Menu Close

Studying the environment isn’t rocket science (it’s harder)

These guys had it easy.

As an environmental scientist, I am a:






Soil Scientist





Political Scientist



and nature enthusiast…

Environmental science is an interdisciplinary field, which requires those studying it to know a little bit of everything.

There is so much underlying complexity to the earth and how we relate to it, that you need to know a little bit about a lot of stuff.

I know of two former astrophysicists who are now environmental scientists.

They’ve told me that the complexity of our field makes them wish they stayed in astrophysics. This was not something I was really expecting an astrophysicist to say.

So why is environmental science so complex?

Environmental scientists are trained to think big and to think small.

We need to look at whole systems and how people and environment work together.

But we also need to understand fine processes, like how plants are able to utilise soil nutrients.

We need to think about people.

Why do they recycle? Why don’t they? How do different people interact with their environment in different places, from urban Australians to the High Country tribes of Papua New Guinea? How do Indigenous Australians view our landscape?

We need to consider the use of our environment and current economic structures.

How do humans affect the environment and our economy? How does the economy affect the environment?

To make change, we also have to communicate and teach. This includes education about everything from recycling programs to large scale issues like deforestation and climate change.

When explaining a complex situation it is often broken down into shorter and simpler concepts, which can leave out other important interactions or ideas.

Although questions may seem simple, the answers can be incredibly complex.

There are no incorrect answers in environmental science. With so many varied opinions and research, it creates an overwhelming diversity of ideas.

There are many possible solutions and answers to any problem. As soon as you think you have considered everything, one thing may change or a new piece of research comes out that will change your ideas and answers.

This may be why we see continually changing science on climate change, water management, endangered species and even renewable energy debates. This is the opposite to fields like mathematics or physics, where there is often only one solution to a problem.

Luckily, many scientists and other researchers are now coming together and collaborating within environmental science.

With experts in discrete fields working to solve problems, we have more opportunity to specialise and also to come up with some creative solutions.

Environmental science is not concrete, it is rapidly adapting and changing as we uncover more about the earth and ourselves.

This post originally appeared at

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 171,100 academics and researchers from 4,742 institutions.

Register now