International Psychological Conference on People and the Environment
Feb 24-25, 2001, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Organized by
Bangladesh Psychological Association (BPA)
   South Asian Association of Psychology (SAAP)
Vision for how you live
Keynote Speech by

Dr. Muhammad Raushan Ali. Ph.D. (London)
Professor of Psychology, University of Dhaka
President, Bangladesh Psychological Association
and South Asian Association of Psychologists

Honourable Chief Guest, Mr. Md. Abdul Jalil,
Minister of Commerce, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh

Honourable Special Guest, Prof. A. T. M. Zahurul Huq, Chairman, University Grants Commission of Bangladesh

Honourable Chief Patron of the Conference, Prof. A. K. Azad Chowdhury Vice Chancellor, University of Dhaka

Delegates and Participants Ladies and Gentlemen

Environment was with us from time immemorial, it is with us and it will be with us. But suddenly it has become a burning issue. People all over the world are talking about it, we are talking about it, and we are having this conference on it. Why is it so? We are experiencing the symptoms that the environment is getting polluted. Air has been polluted, water is getting polluted, and there is noise pollution as well. There have been frequent natural disasters, such as devastating earthquakes, floods, and cyclones with colossal loss of lives and sufferings. In recent years we are experiencing unusual climatic changes, such as extreme cold, heat, drought and heavy rain. We are getting new diseases in epidemic form and old diseases are reappearing, or their treatment is becoming increasingly difficult. In simple words, environment is becoming hostile to us. But why is it so ? Surely, there are reasons for it ?

Environmental scientists, biologists, geographers, sociologists, psychologists, economists and others have been doing research in their respective fields to find out an explanation from their own perspectives. I have tried in this paper to look at the environment from a global perspective and see how human lives are developed and affected by the environment and how human behaviour and actions affect the environment.

Environment and development of human lives

Environment is a broad term. In a greater sense it encompasses the entire cosmos which includes rivers, oceans, mountains, lands, forests , animal kingdom, etc. from this world and also stars, planets and other celestial bodies from the outer space. In a narrower sense, it includes the built-in environment which includes houses, roads and parks, mills and factories, schools and colleges, hospitals, offices, and community centres. Then there is the social and psychological environment. In psychology, environment is more wider. In the psychological term, all the stimuli, psychological and social, from the moment of conception to death, that influence the growth and development and performance of human beings constitute environment.

There are three different views about human development. These are 1) hereditary determinism, 2) environmental ism, and 3) interactionism. According to the hereditary deterministic view everything about an individual is formed at conception. All bodily characteristics, talents, interests, and competencies are signed, sealed, and delivered at the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg. Development is nothing more than an increase in size of these potentials. New features and characteristics of the individual unfolds on a preset schedule.

The concepts of environmentalism are equally extreme in emphasizing non-biological factors in development. John Locke is the proponent of what has been called the 'tabula rasa' or blank slate theory which suggests that children are born with no storehouse of talents, memories, thoughts, or cognitive processes. Itard, Montessori, and Seguin, and others championed the view that even extreme developmental problems could be changed through sensory training. Humanism in education, behaviourism in psychology, and cultural determinism in sociology are more recent, but less extreme, views of environmentalistic approaches.

The third view of human development is represented by what is known as interactionism which states that human development is the result of interaction between hereditary and environmental factors. People's attributes, intelligence, interests, talents, emotionality, and physique are the cumulative product of the continuous interaction between heredity and environment. The zero environment, if there is any such concept, is the moment of conception when parental genetic materials unite and this is the only time when heredity operates alone.

Within the context of the environment, there are three important areas which provide the most far-reaching effects on the individual's development. These are family, school and the society at large. In order to understand the development of a bright or a dull child, we have to understand the environment in which the child exists. The children are at the centre of a complex network of these forces. If we ignore these forces, we ignore the healthy development of a child.

Orientations/dimensions of people - environment relations study

Having talked about the environmental forces that influence and shape human development, we may now turn to the orientations of the study of people-environment relations. There are four orientations to the relations study differentially adopted by researchers and practitioners. These orientations are: 1) place orientation, 2) orientation to psychological and social processes, 3) orientation to design and practice, and 4) orientation to environmental policy.

Orientation to place involves a focus on specific places or settings, such as homes, neighbourhoods, communities, parks and the like. Orientation to design focuses on the creation and shaping of the settings and objects used by people. The place orientation and design orientation together reflect the activities engaged in by the practicing environmental designers. They are architects, civil engineers, town planners, roads and highways planners. The designers must take into account the relationships between physical design characteristics and the degree of satisfaction and psychological well-being of the residents.

The social and psychological processes include the social and psychological well-being of the people living in a community. These also include social processes of privacy, personal space, territoriality and crowding as well as the perception of physical environment, sense of well-being, place attachment, group and community attachment.

Policy orientation is a strategic orientation and involves the development and assessment of broadly based national, regional or even international plans and strategies regarding environment. This orientation is important because it defines the political and social parameters including resource allocation by governmental and non-governmental agencies of people environment behaviour studies and practices. Thus, the contributions of researchers and practitioners to environmental policy in the environment and behaviour field will be increasingly important in the coming years.

We, the users of the environmental resources, have violated the rules and norms related to the environment and thereby broken the balance between living organisms and the environment. As a result, we are experiencing all sorts of natural calamities and disasters. I am not going to elaborate these consequences here. But I will say a few words about the correcting measures we should take without any further delay.

If we look at the international conventions, treaties, and agreements in the field of environment under the various UN agencies, we find that uptill now there are about 216 such treaties and agreement (Ref.: Register of International Treaties and Other Agreements in the Field of the Environment. UNEP, 1997). Most of these treaties and agreements are related to plants, animals, marine biology, forestry, mountain environment, sea, and the outer space. There are very few conventions regarding human-environment interface. There are some conventions regarding working environment and industrial accidents, but nothing on human residential, school and community living environment. As a result, we have amalgamated residential, school, and community living with business, commerce and industrial environment. As a result, air, noise and water pollution have invaded our living environment.

The researchers, practitioners and policy makers should think over these problems and formulate comprehensive plans to arrest further deterioration of the situation and improve the people-environment relations. Under the present situation, we cannot improve the situation without changing people's attitudes and behaviour relating to the environment. People must be made aware of the fact that the environment will be friendly to us only if we behave with the environment in a friendly manner.

International Psychological Conference on  People and the Environment
Keynote Speech by
Professor Dr. Muhammad Raushan Ali
Quality Of  Education
Muhammad Nazmul Haq
To Create Better Minds
Professor Dr. Muhammad Raushan Ali


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