EnglishPsychotherapy, Clinical Psychology & Counseling

Q&A with the Guest Editors of the Special Issue “Psychology and the Environmental Crisis” in European Psychologist.

In a special issue of the European Psychologist journal, our guest editors Tony W. Wainwright, Katariina Salmela-Aro, and Margarida Gaspar de Matos discuss their reasons behind the creation of the issue.

Why did you choose the topic Psychology and the Environmental Crisis?

My first degree that I started in 1965 was in zoology where I learned about climate change, and this remained an interest after I switched to psychology. In 2019 I co-edited a special issue on Human rights and Psychology and over many years working as a clinical psychologist with an interest in the environment I could see the importance of linking psychology and the social sciences to social justice and climate and ecological challenges. So, this special issue brings together ideas on how psychology can contribute, but also how it needs to change in the light of our current circumstances.

My first degree that I started in 1981 was environmental studies and I found an interesting paper by B. Little in Environmental Psychology Journal about personal projects in an environmental context. The paper had a huge influence on me and then I switched to psychology a year later. In 2018 together with my colleagues, we published a paper about youth development and climate change. The special issue about psychology and climate change was my dream for a long time, so I am extremely delighted to see it appear now when it is actually more important than ever.

I am a clinical and health psychologist working especially with young people health and behaviour. When it is sometimes said that young people “kind of don’t care” and that they seldom get involved and participate in citizenship and public policy actions, well, climate change and environmental crisis are undoubtedly “the exception.” Young people also complain that the planet that they have inherited from previous generations is not as healthy as the one that their grandparents have inherited from their previous generations. This is true but not totally unfair, because now we have a knowledge regarding planetary health that was unknown a couple of decades ago, and for a great extent social and economic progress was responsible because it was not sustainably planned. But that was an unknown fact then. The issue of intergenerational justice is now-a-days an hot spot, together with the environmental crisis, and surely these issues attract young people attention and care. An intergenerational broad and fair action promoting the planet health is of upmost importance. I work and research as a Full Professor and Senior Researcher at the Institute of Environmental Health / School of Medicine / University of Lisbon, where I lead the “Supportive Environments” group and research line (G2) for quite a while, and more recently I collaborate with the National Psychological Association (OPP) regarding these emergent topics in need for Psychologists action. Therefore, this special issue makes sense to me, and hopefully will make all the difference.

How do the articles help us understand how psychology can contribute to finding ways to address the climate and environmental crisis?

The impact of the changes in the climate and in our environment have major implications for human health and welfare. Our first article describes a model for responding to the bush fires in Australia from a social identity perspective, with implications for those on the ground as well as policymakers. It resonates with the experience we have all had during the pandemic of the crucial importance of the way we live as a community – and by that we have to think globally. Other papers show how finding ways to help vulnerable groups at scale is of key importance; yet others how we need to break down some of the barriers between areas of psychology, and indeed work across many disciplines if we are to successfully transform our societies over the next decades. Our final paper suggests five roles for psychology that are a starting point for our future work.

The papers show the crucial importance of psychology to the mitigation and adaptation to climate change.  Psychology has lots to offer to climate change. However, the special issue clearly demonstrates that we need to work across many disciplines. Also, taking the developmental psychology more into account in the future is important.

The papers in this special issue point out the importance of psychology to both the prevention and the human adaptation to climate change.  Psychology has a lot to advise within this area. This special issue clearly shows the need of an intersectoral and transdisciplinary perspective, privileging social cohesion, and psychologists have a lot to offer regarding human behavior in context, and considering a life-span intergenerational perspective.

How do you hope the papers in this special issue will change current views about psychology and the environment, including those being addressed at the UN climate change conference (COP26) this year?

The authors in this special issue have produced such interesting papers that I hope those who are involved in any work connected to COP26 will find them useful. The aim of COP26 is to review progress on the targets set and to review them if needed. Current projections suggest that we are falling far short of what is needed to meet the 1.5 degree and that greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 and Methane in particular) continue to rise at an accelerating rate. None of this is good news. Our papers ask psychologists to get involved. All areas of psychology have something to contribute. This is not an academic question it is one that has been characterized as existential, because our future depends on the decisions our generation takes. I believe psychology has much to offer but we have to raise our game. The papers are a contribution to this effort.

European Psychologist is an official journal for the European Federation of Psychological Associations (EFPA), which has announced that that the 2021-23 is a period where they focus on climate change issues. Thus, the timing is now perfect, and I hope we can strengthen the collaboration with the EFPA in this topic.

The European Psychologist is the official journal for the EFPA. The COP 26 conference will be held in a couple of months (November 2021), and Eng. Antonio Guterres (by the way a Portuguese) is for decades a strong supporter of the need for social cohesion and of the importance of human behavior (and governments’ supportive policies) for addressing this important issue of climate change. Thus, the timing seems perfect. Supporting the change in human behavior in order to protect the planet and pushing governments in order to motivate them to endorse public policies that are more friendly to the planet. 

What can you tell us about the additional articles you put together from the European Psychologist archive?

We realised when working on this special issue that psychologists over the years have contributed important articles to the European Psychologist on the topic of psychology and the environment and that we should revisit them to show the way this work has been developing. As we note in the second Editorial in recent times this topic has risen up the agenda and is now center stage in political and professional arenas. We also agreed that these articles complement very well those that appear in the special issue, and again, we hope you all enjoy reading them. See below for the editorial that has all the doi links.

In light of the UN Climate Change Conference this year, the issue is free access until the end of 2021.

To watch Tony talk about their special issue, click here.

To watch Katariina talk about their special issue, click here.

To watch Margarida talk about their special issue:

  • For French, click here.
  • For Spanish, click here.
  • For Portuguese, click here.

About the guest editors

Tony W. Wainwright

Dr. Tony Wainwright is a Clinical Psychologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter. Past Convenor and Co-Convenor of the Board of Promotion and Prevention in EFPA.

Katariina Salmela-Aro

Prof. Katariina Salmela-Aro is a Professor of Educational Sciences and Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland, and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Education University College London, the Australian Catholic University and School of Education, the Michigan State University, and the University of California-Irvine. She is Deputy-Convenor of the EFPA Board of Promotion and Prevention.

Margarida Gaspar de Matos

Prof. Margarida Gaspar de Matos is a Clinical and Health Psychologist; a Psychotherapist by AFTCC and OPP; a Full Professor of FMH/University of Lisbon and ISAMB/School of Medicine/ University of Lisbon; Member of OPP (Portuguese Psychological Association) and Convenor of the Board of Promotion and Prevention in EFPA.