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APA Releases Report on Psychology and Climate Change

The report recommends future research, practice, education and policy directions to address climate change's psychological aspects.

By Howard S. Kurtzman and Nicolle Singer

The APA Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change has released a report and set of recommendations that lay the foundation for future research, practice, education, and policy addressing the psychological aspects of climate change.

The report synthesizes current scientific literature and thought on how people understand the risks of climate change, the psychological and contextual determinants of human behaviors that affect climate, the psychosocial impacts of climate change, how people adapt to and cope with threats related to climate change, psychological factors that drive and limit action on climate change, and the roles of psychologists in responding to climate change.

The recommendations produced by the task force include specific suggestions for the development of research, training, and public education programs on psychology and climate change. The task force also offers strategies for community and political engagement by individual psychologists and APA on climate change issues, proposes changes in APA governance to enable it to respond more effectively to climate change issues, and encourages APA to make its own operations more environmentally friendly. Many of the recommendations emphasize collaborations with other organizations and disciplines.

Since their release on August 5, the report and recommendations have received widespread coverage in news outlets and blogs, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Reuters, National Public Radio, and the Huffington Post.

The task force was established in 2008 by the APA Council of Representatives and Board of Directors. The members of the task force, appointed by former APA President Alan Kazdin and representing a broad range of expertise, were: Janet Swim (Pennsylvania State University), chair; Susan Clayton (College of Wooster); Thomas Doherty (Sustainable Self, LLC); Robert Gifford (University of Victoria); George Howard (University of Notre Dame); Joseph Reser (Griffith University); Paul Stern (National Academies of Science); and Elke Weber (Columbia University). The work of the task force was supported and managed by the APA Science Directorate. In order to reduce its own energy use, the task force decided not to travel for face-to-face meetings and conducted all its work through conference calls and web-based collaborative writing.

The report was formally received by the Council of Representatives at its August 2009 meeting. It is expected that a number of the task force's recommendations will be offered by APA governance groups as resolutions and action items for Council consideration over the next year. The Science Directorate's government relations office has already begun to make use of the report in advocating in support of proposed federal legislation that would establish an office of social and behavioral science research within the Department of Energy.