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The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change



An appreciation of the psychological impacts of global climate change entails recognizing the complexity and multiple meanings associated with climate change; situating impacts within other social, technological, and ecological transitions; and recognizing mediators and moderators of impacts. This article describes three classes of psychological impacts: direct (e.g., acute or traumatic effects of extreme weather events and a changed environment); indirect (e.g., threats to emotional well-being based on observation of impacts and concern or uncertainty about future risks); and psychosocial (e.g., chronic social and community effects of heat, drought, migrations, and climate-related conflicts, and postdisaster adjustment). Responses include providing psychological interventions in the wake of acute impacts and reducing the vulnerabilities contributing to their severity; promoting emotional resiliency and empowerment in the context of indirect impacts; and acting at systems and policy levels to address broad psychosocial impacts. The challenge of climate change calls for increased ecological literacy, a widened ethical responsibility, investigations into a range of psychological and social adaptations, and an allocation of resources and training to improve psychologists' competency in addressing climate change-related impacts.
The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change
Thomas J. Doherty Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and
Susan Clayton College of Wooster
An appreciation of the psychological impacts of global
climate change entails recognizing the complexity and mul-
tiple meanings associated with climate change; situating
impacts within other social, technological, and ecological
transitions; and recognizing mediators and moderators of
impacts. This article describes three classes of psycholog-
ical impacts: direct (e.g., acute or traumatic effects of
extreme weather events and a changed environment); in-
direct (e.g., threats to emotional well-being based on ob-
servation of impacts and concern or uncertainty about
future risks); and psychosocial (e.g., chronic social and
community effects of heat, drought, migrations, and cli-
mate-related conflicts, and postdisaster adjustment). Re-
sponses include providing psychological interventions in
the wake of acute impacts and reducing the vulnerabilities
contributing to their severity; promoting emotional resil-
iency and empowerment in the context of indirect impacts;
and acting at systems and policy levels to address broad
psychosocial impacts. The challenge of climate change
calls for increased ecological literacy, a widened ethical
responsibility, investigations into a range of psychological
and social adaptations, and an allocation of resources and
training to improve psychologists’ competency in address-
ing climate change–related impacts.
Keywords: climate change, psychological impacts, disaster
psychology, psychological adaptation
The full story of climate change is the unfolding story of an idea
and how this idea is changing the way we think, feel, and act.
(Hulme, 2009, p. xxviii)
Global climate change is likely to have significant
negative effects on mental health and well-being,
effects that will be felt most by vulnerable pop-
ulations and those with preexisting serious mental illness
(Costello et al., 2009; Fritze, Blashki, Burke, & Wiseman,
2008; Page & Howard, 2010). Localized and/or immediate
consequences, such as injury or stress resulting from
more extreme weather events or degraded landscapes, may
be perceived as direct, personal impacts of climate change
(Kolbert, 2006). However, for many, the psychological
effects of climate change are likely to be gradual, cumula-
tive, and/or experienced only through media and social
communication (see Weber & Stern, 2011, this issue, and
Reser & Swim, 2011, this issue). An appreciation of psy-
chological impacts entails recognizing multiple meanings
and cultural narratives associated with climate change
(Hulme, 2009) and its complexity as a “wicked problem”
whose effects are interrelated with other global phenom-
ena, such as increased population, urbanization, and dis-
parities in wealth (Kazdin, 2009, p. 342; Stokols, Misra,
Runnerstrom, & Hipp, 2009). The concept of climate
change assumes a progression of extreme weather and
environmental changes at an unprecedented rate and scale.
It is important to recognize that the severity of impacts is
due not solely to extreme weather or other natural events
following from global climate change but rather to the
interaction between human systems and these events (see
National Research Council, 2008). For example, psycho-
logical impacts are likely to be mediated and moderated by
media representations and information technologies (Reser,
2010), resilience or vulnerability to disasters and environ-
mental changes (Brklacich, Chazan, & Dawe, 2007), and
social and cognitive factors (Leiserowitz, 2007; Weber,
This article differentiates three classes of climate
change–related psychological impacts, offers examples,
and discusses interrelated psychological processes and con-
textual factors (see Figure 1 for an overview). Acute and
direct impacts include mental health injuries associated
with more frequent and powerful weather events, natural
disasters, and adjustment to degraded or disrupted physical
environments (Albrecht et al., 2007; Costello et al., 2009;
Few, 2007; Page & Howard, 2010). Indirect and vicarious
impacts include intense emotions associated with observa-
tion of climate change effects worldwide and anxiety and
uncertainty about the unprecedented scale of current and
future risks to humans and other species (Kidner, 2007;
Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Leiserowitz, 2009; Norgaard,
2009). The psychosocial impacts of climate change include
large-scale social and community effects of issues such as
heat-related violence (Anderson & DeLisi, in press), con-
flicts over resources (Reuveny, 2008), migrations and dis-
locations (Agyeman, Devine-Wright, & Prange, 2009),
postdisaster adjustment (Norris, Stevens, Pfefferbaum,
Wyche, & Pfefferbaum, 2008), and chronic environmental
stress (Albrecht et al., 2007). The effects of climate change
fall disproportionately on those of less economic privilege
or social status and thus have social justice implications
Thomas J. Doherty, Department of Counseling Psychology, Lewis &
Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling; Susan Clayton,
Department of Psychology, College of Wooster.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Thomas J. Doherty, Department of Counseling Psychology, Lewis &
Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, P.O. Box 3174,
Portland, OR 97208-3174. E-mail:
265May–June 2011 American Psychologist
© 2011 American Psychological Association 0003-066X/11/$12.00
Vol. 66, No. 4, 265–276 DOI: 10.1037/a0023141
that demand consideration (Agyeman, Bullard, & Evans,
2003; McMichael, Friel, Nyong, & Corvalan, 2008).
The challenges posed by issues like global climate
change have prompted calls for psychologists’ attention to
the reciprocal and structural relationships between human
health and the health and integrity of the natural environ-
ment (Clayton & Myers, 2009; Gifford, 2008; Roszak,
Gomes, & Kanner, 1995; Uzzell & Ra¨thzel, 2009). We
believe that ecological literacy (Orr, 1992), an understand-
ing of how natural systems affect each other and particu-
larly of how anthropogenic causes can lead to indirect and
unpredictable effects on the earth’s climate, should be
incorporated into every professional discipline that is con-
cerned with the well-being of any part of those systems.
Human well-being is implicated, and psychology should be
involved. The Ethics Code of the American Psychological
Association (2002) makes provisions for developing inter-
ventions in new practice areas, and an allocation of re-
sources and training is required to improve psychologists’
competency in addressing climate change and its impacts
(Kazdin, 2009).
A central idea of this article is that climate change is
as much a psychological and social phenomenon as a
matter of biodiversity and geophysics and has impacts
beyond the biophysical. We contend that there is sufficient
evidence to merit a response to the psychological impacts
of climate change; that these impacts co-occur on multiple,
simultaneous levels; and that psychologists have an ethical
obligation to take immediate steps to minimize harm, re-
duce disparities in climate impacts, and continually im-
prove their climate-related interventions.
Potential Mediators and Moderators
of Climate Change Impacts
Many factors can be suggested as potential mediators or
moderators of responses to climate change. In particular,
the social context, as instantiated in both face-to-face net-
works and in channels of mass communications, affects
access to information, framing of that information, and
vulnerability in response to the information. Personal char-
Thomas J.
Figure 1
Climate Change: Differentiating Between Classes of Psychological Impacts
Climate Weather
Direct & Acute Impacts
Extreme Weather
Heat, Drought, Floods
Landscape Changes
Impaired Place Attachment
Mental Health Issues
Psychological Trauma
Indirect Impacts
Anxiety & Worry
Depression & Despair
Grief & Mourning
Unconscious Defenses
Numbness & Apathy
Vicarious Psychological
Changing and contested views of climate change
Media images and social narratives
Perceptions of risk and vulnerability
Psychosocial Impacts
Chronic Disaster Adjustment
Heat-related Violence
Intergroup Conflict
Displacement & Migration
Reactions to Impact Disparities
Decreased Access
to Thriving Ecosystems
Sources of
Vulnerability &
Time Scale
266 May–June 2011 American Psychologist
acteristics will also affect the amount and type of informa-
tion that people seek out and the way in which they respond
to it. We highlight a few of the major factors.
Media Representations and Information
The influence of media representations helps explain why
climate change can have psychological impacts even on
individuals and communities that do not experience direct
physical impacts (see Reser & Swim, 2011). Experiences
of impacts often occur via virtual media representations of
climate change rather than from changes in global weather
patterns or ongoing environmental impacts per se (Reser,
2010; Stokols et al., 2009). Because the media have other
agendas in addition to providing accurate information—for
example, appealing to a particular target audience, sensa-
tionalizing a story, presenting an issue as a debate between
two sides rather than as a matter of scientific fact—the
message that they convey can be misleading. Dispensa and
Brulle (2003), for example, found that media in the United
States suggested greater uncertainty about anthropogenic
climate change compared with media in other advanced
nations. However, media can also moderate the response to
a disaster, for example, by encouraging people to seek
counseling and providing information about how to do so.
Further, exposure to information engendered by mod-
ern technologies (e.g., vivid and instantaneous Internet
images) raises the salience of global crises and can engen-
der anxiety or passivity in the face of seemingly over-
whelming threats (Stokols et al., 2009). In the absence of
research on effects of catastrophic climate change imagery
in the media (e.g., Emmerich, 2004), potential parallels can
be drawn to the wide-ranging psychological impacts of the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that were associated
with intense media exposure to the event (Marshall et. al,
Vulnerability and Resilience
The relative severity of climate change impacts will be
moderated by sources of vulnerability and resilience: The
same processes that position some people to be in harm’s
way (i.e., living in marginal, low-lying areas and having
precarious, resource-based livelihoods) also limit their op-
tions for mitigation and adaptation (Brklacich et al., 2007).
Alternatively, adaptive capacities such as economic devel-
opment, uniform levels of mental health and functioning,
the reduction of risk and resource inequities, and engage-
ment of local stakeholders in disaster mitigation activities
are important to community resilience and the potential to
adapt successfully in the aftermath of disasters (Ebi &
Semenza, 2008; Norris et al., 2008).
A proximity to the biophysical impacts of climate
change, such as extreme weather events or a rise in sea
level, will interact with other sources of social vulnerability
(i.e., urban density, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic sta-
tus) to influence severity of disaster impacts (Brouwer,
Akter, Brander, & Haque, 2007; Cutter & Finch, 2008;
Few, 2007). Disaster intervention research has identified
groups likely to be at greater psychosocial risk, including
women, children, the elderly, the rural and urban poor,
racial and ethnic minorities, those with a previous history
of emotional disability, inhabitants of developing rather
than developed countries, and in general, those with a
marginalized predisaster existence (Haskett, Scott, Nears,
& Grimmett, 2008; Norris, Friedman, Watson, Byrne, et
al., 2002). In terms of climate change, individuals with
mental illness are particularly vulnerable to heat-related
injury and mortality due to risk factors such as the use of
psychotropic medication, preexisting respiratory and car-
diovascular disease, substance misuse, and poor quality
housing (Page & Howard, 2010).
Social and Cognitive Factors
A sense of impact or alarm regarding climate change is
likely to be both mediated by cognitive appraisals, such as
estimates of personal risk and attributions of responsibility
(Leiserowitz, 2007), and moderated by the responses of
one’s social referents. For example, in the United States,
some groups perceive current danger and harm, while other
groups perceive that society will be able to adapt to any
adverse effects of climate change once they arrive
(Maibach et al., 2009). Although both alarmed and dismis-
sive groups tend to be highly educated, they differ on
liberal versus conservative political orientation, altruistic
versus individualistic values, and attitudes toward environ-
mental protection versus economic growth. Other research-
ers have also noted the connection between conservative
political orientation and skepticism about climate change
(e.g., Feygina, Jost, & Goldsmith, 2010). One implication
of this connection is that climate change is likely to affect
social identity as well as personal well-being. Contextual
factors such as concern about economic issues or other
267May–June 2011 American Psychologist
immediate life stressors also moderate the importance and
urgency of climate change (Pew Research Center, 2009;
Weber, 2006). For example, those expressing disengage-
ment from climate change concerns are more likely to be
minority women with less education and low incomes.
Climate Change as a Natural and
Technological Disaster
Although there will be variations in the biophysical mani-
festations of climate change and difficulty in identifying
causal linkages between climatic changes and local events
that affect humans, the great potential for negative impacts
urges a precautionary stance (American Psychological As-
sociation Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology
and Global Climate Change, 2009; Lempert & Collins,
2007). Research on psychological and social impacts asso-
ciated with natural and technological disasters (e.g., Reyes
& Jacobs, 2006), as well as hybrid “natech” disasters
(Cruz, Steinberg, & Vetere-Arellano, 2006, p. 483), pro-
vides models and tools potentially useful in understanding
the psychological impacts of climate change. Disasters are
traditionally distinguished by their natural (so-called “acts
of God”) versus human-caused triggering events and their
patterns of impacts. Natural disasters tend to have a rela-
tively clear, linear progression of warning–impacts–recov-
ery, in contrast to the nonlinear pattern and uncertain
impacts associated with technological disasters. These
events also tend to evoke differing reactions. Altruistic or
community-supportive responses are associated with natu-
ral disasters, whereas uncertainty and divisiveness (often
exacerbated by existing social fissures) are associated with
technological disasters (Baum & Fleming, 1993; Gill,
Disasters also tend to involve distinct phases and
evolving patterns of impacts ranging from the acute to the
chronic (Norris, Friedman, & Watson, 2002; Stein & Mey-
ers, 1999). Although human error and lack of preparedness
may contribute to the severity of disaster impacts, techno-
logical disasters, given their human causes, are noted for a
developmental sequence that includes incubation and fore-
warning stages as well as a postrecovery period focusing on
inquiry, provision of social justice, and enactment of social
and legislative reforms (Aini & Fakhrul-Razi, 2010).
The complex causes and unfolding impacts associated
with global climate change blur the distinctions between
natural and technological disasters and prompt individual
and community responses associated with both of these
types of events (Marshall & Picou, 2008). The story of
climate change also acts as an overarching narrative
(Hulme, 2009) that connects and frames disparate global
events, influencing judgments regarding risk, responsibil-
ity, and efficacy and expectations for the future, which in
turn have implications for adaptation and mitigation. (For
an in-depth discussion of the social construction of climate
change and its implications for psychological adaptation
and mitigation, see Reser & Swim, 2011).
Direct Psychological Impacts of
Global Climate Change
Extreme weather events and environmental stressors as-
sociated with global climate change are likely to have
immediate effects on the prevalence and severity of
mental health issues in affected communities, significant
implications for mental health services, and ongoing
disruptions to the social, economic and environmental
determinants that promote mental health in general
(Costello et al., 2009; Few, 2007; Fritze et al., 2008;
Page & Howard, 2010). For example, impacts of natural
disasters include acute and posttraumatic stress disorder
(Galea, Nandi, & Vlahov, 2005); somatic disorders (van
den Berg, Grievink, Yzermans, & Lebret, 2005); major
depression (Marshall et al., 2007); and other problems
such as drug and alcohol abuse, higher rates of suicide,
and elevated risk of child abuse (Fritze et al., 2008).
Longer and more severe heat waves associated with
climate change (Meehl & Tebaldi, 2004) are also likely
to be associated with increasing mortality, homicide,
suicide, physical assault, and spousal abuse (Anderson,
2001; Basu & Samet, 2002; Qi, Tong, & Hu, 2009).
Experiences of mental health professionals interven-
ing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other disas-
ters (e.g., Haskett et al., 2008; Norris, Friedman, & Watson,
2002; Vernberg et al., 2008) have confirmed the benefits of
early intervention that provides assistance with basic needs
and functional recovery. Efforts that are attentive to family
context and affective and emotional factors and that pro-
mote interagency cooperation and coordination are most
effective in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. In the
absence of clinical trials that cover the diversity of disaster
circumstances, Hobfoll et al. (2007) identified empirically
supported intervention principles to guide early to mid-
stage intervention and prevention efforts, including pro-
moting (a) a sense of safety, (b) calming, (c) a sense of self-
and community efficacy, (d) connectedness, and (e) hope.
Environmental Distress and Place Attachment
The effects of climate change include gradually unfolding
environmental changes, such as rising sea levels, that are
associated with acute and chronic psychological impacts
(Yardley, 2007). Emerging research on ecosystem health
(e.g., Brown, Grootjans, Ritchie, Townsend, & Verrinder,
2005) and patterns of environmental distress resulting from
dramatic human modification of the landscape provides
useful models for anticipating climate change impacts. For
example, through long-term studies of the experiences of
inhabitants of the open pit coal-mining areas of the Upper
Hunter River Valley in Australia (home to one of the
world’s largest coal-exporting ports), Albrecht and col-
leagues have validated the concept of solastalgia, the sense
of distress people experience when valued natural environ-
ments are negatively transformed (Albrecht et al., 2007, p.
S95; Higginbotham, Connor, Albrecht, Freeman, & Agho,
268 May–June 2011 American Psychologist
Indirect Impacts of Global
Climate Change
The indirect, vicarious impacts of global climate change
include emotional and affective responses associated with
viewing images of environmental degradation or human
suffering in the media or with questions of lifestyle or
purchasing choices. Psychologists can validate the range
and extent of these impacts, inspire supportive interven-
tions (e.g., Macy & Brown, 1998; Randall, 2009), and
describe the links between these emotional responses and
behaviors associated with climate change. For example,
recent interdisciplinary discussions have recognized how
emotional responses to climate change, notions of respon-
sibility and efficacy, and related adaptation processes can
be understood as intertwined aspects of a psychological
response to climate change threats (see Brewer, 2008;
Norgaard, 2009; Reser & Swim, 2011). These processes, in
turn, mediate the extent of individual and collective en-
gagement in environmentally significant behaviors (e.g.,
mitigation of carbon emissions; see National Research
Council, 2008, and Weber & Stern, 2011).
The Range of Emotions Associated With
Climate Change
Despite the scope of the problem, personal experience with
consequences of global climate change is rare in many
regions of the world. Climate change does not evoke strong
reactions in some individuals (Weber, 2006), while for
others it is a manifestation of a “global ecological crisis”
causing uncertainty and emotional distress (Stokols et al.,
2009, p. 181; Böhm, 2003). Although reactions to climate
change are mediated and moderated by values, beliefs, and
experience, self-reported emotions about climate change
are common. In the United States, a majority of people say
they are interested in global warming; approximately half
report feeling disgusted, hopeful, helpless, or sad about the
issue, and a quarter report feeling depressed or guilty
(Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Leiserowitz, 2009). However,
emotions are highest in groups at both ends of the ideo-
logical spectrum. Those in the alarmed group (18% of
Americans) are much more likely to report being convinced
of the reality and danger of climate change and to feel sad,
disgusted, angry, or afraid. Among the dismissive group
(those who are equally convinced that climate change is not
occurring and that no response should be made, 7% of
Americans), the strongest emotions were disgust and anger.
Groups ranging from concerned, cautious, disengaged, or
doubtful (33%, 19%, 12%, and 11% of Americans, respec-
tively) tended to report progressively less experience of or
emotional response to climate change.
Anxiety and Worry Regarding
Climate Change
Individuals’ worries about environmental health threats
take a toll on their subjective well-being. Cognitive factors,
subjective experience of stress, and selection of coping
strategies determine how global conditions impinge on
individuals’ psyche and behavior in the context of their
daily lives (Stokols et al., 2009; Wandersman & Hallman,
1993). Media accounts of “eco-anxiety” about climate
change describe symptoms such as panic attacks, loss of
appetite, irritability, weakness, and sleeplessness (Nobel,
2007, p. 1). Though anecdotal, these symptoms are remark-
ably similar to those reported in controlled studies of symp-
toms reported by those living in proximity to hazardous
waste sites and are likely to have a genesis in autonomic
stress responses and behavioral sensitization (Neutra, Lip-
scomb, Satin, & Shusterman, 1991).
There are challenges differentiating normal and path-
ological anxiety and worry regarding climate impacts. “En-
vironmental anxiety” (Rabinowitz & Poljak, 2003, p. 225)
has been characterized as obsessive and potentially dis-
abling worry about health risks that are actually not signif-
icant (e.g., compared with well-recognized hazards such as
motor vehicle accidents and smoking). Given the evidence
and predictions about health impacts of climate change and
the unprecedented scale of those impacts, what constitutes
an appropriate level of worry remains in question. (See
a discussion of functional and diagnostic implications
Depressive Emotions:
Guilt, Despair, and Grief
There are numerous accounts of subclinical depressive
emotions, guilt, and despair associated with climate change
and other global environmental issues (e.g., Buzzell &
Chalquist, 2009; Norgaard, 2009; Nicholsen, 2002). Fritze
et al. (2008) discussed how, “at the deepest level, the
debate about the consequences of climate change gives rise
to profound questions about the long-term sustainability of
human life and the Earth’s environment” (p. 9). In this
vein, Kidner (2007) described the loss of security engen-
dered by uncertainty about the health and continuity of the
earth’s natural systems and how the impact of these emo-
tions tends to be underappreciated because of a lack of
recognition of subjective feelings of environmental loss in
traditional scientific and economic frameworks. Contem-
porary grief-loss models (e.g., Worden, 2009) view grief as
a normal reaction to loss and the mourning process as a
dynamic series of tasks including (a) accepting the reality
of the loss, (b) processing the physical and emotional pain
of grief, (c) adjusting externally and internally to a world
without the lost object, and (d) finding an enduring con-
nection with the lost object in the midst of embarking on a
new life. Applying Worden’s (2009) framework to adjust-
ment to climate change, Randall (2009) described case
studies of individuals drawn from the Cambridge, England,
Carbon Conversations program who exhibited movement
through the grief and mourning process toward a reinvest-
ing of emotional energy in more ecologically stable life
Denial as Social Justification and
Psychological Defense
Speculation on the willful denial of the existence or im-
pacts of climate change is common in the popular media
(e.g., Gelbspan, 2005; Monbiot, 2006). This denial can
269May–June 2011 American Psychologist
serve as a social justification (Norgaard, 2009) as well as a
psychological defense—an involuntary mental mechanism
that distorts perception of internal and external reality to
reduce subjective distress (Vaillant, 2000). For example, in
an analysis of a rural Norwegian community, Norgaard
(2006) found that nonresponse to climate change was at
least partially a matter of socially organized denial: Nor-
wegian economic prosperity is tied to oil production, and
collectively ignoring climate change maintains Norwegian
economic interests. In a qualitative study using an existen-
tial-phenomenological framework, Langford (2002) identi-
fied responses to the risks posed by climate change, includ-
ing (a) active denial, associated with a strong reliance on
rationality over emotion and a lack of tolerance for scien-
tific uncertainty; (b) disinterest, associated with an external
locus of control and fatalism; and (c) engagement, associ-
ated with a preference for emotion and intuition to justify
opinions and actions, a sense of personal responsibility, and
a belief in communal efficacy. Along similar lines, Maiteny
(2002) identified three responses to chronic anxiety about
ecological and social problems: (a) an unconscious reaction
of denial in which individuals stave off anxiety by seeking
gratification through continued or increased material acqui-
sition and consumption; (b) a “green consumer” response
(p. 300) that reflects greater concern for the environment
but without major changes in lifestyle; and (c) heightened
conscience and feelings of connectedness with wider eco-
logical and social processes, leading individuals to take
responsibility for major lifestyle changes and to stimulate
awareness in others.
Apathy Regarding Climate Change
Some commentators have characterized the public’s lack of
action to protect the environment as apathy. Speaking from
a psychoanalytic perspective, writers such as Randall
(2009) and Lertzman (2010) contend that the public’s ap-
parent apathy regarding climate change is actually paralysis
in the face of the size of the problem; these writers reframe
the issue in terms of psychological defense mechanisms
such as splitting (i.e., retaining intellectual knowledge of
reality but divesting it of emotional meaning). Moser
(2007) conceptualized apathy regarding climate change as
a primary emotional response associated with a habituation
to the “drumbeat of news about various overwhelming
environmental and societal problems” (p. 68). This primary
response prevents individuals from learning about the
threat and creating a more informed reaction. For Moser,
numbness is seen as a secondary reaction following real-
ization of the magnitude of climate change threats and a
perceived inability to affect their outcomes. Apparent ap-
athy regarding environmental issues may also be a function
of adaptation to existing conditions. In a process Kahn
(1999, p. 7) called “environmental generational amnesia,”
people tend to make their experience a baseline for envi-
ronmental health and thus fail to recognize, over years and
generations, the extent to which the environment has
Social and Community Impacts of
Climate Change
In addition to direct and indirect psychological impacts,
climate change is likely to have impacts on social and
community relationships. Some of these impacts may result
directly from changes in climate, but most are likely to be
indirect results of changes in how people use and occupy
territory. The effects of a changing climate on the suitabil-
ity of territory for agriculture, aquaculture, and habitation
means that the experiences of people in particular geo-
graphical locations, as well as the geographical distribution
of populations, will be altered, with consequences for both
interpersonal and intergroup relations. The severity of cli-
mate change impacts is partly dependent on other simulta-
neous trends and patterns. Even when the impact is re-
stricted to one country or one part of the world, there may
be economic consequences that will have spillover effects
on other countries.
Heat and Violence
Climate change is most concretely represented in the public
mind as “global warming” (Meehl & Tebaldi, 2004). In
addition to health impacts (Poumade`re, Mays, Le Mer, &
Blong, 2005), the predicted warming is likely to have some
direct impacts on human behavior. On the basis of exper-
imental and correlational research, Anderson (2001) con-
cluded that there is a causal relationship between heat and
violence and that any increase in average global tempera-
ture is likely to be accompanied by an increase in violent
aggression. Predictions include a rise of about 24,000 as-
saults or murders in the United States every year for every
increase of 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the average tempera-
ture. In a more recent article, Anderson and DeLisi (in
press) described some of the probable effects of climate
change on violence. Both lab-based manipulations of tem-
perature and comparisons of differences in violent crime
associated with seasonal and regional temperature differ-
ences indicate that heat can have an immediate effect on
violent tendencies. More subtle but possibly more powerful
long-term impacts may result from an effect of heat on fetal
and child development.
Climate Change and Intergroup Conflict
Global climate change is also likely to have an effect on
intergroup relations. Diminishing resources set the stage
for intergroup conflict, either when two groups directly
compete for the remaining natural resources or when eco-
logical degradation forces one group to migrate out of its
own territory and become an immigrant into another
group’s territory (Costello et al., 2009; Reuveny, 2008),
thus competing for rights and ownership of the space. The
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) has
estimated that by 2030, as much as 42% of the world’s
population will live in countries with insufficient fresh
water for their agricultural, industrial, and domestic use,
setting the stage for conflict over how to allocate water
supplies. A review by the Global Business Network (Gil-
270 May–June 2011 American Psychologist
man, Randall, & Schwarz, 2007) found that “violent con-
flicts over water are already widespread” (p. 10).
The Pentagon and other institutional members of the
intelligence community have begun to attend to the desta-
bilizing effects of climate change on domestic stability as
well as on international tensions (e.g., Yeoman, 2009). A
report by the Oxford Research Group (Abbott, 2008) high-
lighted the psychosocial impact of climate change on civil
unrest, noting that when governments fail to adequately
protect against natural disasters or respond to their effects,
people may lose confidence and trust in civil institutions,
resulting in backlash.
Displacement and Relocation
Loss of connection or belonging to one’s home place can
also undermine mental health (Fullilove, 1996). Commu-
nities are already being forced to relocate because of cur-
rent or anticipated climate changes (Agyeman et al., 2009),
and it has been estimated that there may be 200 million
environmental refugees by mid-century (Myers, 2002).
Such forced relocations can involve a severing of emo-
tional ties to place, disruption of existing social networks,
and attempts to maintain cultural integrity despite reloca-
tion (Chaliand & Rageau, 1995; Nelson, West, & Finan,
2009). These disruptions of geographic and social connec-
tions may lead to grief, anxiety, and a sense of loss,
particularly among those with a strong place or national
Reactions to Socioeconomic Disparities
The growing recognition that some (primarily Western)
countries have contributed more than their “share” to a
global crisis that will be most strongly felt by other, less-
developed countries will also exacerbate intergroup ten-
sions. One consequence of climate change may be an
increase in the disparity between the “haves” and the
“have-nots” both within and between nations. Countries
and people with fewer economic resources will feel the
effects more strongly, because they have less ability to
afford the technologies that would mitigate the financial
and medical effects of climate change. Within nations, the
have-nots are more likely to be ethnic minorities (Bullard
& Johnson, 2000), so this disparity may also increase
ethnic tensions and intergroup hostility. Intergroup rela-
tions suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for
example, when African Americans were more likely than
Whites to interpret the government’s response as indicating
racism (Adams, O’Brien, & Nelson, 2006). Issues of justice
become more relevant when a resource is limited, and
threats to one’s group identity, such as that represented by
a loss of homeland or a reduction in the environmental
resources needed for survival, tend to increase derogation
of outgroups (Hogg, 2003).
Decreased Access to Thriving Ecosystems
In terms of human health and wellness, an underappreci-
ated consequence of climate change may be the opportunity
costs represented by decreased access to thriving ecosys-
tems. The rapid pace of climate change poses a threat to
global biodiversity and ecosystem health (Wilson, 2002).
Meanwhile, an accumulating body of research suggests that
nearby nature has a positive effect on physical and mental
health (De Vries, Verheij, Groenevegen, & Spreeuwen-
berg, 2003; Maas, Verheij, Groenewegen, de Vries, &
Spreeuwenberg, 2006) and on social functioning (Shinew,
Glover, & Parry, 2004). In urban societies, climate change
may be associated with a reduction in the health of green
spaces, including public parks, as ecosystems decline and
as there is increased demand for the resources required to
maintain them (Younger, Morrow-Almeida, Vindigni, &
Dannenberg, 2008). Access to nature may be particularly
important for those who are most vulnerable (Kuo & Faber
Taylor, 2004). Since minority citizens and citizens of low
socioeconomic status are less likely to live near parks, and
may find it more difficult to reach them, a side effect of
environmental degradation is likely to be increased in-
equality not only in exposure to environmental hazards but
in access to environmental benefits.
Those who live in rural areas—such as farmers and
fishers, who rely on natural resources for their economic
well-being, or people whose identities are tied to a partic-
ular conception of place (cf. Burley, 2010)—are also likely
to be strongly affected, directly or indirectly, by changes to
existing ecosystems. Effects of climate change on the local
animal and plant species are likely to have a profound
effect on the human residents. Groups that rely on subsis-
tence living are particularly sensitive to these impacts, such
as indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic (Symon, Arris, &
Heel, 2005).
Social Justice Implications of
Climate Change Impacts
The ethical implications of sharing one atmospheric com-
mons are that some regions are disproportionately affected
by climate change and that societal vulnerability to those
negative impacts is also highly uneven because of differ-
ential levels of exposure and sensitivity to the risks and
differential abilities to cope and adapt (McMichael et al.,
2008; Roberts & Parks, 2007). A focus on the global
inequalities of climate change impacts shifts the discussion
from scientific-technical issues to human rights and envi-
ronmental justice (Agyeman et al., 2003). There are clear
relationships between environmental risk, poverty, and vul-
nerability: Paradoxically, the people that face the highest
risk of impacts are the least well prepared, both in terms of
individual preparedness and community-level resources for
disaster relief (Brouwer et al., 2007). Mental health provi-
sion in many low- and middle-income countries is already
inadequate (Jacob et al., 2007), and further, in the period
following a disaster, medical and psychiatric care can dra-
matically diminish (Jones et al., 2009; Sontag, 2010).
Coping With Climate Change Impacts
Psychologists are well positioned to provide guidance on
what constitutes healthy coping with the psychological
impacts of global climate change and to intervene in situ-
ations of mental health injury or disordered adjustment.
271May–June 2011 American Psychologist
Optimal coping with the threat and unfolding impacts of
climate change is likely to entail a number of factors,
including accurate recognition of risks, effective manage-
ment of emotions and problem solving, a focus on proso-
cial outcomes, and engagement in actions that have a
reasonable chance of mitigation and adaptation (see Amer-
ican Psychological Association Task Force on the Interface
Between Psychology and Global Climate Change, 2009;
Gifford, 2011, this issue; Reser & Swim, 2011; Weber &
Stern, 2011).
Therapeutic Considerations
From a therapeutic perspective, consideration of disordered
adjustment, in particular to the indirect or vicarious psy-
chological impacts of global climate change, poses a num-
ber of philosophical and diagnostic questions. These in-
clude distinguishing between pathological and adaptive
reactions to environmental issues in general, differentiating
between pathological despair about issues such as species
extinction and normal bereavement, and determining what
is expected regarding coping with the unprecedented health
threats posed by climate change. Responses to psycholog-
ical impacts associated with climate change can be char-
acterized similarly to the way in which other issues of
psychological adjustment are characterized. For example,
in clinical terms, adjustment disorders are associated with
discrete and short-term stressors as well as chronic stres-
sors that have enduring consequences (American Psychiat-
ric Association, 2000); these stressors all have qualities
associated with the effects of global climate change. If one
extrapolates from current diagnostic criteria, disordered
adjustment to climate change impacts would include
marked distress that is in excess of what would be expected
given the nature of the stressor (i.e., in the context of one’s
community or social group) or significant impairment in
social or occupational functioning, including depressed
mood, anxiety, and disturbances of conduct.
In the context of mitigating or adapting to the threat of
climate change or other natural disasters, worry can be
considered a normal, adaptive process that prepares people
to cope with future threats, unless it is so driven by anxiety
that it becomes intense and uncontrollable (Barlow, 2002;
Reser, 2004). Again, extrapolating from current diagnostic
guidelines, differentiating between normal and pathologi-
cal worry regarding climate change includes examining the
content and pervasiveness of climate-related worries, inter-
ference with functioning as a result of worry, and the
degree of perceived control over the worry process.
Creativity and Empowerment
Following Frumkin (2001, p. 234), a “beyond toxicity”
perspective can also be taken regarding the psychological
impacts of climate change. The challenges of climate
change may also “galvanize creative ideas and actions in
ways that transform and strengthen the resilience of and
creativity of community and individuals” (Fritze et al.,
2008, p. 9). As De Young (1996) noted with regard to
recycling, there are intrinsic benefits to be gained from
pro-environmental behavior, including a sense of frugality,
participation, and competence. Research on some youth
conservation programs has shown preliminary evidence
that participants gain in self-efficacy, social competence,
and sense of civic responsibility (Johnson, Johnson-Pynn,
Sweeney, & Williams, 2009). As noted above, qualitative
analyses by Langford (2002) and Maiteny (2002) suggest
that some individuals respond to the threat of climate
change with social engagement, which leads to a sense of
empowerment and other positive emotions.
A provisional, trans-theoretical framework for catego-
rizing responses to climate change impacts, associated psy-
chological defense mechanisms, and functional implica-
tions is illustrated in Figure 2. Understanding individual
psychological responses and their adaptive benefits is con-
tingent on contextual factors including time frame, individ-
ual and cultural differences, social influences, and commu-
nity resources. A range of adaptive responses includes
curiosity, concern, skepticism, or creativity; impulses to-
ward conservation behaviors or competing impulses toward
other prosocial interests or causes; and high adaptive ego
defenses—anticipation, humor, suppression. Maladaptive,
acute or disordered responses include trauma or displace-
ment associated with disasters, environmental changes, or
regional conflicts; chronic stress; anxiety or depressive
disorders; co-morbidity with existing psychopathology or
medical illness; acting out or other dysregulated defenses.
Between these two poles lies the potential for psychologi-
cal distress, inhibition, or internal conflicts, including an
inability to articulate environmental concerns or impacts;
feelings of hopelessness or nihilism; competing motiva-
tions related to personality, social, or socioeconomic fac-
tors; and compromise-level or reality-distorting defenses,
including intellectualization, denial, or projection.
The mounting evidence for the magnitude and irrevocabil-
ity of global climate change and its psychological impacts
has implications for psychologists’ interventions, policies,
and research. Indeed, recognition that the psychological
impacts of climate change pose a current threat to individ-
ual and community health—even to those who have not
directly experienced biophysical impacts—has the poten-
tial to lead to more active mitigation and adaptation
In addressing the direct and acute psychological im-
pacts of climate change resulting from more frequent and
powerful weather events and adjustment to changing land-
scapes, psychologists can employ interventions drawn from
disaster psychology and support long-term adjustment that
recognizes varied responses to natural and technological
disasters and the influence of secondary or chronic impacts.
To address the indirect, vicarious impacts of climate
change, psychologists can provide individual and group
interventions to facilitate emotional expression and dia-
logue and create self-efficacy by fostering effective miti-
gation and adaptation behaviors. Psychologists can help in
promoting an understanding and response to the large-scale
psychosocial impacts resulting from regional environmen-
tal degradation, scarcity of resources, increased intergroup
272 May–June 2011 American Psychologist
conflicts, forced migrations, loss of homeland, and threats
to cultural practices and values. Global climate change is
currently impacting the health and relationships of the
earth’s most vulnerable individuals and communities. Psy-
chologists can address factors contributing to the social and
economic disparities of climate change impacts and high-
light how seemingly local and faraway impacts can mani-
fest globally.
To ensure effectiveness in mitigating the psychologi-
cal impacts of global climate change and fostering success-
ful adaptation, more research is needed. Pressing questions
include the following:
How is the response to environmental problems that
result from climate change similar to the response to
natural and technological disasters (e.g., involving
the same distinct phases)? Are there differences that
are due to the perceived human causality and/or the
ongoing nature of the problem?
What are the interrelationships between individual and
personality variables (e.g., openness to experience,
optimism, neuroticism) and psychological processes,
including coping and defense mechanisms (e.g., mind-
fulness vs. avoidance), psychopathology (e.g., preex-
isting mental or emotional disorders), socioeconomic
vulnerability, group norms, and media and cultural
messages regarding climate change?
What are the most effective therapeutic interven-
tions targeting individual and community health
impacts of climate change? In particular, are there
differential reactions to the interventions among
members of different racial, ethnic, and gender
groups and communities?
What is the effect of environmental disasters on
sense of place and place attachment?
How are different cultures likely to be affected by
climate change, in ways that are both concrete (loss
of homeland) and more abstract (changes in cultural
practice and values)?
What is the impact of climate change and the asso-
ciated scarcity of natural resources on intergroup
How can educational interventions promote positive
responses such as empowerment, involvement, and
efficacy in mitigating and adapting to the psycho-
logical impacts of climate change?
Global change is as much a psychological and social
phenomenon as a matter of biodiversity and geophysics and
poses threats to psychological health and well-being on
multiple, simultaneous levels. Psychologists have an ethi-
cal obligation to take immediate steps to minimize the
psychological harm associated with climate change, to help
to reduce global disparities in climate impacts, and to
continually improve their climate-related interventions
through coordinated programs of research and practice that
draw on the rich diversity of psychologists’ skills and
Figure 2
Responses to Global Climate Change: A Provisional Psychological Framework
Psychological Defenses
Concern, Worry
Support & Information Seeking
Creativity, Innovation
Engagement, Problem-Solving
Barriers to Emotional Expression
Competing Cultural or
Socioeconomic Factors
Anxiety, Despair, Nihilism
Natural Disaster Impacts
Trauma or Displacement
Disrupted Social Networks
Impaired Sense of Place
Chronic Socio-Economic or
Environmental Stressors
Co-existing psychopathology
or medical illness
Responses Functional Implications
Adjustment Reactions
Adjustment Disorders
High Adaptive
Isolation of Affect
Reaction Formation
Acting Out
Apathetic Withdrawal
Psychotic Distortions
Anxiety, Mood or Behavioral
Major Psychopathology
Optimal & Adaptive High
273May–June 2011 American Psychologist
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... Similarly Doherty and Clayton (2011) encourage psychologists to draw on their rich training and skills in order to address acute and chronic psychological impacts of environmental issues and employ interventions such as helping to create self-efficacy by promoting adaptation and long-term adjustment. This feeds into our theme of inclusivity and the recognition that clinicians can successfully aid adolescents in adjusting to and addressing eco-anxiety. ...
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Increasing scientific evidence of environmental issues such as climate change, global warming and pollution indicates these events are impacting people both directly and indirectly, and young people are particularly vulnerable to these concerns. There is evidence these issues are bringing a weighty psychological burden across the globe and affecting mental health and wellbeing, particularly in the younger generation as they are faced with the realities of leading this future world in an altered state, as tomorrow’s leaders and decision makers. Using a mixed methods approach, data was collected from 47 participants through an online survey. Utilising the Hogg eco-anxiety scale (HEAS-13) and three open-ended questions, young adolescent participants were assessed about their concerns regarding environmental issues. While there were high levels of concern about their personal impact on the earth, the affective anxiety was at a relatively mild level, with most adolescents feeling some sort of concern on some days over a two week period. It appears that young adolescents are moderately affected by eco-anxiety and environmental issues. They feel a sense of insignificance, anger about inaction, loss and grief, as well as concern about their personal impact on the planet. They also share a sense of hope that solutions and working together can make a difference. Findings indicate that those who are concerned about environmental issues may also be those who are the most active and engaged in pro-environmental behaviours. Ultimately, wellbeing and mental health of young adolescents is of utmost importance. The implications for health professionals are to assist adolescents to better conceptualise eco-anxiety and to provide them with ongoing support by building resilience and instilling a sense of hope in coping with global changes, while also supporting those experiencing more debilitating eco-anxiety that is impacting daily functioning.
... In addition, experiencing extreme weather events can evoke strong emotional feelings about environmental issues. Because being personally affected also increases the perceived risk of further negative impacts, it should increase the propensity to engage in mitigating behaviors, that is, PEB (Clayton, 2020;Clayton & Karazsia, 2020;Clayton & Manning, 2018;Doherty, 2018;Doherty & Clayton, 2011;Howe et al., 2019;R€ uttenauer, 2021;Simon et al., 2022;Swim et al., 2009). ...
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The aim of this work was to examine the relationships between climate change experiences and perceived individual and social norms related to climate change, individual and collective efficacy, and implementation of pro-environmental behaviors among a group of young adults from Pakistan. We examined these variables among 373 young adults in Pakistan and differentiated them into those who reported direct experience with climate change and those who did not. Findings show that 179 participants felt they had directly experienced a climate change event. Results also show that they were more likely to follow individual and social norms, perceive higher levels of individual and collective efficacy, and were more likely to adopt pro-environmental behaviors. Among participants who reported having had a direct experience, perceived social norms and individual self-efficacy emerged as predictors of pro-environmental behaviors, whereas among participants who reported not having had a direct experience, only perceived social norms were significant predictors. These results underscore the importance of sharing information about good environmental practices.
... Highlighting the impacts of awareness and anticipation, a recent longitudinal study by McBride et al. (2021) found that individuals' concerns about climate change at one time point predicted their levels of psychological distress a year later. Overall, it appears that climate change negatively impacts mental health through both direct and indirect mechanisms (Berry et al., 2010;Doherty and Clayton, 2011). ...
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Introduction Climate change is a source of global concern that has both direct and general impacts on mental health. A recent study conducted following severe bushfires in Australia demonstrated relationships among nature connectedness, climate action, climate worry, and mental health; for example, nature connectedness was associated with climate worry, which in turn was associated with psychological distress. Methods The present study sought to replicate those findings while building on them in two important ways: on those findings in two ways: first, test similar relationships in a different geographical context that has been mostly spared from direct impacts by acute climate events; second, we take into consideration an additional factor, climate knowledge, which has been linked to relevant factors such as climate anxiety. Results The results of a survey completed by 327 adults revealed a similar relationship between nature connectedness and climate anxiety, and between that and psychological distress. Further mirroring those previous findings, nature connectedness was associated with both individual and collective climate action, but the relationships between them and psychological distress differed. Discussion The proposed model was a better fit to the collected data among those with high levels of climate change knowledge than those with low levels, suggesting that such knowledge influences how the above factors relate to each other.
... Climate change represents a growing crisis for human health (IPCC, 2022), and the predicted effects on mental health are similarly dire (Doherty & Clayton, 2011). Emerging empirical data provide support for these predictions, with recent reviews highlighting the strong relationships among extreme weather events, high temperatures, and mental ill-health and suicidality (Cianconi et al., 2020;Lawrance et al., 2021). ...
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The impacts of climate change are particularly strong in Pacific Small Island Developing States. However, empirical data on mental health and well-being in the context of climate change and climate anxiety in the region remains limited. The aim of this research was to understand the emotional experiences of climate change and its impact on well-being in rural Fiji. Seventy-one Indigenous and traditional Fijian adults from seven rural villages were interviewed. Data were analyzed using an inductive latent thematic analysis. Evident was the experience of ecological grief among Indigenous and traditional Fijians. In particular, grief experiences were related to losses of species and resources, which impacted ways of life and led to the loss of culture, traditions, and customs. Anticipatory grief was also evident, relating to the loss of lifestyle for future generations, and the loss of traditional and ancestral homes through potential migration. Results provide new data from the Global South and contribute to the limited exploration of mental health in relation to climate change in the Pacific region. The results highlight the experience of ecological grief among Pacific Islanders, and underscore the significance of culture loss due to climate change and anticipatory grief.
In the present work, 120 farmers (male only) were selected inhabiting in the Amritsar district of Punjab state in India. These farmers were engaged in growing citrus fruits, resins, medicinal plants, beekeeping for honey production, bamboo, cane, aromatic plants along with tradition cash crops. During study, three psychological measures as tools, i.e. Mental Health Inventory (MHI), Climate Change Perception Questionnaire (CCPQ) and Socio-Economic Status (SES rural) scale were used to assess socioeconomic status (SES), climate change perception (CCP) and mental health (MH) of farmers and to understand the relationship among these three factors. The results suggest that SES has significant positive correlation with Climate Change Perception (threatful) and mental health. Further, there is significant negative correlation between mental health and CCP (threatful). Mean comparisons suggest that Low Mental Health (LMH) farmers have high mean of climate change perception as they perceive climate change as threatful whereas High Mental Health (HMH) farmers have low mean on climate change perception which indicates- they perceive climate change as existential. Farmers with HMH have high SES in comparison with farmers who are in LMH group.
We are currently living in a time of several existential threats: the global pandemic COVID‐19, climate change, and the ‘refugee crisis’ caused by violent conflicts and humanitarian catastrophes in Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. These threats do not only affect our well‐being but also our sense of control and security, as well as identities and worldviews having also intergroup consequences. In this study, we investigated the links between perceived existential threats (i.e. COVID‐19, climate change, and refugee crisis in 2015 that multiplied Muslim population in Europe), national and religious identities, and attitudes towards Muslims (i.e. Muslim refugees, Muslim minority, and Muslim converts) among Christian national majority group members in Finland and Italy in 2020. The results were analysed with multigroup structural equation modelling, and they demonstrated some key differences between how threats perceived from climate change and the refugee crisis in 2015 are translated into the reactions towards Muslims. While threats associated with the refugee crisis were detrimental to outgroup attitudes, climate change threats elicited more positive attitudes towards the outgroups studied. Our preliminary analyses suggested that COVID‐19, in turn, seems to elicit feelings of worldview defence through higher levels of national identification with no negative attitudinal ramifications. While Abrahamic identity as a believer was directly associated with more positive attitudes towards Muslims in Italy, it did not account for the link between existential threats and outgroup attitudes. The results are discussed in light of how different threats increase or decrease intergroup harmony.
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Psychological research on stress, disasters, and humanmade technological accidents have important implications for policy, planning, and legal resolution of situations caused by environmental hazards. The incidence of technological accidents and catastrophes seems to have increased, and the biobehavioral sequelae of such accidents among victims have implications for mental and physical health as well as for intervention and prevention. In this article, research on the long-term effects of human-made disasters is discussed in the context of contributions that psychological research and theory can make in decisions regarding where potential hazards are located, how they are managed, and how accidents are handled. Unique psychophysiological processes associated with toxic accidents make these stressors more potent and likely to cause long-term uncertainty and chronic stress.
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Psychology needs a metric for positive mental health that would be analogous to the IQ tests that measure above-average intelligence. The Defensive Function Scale of the DSM-IV offers a possible metric. In the present article the author links the transformational qualities of defenses at the mature end of the Defensive Function Scale - altruism, suppression, humor, anticipation, and sublimation - to positive psychology. First, the methodological problems involved in the reliable assessment of defenses are acknowledged. Next, the use of prospective longitudinal study to overcome such difficulties and to provide more reliable definition and measurement of defenses is outlined. Evidence is also offered that, unlike many psychological measures, the maturity of defenses is quite independent of social class, education, and IQ. Last, evidence is offered to illustrate the validity of mature defenses and their contribution to positive psychology.
If one does not look into the abyss, one is being wishful by simply not confronting the truth about our time. … On the other hand, it is imperative that one not get stuck in the abyss. Robert Jay Lifton (1986) Introduction Listening to climate change communicators, advocates, and scientists, there is a growing frustration that politicians and the public don't pay more attention to the issue. In their attempts to ring the alarm bells more fiercely, many are tempted either to make the issue scarier or to inundate people with more information, believing that if people only understood the urgency of global warming, they would act or demand more action. When the desired response then fails to materialize, they get disappointed, yet plow ahead undeterred. Surely, if people aren't getting the message, we must give it more loudly! Yet is “not getting the message” really the problem? And is scarier and more information the answer? Almost every new story about global warming brings more bad news. In 2005 alone, people opened the morning papers to stories that warming could be far worse than previously projected, that our emissions are committing us to warming and sea-level rise for decades to centuries even if we could stop all of them point-blank, today. Increasingly urgent is the news about the rapidly accelerating melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice shields.
What is it like to lose your front porch to the ocean? To watch saltwater destroy your favorite fishing holes? To see playgrounds and churches subside and succumb to brackish and rising water? The residents of coastal Louisiana know. For them hurricanes are but exclamation points in an incessant loss of coastal land now estimated to occur at a rate of at least twenty-four square miles per year.Losing Ground, coastal Louisianans communicate the significance of place and environment. During interviews taken just before the 2005 hurricanes, they send out a plea to alleviate the damage. They speak with an urgency that exemplifies a fear of losing not just property and familiar surroundings, but their identity as well. People along Louisiana's southeastern coast hold a deep attachment to place, and this shows in the urgency of the narratives David M. Burley collects here. The meanings that residents attribute to coastal land loss reflect a tenuous and uprooted sense of self. The process of coastal land loss and all of its social components, from the familial to the political, impacts these residents' concepts of history and the future. Burley updates many of his subjects' narratives to reveal what has happened in the wake of the back-to-back disasters of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. © 2010 by University Press of Mississippi. All rights reserved.