Psychology and Global Climate Change:
Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges

Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change

The APA Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change met in 2008-2009 to examine the role of psychology in understanding and addressing global climate change, including efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

The task force’s report reviews a wide range of research and practice relevant to climate change, including work in environmental and conservation psychology, studies of human responses to natural and technological disasters, efforts to encourage environmentally responsible behavior, and research on the psychosocial impacts of climate change.

Among the topics addressed in the report are:

  • Perceptions of global warming and climate change risks, including people’s tendency to discount the likelihood of future and remote events and the role of culture in how people conceive of and respond to risks.

  • Human behavioral contributions to climate change, such as population growth, energy use, and consumption, and the psychological and contextual drivers of these contributions.

  • Psychosocial and mental health impacts of actual and perceived climate change, including stress, anxiety, apathy, and guilt, and interventions to promote coping, adaptation, and healthy responses to climate change.

  • Social and community impacts of climate change, socioeconomic disparities in climate change impacts, and ethical and social justice implications of climate change.

  • Psychological barriers that limit individual and collective action on climate change.

  • Empirically-based approaches to understanding the nature and determinants of behaviors that affect the environment and the development of interventions to alter such behaviors.

The report identifies questions that call for further research by psychologists. The task force also developed policy recommendations to guide action by individual psychologists, APA, and other organizations. The members of the task force argue that work in the complex arena of climate change cannot be left to one sub-discipline but must draw upon the expertise of researchers and practitioners from multiple areas of psychology.

Task force members: Chair: Janet Swim, PhD, Pennsylvania State University; Susan Clayton, PhD, College of Wooster; Thomas Doherty, PsyD, Sustainable Self, LLC; Robert Gifford, PhD, University of Victoria; George Howard, PhD, University of Notre Dame; Joseph Reser, PhD, Griffith University; Paul Stern, PhD, National Academies of Science; Elke Weber, PhD, Columbia University.

American Psychologist Special Issue: The May-June 2011 issue of APA’s flagship journal contains seven peer-reviewed articles that are based upon and update the contents of the 2009 APA task force report.

APA Council of Representatives Resolution: At its February 2011 meeting, the APA Council of Representatives voted to adopt as APA policy the "Resolution on Affirming Psychologists' Role in Addressing Global Climate Change."

Note: The original version of the task force report (PDF, 1.3 MB, 230 pp) was posted to the website in August 2009, soon after it was received by the APA Council of Representatives. Its pagination differs from that of the full-color booklet version available at the link above. It is included here for reference.  The full-color version should be considered the official version and used for all citations of the report.