How can Psychology be relevant to the problem of climate change?

Last Friday (15th March, 2019), students from over 112 countries took part in the Youth Strike 4 Climate, urging governments to do more about climate change. I was part of the Edinburgh cohort, marching down to Holyrood to join the throng.




Earlier that week, I attended a fantastic talk entitled ‘The Psychology of Climate Change’, jointly hosted by the Sustainable Development Association and the Psychology Society.

The lecturer, John Thorne, was enigmatic but resolute in his message. As we well know, the current trajectory of climate change is bleak. However, Thorne was filled with enthusiasm about incorporating our own academic disciplines into the wider solution.

Thorne himself was representing the Climate Psychology Alliance Scotland (CPA), a group dedicated to applying Psychology to our world. I found this concept fascinating. I didn’t have to be an environmentalist to make a difference; I could use my passion for a tangible good.

How can Psychologists help untangle the problem of climate change?

Amongst a variety of topics covered, Thorne focused on how we can engage people in the problem of climate change when everything just seems overwhelming. In the face of anxiety, guilt, or fear, we are preconditioned to shut down and disengage our rational brain. However, at such a crucial point in our collective history, this is counter-productive to real action.

Thus, Thorne’s message was such; we need to find a way to reduce our anxiety to productive levels in order to achieve the changes we need. Psychologists have a key role in providing this therapeutic support.

Moreover, Psychology can teach us plenty about how best to manage our transition towards sustainability. For example, understanding how human communication and communities work will play a part in the achieving the world we want.

What next?

If you’re a psychologist, I recommend you look into the work of the CPA. If not, look for academics and groups in your discipline who are doing much the same work. More broadly speaking, there’s plenty of student activism to get involved in. You might even find yourself being part of a global movement.