The environment, in the biophysical context, is the physical and biological factors along with their chemical interactions that affect an organism. In other contexts environment may also be used to refer to the immediate surroundings, to a milieu or to the environs within a system or topic, for instance computer science.
The scope of the biophysical environment is all that contained in the biosphere, which is that part of the Earth in which all life occurs. Ecosystems, of which there are numerous types and are a defined part of the biosphere, collectively make up the whole of the biosphere. Within an ecosystem there are habitats in which an organism (including humans) exists. The environment can be divided into two categories - the natural environment and the built environment, with some overlap between the two. At its most natural, an environment would lack any effects of human activity, although the scale of this activity is such that all areas of the Earth have had at least some influence by humans. At the other end of the scale is the built environment and in some cases it has the biotic component that is virtually absent.
The biophysical environment can vary in scale from microscopic to global in extent. They can also be subdivided according to their attributes. Some examples may be the marine environment, the atmospheric environment and the terrestrial environment.
Environmental science is the study of the interactions within the biophysical environment. Part of this scientific discipline is the investigation of the effect of human activity on the environment. Ecology, a sub-discipline of biology and a part of environmental sciences, is often mistaken as a study of human induced effects on the environment. Environmental studies is a broader academic discipline that is the systematic study of interaction of humans with their environment. It is a broad field of study that includes the natural environment, built environments and social environments.
Environmentalism is a broad social and philosophical movement that, in a large part, seeks to minimise or eliminate the effect of human activity on the biophysical environment. The issues of concern for environmentalists usually relate to the natural environment with the more important ones being old growth forest loss, pollution, climate change and species extinction.
- Kemp, David (1998). Environment Dictionary. London, UK: Routledge.