Environmental science is the study of how the various physical, biological, chemical, and meteorological factors interact within a given environment, as well as how these factors impact the organisms living within it - including human beings. It can be easy to forget in our increasingly modern, technology-mediated world, but balancing human needs with the preservation of a sustainable natural environment is incredibly important to our health, our psychological well-being, and the day-to-day functioning of the global economy.
On a local scale, having clean air to breathe and water to drink is something we take for granted, but the safety of these essential resources can be threatened by particulate emissions from factories and diesel trucks, as well as toxic pollution from chemical plants. And on a planetary scale, the extreme weather and natural disasters caused by global warming threaten to upend many of the agricultural and livestock systems we depend on for food, as well as coastal real estate markets that are valued at $1 trillion in the United States alone.
Because environmental science connects the dots between the myriad human and natural factors interacting in the environment, it is an interdisciplinary subject that can be studied from many different angles. Experts from the physical sciences such as biology and chemistry offer essential knowledge of the ways in which different pollutants affect human and animal health. At the same time, the background of social scientists such as anthropologists and economists can provide critical inputs into how various human systems respond to environmental pressures, as well as how these systems can contribute to environmental sustainability.
Environmental science is also obviously important if your primary concern is the non-human world. By providing guidance on how to preserve the proper functioning of natural ecosystems, it helps to ensure sustainable habitats for the biodiverse flora and fauna of our world. Thus, environmental science is a vital field of study whether you want to protect the natural environment from being damaged by human activities or protect the human world from risks in the environment.
Because environmental science studies the interactions between the human and natural worlds, it is an inherently interdisciplinary subject that offers pathways to a wide range of careers. A background in environmental science can help professionals bring an environmental lens to bear on their existing role, or it can lead to jobs focused entirely on this area of study.
If you are pursuing a career in law and want to focus on cases establishing culpability for the health impacts of air or water pollution, or want to work on the development of environmental laws and regulations, an environmental science background can help you become an environmental lawyer. If you’re an engineer responsible for the design and construction of buildings, factories, or power plants, a background in environmental science can help you become an environmental engineer capable of ensuring these facilities meet all applicable pollution standards.
On the other hand, if you love animals, a background in environmental science can be a boon to careers as a conservation scientist or a zoologist, allowing you to better understand the impacts of various environmental factors on different species in an ecosystem. And if your primary passion is the environment itself, you can become an environmental scientist responsible for analyzing the health risks from air, water, soil, or even food samples and informing businesses and governments of any hazards. You can also specialize in a narrower area of environmental science, such as hydrologists who focus on issues with water quality.
No matter what your area of interest in environmental science and sustainability, Coursera lets you learn from top-ranked schools like Columbia University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Rice University. You won’t sacrifice the quality of your education, and you’ll be able to pursue it on a flexible schedule and at a lower cost than on-campus versions of the same courses.