What is Human Dimensions in Natural Resources?

Human dimensions in natural resources is an area of study that looks into how human knowledge and attitudes towards natural resources affect how natural resources are managed. Some universities offer this as an entire masters course in the area of natural sciences because it has become such an important field in light of the increasingly pressing issues of climate change, deforestation and food scarcity. It investigates the socio-economic aspects of tackling environmental issues.

Human dimensions in natural resources seek to understand and forecast how human thoughts about our natural environment can influence the shaping of environmental policy and regulations. This area of study borrows ideas from several disciplines such as economics, psychology, sociology, politics, geography and environmental studies.

How human behaviour affects natural resource management

How do we use our understanding of human behaviour to better manage our natural resources?
As we all know, our natural resources are limited while our population keeps growing. In 2019, the world populations are already 7.7 billion with a net increase of 81 million people. This means that human dimensions of natural resources are even more important now than ever before because we have an increasing number of people competing for limited resources. This will lead to conflicts and hence need proper management, policy and regulation.

Basically, the objective of human dimensions in resource management is to make the best compromises between humans’ needs and uses of natural resources and the protection of those natural resources.
The following illustration shows how human dimensions can be used in the proper management of natural resources.

Issues tackled by human dimensions in natural resources

Human dimensions in natural resources deal with a myriad of issues, some of which include:

• How do we tackle issues such as hunting of animals? How do we decide who gets permission to hunt and which animals are protected?
• How do we decide how to compromise between increasing needs of land and other natural resources like oil with the detrimental impacts they have on our planet, such as climate change and deforestation?
• How do we regulate carbon emissions without hurting or discouraging growing businesses?
• How do we tackle human overpopulation without compromising human desires and freedoms to have a large family?
• How do we encourage the use of renewable resources without hurting workers and businesses built around fossil fuels?
• How do we better communicate environmental and climate change concerns with people who are overwhelmed with poverty and who can’t afford to take action to help the environment?
• How do we tackle issues surrounding food scarcity and the problems around factory farming without compromising people’s desires to eat what they wish?

These are all extremely complicated, multi-dimensional issues that need experts from various disciplines coming together and having an informed discussion to solve these problems. These problems need insights from environmentalists, politicians, economists, education institutions and of course, the public.

This interactive, simple video from OECD summarizes natural resource management issues facing the world today:

Factors affecting human behaviour towards natural resource management

Lastly, we must never underestimate the importance of factors like education, culture and economic conditions on people’s attitude on how to tackle pressing environmental issues. For example, it is not surprising that people living under crippling poverty are less responsive to environmental issues. Mainly because they can’t afford to think about climate change when they’re struggling to put food on the table and also because methods to tackle environmental concerns can be expensive. Eating a diet full of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables can be great for the environment, but in many countries, such a diet is very expensive to maintain.

So, the study of human dimensions in natural resource management is extremely complex and multi-dimensional. Studying them takes time, so the real issue is, do we have enough time to thoroughly study human behaviour and enact policies to prevent irreversible environmental damage?