Human ecology is the study of people, their environments and the effect of one on the other. More and more our society is realizing that the activities of people, as individuals and as groups, put stress on physical and natural environments while reciprocally, environmental changes and events put stress on the human population. The field of human ecology is concerned with all of the human variables that influence and are influenced by the organisms and processes of the biosphere, from fundamental social issues such as food production and job creation all the way through advanced scientific issues such as technology and sustainability.
Pursuing an undergraduate degree in human ecology allows those who are broadly concerned about the future of human existence to explore issues through a wide variety of frames of reference. The field is interdisciplinary, involving natural sciences such as biology and botany as well as social sciences such as philosophy and psychology. Problems and their solutions are analyzed from multiple academic perspectives, and from historical roots through modern manifestations, using both objective and subjective data. Students in the field conduct interdisciplinary research and synthesize learning from diverse practical and theoretical sources.
Human ecology by nature invites teamwork. The thorough study of complex issues – let’s take, for example, the issue of public health threats from Hurricane Katrina, or the issue of large scale abandonment of properties in downtown Detroit, or the impact of a wind farm on a small agricultural community – demands input from experts in many different areas of specialization. Getting an undergraduate degree in human ecology provides an immediate opportunity to associate with others who share a concern for better managing our natural and man-made environments, while also beginning to define and develop unique special interests that can make a contribution to solutions. Undergraduate teamwork on problems of human ecology closely resembles the workforce teamwork involved in finding solutions to real municipal, environmental and institutional problems.
Issues in the field of human ecology carry a moral-ethical dimension. Competing needs require thoughtful and equitable resolutions. Conflicts of interest have to be mediated, clashing points of view integrated. Consider, for example, the complexities of addressing Haiti’s needs after the earthquake of 2010, in such a way as to promote greater instead of lesser social progress for that country. As another example, those who are working towards sustainable energy solutions find themselves dealing with everything from tribal traditions, to endangered species, to the size of a wind turbine’s carbon footprint. Projecting the consequences of human behavior and human constructions on the environment calls for training in human ecology, as does planning for the human consequences of natural and environmental disasters. For students who gravitate towards the moral-ethical dimensions of social dilemmas, human ecology is an ideal field.
Job market flexibility
A degree in human ecology provides an educational background suitable for working with city planners and town managers, working as a legislative liaison or policy analyst, working with public health agencies and regulatory agencies and working with a wide variety of humanitarian, environmental and ecological organizations. Typically college graduates have narrowed their interests within the field to a specific area, and pursue job opportunities based on the content of their main interests. An undergraduate degree in human ecology also provides a strong foundation or graduate work in fields such as urban planning, sociology, public health, economics and communications.