Environmental studies: Degree, Topics, Importance, Jobs

Black and white picture of man washing stones in square bucket of water with words environmental studies: degree, topics, importance, jobs written in black box on picture

Environmental studies is a subject that analyzes the natural environment, the built environment and the interaction between them. It is thus connected to various fields like physical sciences, social sciences and economics. Basically, environmental studies enlighten us on what is going on in the natural/built environment. Hence, we understand natural interactions better and how our daily activities affect them. A degree in environmental studies can lead to quite exciting jobs such as journalist, marine biologist, engineer etc.

Roots of environmental studies

The roots of environmental studies date to the turn of the century, heavily founded on the concepts of conservation and preservation. In the past, environmental education was mostly related to the wise use of natural resources. Eventually, Rachel Carson published a book, Silent Spring, on the effects of pesticides in 1962. Consequently, this caused a shift in paradigm in environmental studies. She modernized ecology by pinpointing the harmful effects of pollution on human health and wildlife.

Three books in cream coloured display box, blue book the edge of the sea, green book, the sea around us and green book silent spring by rachel carson, environmental studies
Books written by Rachel Carson including Silent Spring that initiated the environmental movement, Image by Ryan Somma via Flickr

During that time period, there were also conflicts in the US due to the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam war. These rebellions further reinforced the environmental movement initiated by Carson’s findings. Consequently, environmental protection became a top priority and environmental studies rapidly spread throughout the US.

Why is environmental studies important?

Even today, Carson’s book remains a model of environmental activism. All around the world, environmental laws and policies coordinate efforts to prevent environmental damage. Nonetheless, there are still many environmental processes that we do not understand and are difficult to predict.

Therefore, environmental studies permit us to actively study the environment to better manage it and solve environmental issues. In this way, we can develop sustainable lifestyles while conserving important natural resources such as water.

Today, where we currently stand, environmental studies is critically important because of

1.      Increasing urban development

Right now, urban development is increasing alarmingly. By 2050, 7 out of 10 people will live in cities. When we build cities, we change its physical form and land use patterns for years to come. As more and more people flock to these cities, they unquestionably exert pressure on natural resources and land.

2.      Unprecedented pollution

Sadly, every year, 7 million people worldwide die because of air pollution. Likewise, around 8 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year. Marine pollution rises dangerously at the minute. Presently, some 500 dead zones exist in our oceans because of land-based pollutants.

All forms of pollution invariably affect human health, create harmful living conditions and destroy our environment.

3.      Wise planning

Therefore, wise planning is critical if we are to live sustainably, healthily and resiliently wherever we are in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic reflects how negligent land uses can have global repercussions affecting the rich and poor alike.

At a time where natural disasters may be peaking due to climate change, wise planning is of utmost importance.  

4.      International importance

When it comes to environmental issues, they are often not limited to a single place. Since the environment is dynamic in nature, environmental problems can quickly spread across national borders to the whole world in a matter of time.

More often than not, it is the rich countries that cause the most environmental damage such as greenhouse gas emissions. And unfortunately, it is the poor countries that suffer the most from them. So, we must address such issues at the international level to limit environmental impacts.

5.      Human survival

And lastly, it is about our own survival. Earth’s history reveals that mass extinction occurred several times in the past. After the eruption of Mount Toba in Indonesia some 70,000 years ago, only 500 reproducing females remained in the world.

Today, we are living in an era eerily called the Anthropocene. This is because of the damaging effects that human activities are having on Earth’s climate and ecosystems. Unless we contain and regulate these activities, the planet can become inhabitable and threaten our survival in the future.

Requirements for environmental studies degree

In general, each university and college has its own requirements to admit students in the environmental studies program. In most cases, students must understand basic physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, geography or economics.

They must also have good IT knowledge and research skills. Students must be ready to undertake laboratory and field works and present their research in clear formats too. Over and above, students must have the capacity to analyze problems, think critically and propose relevant solutions.

Topics in environmental studies

As environmental studies is a multi-disciplinary science, it combines knowledge from different fields. While the physical sciences drive basic environmental processes, we understand human response towards the environment through the social sciences. Broadly speaking, environmental topics that universities and colleges offer differ from place to place.

Basically, students will learn about ecology, natural resource management and biodiversity as core modules. Then, they can choose to specialize in specific fields such as marine science, environmental protection and waste management.

What can you do with an environmental studies degree?

A degree in environmental studies paves the way to various careers to create a better world.

As it is, environmental studies is not only for nature enthusiasts. Even those who enjoy urban development, social justice and agriculture can choose it.

50+ common jobs in environmental science

A non-exhaustive list of common jobs in environmental studies include:

  1. Academic writer
  2. Arborist
  3. Agricultural engineer/scientist
  4. Architect
  5. Biologist
  6. Biostatistician
  7. Bioinformatician
  8. Botanist
  9. Cartographer
  10. Climatologist
  11. Conservation officer
  12. Counsellor
  13. Educator/teacher/lecturer/professor
  14. Ecologist
  15. Eco-tourism operator
  16. Environmental engineer/consultant/analyst/chemist/land surveyor
  17. Fish/farm officer/warden
  18. Food scientist
  19. Forest officer/warden
  20. Geologist
  21. GIS specialist
  22. Health and safety engineer/officer
  23. Horticultural therapist
  24. Hydrologist
  25. Industrial engineer
  26. Journalist
  27. Judge
  28. Landscape architect
  29. Land-use planner
  30. Lawyers
  31. Marine biologist
  32. Management analyst
  33. Media correspondent
  34. Meteorologist
  35. Microbiologist
  36. Modeller
  37. Natural resource manager
  38. Oceanographer
  39. Operations research analyst
  40. Park ranger
  41. Photographer
  42. Policy advisor
  43. Political advisor
  44. Researcher
  45. Scientists
  46. Toxicologist
  47. Transport planner
  48. Waste management officer/engineer/scientist
  49. Water resource specialist
  50. Zoologist

10 non-traditional jobs in environmental studies  

Besides these jobs, you can also opt for other non-traditional jobs with your degree in environmental studies. Therefore, you can also choose to become an/a

  1. Animal caretaker
  2. Environmental Blogger/Vlogger
  3. Content writer
  4. Environmental NGO founder
  5. Environmental activist
  6. Radio operator
  7. Nutrition specialist (raw food/vegan/weight loss etc.)
  8. Herbalist
  9. Greenhouse operator
  10. Zoopharmacognosist
Hand holding brown paper with industries on top and tree at the bottom, sign reading wrong side up, environmental studies
A degree in environmental studies can help students understand and advocate for environmental protection, Image by dmncwndrlch via Pixabay

Additional skills and certification

Technically speaking, some of these carriers may require additional education and skills to meet the job’s requirements. For instance, a GIS specialist must also have a good knowledge of IT and geography. While most universities and colleges provide ample training in the field, sometimes, students may require additional certification.

Additionally, a degree in environmental studies also prepares the ground for further studies in most sciences at higher levels. This can include graduate programs in law, environmental monitoring, coastal engineering and tourism.

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