DISCLAIMER: I am not a psychologist. I am just a curious guy, and while I'd like to share what I discovered around, I also write my opinions and I may interpret things wrong. If you want the real deal, do your own research.

In the first article we quickly looked at how people perceive the climate change problem and the dynamics behind the behavior that promotes it. Depressing but, I hope, useful and with some ideas on how to use that knowledge.

Now, next two points:

3: What are the psychological impacts of climate change?

The way people perceive the climate change is surely interesting, but there is more than just perception: people respond to it, in a way or another, and understanding how made more clear to me how connected it is to wars, inequities and how difficult it is for people to cope with such a big idea.

Access to natural environment is crucial for our psychological well-being

Impact of climate change per se

Climate is not just what falls down from the sky. Climate affects (even though it is not the only reason for) depletion of freshwater, loss of biodiversity, soil loss and blabla, I'm not here to scare you.

By 2030 42% of the human population are expected to not have access to enough freshwater, and the ones paying the most the consequences are the poors, the developing countries and the oppressed minorities. Not only they'll have to beg for resources and shelter (like the immigrations are showing even now) but this will likely cause even more disparity and social instability, ethnic tensions, violence and conflicts. People will be forced to relocate, disrupting their existing social network, and more groups and inter-group fighting will emerge.

I found very interesting the extensive study of Anderson. He argues that there is a causal relationship between heat and violence, and that the global warming may therefore make everything worst. Evolutionary this may make sense, as in a cold climate we need to cooperate more to survive, while in warm climate the scarcity of resources may favour the strong, individualistic behavior.

Beside all this big and evident scenarios, the loss of biodiversity and natural resources is not just about eating and drinking: a whole lot of our psychological well being depends on living close to forests, parks and to having access to "natural" landscapes.

There is also the more acute scenario of the catastrophic events, like tornados, droughts, floods, and football matches delayed because of bad weather.

People's reaction in case of a catastrophe are the ones you may expect: anxiety, depression, increased suicidal rates, post traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, increased child abuse, and so on. Here too, the effects are not equally distributed: poor people and less powerful minorities are the ones facing the highest psychological and practical consequences of such troubles.

I highly doubt this is a fertile ground for a well designed and agreed management of the natural resources, so a feedback loop is triggered.

That's how you depress people into inaction

Impacts of Climate Change information

I've already talked about it in the first part of this series, and this is kind of what made me go around to look for answers: why don't people give a shit?

Let's be clear on this: people don't react to climate change itself, they react to the information passed by, mostly by media. So let's see how to better spread the guilt here.

Well-meaning attempts to create urgency about climate change [...] frequently lead to the exact opposite of the desired response: denial, paralysis, apathy, or actions that can create greater risks than the one being mitigated.

I get this, frankly. The problem is overwhelming, and no one likes to feel guilty of shameful about his lifestyle. This apathy prevents individuals from learning more about the threat and to get an informed opinion. The defense mechanisms includes the infamous splitting (when you know it but divest it of emotional meaning), and numbness.

Another interesting effect I found was about the sensible people. Is not like everyone is in denial, some people feel differently, but there are barriers to their expression, such as the fear of being seen as unpatriotic, morbid or uninformed (seems like no one can talk about climate change unless he is a scientist. Talk about your feelings people!)

Any good in this?

Well, kinda. Grouping together, helping victims of catastrophes, working for a higher cause and get involved in eco-friendly works seems to be really good for the psyche. The bad note is, you don't have to actually do anything useful, you just need to believe it, and as far as I can see around me most of the so called "environmentalists" are wasting time, money and energy in highly ineffective practices.

Working notes

You have to give people the right tools
  • Don't put people in fear, apathy and anxiety because of lack of control. Information should be given as a nice puzzle to solve together with our action
  • Every action should be as pleasant as possible and create nice group dynamics, reinforcing a loop of well-being
  • Always give a solution. Talking about a problem is fine within scientists or passionate people, but with most of the world I should make clear that I'm proposing something they can concretely do, and see. Producing your own food, growing flowers for the insects, avoid usage of some products for example
  • Stop saying "you dickhead, you are killing us all with your fetish for plastic bags". You just create denial
  • Making people feel guilty (in a delicate way) is not that bad, guilt is something you can perceive and work to get rid of. But never make people feel ashamed.
  • All this said, don't try to manipulate people to make them good "environmental soldiers". We need educated, informed, happy people

4: How do people adapt to and cope with climate change?

This questions are getting all quite alike, and are leading more or less to the same results. What this questions means: beside the perception of the risk, beside why and how they contribute and are affected(passively) by climate change, what do people do in response?

Answering is difficult being climate change an abstract entity, while the stressors take many different shapes. Chronic stressors can go unnoticed and be like a background noise that does not provoke any reaction (take air pollution for example).

Threat and coping appraisal

How do people appraise threat, and how do they react? Perceiving the threat is a first necessary step towards taking action, but it can be fatal. A lack of personal environment control can bring to aversiveness, anxiety and distress, bringing people into apathy and denial (as said before). On the other hand, if the individual feels that he can deal with it, that he is able to address the adverse impacts with the resources he has, than it can become a challenge, and not a threat. This is a crucial step, oftentimes overlooked by media and environmental communicators: people have to feel empowered.

Social factors are quite influential in this. Not just talking about media, but also interactions with friends, overheard conversations and internet messaging can have a deep effect on an individual level, and prove decisive in the coping appraisal. You are in there too.

Now, does just one need to feel "empowered"? Probably not. Feeling part of the cause also goes a long way towards taking your responsibility and getting active. You break it, you fix it. On the other hand, even if everyone agree that the climate change is anthropogenic, they may see it as distant and may consider it to be not ones duty ('The government should fix it', 'Chinese are polluting the most' and so on). While this may seem like needing more studies, from en evolutionary/game theory standpoint is totally understandable: if someone else fixes it and you can reap the benefits without doing anything you are the winner of the situation, and it may become an evolutionary stable strategy.

Much of the study is actually done in relation to community responses to climate change, as that is a clear dynamic in case of catastrophe. It highlights how important it is to have a network and people you can rely on, but let's not forget that the individual level of survival easily overrides the community dynamics, and because communities are disgregating in front of our very eyes they are prone to change radically in the next years.

A positive approach is really helpful to cope with disasters

Working notes

  • Social factors are important here. Talk with people, discuss it, even if you don't see it you'll be throwing seeds in the air.
  • Again, making the change enjoyable, making it feel like a winning strategy and also economically supporting it is of paramount importance. Working with authorities and institution can provide helpful, even though it may suck from other ethical points of view
  • Mediate between communities, keeping yourself integrated can be useful to provide support and be there in case of damage. Yes, if a drought kicks in and you know how to cultivate in arid climates is great, but if no community knows you or likes you the benefits will be diminished by order of magnitude
  • This is not just informing, is creating a cultural and social push in one direction. When you make talks or workshops, always encourage two way communication
  • When communicating, consider that different groups have different need: listen and look before talking.

Copyright notes

  • the image of the fucks given that day and the depressing polar bear are not mine and are copyright of their authors. I do not know who they are, but if you have any trouble with them please let me know.