My interest in climate change is personal and little influenced (at least directly) by my academic background. Throughout my Bachelor Degree, and even after it, I learned little or nothing about the relationship between psychology and the environment. However, I was particularly pleased when a fellow psychologist /researcher told me that at the ACBS World Conference in Seville (a psychology congress) there was room for a discussion on “how behaviorism can contribute to ecological change.” As I hadn’t attended this congress, I did some research to satisfy my curiosity. This article aims to share with you the information I retrieved on this subject.

I learnt that the American Psychological Association (which dictates research and intervention guidelines in Psychology) has established a working group on Psychology and Environment that researches and looks into:

  • An understanding about the risks of climate change, including people’s tendency to minimize future events and the role of culture in the way people conceive and respond to those risks;
  • Behavioral contribution to climate change (such as population growth, used energy), psychological and contextual influences of those behaviors;
  • The climate change impact or perception (and non-occurrence) on mental health and psychosocial functioning (including the feeling of stress, anxiety, apathy, guilt), and the development of interventions that teach coping strategies, adaptation and healthy responses to dealing with climate change;
  • Social and community impact of climate change, socio-economic disparities, ethical and social justice implications;
  • Psychological barriers that limit individual and collective conduct to combat climate change;
  • Development of scientifically supported approaches to the understanding of nature and the behavior determinants that affect the environment, and the development of interventions to change those behaviors.

Note:  information taken from American Physiological Association

Research into all these issues will be increasingly necessary and it is hoped that psychologists of each country will be able to receive formation and training from their respective Orders of Psychologists. Currently, Portuguese psychologists can register to attend courses on catastrophe intervention (i.e. humanitarian, natural) provided by the Portuguese Order of Psychologists (OP), where they implement in their community what they’ve learned. This has been particularly necessary due to the fire scenarios that shook our country. It is, however, a line of intervention essentially to remedy and not to prevent.

Is this enough in a changing world?

The speed in which climate change information has reached us has been alarming for those who are sensitized to this issue. There are some who feel anxiety, helplessness, anger and some who, beyond this, are invaded with an impetus of courage, excitement and motivation to seek more information and gain understanding of what they can do.

As the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) suggests, in its research areas in perceptions and impacts of climate change perception, innervations specifically developed to understand and help manage obstacles and emotions associated with these issues may be necessary, both with a remediation focus (after the events, potentially stressful) and a preventive one (previous to these events).

On the other hand, it is also necessary to consider the population that is not aware of this issue (here, the interdisciplinary work with other areas such as environmental and communication sciences, education and journalism will be fundamental).

It is, still, a small part of the population that has (or is available to welcome) the information needed to understand what is happening to the planet, which consists precisely of the changes to climate; what repercussions this may have; in what way can the act as citizens (individually, in a self-determined way or in an organized manner), to help combat climate change.

How can we effectively communicate information about climate change? There is some science behind this. In an attempt to provide an answer to this, the Center for Research on Environmental Decision has created a free guide you can access online: “The Psychology of Climate Change Communication”.

Finally, in a brief research I undertook on the psychological predictors of pro-environmental behavior, I realised there’s already some fieldwork undertaken by researchers in psychology, economics, marketing and education. They analyse the role of variables such as personality traits, political ideology and sustainable choices values, ecological consumption of products and pro-environmental conduct. In a more complex model, the authors examine the effect of individual and contextual aspects interactions (such as exposure to marketing campaigns, legal measures relating to environmental issues, etc.).

In my next article I will enunciate some of the ideas that resulted from these researches.


This post was originally written in Portuguese. Click here for the original text.

Clique aqui para ler este texto em português.