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

October 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

More interesting news on the environment and psychology from a variety of sources.      


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

twitter:  @BurkePsy. 

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News from the APS

Invitation to join the APS Climate Change Psychological Support Nework

Susie Burke and Bev Ernst

The APS has recently established the Climate Change Psychological Support Network.

The need for a volunteer network of psychologists arose out of a recent request we received from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) for some psychological support for their volunteers and workers.

It is increasingly being recognised that people who work in the field of climate change and other environmental threats are vulnerable to depression, anxiety and burnout.  Cox (2011), posits that psychologists are urgently needed to help those who are becoming debilitated by their knowledge of the consequences of human impact on the planet at this time. It is these people who are often working in the field of climate change, and arguably most needed in combatting the degradation of the biosphere.

The Network will be a volunteer register of psychologists concerned about climate change and interested in using their psychological skills and knowledge in a variety of ways. Initially, the aim of the network is to facilitate support for people working in environmental NGOs and climate action groups, or members of the general public who are dealing with significant distress from working on climate change, and would benefit from talking with a volunteer psychologist. 

If you are interested in joining, simply complete the survey about your experience and skills in different areas. 

APS Letter to the Australian about 'Advertisement' by Climate Deniers

APS logo

The APS has responded to an ‘advertisement’ by climate deniers in The Australian which misused psychology-based arguments. 

Click the following links for the 'advertisment', the APS response, and media as a result.


Upcoming events

The People's Climate March

People’s Climate Marches are being planned for major cities around the world for 27-29 November, just before the global climate change negotiations in Paris in December 2015. The People's climate march is going to be the largest climate mobilisation ever.  In hundreds of cities around the world, a broad and diverse coalition of organisations from the environment, conservation, clean energy, development, indigenous, health, labour, faith and grassroots climate sectors will join forces to demonstrate the huge public support for real action on climate, and hold our political leaders to account.  Scroll down and RSVP to the march nearest you. 

To sign your organisation up as a partner go to

  • Melbourne: Friday 27 November
  • Brisbane: Saturday 28 November
  • Sydney: Sunday 29 November
  • Perth: Sunday 29 November
  • Adelaide: Sunday 29 November
  • Canberra: Sunday 29 November
  • Hobart: Sunday 29 November

3CR radio program on climate change and psychology

On Monday October 12th at 5pm, Psychology for a Safe Climate members discuss climate change and psychology on 3CR.
Sue Pratt, Charles Le Feuvre, Lyn Bender and Susie Burke from the APS are guests on 3CR Radio program Beyond Zero Community show at 5pm Monday October 12th.Tune in at 855 AM.

Anne Manne - The Impact of Individual Narcissism on our Response to Climate Change


Wednesday October 21, 7pm

PSC Special Event - More than an AGM!
Guest speaker: Anne Manne
Northcote Town Hall ground floor meeting room 2

Social commentator Anne Manne, author of The Life of I, will focus her talk on the impact of individual narcissism on our response to climate change.

Please RSVP for Dinner, 6pm: 

Anne’s talk will be followed at 8pm by discussion of PSC’s latest activities in the community, and at 8.30pm a brief AGM and election of office bearers.

Common Cause Workshops in Melbourne



Introduction to Common Cause | Thursday, 22 October 2015
This half-day workshop is for those new to values and frames-based community engagement. We explore how values and frames work, why they matter, and what a values-based approach to community engagement means for individuals, organisations and movements seeking to create a more just, sustainable and democratic world. 

(NEW) Communications Masterclass | Friday, 23 October 2015
This new masterclass is for those who have already attended an Introduction to Common Cause workshop and want practical support with applying values and frames principles to their communications. 

More Information

Some great resources

Webinar - Boulders on the path: Psychological barriers to climate action


Robert Gifford, Recorded 16 September

There is a big gap between climate change concern and climate change action. What accounts for this gap between beliefs and behaviours? What prevents people from adopting more climate friendly habits and choices? In this talk Dr. Robert Gifford will discuss the many psychological barriers to climate change action.

Watch here

Striking Targets


Philip Sutton, August 2015

This latest release in this series of Breakthrough discussion papers highlights an impending shift in the purpose of climate campaigning - to press for maximum protection delivered at emergency speed - and calls for the most effective action in the new 'post-Paris' era.

Download here.

Litter-ology: Understanding Littering and the Secrets to Clean Public Places


Karen Spehr and Rob Curnow, 2015

Everything about why people litter in a single volume. Learn from experienced environmental psychologists about the power of social norms, promoting personal responsibility and using rewards and penalties to keep your public places clean.

They help us understand:

• Why people litter (and why they use the bin)
• Who litters and how they do it
• What people say about their littering is not necessarily what they do
• How social norms work to prevent littering
• Personal responsibility and littering
• The power of rewards and sanctions

It's available on and from Amazon & Smashwords.

New Podcast on Communicating about Climate Change

tree alerts

Hunter Cutting of Climate Nexus and Forbes Tompkins of WRI talk about the best practices about connecting extreme weather events to climate change.

Click here for this and all other Tree podcasts.

What's Really Warming the World?

Click here for some great graphics that illustrate what's really warming the world, based on NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).


Catastrophic Climate Rhetoric Increases Climate Skepticism “Apocalypse Soon? Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just World Beliefs”


Feinberg and Willer, 2011, Psychological Science

Dire or emotionally charged warnings about the consequences of global warming can backfire if presented too negatively, making people less amenable to reducing their carbon footprint. The potentially devastating consequences of global warming threaten people’s fundamental tendency to see the world as safe, stable, and fair. As a result, people may respond by discounting evidence for global warming. Two survey-based experiments (N = 97 and N = 45) provide support for this explanation of the dynamics of belief in global warming. "In addition, we found evidence that this dire messaging led to reduced intentions among participants to reduce their carbon footprint – an effect driven by their increased global warming skepticism," the authors write.

Read Full Report.

Climate Skeptics More Open to Environmental Actions Perceived as Patriotic

Feygina et al., 2010, “System Justification, the Denial of Global Warming, and the Possibility of ‘System-Sanctioned Change’” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Climate change deniers and resisters are less likely to defend their traditional views if they’re encouraged that pro-environmental change is patriotic and consistent with their political ideologies. Three survey-based experiments (N = 340, 563, and 41, respectively) provide support for this conclusion.

Read more here.

Climate of the nation 2015: attitudes to climate change

attitudes graphic

Since 2007, The Climate Institute has produced Climate of the Nation research, which captures the nation’s pulse on climate change, its impacts and solutions. This year’s results show

  • increasing awareness of the cause and impacts of climate change,
  • strengthening support for renewable energy and carbon pollution regulation,
  • and a greater call for government action.

Read the full report.

Fear-Based Climate Appeals Fail

O’Neill and S. Nicholson-Cole, 2009, “Fear Won’t Do It: Promoting Positive Engagement With Climate Change Through Visual and Iconic Representations”, Science Communication

Although fear-inducing representations of climate change have much potential for attracting people’s attention to climate change, fear is generally an ineffective tool for motivating genuine personal engagement. Nonthreatening imagery and icons that link to individuals’ everyday emotions and concerns in the context of this macro-environmental issue tend to be the most engaging. The authors came to this conclusion after conducting two empirical studies that investigated the role of visual and iconic representations of climate change for public engagement.

Read more here.

Truth Hurts: The Science Behind Why People Don't Care About The Death Of Our Planet And Democracy

Lissa Johnston, 19 Aug 2015

Great article by psychologist Lissa Johnston on why people can put up with attacks on our democracy, climate etc and still back the government. 

According to the latest Climate Institute survey 63 per cent believe that the Abbott Government should take climate change more seriously and 59 per cent are “greatly concerned” that the Government underestimates the seriousness of the matter. Yet still almost half of the population would have the Government back for more.

Lissa argues that this is because of system justification - people are driven to view the wider systems on which they depend in a favourable light.

And the more flawed a system, the more motivated people become to support and defend it. Cracks in the system (system threat)  jeopardise the psychological sense of safety, meaning and connection. One of the most common sources of system threat is criticism. In countless studies, when people read passages or articles highlighting flaws in their political, economic or social arrangements (eg. “Many citizens feel that the country has reached a low point”), they respond defensively, with greater rationalisation of, faith and trust in, and support for the system in question. Given that it functions to protect people from harsh realities, John Jost has described system justification as a “fundamental delusion” and a variety of “self-deception”, a common feature of human psychology.

She then goes on to look at research which investigates ways to overcome system-justifying barriers to change. Findings are in their early days, but here’s a summary from psychologist Irina Feygina:

  • Frame environmental action as “system sanctioned”. "Deeming it patriotic and American can channel system justification in a pro-environmental direction.  After reading a passage describing the seriousness and urgency of climate change, participants also read the statement, “Being pro-environmental allows us to protect and preserve the American way of life. It is patriotic to conserve the country’s natural resources.”
  • Create the perception that caring about one’s country (and its socioeconomic institutions) is compatible with a concern for the natural world
  • Emphasise themes of competence, possibility and capability, given that a sense of efficacy is required to overcome the immobilising effects of fear
  • Reference wider systems that are inclusive and global, rather than national.  This  could be particularly helpful in Australia where the global status quo is more pro-environmental than it is at home.

(This might also avoid unwelcome side-effects, given that appealing to national identification, particularly in a context of fear, can stir destructive intergroup processes such as prejudice and intergroup violence).

Read the essay.

Climate Skeptics Swayed By Solutions, Not More Climate Science

Bain et al., 2012, Nature Climate Change

“Promoting pro-environmental action in climate change deniers”

The likelihood of ‘converting’ climate change deniers using scientific evidence is limited because these attitudes increasingly reflect ideological positions. An alternative approach is to identify outcomes of mitigation efforts that deniers find important. To motivate deniers’ pro-environmental actions, communication should focus on how mitigation efforts can promote a better society, rather than focusing on the reality of climate change and averting its risks. These conclusions are based on two studies. In the first study, climate change deniers (N = 155) intended to act more pro-environmentally when they thought climate change action would create a society where people are more considerate and caring, and where there is greater economic/technological development. The second study (N = 347) replicated this experimentally, showing that framing climate change action as increasing consideration for others, or improving economic/technological development, led to greater pro-environmental action intentions than a frame emphasizing avoiding the risks of climate change.

More info here.

Getting active

Dialogue on campaigning to urgently restore a safe climate

Melbourne climate researchers Philip Sutton and Don McArthur are holding meetings for interested person on campaigning to restore a safe climate. Involving a series of workshops and/or online discussion, the starting points for this dialogue are:

  • the need to work rapidly to restore the climate to conditions that are safe for all people, all species and all generations
  • understanding a global average of 2 degrees warming as the boundary between “dangerous” and “very dangerous”
  • the climate being too hot already (e.g. as evident in the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet and increases in extreme weather events)
  • the evidence that we have already used up the carbon budget for a safe climate and that we have zero carbon budget left
  • needing to do more than just move in the “right direction”: (e.g.) increasing renewables and reducing carbon emissions, but also to moving far enough in these directions in order to restore a safe climate - fast enough. This means our campaigning needs to be framed to get the climate to a specific set of preferred safe conditions.

The face-to-face meetings in Melbourne have already begun, but people are also welcome to join in an email dialogue.

Further queries, contact: or Don McArthur

‘Do no harm’: Medical professionals urge Wellcome Trust to end fossil fuel investments


Almost 1,000 health professionals from around the world signed a letter published in the Guardian to take action on climate change.

You can see the full text of the letter and their names here.

Help spread the message further among the global health community by sharing it on Facebook and LinkedIn.

The mother of all petitions


We know that many of you are asked what more people can be doing on the issue. One simple thing at the moment, is for them to put their weight in the scales measured by world leaders. ACF, along with Climate Reality world-wide are getting people to stand up and be counted ahead of COP21.

Please sign the petition and get everyone you know to as well!


Introductory and advanced community-based social marketing workshops

March and April 2016, Doug McKenzie-Mohr, Environmental Psychologist

These are the only trainings that Doug will be delivering in New Zealand/Australia in 2016.  These workshops will be of particular interest to agencies working to control invasive species, promote energy efficiency, waste reduction, conservation, water efficiency, sustainable food consumption, fire protection, modal transportation changes and other sustainable actions.  

Auckland Introductory & Advanced Workshops (March 29-April 1) - Register here.

Melbourne Masters Workshop (March 17-18) - Register here.

Doug is also available for a limited number of in-house workshops - find out more.