psychology, Computer Science and Philosophy. Other related topics include environmental determinism and cultural determinism. Environmental determinism is the theory that the environment and climate put limits on human activity, whereas cultural determinism is the theory that human behaviors are directed by cultural factors than biological factors.