• University of Leeds

Environmental Challenges: Human Impact in the Natural Environment

Complexity in nature arises from a myriad of simple interactions. How can this lead to an unpredictable dynamism?

25,796 enrolled on this course

Environmental Challenges: Human Impact in the Natural Environment

Complex patterns in ecology are not always causal and predictable. Populations have their own dynamics that can be independent of external environmental conditions. In this course we look at the way that natural systems are organised; although living systems are complex, there are also some fairly constant patterns and relationships.

This course explores three approaches to the causality and dynamics of environmental systems, and how humans are involved and affected by these systems world-wide. It also includes an introduction to correlation and the limitations of statistical testing.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Should humans be considered an integral part of the natural environment, or are we somehow separate from nature? Much scientific research in both the social and natural sciences has been directed at trying to tease apart the relative roles of internal dynamics from external drivers, but it’s quite perplexing to make the division. Inevitably, there’s a bit of both. But the important point to recognize is that there doesn’t necessarily need to be a reason for everything. Sometimes, and probably quite a lot of the time, things just happen.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds I’m Professor Jon Lovett, Chair in Global Challenges at the University of Leeds. My role here is to guide you through this course. We start by exploring three basic principles– causality, internal dynamics versus external drivers, and the mathematics of human ecology. These principles will then be applied to a case study where we consider whether non-human animals and other natural objects have legal rights similar to those given to humans. We close the course with a discussion about the mathematics of natural dynamics, calling on experts from Natural England and Pennine Prospects, we consider the impact of land management on our natural environment. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and joining your discussions on the course.


  • Week 1

    The principles of human impact in the natural environment

    • Welcome

      Welcome to Human Impact in the Natural Environment. This course explores three basic principles when considering natural resource management.

    • Causality

      We tend to think in terms of ‘cause and effect’, but nature is not always as simple as this. In this activity we see that there are many different interactions between the infinite parts of ecosystems.

    • Internal drivers vs external dynamics

      Complexity in nature arises from simple interactions between many individuals. This second principle explains how complex systems are influenced by both internal dynamics and external drivers.

    • The mathematics of human ecology

      This principle examines the mathematics of human ecology. Although living systems are complex, there are also some clear patterns and simple relationships that appear to be fairly constant.

    • Revision

      This revision activity is optional and is designed for those signed up for the Environmental Challenges Program.

    • Summary

      To close this week of this course, Jon will reflect on the week through a textual summary of discussions, questions and comments.

  • Week 2

    Applying the principles

    • About week 2

      This week we explore the basic principles in context through a case study and topical discussion.

    • Case study: ecocentric vs anthropocentric

      In this activity, Jon discusses the anthropocentric and ecocentric approaches to ecological systems - the position of humans to nature.

    • Discussion: the mathematics of natural dynamics

      In this activity we look at the mathematics of natural dynamics.

    • Focusing on – statistics and correlation

      As promised at the beginning of the course, you now have the opportunity to reflect on the use of statistics and correlations in environmental reporting.

    • Revision

      This revision activity is optional and is designed for those signed up for the Environmental Challenges Program.

    • Summary

      Jon reflects on the week through a textual summary of discussions, questions and comments. There is also an opportunity for you to test your understanding and find out more about the other courses in the program.

Who is this accredited by?

The CPD Certification Service
The CPD Certification Service:

This course has been accredited by the CPD Certification Service, which means it can be used to provide evidence of your continuing professional development.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore the question of causality as it applies to vegetation and climate.
  • Discuss density-dependent population dynamics, where many individual interactions can lead to apparently chaotic fluctuations.
  • Explain mathematical rules in nature and human social systems.
  • Develop mathematical understanding of correlation and the limitations of statistical testing.

Who is the course for?

The course is suitable for anyone with a general interest in nature and environmental decision-making; no previous knowledge or experience is required.

If you are working in environmental management, or wish to learn more about it, this course is designed to support you as a professional. By completing all aspects of the course you will have achieved 14 hours of CPD time.

Who will you learn with?

Jon Lovett is Chair in Global Challenges in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds and works on institutional economics.

Who developed the course?

University of Leeds

As one of the UK’s largest research-based universities, the University of Leeds is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre of excellence for teaching.

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