Engaging with climate change

Two responses to our recent climate change coverage.

Thank you for the most interesting juxtaposition of articles in The Psychologist that I have read for a long time (December issue). On the one hand, Dr Rosie Jones recounted her experience as a psychologist and Extinction Rebellion activist and her treatment at the hands of the magistrates and the HCPC. On the other, Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh spoke of her work in the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations.

Dr Jones set out her psychological narrative, leading to a rejection of normative means of persuasion in favour of breaking the criminal law. This, in order to forcefully persuade a government perceived to be intransigent. Dr Jones’ view of psychology itself is that it operates within a dominant cultural system which should at least be challenged if not actively resisted. Professor Whitmarsh, by contrast, focused on the psychological tools which might be available for use within the system to persuade individuals to make behavioural changes with positive benefits, whilst acknowledging that so far those with the greatest level of knowledge might have been the least personally motivated to change. She cites research showing that climate change academics and researchers fly more than other people do. She might also like to look at the personal carbon footprints of those who engage in non-normative civil resistance.

In any event, these two very different positions each held in all sincerity by a professional psychologist, serve very well to illustrate a point that Tris Smith makes in a letter in the same issue, that psychologists’ ‘professional skill’ is not an objective framework, but is itself a construct with its own psychological elements and should be regarded with caution by the side of guidelines developed by experts after consultation. Physician, heal thyself, after all.

December’s issue has left this reader in no doubt that the profession needs urgently to reach some robust conclusions as to the appropriate way for psychologists to engage with the problem of climate change, both as agents of personal impact but in their professional contribution as well. This is surely not a political or moral question but one of urgent practical importance which ought not to be left to individuals to reach conclusions alone within their personal psychologies. The profession’s leadership voice must be heard.

- Christopher Gallop, MA (Oxon), MBPsS, MMS

One fewer child?

It’s so great to see input from such prominent scholars as Professor Whitmarsh on the pressing issue of climate change (December issue). However, I found it surprising that the well-known most effective means for reducing a Westerner’s impact, namely having one fewer child (e.g. Wynes & Nicholas in Environmental Research Letters, 2017), was not as much as mentioned... I appreciate the sensitivity of the topic and that such a recommendation is often subjectively hard to make, especially by people who already have children. Nonetheless, given the pressing nature of the matter at hand, I feel that it should be emphasised, especially having in mind younger readers who are yet to decide on the size of their immediate families.

- Lukas Jasiūnas, PhD candidate
Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania

Editor’s note: Revisit our 2016 piece ‘Why demography needs psychologists’, and for more on climate change see our collection of articles 'Action on climate change'

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Dear members,

Why is there no recogition of, or Division of, Environmental Psychology (EPsy) in the BPS?


Gary Bradley PhD

Environmental Psychologist