This page last updated on: 17/03/20
- Page Guide
- Elements of Climate Psychology and Ecology-based Mental Health
- Alphabetical list of Climate Psychology and Ecology-based Mental Health Sites & Online Literature
- Link to hottest links on the Climate Crisis here.
- Link to Climate Crisis Science, News and Policy Sites & Online Literature full list here.
- Link to Climate- and Eco- Activism Sites & Online Literature (how to act on the climate and ecological crisis) here.
- Free workbook Fire! Fire! Fire! on how to communicate the climate crisis to different groups and types of people, and (if you want) how to communicate the need for civil disobedience as a response to the crisis.
Watch out for the flash of pink in the compendium page codes below. The pink codes indicate pages that have been updated within the past month (since the date written above). As you are a hot and heroic activist I know you sometimes need to cut through to the most up-to-date relevant information as quickly as possible.
Elements of Climate Psychology and Ecology-based Mental Health
An understanding of human psychology in relation to the climate and ecological crisis and the ecology of Earth in general, is essential for us activists to maintain our motivation as well as our well-being. Further it is essential for the strategic communicating of the crisis to others. This includes the communication of the response that is needed and the implicit communication that happens via physical acts of civil disobedience, (‘the medium is the message’) which can be strategically manipulated.
‘Climate psychology’ can be defined as a broad subject area encompassing many intersections of the climate & ecological crisis with human psychology & well-being. For activist purposes I want to draw attention to four subject areas.
1) Psychological responses, after accepting the truth of the climate and ecological crisis
The truth of the climate crisis is that if we don’t reduce C02 emissions to zero and begin to significantly draw existing C02 out of the amosphere, within the next decade, we are on course for the probable collapse of global civilisation and the possible extinction of the human race this century.
Once we are aware of this truth (for instance by studying the resources on this page) there are a number of ‘negative’ psychological responses which may kick in, more or less dependent on our life conditioning as individuals, with many of them being common to most of us:
- shock and disbelief -‘how can this be happening?!’
- denial -there are many kinds and levels of denial of the crisis, even once we have accepted the crisis intellectually. One form is ‘disavowal’ -‘splitting’ off the truth into an intellectual realm where we don’t have to deal with it, separating it from our day to day emotional and practical lives. This also causes the problem of impaired cognitive functioning in dealing with problem!
- guilt and shame -including the shame of self-betrayal and betrayal of our species, and the guilt of higher C02-emitting privileged people.
- fear -for the potential loss of everything, including our lives.
- anger -at ourselves for being complicit in the crisis, or for not acting on it sooner, or for believing ruling elites when we shouldn’t have, at the ‘richest 1%’ most responsible for this mess, at ‘God’ or ‘humanity’ for letting this happen.
- resentment of others who don’t (want to) know the truth of the crisis.
- despair, grief / depression and hopelessness -‘there’s nothing we can do / we’re all doomed’ or ‘life is going to be painfully different / I will lose so much / we have lost so much / we are losing so much’.
- anxiety (‘when will the collapse happen? / is it possible to avert collapse?’) and layers of neuroses as we fail to embody the truth and respond productively to it.
- stress associated with the other psychological responses and having to integrate these into our day to day lives, and the stress involved in living under a constant and worsening threat, and also having to adapt to a new reality and figure out new life strategies.
- apathy, disassociation and overwhelm -the truth can be too much to deal with.
- loneliness in the truth -feeling like an alien in a society blind to the crisis.
- alienation from self, other and society -not feeling ‘at home’ in our old selves and relationships.
- paranoia and ‘psychoses’ -stress and alienation can trigger ‘psychotic’ symptoms of loss of contact with reality.
- identity crisis / identity breakdown – ‘does the old me make sense in this new reality?’
Additionally, the above psychological responses exacerbate existing stressors in a person’s life, including social problems, especially those more common in financially poorer / deprived groups, such as domestic violence and drug addiction, as well as all kinds of existing mental health problems.
The stress of the truth on children, will have effects on their cognitive and physiological development, and they will carry the ongoing trauma of the crisis with them into adulthood. There is an urgent need to facilitate resilience in them now as much as possible.
Moving forward to positive responses, once we have worked through the painful ‘negative’ responses, on the flipside we can experience:
- moral empowerment / existential liberation to ‘do the right thing’ and live more wisely, with urgency and focus. A renewed deep purpose in life.
- sacrificial joy, reorganising our lives around the crisis, lightening our responsibilities, dropping unnecessary ambitions and careers.
- reformation / transformation of identity -personal and community. New and creative conceptions of ourselves and our roles.
- greater sense of community -coming together to respond to the crisis.
2) How to communicate the depth of the crisis to the public
Once we have moved through some of the ‘negative’ psychological responses listed above, or are at least working on processing these responses on an ongoing basis, we are then ready to communicate the crisis to others. Arguably this must include communicating that a mass civil disobedience response to governments’ and corporations’ inaction on the crisis, is now essential.
If we are too caught up in some of the strong emotional responses listed above, in the moments that we are trying to communicate the crisis to others, our own emotions may inadvertently become the focus, instead of the message.
Psychologies of communication and marketing must also be employed to bring the climate and ecological crisis message sensitively to different groups in society -some will be more willing to listen than others. You might like to try out my workbook Fire! Fire! Fire! on how to ‘micromessage’ the climate crisis to different groups, in the context of what I am calling a ‘crowd-sourced activist strategy’.
3) The psychology of political polarisation on the climate crisis
Communicating the climate crisis to those in the political centre or on the right holds its own particular challenges. I will let George Marshall of the ‘Climate Change Denial’ website speak for me. The site hasn’t been updated for years, but the message holds true:
‘Unfortunately one of the dominant values in the climate movement is a disregard, if not outright contempt, for the right-leaning mainstream and their concerns. Activists often talk with disgust of the selfishness, greed and stupidity of conservatives. This is intolerant and unpleasant. The denigration conveniently ignores the diversity of opinion and life experience among conservatives. A struggling rural family, an elderly Christian on a small pension, a community shopkeeper and a Wall Street Banker are combined into one faceless enemy. More often, though, conservatives are just ignored. Few people in the climate movement want to deal with them, talk to them, or find out more about them. They simply don’t exist…when are we going to accept the challenge of reaching across partisan boundaries and building a broad social consensus for action?’
Also, from ‘a representative sample from the US electorate’, a study was conducted on Trump supporters and Trump detractors and their attitudes to the climate crisis. (See WHWGCP1 below). ‘Results showed that favourable attitudes towards Trump related to climate change denial through the aversion to wealth redistribution.’ The wealth redistribution seen by many as technically necessary to combat the climate crisis doesn’t sit well with Trump’s right-wing business ethics, which leads Trump supporters to deceive themselves as to the truth of climate science.
4) Ecology-based mental health & well-being
There are many approaches within eco-psychology and associated therapeutic disciplines that can be used to heal the climate and ecological crisis -afflicted mind. This can be done in a way that embeds the crisis back into our fundamental connection -or lack of- to Nature.
This can help our immediate recovery as well as helping us look at behaviours within us that are divorced from Nature and so are complicit in the climate and ecological crisis.
A key place to start from is that wilderness and being in (non-human) Nature is proven to be great for our mental health. As well as facilitating recovery, immersion in Nature has the added benefit of reminding us, as activists, what we are fighting for, and grounding us ahead of future activist work, which by necessity is sometimes in the Nature-divorced world of inner cities.
5) Mental health and well-being -practical resources and services
All existing mental health resources and services need to be urgently re-evaluated and expanded to include the psychological mobilisation and care of society -especially our most vulnerable members- in response to the climate and ecological crisis. This includes the need to cultivate personal and collective resilience to likely unfolding scenarios.
ALPHABETICAL LIST OF CLIMATE PSYCHOLOGY AND ECOLOGY-BASED MENTAL HEALTH SITES & ONLINE LITERATURE
This list will be expanded and an additional list of practical mental health & well-being resources & services will be added. Please bear with me.
WHWGCP1: Attitudes towards Trump Policies and Climate Change: The Key Roles of Aversion to Wealth Redistribution and Political Interest (scholarly -free access to summary only) https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/josi.12318
- WHWGCP2: Climate Change as a Unique Environmental Problem (scholarly -free access to summary only) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781119241072.ch3
- WHWGCP3: Climate Change Denial https://climatedenial.org/
- WHWGCP4: Climate Lab https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/climate-lab –UCLA
- WHWGCP5: Climate Psychology Alliance https://www.climatepsychologyalliance.org/ -facing difficult truths
- WHWGCP6: Cultural worldviews and climate change: A view from China (pdf) shortened link
- WHWGCP7: Don’t Even Think About It -Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change https://www.climateconviction.org/
- WHWGCP8: Inoculating the Public against Misinformation about Climate Change (scholarly article) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/gch2.201600008
- WHWGCP9: International Transformational Resilience Coalition http://www.theresourceinnovationgroup.org/intl-tr-coalition/
- WHWGCP10: Psychology and Global Climate Change:
Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges (downloadable pdf) –https://www.apa.org/science/about/publications/climate-change –American Psychological Association
- WHWGCP11: Psychology of Climate Change Communication http://guide.cred.columbia.edu/guide/intro.html -Centre for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) Guide
WHWGCP12: Public engagement with climate imagery in a changing digital landscape https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/wcc.509 (scholarly -free access to summary only)
WHWGCP13: Rational Irrationality: Modeling Climate Change Belief Polarization Using Bayesian Networks (scholarly article) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/tops.12186
- WHWGCP14: The Climate Mobilisation -Psychology https://www.theclimatemobilization.org/psychology
- WHWGCP15: The Climate Psychologist http://theclimatepsychologist.com/
- WHWGCP16: The Feel Good Picture shortened link –Climate Psychology Alliance Scotland with Glasgow School of Art