Environmental psychology in latin america

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Javier Urbina-Soria, National University of Mexico
Emilio Moyano-Diaz, Talca University, Chile

This chapter is different from the rest of the book. The chapter does not focus on specific research findings, methodologies or theoretical views. Instead, we report results of a contextual analysis and literature review to identify,describe, and discuss key characteristics of environmental psychology research in Latin America. While some of these characteristics may be unique to Latin America, others may apply for environmental psychology in general. It is, however, outside of the scope of the chapter to identify what is unique for Latin America and what is not. Our main aim is provide an overview of the characteristics of theregion and the position and requirements for future development of environmental psychology within this region.

As in other parts of the world, in Latin America environmental psychology has gradually gained relevance in response to the increased significance of environmental issues and their effects on human behaviour, health, and well-being, and due to social demands for better environmentalconditions. Its relevance, however, has not risen uniformly throughout the region.

Latin American background
The Latin American continental region comprises 20 countries in North, Central, and South America, spanning 20 million square kilometres, with over 600 million inhabitants. Geographically, Latin America extends from Mexico (part of North America) across seven Central American countriesand 12 South American countries as well as 20 island nations located in the Caribbean Sea. In this chapter we will consider only the continental countries of Latin America.

Latin American countries are characterized by heterogeneous economic growth, with most countries reporting low per capita income levels and others considerable growth. Also, income differences within countries reveal hugeinequities. In 2008, in almost all Latin American countries, 80 per cent of inhabitants earned around 40 per cent of the income (CEPAL, 2010). The low economic development levels of some countries are clearly related to objective negative indicators of social well-being, such as high poverty levels, low education quality, high unemployment, and a shortage and deterioration of housing. Despitethis, however, the levels of happiness and satisfaction of the population is relatively high (Diener, 2011).

Latin America has a wide variety of ecosystems, ranging from Antarctic zones to deserts, and vast coastlines. It has vast natural resources and the greatest biological diversity on the planet. In 1997 the Mesoamerican Corridor was created, as a land management system that facilitates themovement, dispersion, and migration of species between protected natural areas ranging from Mexico to Panama. It aims to protect biological diversity, decrease fragmentation, strengthen the connectivity of landscapes and ecosystems, and increase the quality of life in the region’s human communities.

Each Latin American country has a large number of small communities with minimal sanitary servicesand poor means of communication. Many people migrate from the countryside to the cities. In fact, Latin America has two metropolitan areas with more than 20 million inhabitants: Mexico City and Sao Paulo, and two cities with more than 10 million inhabitants: Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

One of the most important issues in the Latin American context is a diversity of values derived from theregion’s indigenous past and its European background, shaping a hybrid culture that presents native features more or less common to all the countries, while at the same time fundamental changes occur due to the process of globalization. Religion, family, community, and tradition are still core values for some, while others are moving away from them. These values have a powerful influence on...
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