Climate Change

Topics: Climate change, Global warming, Psychology Pages: 31 (10146 words) Published: September 19, 2013
The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change
Thomas J. Doherty Susan Clayton Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling College of Wooster

An appreciation of the psychological impacts of global climate change entails recognizing the complexity and multiple meanings associated with climate change; situating impacts within other social, technological, and ecological transitions; and recognizing mediators and moderators of impacts. This article describes three classes of psychological impacts: direct (e.g., acute or traumatic effects of extreme weather events and a changed environment); indirect (e.g., threats to emotional well-being based on observation of impacts and concern or uncertainty about future risks); and psychosocial (e.g., chronic social and community effects of heat, drought, migrations, and climate-related conflicts, and postdisaster adjustment). Responses include providing psychological interventions in the wake of acute impacts and reducing the vulnerabilities contributing to their severity; promoting emotional resiliency and empowerment in the context of indirect impacts; and acting at systems and policy levels to address broad psychosocial impacts. The challenge of climate change calls for increased ecological literacy, a widened ethical responsibility, investigations into a range of psychological and social adaptations, and an allocation of resources and training to improve psychologists’ competency in addressing climate change–related impacts. Keywords: climate change, psychological impacts, disaster psychology, psychological adaptation The full story of climate change is the unfolding story of an idea and how this idea is changing the way we think, feel, and act. (Hulme, 2009, p. xxviii)

lobal climate change is likely to have significant negative effects on mental health and well-being, effects that will be felt most by vulnerable populations and those with preexisting serious mental illness (Costello et al., 2009; Fritze, Blashki, Burke, & Wiseman, 2008; Page & Howard, 2010). Localized and/or immediate consequences, such as injury or stress resulting from more extreme weather events or degraded landscapes, may be perceived as direct, personal impacts of climate change (Kolbert, 2006). However, for many, the psychological effects of climate change are likely to be gradual, cumulative, and/or experienced only through media and social communication (see Weber & Stern, 2011, this issue, and Reser & Swim, 2011, this issue). An appreciation of psychological impacts entails recognizing multiple meanings and cultural narratives associated with climate change (Hulme, 2009) and its complexity as a “wicked problem” whose effects are interrelated with other global phenomMay–June 2011 ● American Psychologist © 2011 American Psychological Association 0003-066X/11/$12.00 Vol. 66, No. 4, 265–276 DOI: 10.1037/a0023141


ena, such as increased population, urbanization, and disparities in wealth (Kazdin, 2009, p. 342; Stokols, Misra, Runnerstrom, & Hipp, 2009). The concept of climate change assumes a progression of extreme weather and environmental changes at an unprecedented rate and scale. It is important to recognize that the severity of impacts is due not solely to extreme weather or other natural events following from global climate change but rather to the interaction between human systems and these events (see National Research Council, 2008). For example, psychological impacts are likely to be mediated and moderated by media representations and information technologies (Reser, 2010), resilience or vulnerability to disasters and environmental changes (Brklacich, Chazan, & Dawe, 2007), and social and cognitive factors (Leiserowitz, 2007; Weber, 2006). This article differentiates three classes of climate change–related psychological impacts, offers examples, and discusses interrelated psychological processes and contextual factors (see Figure 1 for an overview). Acute and direct impacts...
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