‘If the organism ends up destroying its environment, it has in fact destroyed itself. And we may very easily see this process carried to its ultimate reductio ad absurdum in the next twenty years’ (Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Form, Substance, and Difference – Gregory Bateson, 1987:457)
Environmental psychology constitutes an area of inquiry that is rooted in numerous disciplines. Biologists, geologists, psychologists, lawyers, geographers, economists, sociologists, chemists, physicists, historians, philosophers and engineers share an interest in understanding the complex, often delicate, set of relationships between humans and their environments. Because of this multiplicity of origins, and because of its relative youth as a discipline, environmental psychology is still evolving. Environmental psychology could, however, be defined as a behavioural science that investigates, with an eye toward enhancing, the interrelationships between the physical environment and human behaviour.
It is significant to note that assumptions that all environmental science incorporate, independently of specific orientation, are as follows: the earth is (currently) the only suitable habitat we have; the earth’s resources are limited; the earth as a planet has been and continues to be profoundly affected by life; the effects of land use by humans tend to be cumulative; sustained life on earth is a characteristic of ecosystems and not of individual organisms or populations.
We are conceivably the first species on Earth that has ever been aware that it could render itself extinct by its own actions. Scientists now know with significant confidence that accelerated changes are attributable primarily to human activity, although there is still an incomplete understanding of many physical components of the climate system and their role in climate change. Indeed, the ‘anthropocene’ is increasingly regarded as a new geological era in Earth’s history, one in which people take centre stage as the defining geological force. The crux of concern over climate change in our era is the extraordinary rapid rate of global average temperature increase, which is occurring fifteen to sixty times faster than the natural rate experienced by the human species since long before the rise of civilization.
If present trends continue the world will become increasingly more polluted, less stable ecologically, more crowded, and more vulnerable to disruption. Supplies of drinking water will diminish drastically, and despite greater material output, the world’s people will become poorer than they are today. The forests of the world will also become increasingly denuded as a result of the requirements of wood for building and burning and as a result of the increasing acidity of rainfall worldwide. Increases in arable land will be offset by the usurpation of land for dwelling sites and the desertification of lands resulting from overpopulation.
Environmental psychological research and practice can be meaningfully applied and play a key role in a variety of areas, for example in influencing consumers into more sustainable consumption, developing more effective pro-environmental information, creating policies for sustainable business, providing policymakers with tool for more effective decision making, or providing designers with tools in their work for creating pro-environmental environments.
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