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By Dr Susie Burke MAPS, Senior researcher, Psychology in the Public Interest, APS National Office

The APS aims to foster a greater involvement by psychology and psychologists across the spectrum of environmental issues and challenges facing Australians and the global community. Through the following initiatives, APS National Office staff and members of relevant Reference and Interest Groups are working to fulfil Australian psychology's commitment to an effective response to the challenge of climate change.

  • An APS Position Statement Psychology and the natural environment (www.psychology.org.au/publications/statements/environment/) has been prepared, printed and distributed to relevant government agencies and NGOs. It has stimulated international interest that has led to the preparation of similar documents by other psychological societies.
  • Two APS Tip Sheets have been prepared and are available from the website and in hard copy from the National Office. Climate change - what you can do (www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/climate/) looks at common emotional reactions to climate change and provides suggestions for how people can manage these feelings, tips for people who want to do something about environmental problems but are having trouble getting started, and suggestions for helping people talk with others about these issues. The Tip Sheet has received quite a lot of media coverage, and is being used by some environmental organisations to help their staff. Talking with children about the environment (www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/children_environment/) provides parents with tips on helping children to develop environmentally friendly values and behaviours, helping them to understand the environmental challenges we face, and allaying their anxiety about the threat of climate change.
  • The APS made a recent submission to the Federal Government's Strategic Review of Climate Change Programs 2008. The submission - prepared by APS member Associate Professor Joseph Reser and the APS Public Interest team - emphasised the importance of climate change programs using multidisciplinary teams (including psychologists and other social scientists) to draw on years of evidence-based research into how to get humans individually and collectively to change the behaviours that are putting their local and global environments at such great risk.
  • The APS sent two representatives - Dr Susie Burke and Dr Nicholas Voudouris - to the 2008 Science Meets Parliament forum, to discuss with parliamentarians the important role that psychology can play in climate change mitigation and adaptation. We emphasised the critical contribution of psychology in: promoting sustainable behaviour; understanding how the public makes sense of climate change problems, impacts and solutions; facilitating disaster preparedness and response; ensuring social justice and equity in climate change solutions; and facilitating dispute resolution.
  • A major theme at this year's APS Annual Conference in Hobart is the role that psychology can play in addressing the challenge of climate change. One of the Keynote Speakers is Professor David Uzzell, a UK environmental psychologist who acts as a consultant to the European Union and the UK Government in the area of sustainable development. A Public Forum will be held at the Conference on the topic How crucial is psychology in addressing the challenges of climate change?. The Forum will bring together Australian psychologists and other experts with an involvement in environmental sustainability issues.
  • The APS is participating in a climate change roundtable discussion together with several university-based mental health and climate adaptation groups, which is titled Turning fear into action: The personal, cultural and political challenges of climate change and will be held at Melbourne University and Monash University in August, 2008.
  • The APS Disaster Preparedness and Response Reference Group is discussing ways of taking a more proactive role in the development of community education and training in the area of disaster and emergency management, including disaster preparation, psychological first aid, and skills for psychological recovery. The Reference Group is currently exploring a relationship with the Red Cross regarding the possible benefits of the two organisations working more closely together.
  • The APS Psychology and the Environment Interest Group started up again in 2007, and currently meets by monthly audioconference. Members of the group are involved in a variety of different initiatives across the environmental domain. Projects include: writing articles for scientific journals and the popular press on the role that psychology can play in meeting environmental challenges; developing PD for members; working together with environmental NGOs to help staff deal with the stressors of working on environmental issues; participating in local council adaptation and mitigation endeavours; and presenting seminars that bring people from industry/government who are struggling with sustainability issues together with psychologists to explore issues and develop solutions. New members are very welcome! Go to the APS website for more information (www.groups.psychology.org.au/peig/).