Over the past 30 years, urbanisation has been a prominent phenomenon and various drivers have been proposed to explain it. Very few have suggested that the degradation of the rural environment was one of them. This paper explores the human–environment interface by focusing on the portrayal of these concepts within scholarly literature. A systematic literature review was conducted and 147 articles were examined to determine the direction of the link between the environment and human mobility, and if urbanisation was featured. The results demonstrate that equal attention is paid to both directions of the environment–mobility link. Of the articles reviewed, 40 per cent focus on urbanisation, but 93 per cent of those portray urbanisation as a forcing on the environment, rather than an impact of environmental degradation. The lack of support for environmentally influenced urbanisation can be explained by coupled system complexity, disciplinary research and the silence of those most likely to endure environmental change. Understanding these relationships is paramount to the promotion of adaptation without eroding resilience or further degrading environments.