I'm writing a paper on how environmental and geographic factors influence economic development and, having already established that as my research question early in the semester, am having trouble actually defining the difference between the two. It seems like there's a lot of overlap. This is a slightly more subjective question than just the straightforward English definitions, but I'd appreciate any help you can give me.

Edit: I just realized that maybe the relationship between environment and geography is a sort of micro/macro relationship, where environment encompasses more of the micro-level details of an ecosystem and geography is more a macro-level analysis. Thoughts?

Edit 2: I should clarify that I'm writing about the features of the natural environment, rather than environment in a more abstract sense.

6 Answers 6


Are you defining "geography" to encompass only natural phenomena such as the shape and location of landmasses and their features? Or are you including demographic and sociological factors like population density, literacy rate, and so forth?

If the former, consider something like geophysics (which would be better used in adjectival form, e.g. "geophysical factors") or physical topology.

If the latter, that's probably too broad a category to be considered as a single unit, although in a pinch you could resort to something unwieldy like "geographic and demographic factors."

In either case, "environment" should suffice as a contrasting category once you've differentiated it from the other one.

  • Yes, I believe when I first came up with the research question I was considering "geography" as something much closer to geophysics. However, it still seems like there is significant overlap between even geophysics and environment (mineral resources, oceanography, etc).
    – Will
    May 11, 2011 at 21:41
  • Would it be feasible for you to define "environmental" as everything biological and "geophysical" as everything else?
    – phenry
    May 11, 2011 at 23:12
  • Yes, actually, I think that might be just the sort of distinction I'm looking for. I'm allowed a little leeway in the definition and I think this will provide enough subject matter for each of the two variables. Thanks!
    – Will
    May 11, 2011 at 23:33

Geography refers more to the features of the land mass of the Earth. These includes as climate, elevation, soil, vegetation, population, land use, industries.

Environment is the circumstances or conditions surrounding a certain person or place. These circumstances or conditions can change, depending on your location and occupation. Geography is only a part of environment. Enviroment includes influences, surroundings(geography), air quality, the leadership of a country, etc.

It is true they have many similarities, and have many things in common, but they are different things.

  • I should have clarified in the question that I'm dealing with the natural environment as opposed to "environment" in general, but the differences that you've presented are still relevant. The problem I've been having is that many of the features you've listed under geography (climate, soil, vegetation) could also be considered to be features of the natural environment. Do you think there are any features of the natural environment that wouldn't automatically fall under geography as well? Thanks for your help so far!
    – Will
    May 11, 2011 at 4:06
  • I've just been looking through some of my research material and it seems like most authors in the field of study (economic geography) use geography and environment synonymously. At this point, I'm considering just combining the two into a single variable. I really can't find any differences between them, though geography perhaps entails a slightly broader analysis of a region.
    – Will
    May 11, 2011 at 4:20
  • Yes, they generally mean so much the same, that in nearly all cases, no one will notice(or mind)
    – Thursagen
    May 11, 2011 at 6:09

Let me try to define both concepts.

Geography has to do with landscape, the shape of continents, islands and so on. An environment, and specially a natural environment, is a set of elements — animals, plants, climate, etc. — and its relations. Often, an environment is restricted to a (geographical) area. You can, of course, talk about a “global environment”, or a “local environment” as well.

Now let’s see what Merriam-Webster has to say about those words:

  • Geography 2. the geographic features of an area;
  • Environment 2. the complex of physical, chemical, and biotic factors (as climate, soil, and living things) that act upon an organism or an ecological community and ultimately determine its form and survival

My “definitions” and the ones from Merriam-Webster seem to overlap a bit.

If you still feel those words are interchangeable, I have two hypothesis you should consider:

  • Maybe the authors you’ve been reading use them in order to avoid repeating one of them a lot of times (that is, a question of style);
  • Although they may be part of the jargon of the field/theory you’re working on, it doesn’t seem likely. First of all, if they were, they’d refer to different things, and you’d notice that. Second, a jargon must avoid ambiguity, so there’s no point using the two words to describe the same thing.

I hope this helps you.

  • Hmm, interesting. The definitions in my books on economic geography (the relevant field of study) seem to rely on a much broader definition of geography than either of those definitions. One thing that's possible is that the definition of geography has changed over time--most of my books are 50-60 years old--or that geography refers to a slightly different concept in economic geography than in general usage. I think I'll take the broader definition just so I don't deviate from the literature but I'll definitely mention issues of definition in the conclusion. Thanks for your help!
    – Will
    May 11, 2011 at 4:42

"Geography" refers to a place. North, south, east, or west of whereever.

"Environment" refers to the state of surroundings. Hot, cold, wet, dry, etc.


Geography can be define as the scientific study of earth, its physical features which comprises both land, lake, river, and the climate...while the environment can be define as a surrounding of a particular area or terrain...


Geography is the systematic study of spatial characteristics and their relation to human beings.

  • 2
    This seems to be only half an answer, or maybe a third.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 5, 2013 at 17:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.