[Discussion] Are human settlements more shaped by geography or human innovation and adaptability?

AP Human Geography Review - Unit 1

The following discussion was adapted from a lesson created by Oakland teacher Heather Merovich.

  1. Read the article below.
  2. Post your reaction to this question

:point_right: Are human settlements more shaped by geography or human innovation and adaptability?

Learn more about environmental determinism & environmental possibilism :point_down:

The study of the interactions between humans and their surroundings, and the observed effect of such interactions is called human geography. Studies related to this field attempt to establish the human or natural factors underlying the environmental changes occurring at a site. It also tries to understand the sociocultural evolution of humans based on the stimuli provided by their physical living conditions. Environmental DETERMINISM and Environmental POSSIBILISM are theories, put forth in order to comprehend and understand the role played by the physical environmental conditions in the emergence and progress of any human culture or society in a particular location.

What Is Environmental Determinism?
Until 1950, the majority of philosophers believed that human civilizations form and proliferate in certain parts of the world due to the direct influence of the natural physical environment found in those places, an idea called environmental determinism. Environmental determinists put forth these beliefs in the form of theories which claimed that the environment (most notably its physical factors such as landforms and/or climate) determines the patterns of human culture and societal development. The natural environment posed a limiting factor for the development and progress of people inhabiting the particular area. Environmental determinists believe that it is these environmental, climatic, and geographical factors alone that are responsible for human cultures and individual decisions and/or social conditions have virtually no impact on cultural development.

The main argument of environmental determinism states that an area’s physical characteristics like climate have a strong impact on the psychological outlook of its inhabitants. These varied outlooks then spread throughout a population and help define the overall behavior and culture of a society. This provided logical reasoning for diversity that was observed among the various civilizations and settlements of humans across the globe. These theories reinforced the idea that human-environment interactions were solely driven by the physical conditions, and that they were one-directional. For instance, it was said that areas in the tropics were less developed than higher latitudes because the continuously warm weather there made it easier to survive and thus, people living there did not work as hard to ensure their survival. Another example of environmental determinism would be the theory that island nations have unique cultural traits solely because of their isolation from continental societies.

Environmental Determinism and Early Geography
Although environmental determinism is a fairly recent approach to formal geographic study, its origins go back to ancient times. Climatic factors, for example, were used by Strabo, Plato, and Aristotle to explain why the Greeks were so much more developed in the early ages than societies in hotter and colder climates. Additionally, Aristotle came up with his climate classification system to explain why people were limited to settlement in certain areas of the globe.​​ Other early scholars also used environmental determinism to explain not only the culture of a society but the reasons behind the physical characteristics of a society’s people. Al-Jahiz, a writer from East Africa, for instance, cited environmental factors as the origin of different skin colors. He believed that the darker skin of many Africans and various birds, mammals, and insects was a direct result of the prevalence of black basalt rocks on the Arabian Peninsula. Ibn Khaldun, an Arab sociologist and scholar, was officially known as one of the first environmental determinists. He lived from 1332 to 1406, during which time he wrote a complete world history and explained that dark human skin was caused by the hot climate of Sub-Saharan Africa.​

The Decline of Environmental Determinism
Despite its success in the early 1900s, environmental determinism’s popularity began to decline in the 1920s as its claims were often found to be wrong. As time elapsed, scholars and scientists began to question the validity of these theories, as they did not account for the impact of humans on the environment. They also did not take into account the essential factor of human ingenuity and advancement in technology. Due to the availability of advanced technology, humans could have a larger impact on the environment and easily adapt themselves, if not overcome, to the physical conditions.

In addition, critics claimed it was racist and perpetuated imperialism. Carl Sauer, for instance, began his critiques in 1924 and said that environmental determinism led to premature generalizations about an area’s culture and did not allow for results based on direct observation or other research. As a result of his and others’ criticisms, geographers turned to the theory of environmental possibilism to explain cultural development.

What is Environmental Possibilism?
Environmental Possibilism also has roots in ancient Greece, first ideated by philosopher Strabo in 64 BCE when he stated that humans can make things happen by their own intelligence over time, cautioning against the assumption that nature and actions of humans were determined by the physical environment they inhabited. He observed that humans were the active elements in a human-environmental partnership. Much later, the idea was elaborated on by the French geographer Paul Vidal de la Blanche, who stated that the environment sets limitations for cultural development but it does not completely define culture. Culture is instead defined by the opportunities and decisions that humans make in response to dealing with such limitations. Thus, humans can alter the environment to best serve their needs, through the use of technology.

Possibilism in human geography is the theory that the environment sets certain constraints or limitations, but culture is otherwise determined by social conditions. The idea really took hold in the post-colonial 20th century when it became a popular alternative to the determinist view and took into account humankind’s resilience and determination to adapt to the environment rather than be solely controlled by it.

Examples of Environmental Possibilism
Humankind has clearly changed the environment and has brought changes to the environment by increasing its capacity to meet their needs and demands. The most visible and common examples in this regard are the Industrial Revolution, Agricultural Advancement, and Technological revolution. The Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century in Great Britain & it truly changed the way people lived. It was not an overnight phenomenon but rather was the end result of a series of inventions. It originated in Great Britain in 1750 and from there it spread to North America and Europe during the 19th century. The invention of the steam engine gave a boost to the iron and textile industries. Now industries have a share of more than thirty percent in the world’s GDP.

Additionally, the agricultural advancement of the Green Revolution, the invention of fertilizers and pesticides, modern irrigation methods, and the organic farming methods have also contributed to the high output of crops and other products related to agriculture to meet the high food demands across the world. All these efforts were done by humans to meet their increased demands indicating the influence of Possibilism. Lastly, modern means of communication such as computers, internet, smart/mobile phones, cable TV, etc. has changed the world into a global village. The Nano technology has given birth to revolutionary inventions which have made the life of a person easy and complicated as well. Now within seconds, you can see and talk to your loved ones who are thousands of miles away from you. These revolutions have helped humans to make their lives easy and comfortable. These revolutions very clearly show that human activities affect the natural environment.

The Controversy
The controversy between geographical possibilism and determinism might be considered as one of (at least) three dominant controversies of contemporary geography. Possibilism in geography is, thus, considered as a distinct approach to geographical knowledge, directly opposed to geographical determinism. Possibilism directly contradicts the previous claim of the deterministic nature of the environment and in its stead proposed that while the environment did pose a few limiting factors to the prosperity of the inhabiting people, the people or society was also capable of having an impact on the surrounding and molding it as per their needs.

By the 1950s, environmental determinism was almost entirely replaced in geography by environmental possibilism, effectively ending its prominence as the central theory in the discipline. Regardless of its decline, however, environmental determinism was an important component of geographic history as it initially represented an attempt by early geographers to explain the patterns they saw developing across the globe.

Are human settlements more shaped by geography or human innovation and adaptability?

Human settlements are more shaped by human innovation and adaptability. In the age of increasing technological/agricultural innovations, such as biotechnology and smart devices, humans are and have been modifying the world for their own advantage. Historically, humans started modifying their own environments when they gradually moved to agriculture; they would till the soil and grow the plants that had the most benefit. Throughout history, civilizations used irrigation systems for cultivation, overcoming the lack of water. In our modern age, within many developed regions, distance between areas has been largely decreased due to calling, texting, planes, cars, etc; limiting the vast oceans and landmasses that have, in the past, completely separated us. Although, environmental factors can slightly limit human innovation, humans have proven to find a solution to many tough environmental situations; and as time goes on, our ability to do this will only increase.

I think that human settlements are more shaped by human innovation and adaptability. In today’s time with all of the technological advancements and inventions that we have we can very easily change our environment to fit our needs. Even if you go back to ancient civilizations they were making irrigation systems and inventive ways to plant crops, harvest crops, communicate, and cook. Overtime humans have proven that they can overcome geographical challenges with new invention and advancements. @maggee-ellis

I do believe where humans settle are shaped by their adaptability because with modern technology we are constantly creating new ways to make life easier for us and those who live around us. In earlier times people were inventing new ways to farm or get places to make life easier for them. @maggee-ellis

I think that human settlements are shaped by innovation along with adaptability and technology. In the world now we can change the environment as we need due to all these advances in today’s society. These technologies have made life easier for us because of all the technology. Back in the 1900s, the farmers created new ways to farm that fit there specific needs. Nowadays we invent new ways to help us with everyday tasks such as Walmart having grocery delivery so you don’t have to waste your time trying to find it in the store. @maggee-ellis

I think that human settlements are more shaped by human innovation and adaptability rather than by geography. I believe that with today’s advancements and the modern world we change the environment in a way that fits us best and if the environment affects something that we want to do we always find a way to get around it. Rather that’s cutting trees down to building a golf course or a neighborhood. We change the environment the way we want. And we have all the tools and technology to do so. We have bulldozers, industrial businesses, and much more to help us to complete the final goal of it all.


I think that human settlements are more shaped by human innovation and adaptability. In today’s world, we have so many advancements in technology and agriculture that we really choose how we live today. Since the 20th-century humans have shown that we will adapt to whatever our needs are. Rather this is clearing a field or building golf courses, we do what we want to do benefit us all together. @maggee-ellis

In today’s world, human settlements are shaped more by human innovation. The technological and agricultural advancements have allowed us humans to manipulate the environment around us. One example of environmental possibilism, is the building of a golf course in the middle of a desert. Humans manipulated the environment there to build a golf course to satisfy their needs. There are plenty of more examples of environmental possibilism that show how human settlements are shaped, this is just one of many. @maggee-ellis

I think that human settlements are more shaped by innovation and adaptability rather than geography. I say this because of the fact that we morph things in this world to fit our needs rather than the geography like mountains and rivers defining it for us cause we would use the technology we have to tear through a mountain before we let it decide if we can’t settle there. We would use explosives and big machinery we already have, like bulldozers and dump trucks. Even if that didn’t work we would most likely create or invent something new to get over the obstacle in our way. @maggee-ellis

I would have to say that human settlements are more shaped by geography rather than human innovation and adaptability. The reason that human settlements are how they are is because of the geographic standpoint and resources. The humans themselves could not be able to have liable settlements. The global differences of settlements around the world are because of the places they are located and the geographic areas around them. As we know humans have been known now at this time to change the geographic area around us for the reasons needed but the areas are needed and are clearly influenced by the geographic space and area. @maggee-ellis

I think that human settlements are shaped by innovations rather than geography. One reason that settlements are how they are now is because we can’t control how the land is, but we can control what we do to it. We do this with tools, innovations, and adaptability. It is in human nature to make things better and easier to use, so we keep coming up with new ideas. farming, for example, would not have happened if the earlier settlements hadn’t have thought of something that made it easier to grow food and cultivate the land. @maggee-ellis

Human settlements are more shaped by human innovation and adaptability than geography. If settlements were shaped by geography, we wouldn’t have as many settlements in extreme places than what we have now. Humans use environmental possibilism as the main idea of building. For example, if someone built a golf course in the Sahara desert, it is possible. Someone would just have to obtain the resources to maintain the golf course in the heat of the Sahara.

I think human settlements are more affected by human innovation. Humans have found ways to work around extreme conditions brought on by geography, such as using weather-resistant building materials. Humans are always trying to find ways to work around problems presented to them. We have found ways to build houses and buildings that can withstand rain, harsh winds, extreme temperatures, and natural disasters. Humans have also found ways to change physical geography to better accommodate new human services. @maggee-ellis

I believe human settlements are more shaped by human innovation and adaptability. Nowadays we have the technologies and tools that allow us to change the environment. We can change the environment in any way we want to make life easier and better fit our needs. From building roads and highways to travel, to building a pool. We can accomplish this with the tool and technology advances we have today.

I think that human settlements are more shaped by human innovation and adaptability. Due to many new technology innovations, humans have been changing the world for their own use and to make things easier. Since we have so much technology, it makes things like agriculture much easier with updated machines. We have all of the tools to be able to change the environment the way we want and where we want it so it best fits humans. The reason why we manipulate the environment is that as humans we have to adapt to a daily life surrounded by these technological advances, so we want them to best suit us. @maggee-ellis

In my opinion think that human settlements are more commonly shaped by human innovation and adaptability rather than if it were to be by geography. In today’s world with such modern technology, it is extremely easy for us to access almost any information and allow us to make it fit our needs/wants. Rather than in more ancient/older times, they did not have the things we have no so they had to do everything thems elves or come up with a way to make whatever they were doign easier. @maggee-ellis

I personally believe that human innovation and adaptability have a bigger impact on human settlements. Since the dawn of time, humans have tried to alter the environment to better suit them. They have created simple inventions like the wheel and stone weapons. But as technology advances and spreads, bringing back new ideas to America, humans can use new tools to farm more efficiently and successfully. With less time spent cultivating the crop, farmers are able to produce more yield, essentially earning them more money. In the 1870s, the first telephone was invented. You were able to make a call from home over a short distance. Now in modern times, you can carry a handheld cell and make calls from around the globe. In conclusion, we humans can solve a problem if we put our minds to it. @maggee-ellis

I believe that human settlements are shaped by human innovation and adaptability. For thousands of years now, humans have been building their empires and their cultures despite the environment. They shape themselves so that they can overcome the environment and live the lives they wish to live. Humans have developed tools to push through any setback the environment gives. They’ve built irrigation systems for land that wouldn’t have been so suitable for farming without human developments. Humans push through mountains and build islands. With technology, humans have reached a point where they can live anywhere and do anything whether or not their environment allows it. We can travel all around the globe or talk to someone thousands of miles away without leaving our homes. We can make settlements in space if we wish. Humans have made so many advancements and we aren’t letting the environment hold us back.

In my opinion, Human settlements are more shaped by human innovation and adaptability. Our lives today are based on technology and that’s what we rely on every single day. Technology has become our best friend and that’s all we seem to care about due to its impact on our lives. Over time technology has and will keep improving and overcome human struggles, one struggle being struggles in the environment. The environment provides us what we need to live like food, shelter, and oxygen. Now as technology advances the environment is just a backup source. As we saw in early life they had many more struggles than we do now. The environment was their dependable source and that’s all they depended on. Sometimes the environment let them down and determined what they did. We as humans today have little determinism by the environment and that is because of the technology we have today. Technology can help us build roads through a mountain, bring up sand from the surface to build islands and many more things to change the environmental challenges. Humans have done their best to make it this way and we keep advancing in our lives every day.

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