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Division of Clinical Psychology

Climate change and psychology

14 September 2020 | by Division of Clinical Psychology

The following blog has been produced by Tony Wainwright and Annie Mitchell on behalf of the DCP Southwest Branch Committee.

At the time of writing, the latest issue of Clinical Psychology Forum is devoted to psychology and the climate and environmental crisis.

We are hugely grateful to all the contributors, from across different domains of practice, who have stretched their thinking to accommodate our request to contribute in personal as well as intellectually informed ways, and we know that there is very much more to be said, written and explored from many other perspectives.

We are also grateful to our Southwest committee member colleagues for encouraging and supporting us in our determination to highlight climate and ecological concerns within our profession.

There are deep environmental activist roots in the Southwest of England, and we know we need strong community alliances if we, as psychologists and citizens, are to play our part in making change happen.

We urge everyone, especially politicians and business leaders, to feel, think and act together. Key issues include:

  • Telling the truth about the urgency and enormity of the climate and ecological emergency

  • Acting to halt bio-diversity loss

  • Acting to reduce carbon emissions swiftly – we advocate for zero carbon by 2025

We also recommend a Citizens’ Assembly to direct the necessary changes and ensure fairness in all activities. You may recognise these as the aims of Extinction Rebellion - we consider these very reasonable ambitions that deserve our support.

Those who have done least to cause climate harm- the poorest and most excluded - are the worst affected, and our individual actions, however hard we try, are not enough alone to turn things around.

The impacts of floods, fires, extreme weather, air pollution and loss of biodiversity all trigger ill-health, injury, trauma, loss and grief, and these psychological impacts are made far worse when we realise that in a fairer, kinder world much could be done to protect us and prevent the worst damage.

Already, with the Covid-19 pandemic, there is evidence of increasing rates of depression and anxiety associated with physical illness, and with loss of security and income.

Alongside this is evidence of how much people willingly support their neighbours (e.g. local Covid Mutual Aid groups) and how simple kind neighbourliness really can make a difference (e.g. recent study on Covid-19 mutual aid groups).

People do not want to return to our hectic pre-pandemic ways.

An overwhelming majority of representative citizens in the recent Climate Assembly UK said that the government, employers, and others should support changes to the economy and lifestyles to help achieve UK’s net zero emissions target.

We need a national conversation about what we most value and cherish in our lives and communities: a conversation that includes everyone - people from all walks of life.

Everyone counts.

Meanwhile, psychological distress resonates through the generations. We must insist that our politicians and businesses do all they can to prevent and mitigate future harms hurtling towards us.

Our response to the pandemic has shown that swift change is possible. We know that with good leadership we humans do act altruistically on our collective behalf, and that activism – taking a stand and having our voice heard - improves our well-being.

We in the south west have a proud record of stewardship of our land and seas, so it is no coincidence that climate and environmental activism have strong roots here. Many district councils have declared a climate emergency, as has national parliament. But government is dragging its heels.

The UK Committee on Climate Change would like to see much quicker progress, and no political party has a prerogative on environmental responsibility.

Happily, things can change fast. We have already seen how public anger about the recent exam results debacle has led to a rapid political u-turn.

Climate scientists, Extinction Rebellion and the UK Student Climate Network have raised the alarm. We want to be good ancestors and protect the planet for a better future for our children and our children’s children – and all its other inhabitants, too.

And, as we wrote in our editorial:

"There is no more urgent call in the world today than coming together with our fellow citizens to tackle the climate and environmental emergency."

So let’s keep the action going and support our local councils with their investments for a green recovery.

It is not too late. Action is good for us!

Download the latest issue of clinical psychology forum 

Please note: this issue is free to both members and non-members.  However you will need to create an account to download it.

Further reading:

  • Not1More - is an environmental campaign group that supports frontline environmental defenders and investigates the root causes of environmental conflict. Led by three women, N1M was founded in 2016, with the purpose of developing innovative, equitable and evidence-based strategies to address the most pressing challenges of our time.

  • C40 Cities - connects 96 of the world’s greatest cities to take bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future. Representing 700+ million citizens and one quarter of the global economy, mayors of the C40 cities are committed to delivering on the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement at the local level, as well as to cleaning the air we breathe.

  • Extinction Rebellion


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