Throughout history humans have both affected, and been affected by, the natural world. While a good deal has been lost due to human actions, much of what is valued about the environment has been preserved and protected through human action. While many uncertainties remain, there is a realization that environmental problems are becoming more and more complex, especially as issues arise on a more global level, such as that of atmospheric pollution or global warming.
Interactions between human society and the environment are constantly changing. The environment, while highly valued by most, is used and altered by a wide variety of people with many different interests and values. Difficulties remain on how best to ensure the protection of our environment and natural resources. There will always be tradeoffs and, many times, unanticipated or unintended consequences. However, a well-managed environment can provide goods and services that are both essential for our well being as well as for continued economic prosperity.
The environment has become one of the most important issues of our time and will continue to be well into the future. The challenge is to find approaches to environmental management that give people the quality of life they seek while protecting the environmental systems that are also the foundations of our well being. In order to face these challenges, students today will need more than superficial knowledge or awareness of disconnected environmental issues. A multidisciplinary approach to learning can build upon the strengths of a wide range of fields of study, providing a deeper understanding of the technological, political, and social options and strategies for both studying and managing the relationship between our society and the environment.