Human Interaction with the Physical Environment

One of the most important things that geographers study is the relationship between humans and their environment. There are three things to keep in mind: humans depend on their environment; humans change their environment; and humans adapt to their environment.

Click on an image below to read a bit more about that topic.

An environment is made up of both living and non-living things. People depend on it for things they need, such as food, shelter, and clothing. People in an island country like Japan eat a lot of seafood, while people in landlocked countries like Mongolia eat more meat and dairy products. People in areas with more forests might use a lot of wood in building their homes. Many countries around the world are using natural gas for energy.

People change the environment to meet their needs. They might build houses, dams and mines, or clear away forests for agriculture or to make roads. Sometimes they modify it indirectly, such as when they produce pollution.

Humans change the way they live and do things according to differences in their environments. For example, people in cold climates will dress warmly and use heating systems in their homes. People in hot climates dress in lightweight clothing and might use fans or air conditioners.

Read and think about each example below. Decide whether it is an example of humans depending on their environment, modifying their environment, or adapting to their environment. Then click on the picture to see if you were right. Some examples might fall into more than one category.

Answer: This is both an example of humans modifying the environment as the trees are removed, and of humans depending on the environment as they use the logs. The forest that once was there is gone; if too many trees are cut down too fast, deforestation is the result. We can say that humans have modified the environment in a harmful way.

Answer: This is an example of adapting to the environment.

Answer: This is an example of adapting to the environment.

Answer: This is an example of humans modifying the environment in creating air pollution.

Answer: An example of human dependence on the environment.

Answer: This could actually be an example of all three. Water from the environment is used (dependence) in a new way using technology (modification) to meet a challenge presented by the dry environment (adaptation).

Map credits: Political: By Derivative works of this file: BobarinoAfrican continent-fr.svg: Eric Gaba (Sting - Sting) - African continent-fr.svg, CC BY-SA 2.5,