Psychologists urged to do more on climate change

28 March 2022

Professor Taciano Milfont

Psychologists should be doing more to mitigate the health effects of climate change, according to an extensive new report from the American Psychological Association (APA) – the largest organisation for psychologists in the US and with influence around the world.

University of Waikato psychology professor Taciano Milfont was part of the 12-member APA taskforce that wrote the report, and the only member from the southern hemisphere.

Professor Milfont is keen to ensure the report's recommendations become a driver for change, to ensure psychologists make a significant contribution to the climate crisis.

“The report says psychologists can help people prepare for climate change impacts and prevent or reduce distress by supporting them in building their psychological and social resilience.

"Although resilience does not guarantee that individuals and communities will escape negative consequences of climate change or ‘bounce back’ fully from them, it may help them respond constructively to current challenges and develop new skills, strategies, and resources for moving forward.”

Professor Milfont says some of the mental health impacts of climate change are anxiety, depression, grief, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report offers 12 recommendations*, six for strengthening the field of psychology and six for broadening psychology’s impact.

Professor Milfont established Environmental Psychology Waikato, a research laboratory in Tauranga dedicated to applications of psychological principles and methods to understand and solve environmental issues. He teaches a fourth-year environmental psychology paper and contributes to the University of Waikato’s new Bachelor of Climate Change degree.

“Although the APA report focuses on psychology as a discipline and APA as a key organisation, we made it explicit that we need collaborative and multidisciplinary action to address the pressing problem that climate change is,” Professor Milfont says.

The report’s 12 recommendations:

Strengthening the field

  • Advance research on climate change across all areas of psychological science
  • Build psychologists’ capacities to support people in mitigating and adapting to climate change
  • Incorporate coverage of climate change into all levels of psychology education
  • Engage in sustained advocacy on climate change to government at all levels and to business and non-profit organisations
  • Serve as an important channel of information to psychologists about climate change and how they can contribute to effective climate action
  • Implement a strategic approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve sustainability across all of APA’s operations and in the psychological community.

Broadening impact

  • Promote engagement of psychological scientists with policymakers, practitioners and community members on climate change issues
  • Enlarge the range of settings and partnerships in which psychology practitioners address climate change
  • Promote coverage of the psychological dimensions of climate change in the education of other professionals and the public
  • Partner on climate advocacy with other scientific, professional, social justice, environmental and health organizations.
  • Educate the public about the psychological dimensions of climate change and effective climate action
  • Engage with other organisations and the public to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve sustainability practices.

This research aligns with the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Good Health and Well-being

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