Psychologists pledge to expand their role in combating climate change

Summit on Psychology and Global Health Karen signing proclamationJoining professionals from many other disciplines who are directing their skills and knowledge to the climate crisis, the leader of  the Canadian  Psychological Association, along with those from more than 40 other countries, signed a proclamation which pledges to use their expertise to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts – not only at the individual level to help people cope with the mental health aspects such as eco-anxiety, but also at the societal level, as a proactive force to encourage communication, research, and to spark behaviour change and action.

Excerpts from the Proclamation on Collaboration, reproduced at the website of the Canadian Psychological Association , and signed at the International Summit on Psychology and Global Health in Lisbon on November 14 – 16, 2019.

WHEREAS climate crisis has a disproportionate impact on already vulnerable groups with fewer resources, including low-income individuals or those who live in rural areas, people of color, women, children, older adults, and individuals with disabilities;

​WHEREAS research shows that climate change-related events can result in major acute and chronic adverse mental health outcomes, including stress, trauma, and shock; post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of anxiety; depression; and substance use disorder, which have been a secondary consideration in climate change communication and action;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that our psychology organizations will advocate for and support international and cross-disciplinary collaboration to mitigate and facilitate adaptation to climate crisis.

We will inform our respective members and the public about climate crisis, emphasizing scientific research and consensus on its causes and short- and long-term harms, and the need for immediate personal and societal action;

​We will encourage our members and other mental health leaders to be vocal advocates concerning the necessary preparatory and responsive adaptations to climate crisis and to invest more in research and practice is this area;

​We will advocate for Universities and other entities could include formation on societal challenges and, particularly, climate crisis for psychologists and other mental health professionals;

​We will increase the availability of services and supportive interventions to help minimize harm to mental health and well-being, especially among vulnerable populations, and increase community resilience;

​We will advocate for the rights of those most susceptible to the negative health, and mainly, mental health impacts of climate crisis, for example, by encouraging policymakers to fully fund programs to aid those who suffer harm from severe climate crisis-related events;

​We will support the development of a public awareness campaign to encourage individuals and communities to adopt behaviors to help prepare for and recover from gradual climate change and acute climate crisis events;

We will encourage governmental, educational, health, and corporate leaders to use more psychological science in police designs as well as to adopt norms, values, and policy to promote sustainable preventive and corrective behaviors in individuals, groups and communities”.

Climate change and health in Canada

The Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg maintains the Climate Atlas of Canada, and on November 20  launched a new section of their website devoted to climate change and health in Canada.   So far, the webpages provide a general overview of the issues of air quality, diseases, extreme heat, and mental health  – supporteclimate-video.pngd by more detailed  articles – for example,  Climate Change, Air Quality, and Public Health ;  Wildfire Smoke and Health ; and a new 4-minutes video about wildfires, with impactful images which highlight the links between wildfires and mental health,  especially relating to first responders and medical providers.  The Prairie Climate Centre also published the Heat Waves and Health  report, released in August 2019, and now part of the new section.

Lancet Report details health impacts of climate change with new estimates re heat impacts on labour

The latest landmark Report of the Lancet Countdown  was released at the end of November 2018, updating the global research on the health impacts of climate change.    The title of the press release reveals the focus : Extreme heat damaging our health and livelihoods and threatening to overwhelm hospitals around the world  . Using new methodology, the report estimates work hours lost to extreme heat: “153 billion hours of work were lost in 2017 due to extreme heat as a result of climate change. China alone lost 21 billion hours, the equivalent of a year’s work for 1.4% of their working population. India lost 75 billion hours, equivalent to 7% of their total working population.” lancet 2018 map heat and labour

Although the 2018 report emphasizes the increasing threats related to heat, it  measures 41 indicators related to disease, air pollution, extreme weather, and addresses economic and social impacts – including food security and climate migration.  Regarding energy, it states “ In 2017, renewable energy provided 10.3 million jobs – a 5.7% increase from 2016. But fossil fuel extraction industries increased to 11 million – an 8% increase from 2016.” The report estimates  deaths from air pollution by source attribution, with coal estimated to account for 16%  of deaths globally.  It also includes a new indicator mapping extremes of precipitation, identifying South America and southeast Asia among the regions most exposed to flood and drought and, on food security, the report points to 30 countries experiencing downward trends in crop yields, reversing a decade-long trend.

In addition to the main global report, national Briefings for Policymakers are provided for the Brazil, China, the EU, India, the Netherlands, Spain, U.K. and the U.S., as well as Canada. An excellent summary of the main report and the Canadian sub-report appears from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

The Briefing for Canadian Policymakers  is written in collaboration with the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Public Health Association. It provides a Canada-specific view of  health impacts, and makes recommendations: for example, “Phase out coal-powered electricity in Canada by 2030 or sooner, with a minimum of two thirds of the power replaced by non-emitting sources ;…  increase ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in Canada and twin this with an emphasis on Just Transition Policies to support an equitable transition for people who work in the fossil fuel industry as the energy economy transforms;…. Apply carbon pricing instruments as soon and as broadly as possible, enhancing ambition gradually in a predictable manner, and integrate study of resulting air pollution-related health and healthcare impacts into ongoing policy decisions.” The report provides Canadian context for  the under-appreciated topic of  “Climate Change, Mental Health and Ecological Grief”, with examples from the Arctic and sub-Arctice: Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, and a study of  the SOS Summer-of-Smoke , when the area around  Yellowknife experienced  prolonged smoke and fire exposure in 2014.

Finally, the global Countdown report warns  that “A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of the national health systems they depend on, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services.”  It points to the growth of health-related advocacy groups , the divestment from fossil fuels, (including by the Canadian Medical Association), and the need for climate change-related training for health professionals.    The Canadian report also addresses this need for training for health professionals, stating:  “A well-trained workforce is required to respond to these challenges. The Canadian Public Health Association’s Ecological Determinants Group on Education has been working to integrate an ecosocial approach into public health education, including facilitating the participation of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students in an International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations initiative which seeks to see climate change and health gain a foothold in curricula by 2020 with fuller integration by 2025.”

The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change is a global, interdisciplinary report funded by the Wellcome Trust, and researched through the collaboration of  27 academic institutions and inter-governmental organizations. The full report is here  (registration required).

Suicide and heat waves: the mental health effects related to climate change

thermometer and sunHigher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico”  was published in Nature Climate Change online on July 23, warning that up to 26,000 more people could die by suicide in the United States by 2050 if humans don’t reduce emissions of greenhouse gas pollution. The study has been widely reported and summarized: for example, in The Atlantic (July 23).  The authors used new statistical techniques, including analysis which correlates social media posts about depression with temperature conditions. Part of this social media analysis is based on the work of Patrick Baylis of the University of British Columbia, whose academic paper “Temperature and Temperament: Evidence from a Billion Tweets” was published by the Energy Institute at Haas, University of California at Berkeley, in November 2015.

A second article published in July 2018 is  “Associations between high ambient temperatures and heat waves with mental health outcomes: a systematic review”  appeared in the British journal  Public Health. It  reports on a literature review of 35 studies, and the authors conclude that: “High ambient temperatures have a range of mental health effects. The strongest evidence was found for increased suicide risk. Limited evidence was found for an increase in heat-related morbidity and mortality among people with known mental health problems. …. Mental health impacts should be incorporated into plans for the public health response to high temperatures, and as evidence evolves, psychological morbidity and mortality temperature thresholds should be incorporated into hot weather–warning systems.”

A 2014 article examined weekly suicide death totals and anomalies in Toronto between 1986–2009 and Jackson, Mississippi, from 1980–2006. The authors found that for both cities, warmer weeks had an increased likelihood of being associated with high-end suicide totals.  “Association of Weekly Suicide Rates with Temperature Anomalies in Two Different Climate Types” from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is here .

The  growing literature about the impacts of climate change on mental health has been summarized in an article in Forbes magazine, “Weather And The Warm Season Are Among Factors Associated With Suicide” (June 2018) and in the  April 2018 issue of  Corporate Knights magazine. The Corporate Knights article, “Deep Impact” is by Professor Helen Berry , the inaugural Professor of Climate Change and Mental Health at the University of Sydney, in Australia.   Although her brief overview emphasizes  mental health impacts of climate-change related disasters such as floods,  it also  provides links to recent articles linking mental health with chronic climate conditions such as heat waves and drought. Some examples of Professor Berry’s research: “The importance of humidity in the relationship between heat and population mental health: Evidence from Australia” in PLoS One (2016) ; “The Effect of Extreme Heat on Mental Health – Evidence from Australia”  from the International Journal of Epidemiology (restricted access) (2015); and “Morbidity and mortality during heatwaves in Metropolitan Adelaide”  in the Medical  Journal of Australia (2007).

Professor Berry and co-author   Dominic Peel  provoked public discussion in 2015 with an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, “Worrying about climate change: is it responsible to promote public debate?

 

Recognition of the mental health impacts of flooding and wildfires in Canada – B.C. offers support

A June 2018 report from the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation  at the University of Waterloo presents statistics about the rising financial costs of weather-related disasters in Canada, and  profiles the results of 100 door-to-door interviews with households in flooded communities around Burlington Ontario. After the Flood: The Impact of Climate on Mental Health and Lost Time From Work   found that members of households which had been flooded experienced significantly more worry and stress than non-flooded households, and the worry and stress persisted even up to 3 years after the event. After the Flood also reported that 56% of flooded households had at least one working member who took time off work, and that the average time lost was seven days per flooded household (10 times greater than the average absenteeism for non-flooded workers).

The report cites official documents concerning the growing financial costs of disasters for example, the 2016 report from Canada’s Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer ,  Estimates of the Average Annual Cost for Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements due to Weather Events and includes a bibliography of the growing  international public health literature concerning the health effects of weather disasters.

talk in tough times logoOther official recognition of the rising dangers of extreme weather events:  in May 2018, the Province of British Columbia, under the leadership of Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced mental health support services for those who might be impacted by re-living their experiences from the record-breaking 2017 wildfire season.   In partnership with the B.C. branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the program directs people to support services through a Facebook campaign called Talk in Tough Times, and a phone-based support program.

Federally, the  Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announced the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund in May 2018, a 10-year national program that will invest $2 billion in infrastructure projects such as diversion channels, wetland restorations, wildfire barriers and setback levees, to help communities better withstand natural hazards such as floods, wildfires, seismic events and droughts.