1st Edition

An Introduction to Environment, Society and Sustainability

By Helen Hazen, Paul Sutton Copyright 2025
    448 Pages 156 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    448 Pages 156 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This timely and innovative book delves into the complex interplay of human activities and natural limits in generating today’s sustainability challenges. By contrasting the pressures of growing populations with ecological footprints associated with consumption, the volume navigates the contested terrain where human societies generate environmental impacts.

    Adorned with illustrative figures, examples and case studies throughout, this book presents insightful analysis of ecological, economic, technological, and social justice responses to the challenges faced by human civilization, including land degradation, climate change, pollution, and overexploitation of natural resources. Many of these issues are wicked problems, characterized by incomplete information, multiple stakeholders, and contested approaches to addressing them. In simple terms, sustainability issues are an interplay between population growth and rising consumption, which are placing impossible demands on finite resources. Potential solutions to the crisis are split between green growth approaches that emphasize technology and institutional capacity to guide economic growth in more sustainable ways, and degrowth approaches that call for a fundamental rethinking of the way we structure society and generate value. This book emerged from a student seminar where undergraduate and graduate students highlighted sustainability topics of concern, helped consider their framing, and then assisted with co-writing several of the chapters. The volume encourages readers to consider structural questions that underpin sustainability dilemmas, and begins with four theoretical frameworks for understanding sustainability issues: ideas from the natural sciences, the population/consumption debate, economic frameworks, and ethical approaches. It then uses a systems approach to apply these theoretical ideas to complex global systems such as the atmosphere, oceans, and agriculture.

    This volume will be of pivotal interest to students, scholars and academics in the fields of environmental studies, environment and society, human geography and environmental geography, as well as those with an interest in these areas more generally.

    1. Introduction to Sustainability and the Human-environment System

                Human-environment Interactions

                The Population-environment-development Nexus

                A Brief History of Sustainability         

                Sustainability as a Concept

                            Diagrammatic Representations of Sustainability

                            Sustainable Development Goals

                            Wicked Problems and Systems Thinking

                Structure of the Book


    2. Biophysical Perspectives on Sustainability

    Part One: Ecological Approaches

    Energy flows

    Population dynamics: Carrying capacity and trophic cascades

    Disturbance and succession

    Land degradation

    Part Two: Biogeochemical cycles and nutrient flows

    The hydrological cycle

    Nutrient cycling

                                        The carbon cycle

                                                    The greenhouse effect

                                        The nitrogen cycle

                                        The phosphorus cycle

                                        The sulfur cycle




    3. Population and Consumption

    Part One: Population Approaches

    Population as problem: Malthus and the neo-Malthusians 

    Spaceship Earth—Earth as a bounded system

    Part Two: Consumption Patterns     

    I=PAT and ecological footprints

    The role of technology           

    The role of institutions



    4. Economic Perspectives on Sustainability

    Part One: The Capitalist Economy

    Economics and sustainability

    Part Two: Policy Responses

    Neoliberal responses to environmental problems: Green growth

    Questioning the global capitalist model: Degrowth



    5. Ethical Approaches to Sustainability

    Part One: Sustainability and Human Rights

    Reproductive rights and social justice

    Consumption and equity issues

    Environmental justice

    Part Two: Environmental Ethics

    Environmental ethics and anthropocentrism

    Animal ethics



    6. Earth’s Atmosphere

    With Uma Baysal

    Evolution of the atmosphere

    Characteristics of the atmosphere

    Air pollution

    Consequences of pollution

    Climate change

    Impacts of climate change

    Governance and institutions in addressing climate change

    The rise of the electric car



    7. Oceans

    With Sidney Barbier

    The oceans in physical systems

    Oceans and a changing climate

    Nutrient and sediment loading


    Biodiversity and marine ecosystems





    8. Fresh Water

    With Sidney Barbier

                Water quantity


                            Surface water

                            Climate change

                Water quality

                            Sedimentation and water clarity

                            Chemical pollution

                            Nutrient loading

                            Biological contamination and disease

                Environmental justice



    9. Wildlands

    With Julia Entwistle

                The value of biodiversity and wildlands

                The state of global wildlands

                Protected areas

                The Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve

                Solutions and tradeoffs in wildland conservation

                            Land sparing vs land sharing

                            Economic considerations and protected areas

                            Ethical considerations and protected areas



    10. Agriculture

    With Jecca Bowen

                Categorizing agriculture: Type, purpose, and approach

    Evolution of agriculture

                Agriculture and soil quality

                Agriculture and water

                Agriculture and health

                Agriculture and climate change

                Case study: Corn production in the US Midwest



    11. Urban Systems

    With Namrata Chatterjee


                Sustainability in the city

                            Solid waste

                            Urban congestion and air pollution  

                            Blue and green spaces in cities

                            Urban sprawl: growing up or growing out?

                            Urban slums



    12. Conclusion


                Consumption and degrowth

                Green growth and technology

                Governance and institutions



    Helen Hazen is a teaching professor at the University of Denver. After completing an undergraduate degree in geography at Oxford University, she worked in the field of environmental conservation before earning a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Hazen has published on a variety of aspects of human-environment interactions, including the role of the World Heritage Program in environmental protection and biases in ecosystem protection. Her teaching interests focus on health, environment, and sustainability and have led to the publication of undergraduate textbooks in health geography and population geography.

    Paul Sutton is a professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Denver. Dr. Sutton is also a member of the board of trustees for the small town of Morrison, CO (pop ~350). He also serves on the board of the Denver Regional Council of Governments. Dr. Sutton obtained his B.S. from Union College in Chemistry, his M.A. in Statistics and PhD in Geography from UCSB. His research interests are in the general area of human-environment relations with a particular interest in population geography, sustainability science, and ecological economics.