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

June 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

More interesting news on the environment and psychology from a variety of source, including breaking news from the Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health released on 24th June.      


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

twitter:  @BurkePsy. 

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Breaking news

Lancet Commission on Heath and Climate 2015

On Tuesday, 23rd June an important new research series, known as the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate, was released.  The Commission was formed to map out a comprehensive response to climate change - a ‘prescription’ to protect human health and survival worldwide. It brings together more than 60 international experts and presents mitigation and adaptation policies necessary to protect human health from climate change and to promote sustainable development.

Key Messages

  • The effects of climate change are being felt today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health. Both directly and indirectly, climate change is hurting our health. This isn’t something we can worry about in the future–it’s a problem that’s right here, right now.
  • However, tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century. By limiting greenhouse gas emissions or adapting communities to be more resilient, climate action can also result in unprecedented, concrete and rapid improvements to public health.

Lancet report infographic

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Pope Francis' Encyclical on Climate Change

On Thursday 18th June, the Pope released his long awaited Encyclical on the environment called "Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home". It’s an open letter to shape Catholic teaching globally about humanity’s universal responsibility to “care for our common home” and tackle the root causes of the greatest interlinked challenges of our time: climate change and poverty.

The Pope joins scientists, business leaders, economists, investors, doctors, trade unions, youth, and other moral and spiritual leaders around the world who are all calling for a transition from dirty fossil fuels to a future powered by clean renewables, making the moral case for climate action as definitive and unassailable as the 97 per cent scientific consensus. The Encyclical  is a profound moral call on humanity to reject ‘capitalism at all cost’ in favour of love and care for our environment and the world’s poor. It is another strong signal that the world is coming to terms with the challenges we face and with the need to act. This bodes well for negotiations towards a new global climate agreement which governments are due to deliver in Paris this December.



Royal Australasian College of Physicians to divest from fossil fuels

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) will divest all fossil fuel companies after agreeing to the move at a meeting in June.

The college has identified these investments to be worth about $2.3m out of its $90m portfolio. "I am pleased to announce the Board has agreed to divest investments that have been identified as being directly and materially involved in fossil fuel activities,": RACP president Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley.
"...Since the RACP is a health organisation with an objective of improving the health of our population, divestment is an important action that leads to reduced carbon outputs and achievement of our health objective i.e. to ensure better health outcomes for our patients into the future."

G7 leaders suggest zero-carbon economy

G7 leaders (from Japan, Germany, the US, UK, Canada, Italy and France) met in Germany in early June and agreed on tough measures that would cut emissions by phasing out the use of fossil fuels.  This is the first time that world leaders have actually talked about a long-term goal of decarbonising the global economy over the course of this century.

The joint communique from the leaders reaffirms their commitment to the internationally agreed target of limiting warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels. It also reiterates their commitment to deep cuts in emissions by 2050.

Some great resources

Discovering your environmental identity

Ecopsychologist Thomas Doherty talks about how we can discover our own environmental identity.  This is the third in a series of videos on psychology and nature. 

How can you work out how you formed your environmental identity and how you fit within the natural world?  Can you put it into words and express it?  Thomas helps us to work out how to expand our experiences of our ecological self. 

To watch the video, click here.

Fostering Reasonableness: Supportive Environments for Bringing Out Our Best

Edited by Rachel Kaplan & Avik Basu

Fostering Reasonableness explains how we can encourage more sensible behavior in society. It offers a wealth of knowledge relevant to creating environments that support our fundamental desires to understand, explore, master, and take meaningful action.

Read the book online here.

Beautiful trouble

Beautiful Trouble is a book, web toolbox and international network of artist-activist trainers whose mission is to make grassroots movements more creative and more effective.

"...a truly remarkable set of suggestions on how to take on the panoply of powerful adversaries that are busy destroying the planet, democracy and everything else that is decent.”

As well as a book, there is also a terrific website,, which includes all the book’s content as well as additional, easily navigable material.

Pocket Guide on the Rights of Climate Displaced People

The aim of this guide is to provide practical, easy to follow
advice on what people displaced from their homes and lands by
climate change can do to get help. It is written directly for climate displaced persons and their advocates.

It explains in non-technical language what climate displacement
is, what rights you are entitled to as a climate displaced person,
and what you can do to protect your rights.


Seepage: The effect of climate denial on the scientific community

By Stephan Lewandowsky, in Shaping Tomorrow's World, 7 May 2015

"Climate scientists have done an admirable job pursuing their science under great political pressure, and they have tirelessly rebutted pseudoscientific arguments against their work. Nonetheless, being human, scientists’ operate with the same cognitive apparatus and limitations as every other person.

This article highlights three well-known psychological mechanisms that may facilitate the seepage of contrarian memes into scientific discourse and thinking:

Stereotype threat refers to the emotional and behavioural responses when a person is reminded of an adverse stereotype against a group to which they belong.  Several studies  highlight this tendency by scientists to avoid highlighting risks, lest they be seen as ‘alarmist.’

Pluralistic ignorance is when a minority opinion is given disproportionate prominence in public debate, resulting in the majority of people incorrectly assuming their opinion is marginalized.  This could result in scientists thinking their view is a minority one, and they may then feel inhibited from speaking out in public.

The 3rd person effect is when people believe that persuasive communications exert a stronger effect on others than on themselves.  In actual fact, people tend to be more affected by persuasive messages than they think.  This suggests the scientific community may be susceptible to arguments against climate change even when they know them to be false".

Read more here.

APA Speaking of Psychology: Understanding climate change

APA Earth Day interview with psychologists about how psychological research can contribute to an understanding of global climate change. Psychology professor Janet Swim, PhD, and conservation psychologist John Fraser, PhD, discuss the psychology of communication, politics and behavior as well as how psychologists can encourage others to become more engaged in the environment.

This is part of the APA Speaking of Psychology audio podcast series highlighting some of the latest, most important and relevant psychological research being conducted today.

Click here for the audio or transcript.

25 leading newspapers addressing climate change

Over the past 6 months, The Guardian newspaper has made a concerted effort to properly tackly climate change, even to the point of actively campaigning against big oil and big coal.  Now, it has convinced 25 other global newspapers to gang up together on Big Oil.

The Guardian's partners include the world's influential daily papers including Le Monde, El País, China Daily, the Sydney Morning Herald, India Today, and the Seattle Times.

The newspapers will share each other's articles on climate coverage in an effort to pressure diplomats to craft a stricter new global agreement to reduce emissions at the UN's global summit on climate change on December 11. the Guardian's coverage, already the most activist in its approach, will begin appearing in 25 major newspapers around the world as part of a new content sharing agreement, coordinated by the Global Editors Network.

The papers won't pay for the articles and can pick them for free as part of the new Climate PublishersNetwork.


Psychological barriers complicate overcoming climate change denial

By Brian Roewe, National Catholic Reporter, June 1 2015.

In response to the latest polls on American's attitudes to climate change, Brian Roewe talks with leading environmental psychologists to unpack some of the psychology behind our understanding of, and engagement with climate change. 

"In a way, it's kind of surprising that anybody pays attention. ... We don't want to think about something that's scary," said Susan Clayton, a psychology professor and chair of the environmental studies program at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

At the second annual Loyola University Chicago Climate Change Conference in March, Clayton addressed the mental barriers to climate change, what fellow panelist Elke Weber called "the perfect storm" of behaviors and cognitions unconducive to widespread action.

"You can call it the policy problem from hell," Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, told NCR, "because you almost couldn't design a problem that's a worse fit with our underlying psychology or our institutions of decision-making."

To read more, click here.

The 5 Australias Communications Research

In order to be an effective advocate on issues you care about, one of the critical ingredients is understanding your audience. When an issue becomes polarised, as climate change has become in Australia, it's easy sometimes to oversimplify and lump people into a for, or against category.

Recent research by environmental psychologists Don Hine, Joseph Reser and colleagues has shown however, that peoples beliefs and attitudes in Australia are diverse and wide-ranging. They classified 3,096 Australian residents according to their values, attitudes, beliefs, and emotional responses to climate change. They found 5 distinct psychological profiles in their attitudes and beliefs
about climate change: dismissives (9%), doubtful (12%), uncertain (14%), concerned (39%), alarmed (26%).

  • No group was particularly knowledgeable about climate change –
  • even the ALARMED group averaged less than 60% correct responses.
  • No group showed trust in climate change authorities – the ALARMED group was ambivalent on the issue.
  • No group held robust attitudes towards clean sources of energy – all groups were slightly in favour, but the difference between DISMISSIVES at one end and the ALARMED at the other, was relatively small.
  • No group held robust attitudes towards nuclear power.

Click here for a report summary.

Click here for the full report.

The awful truth about climate change noone wants to admit

David Roberts, VOX, May 15, 2015.

(Nb: this is not a reassuring article, but important). 

"There has always been an odd tenor to discussions among climate scientists, policy wonks, and politicians, a passive-aggressive quality, and I think it can be traced to the fact that everyone involved has to dance around the obvious truth, at risk of losing their status and influence.

The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit"...

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Scientists’ urgent calls to divest

The Guardian's Keep it in the ground campaign has met with support from scientists across the globe, imploring the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels. From university professors to field researchers, marine biologists to astrophysicists, these are just a few of the many impassioned messages we have received. Click on the excerpts to read their full comments, and please sign the Keep it in the ground petition if you haven't already.

Social ties and concern for global warming

Recent research focusing on social factors affecting risk perceptions has suggested that social networks might help to explain why differences of opinion about climate change persist across segments of the lay public despite the scientific consensus. Juha Itkonen found that respondents tend to have friends with similar concerns as their own, the unconcerned respondents have fewer friends, and any two respondents who disagreed about the seriousness of global warming were less than half as likely to be friends. The results indicate that the structure of the social network may hinder changes in opinions, explaining why opinions persist despite the scientific consensus. The results suggest that the communication of climate science could be improved by strategies that aim to overcome these network effects.

The article was published in Climatic Change.


Busting climate myths: a practical guide

By John Cook, Skeptical Science, 12 June 2015.

One effective way to reduce the influence of science denial is through “inoculation”: you can build resistance to misinformation by exposing people to a weak form of the misinformation.

How do we practically achieve that? There are two key elements to refuting misinformation. The first half of a debunking is offering a factual alternative. To understand what I mean by this, you need to understand what happens in a person’s mind when you correct a misconception.

People build mental models of how the world works, where all the different parts of the model fit together like cogs. Imagine one of those cogs is a myth. When you explain that the myth is false, you pluck out that cog, leaving a gap in their mental model.

But people feel uncomfortable with an incomplete model. They want to feel as if they know what’s going on. So if you create a gap, you need to fill the gap with an alternative fact.

Read the rest of the article 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


Australian Psychological Society 50th Annual Conference


28 September - 2 October, Gold Coast

Registrations open mid April – see here for more details.