Geographic Environment

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Geographic Environment


that part of the terrestrial natural environment that has been to some extent altered by human beings and which at the present moment is directly connected with the life and production activity of society.

The geographic environment has four basic features. (1) It is the terrestrial environment of human society. If mankind leaves the confines of the earth, it cannot take the geographic environment with it; on other planets it will meet with another environment and not with a geographic one. (2) The geographic environment is the natural environment of human society—that is, the complex of natural conditions that arose independently of man and that have preserved, despite man’s influence, a capacity for further self-evolution according to the laws governing the geographic envelope of the earth. Consequently, elements of the environment created from natural substances through the labor and conscious will of man but lacking the capacity for further self-evolution and having no analogues in virgin nature are not part of the geographic environment. These elements form, rather, the technogenic environment of society—for example, cities, factories, and electric power stations—which coexists and closely interacts with the geographic environment. (3) The geographic environment is the sphere of direct interaction between nature and society. Consequently, areas lying outside this sphere do not belong to the geographic environment, even though the consequences of humanity’s production activity. for example, the general rise of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere or the radioactive fallout from atomic explosions, may indirectly affect these areas. (4) With time, the geographic environment grows larger in scope and content, as human society exploits ever more terrestrial space and new aspects and components of nature to satisfy its needs. Although nature’s wealth has remained the same, the geographic environment was more restricted in the past than at the present time.

Some scientists have erroneously tried to identify the geographic environment with the earth’s geographic envelope. Whereas the geographic environment increases spatially with the development of human society, the geographic envelope does not. Only in the future will the geographic environment include all of the geographic envelope (coincide with it) and even exceed the bounds of the geographic envelope without breaking away from the earth. The geographic envelope became mankind’s geographic environment only at the time of the origin of human society in the early Paleolithic age and only where social beings lived and worked. There have been attempts in geographic literature to include human society itself in the geographic environment (that is to make human society its own environment), as well as the implements of labor and all objects made by human hands. Such views have been rejected by the majority of Soviet geographers as unsound.

The geographic environment is one of the permanent and necessary conditions for the development of society. It can accelerate or retard this development, but it is not the main moving force of society’s development, since the specific laws of the movement of nature and society, as well as the rates of movement (changes), are essentially different.

The development of society is determined by the means of production. This Marxist conception revealed the falseness of other views on the role of the geographic environment in the development of society—views such as geographic nihilism (the complete denial of its role), geographic determination (which ascribes a determining significance to the geographic environment), and geographic possibilism (which ignores the character of the social structure in the interaction of nature and society).


Ivanov-Omskii, I. I. Istoricheskii materializm o roli geograficheskoi sredy v razvitii obshchestva. Moscow, 1950.
Saushkin, Iu. G. “Geograficheskaia sreda chelovecheskogo obshchestva.” Geografiia i khoziaistvo, 1963, collection 12.
Kalesnik, S. V. “Problema geografiche skoi sredy.” Vestn. LGU, 1968, no. 12.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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