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  Environment, psychology and health news
A monthly update of environment, psychology and health news

January 2015


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Here's another instalment of interesting articles published recently on climate change, psychology and health that will be a useful resource.  Please enjoy, along with our best wishes for a brand new year.


Susie Burke and Harriet Radermacher
Public Interest, Environment and Disaster Response

twitter:  @BurkePsy. 

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Upcoming events

Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. Breakthrough Public Forum Feb 14th in Melbourne with George Marshall

Given everything we know about climate change why do many still ignore it? Climate communications specialist George Marshall helps us understand the psychological and social mechanisms behind our failure to engage with the urgency and seriousness of the issue. By exploring new ways of talking, and by engaging with new people, George Marshall will give us a much needed kick in the pants (or sense of direction) to motivate us to be more effective in engaging with the climate reality before it’s too late. More about George Marshall -


More information here.


2014 Australia's third hottest year on record and hottest year globally

On 6th January, the Bureau of Meteorology released the Annual climate statement 2014.

Key findings include:
• 2014 was Australia’s third hottest year on record
• The last decade was Australia’s hottest on record
• NSW had its hottest year on record
• Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania had their second hottest years on record

Extreme heat is becoming the new normal in Australia, and it is driving more frequent and more intense bushfires every year. The BoM has warned that 2013-14 saw the highest 12-month forest fire danger index on record, and as heatwaves become more frequent, prolonged, so too will fire danger.

Read the BoM report here.


Why aren’t people doing more about climate change?


ANSWER: Our brains are wired to respond to short-term problems, not long-term risks.

“Many environmentalists say climate change is happening too fast. No, it’s happening too slowly. It’s not happening nearly quickly enough to get our attention.”

To compound all that, we tend to seek out information not for the sake of gaining knowledge for its own sake, but to support our already-established viewpoints.

Referencing a classic psychological experiment on gratification:

"There’s a two-year-old in the back of our minds that’s still there that we’ve learned to overrule that wants to have their one marshmallow now rather than wait for two marshmallows. Very few people on this planet want to destroy planet earth. It’s just that our other agendas get in the way of things that might have a longer time horizon".

Greg Harmon, 11 November, The Guardian. Read the full article here.

The environment is a critical health issue: memo to next Victorian Government


Melissa Sweet, 28 Nov 2014, Croakey

Dr Jo McCubbin, a Gippsland-based paediatrician and a member of the Climate and Health Alliance, gives the incoming government some suggestions for how to address critical environmental health concerns.

We humans need clean air, water and food to survive but Governments don’t want to admit that there could be health consequences caused by their decisions (or indecision).

We all know that climate change is a real and pressing issue. Reducing the burning of all our carbon sources will be good for the climate as well as our immediate health.

Read the article here.

Biohabitats: special edition on psychology and environment

Biohabitats published a special edition of their journal leaf litter late in 2014 focussing on the voice of psychologists working on environmental issues. 

What are the psychological barriers to pro-environmental behavior? Can people actually be motivated to act altruistically? And why is it that only one-third of the public even talks about climate change? How can psychology inform our efforts to promote behavior that benefits the biosphere.To explore these and other questions, we turn to three psychologists whose work directly applies to the environment, Dr Susan Clayton, Dr Susan Burke, and John Fraser. 

To read these interviews, click here.

Report from AHHA and CAHA Think Tank on Greening the Health Sector


The third annual Think Tank, held on 14 October 2014  in Brisbane, comprised 30 participants from 25 organisations including hospitals, health care services and peak bodies, state government health departments, professional associations, universities and advocacy groups.

One outcome of the Think Tank was the following report: The health sector as a leader in low carbon transformation - A discussion by the health sector about accelerating progress towards sustainable healthcare and hospital practices.

Read the full report here.

Violence ahead as tragedies of the commons spread

Petros Sekeris, 24 November 2014, New Scientist 

The world risks heading the way of Easter Island – a spiral into conflict as depleted natural resources are plundered.

A simulation indicated that the very expectation of impending conflict led to non-cooperation in the short term and sped up depletion of the common resource. This resource-grabbing tallies with what we see in much of the world, be it disputes over fossil fuels, fresh water, land or marine resources.

Read the full article here.

Rising seas pose a cultural threat to Australia’s ‘forgotten people’

rising seas

Elaine Kelly, 27 November 2014, The Conversation

While you may have heard about the increasing threat that climate change and rising seas pose to Pacific islands — already forcing some communities to move — Australia has its own group of islands that are just as threatened.

For communities in the Torres Strait, climate change is not a matter for political debate, but a reality.

According to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, indigenous peoples worldwide contribute the least to human-induced climate change, yet are among the most vulnerable to its effects.

The physical changes occurring in a place like the Torres Strait have implications which far exceed tangible damage. These things are enormously important, but cannot quite capture the intangible cultural losses generated when land is drastically affected by climate.

Read the full article here.

Wind energy, climate and health: evidence for the impacts of wind generated energy in Australia


Jeremy Moss, Alicia Coram, Grant Blashki, - The Australia Institute, 9 December 2014

There is no credible evidence directly linking exposure to wind turbines with any negative health effects. Available evidence suggests the health effects of wind turbines are strongly mediated by subjective factors. For example, health effects appear to be lessened in community-owned operations where locals benefit directly from the existence of turbines. Perceived high levels of opposition to wind farms on health grounds have been linked to a vocal minority of people.

Furthermore, 80 per cent of people do not consider wind turbines to have a negative impact on the landscape. In contrast, public perceptions of fossil fuel-based energy sources are less positive, with 68 per cent and 41 per cent of people respectively considering coal and CSG to have a negative impact on the landscape.

Read the full article here.

What's in the message?: Applying Extended Parallel Process Model to Wood Smoke Pollution Messages

Presentation by Dr Navjot Bhullar at the APS National Conference, Hobart, November 2014

Wood smoke has been linked to serious negative health impacts such as respiratory disorders and cognitive decline in the elderly. Communicating effective messages is crucial to encourage positive, protective behaviour change. The extended parallel processing model offers a practical framework to examine how messages may be processed, and subsequently accepted or rejected. 

The EPPM is a framework proposed by Witte (1992) to explain the possible mechanisms initiated when a person is presented with a threatening message that is persuasive enough to arouse fear within the viewer, commonly referred to as a fear appeal. 

The present study investigated the effectiveness of a range of wood smoke messages comprising Threat or Efficacy in motivating message acceptance (or rejection). Participants (N = 225, Mage=35.32 years, SD=13.6, 53.8% male) viewed either a wood smoke pollution-related message with efficacy cue or a message with threat cue.  Multiple mediation analyses found that the Efficacy message component impacted danger control (message acceptance) by increasing response efficacy, self-efficacy, and threat susceptibility. On the other hand, the Threat message component influenced fear control (message rejection) via threat susceptibility and threat severity, with the higher reported levels of the threat severity associated with lower fear control. The present findings may help inform and guide real-world education campaigns to reduce wood smoke pollution by targeting specific message cues.

Research by environmental psychologists has revealed a 'governance trap' hindering action on climate change.

Cardiff University, December 2015

While science continues to reveal how serious climate change is, governments and citizens still fail to take decisive action. Research led by environmental psychologist Professor Nick Pigeon aimed to help explain the reasons for this inertia.

Working with a (UK) parliamentary inquiry team, he and his researchers identified a series of constraints on government action. In particular they found that despite good intentions and rhetoric, the UK government was failing to act decisively because it feared punishment at the ballot box if bold but unpopular long-term climate measures were adopted. The research group's analysis of data acquired from the public revealed that high numbers of people in the UK were concerned about climate change and wanted action, however they 'pass the buck' to government because they believe that climate change is too difficult a problem for individuals to tackle alone. This insight is explained as a 'governance trap' - the public leave action on climate change to government, but government fails to act because they believe the necessary long-term legislation would be unpopular with the electorate.

To read more, click here.

"Civil disobedience is essential...because writing, publishing, speaking at conferences is not enough"


CAHA Expert Advisory Committee member Professor Colin Butler’s played a role in a non-violent direct action blockading a coal processing plant at Gunnedah in NSW to protest the Whitehaven coal mining operations.

Colin says: “Primarily I am going to fulfil what I see as my responsibility as a professor of public health in Australia, an incredibly fortunate nation that should not be so wedded to coal. It is immoral that we are profiting from something that, in the huge dose we are administering it to the planet, is so obviously toxic to the future.”

As a result of the protest, Colin was arrested and charged with trespass, a charge to which he intends to plead guilty. He has indicated he will use the court appearance as an opportunity to make a statement on what he sees as a moral responsibility to protect public health.

Read the media release here.

2014 summaries

CAHA rounds off another productive year


CAHA Annual Report, December 2014

Particular highlights of the year include the tremendous growth in the Australian and New Zealand arm of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH) network with a member group of health systems and individual facilities that now adds up to more than 40 major hospitals and over 100 other health services in the states of Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia, and in New Zealand.

And to look forward to in February - a report on Coal and Health in the Hunter Valley: Lessons from One Valley for the World.

ACF summary 2014 - Best, worst, funniest

ACF CEO Kelly O'Shanassy sent out a great summary of environmental action for 2014.  The read her list of best, worst and funniest for 2014, click on the link here.  It's an excellent summary, well worth following all the links.





Climate Outreach – ‘How to Guide’ on communicating climate adaptation

Engaging meaningfully with a diverse range of individuals and organisations is one of the biggest challenges surrounding climate change adaptation.  To help address this issue, COIN has teamed up with Adaptation Scotland, a programme funded by the Scottish Government to help the country address and prepare for the impacts of climate change, to produce a practical ‘how-to’ guide on values-based communication.

The Communicating Adaptation report provides clear, concise summaries of the principles of engagement, such as the importance of message framing, telling positive stories and engaging with people on all parts of the political spectrum.  These recommendations are combined with practical examples of how public bodies, the private sector and communities in Scotland can use the principles in their work.

Read the full report here.


Making Sense of Climate Science Denial


Climate change is real, so why the controversy and debate? Learn to make sense of the science and to respond to climate change denial. Denial 101 starts in March 2015, is 7 weeks long and hosted by University of Queensland. For more information click here.