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What role does psychology have in helping society understand and manage climate change?

Unpublished essay relating to how I believe the field of psychology can help society manage climate change from my undergraduate psychology and anthropology university studies. I share my essays to track my growth and evolution through my research process and writing but also to inspire other academics at different stages of the journey. I have currently completed my Bachelor of Arts double majoring in psych and social anthropology and am currently working on my Masters of Arts Social Anthropology.

Essay submitted: 11/09/2022


Climate change is an immediate threat to human security both nationally and internationally. Over the last few decades, we have seen an increase in threats from climate change that has grabbed attention worldwide. There is now an urgency present surrounding climate change and the immediate threat it imposes on humanity and the need for solutions to reduce the impact of climate change.

Climate change has evolved from just threats to our environments and in this essay, I will discuss how climate change is a major security challenge to human security nationally and internationally in the 21st century.

The effects of the unpredictable climate changes lead to increased migration globally causing spread of new diseases, threats to employment and housing, food scarcities and inflation globally due to impact and the high demand of resources.

Psychology has the potential to make a positive impact on climate change and how we collectively educate, manage, and reduce the threats of climate change to society.

Psychology plays a big role in human security as human behaviour is complex, desired outcomes are not always achieved just by simply telling people how to behave or act, depending on many factors, economically, socially, and culturally will depend on how they perceive information and the involvement in the changes. Research shows us that the best way to predict the future and how people will react or respond is to assess past events, Psychology research has been under-used in the past and offers a great opportunity for us now to collaborate with policy makers to create solutions and predict threats. The psychology discipline is located with status, legitimately and authority which is key in educating society around climate change and how urgent this threat to humanity is.

Climate change is a major security challenge.

Climate change has always been a threat to human security but as the years have progressed climate change has been kept very much on the backburner, only discussed it seems by scientists, academics and politicians behind closed doors, the threat is increasing at an alarming rate and globally. It is an enormous problem, perhaps the biggest humanity has ever faced (Levy, 2022). There is a lot of uncertainty and predictability surrounding climate change effects, it is somewhat something we can manage but we cannot predict how each individual government, community or even household will respond and change their lifestyles in a response to a growing climate change (Levy, 2022) and this is one of the reasons it is a major security threat and challenge for humanity, and urgently needs the perspective and influence of psychology.

Climate change has moved from being purely an environment and development issue to being a matter of national and international security (Schoch, 2011), The potential consequences of climate change for security, the environment and human well-being are grave (Brown & McLeman, 2009) and it is essential that our attention and focus nationally but more importantly internationally is brought to the threat of climate change. This awareness and education on the threat of climate change needs to be addressed further than just through academics and politicians, it needs to become apparent to the general public and prevention methods enforced and advocated for because societies must undergo major transformations if the world is to have any hope of avoiding dangerous climate change (Spence & Pidgeon, 2009), we need to move from scaring the public to enabling and encouraging solutions surrounding climate change.

Why climate change is a 21st century challenge?

The population of the world is predictable to increase by about 9.5 billion in the next 50 years (UkEssays, 2018) and an increasingly urbanized world will increase food and water demand, but a change in climate with the will put more strain on supplies. The environment is a national and international security issue of the 21st century (Brown & McLeman, (2009). The change in climatic condition will increase a burden on foodstuffs in all areas, for the last couple of decades we have discussed sea levels rising but it is much bigger than just that treat, we have the possibilities of diseases being spread due to globalization, migration due to lack of supplies, and potential wars and different societies compete for limited resources. This puts a strain on all of humanity, Climate change, will force almost all states and societies to adapt to a warmer planet (National intelligence council, 2021) however the people who will suffer the most are poor people in poor countries (Hamilton, 2002).

The sea level has risen about 8 inches since the industrial revolution and scientists predict that sea level could rise another 8 inches to 6.5 feet by the end of the century depending on how much carbon we put in the atmosphere (Levy, 2022) and this is why climate change is a security threat in the 21st century, one that needs to be addressed urgently.

Climate change is rapidly changing habitats and this is threatening the way we produce food but also places as a threat of endangering cities that are affected by the sea level rising, when we have misplacement of people, even if the immediate climate weather is not affecting our country, we will be effected by people migrating, new diseases being introduced, job shortages, a strain on accommodation and increase in cost of living due to the shortage of products but the high demand.

How can psychology help society to understand climate change?

Human behaviour is very complex, I believe psychology will be crucial in how we predict, prevent, and educate. Cognitive limitations on human judgement and choice can lead people to make decisions that produce unwanted outcomes (Rachlinski, 2000) but with the education from psychology we can help people to understand the immediate and current threats of climate change and help change their actions creating more desired outcomes for all of humanity.

Societies must undergo major transformations if the world is to have hope of avoiding a dangerous level of climate change (Spence & Pidgeon, 2009), understanding how each society works alongside human behaviour through the lens of psychology will help to attach the urgent security label to climate change, as well targeted communications are an important method of promoting sustainable behaviour (Spence & Pidgeon, 2009) but it is having to be culturally appropriate for that society.

Attaching a security label to climate change has certain advantages, it gives the states or governments power over the issue and can end up mobilizing vast amounts of political and financial resources to address it (Schoch, 2011) and stress the urgency to not only politicians and other stakeholders but to also the general public, whose actions and thoughts do make impact with this security threat.

Psychology has been particularly underutilized even though it is broadly defined as the study of human beliefs and behaviour, psychology has the potential to bring forward past research to help educate society now and create cooperation in making changes to offset climate at personal, national, and international levels.

The field of psychology, the label psychologist comes with an authority title to the general public, it is a trusted profession. Trust between this discipline and the general public will be a valuable tool in helping society to understand the threats of climate change and the urgency to create immediate solutions.

How can psychology help society to manage climate change?

As psychologists we are located in academic communities which bestow us with legitimacy, status, skills, and competencies (Coombes & Te Hiwi, 2007) so not only will psychology help to gain awareness of climate change on a larger scale, but psychology will be crucial in helping society manage climate change by creating policies. The interdisciplinary relationship and collaboration between policy and psychology disciplines will be necessary for major changes in climate change management.

It will be crucial to build protective frameworks and policies that help to reduce the effects of climate change and protect human security but just as crucial for the psychologist in implementing strategies that have been researched and known to have an impact on how the public will respond to the policies because if they are not implemented or achievable to enforce, then really the policies are useless, understanding the full implications of these challenging aspects of human behavior and climate change requires further investigation, while much of what psychologists already know will require careful interpretation and adaptation to be useful for informing policy (Spence & Pidgeon, 2009).

Research has demonstrated to psychologists that one of the best ways to predict future experiences is through the lens and research of past behaviour. Thankfully there is already great deal of theoretical understanding and transferable knowledge that already exists for encouraging sustainable behavior and coping with issues of adaptation (Spence & Pidgeon, 2009) from prior research that Psychologists will be able to bring forward but also adapt and contribute further too, it is from this research and collaborative information that psychologists will be able to assist in helping to manage climate change and the threats to human security that arise from it.

The capacity for humans to adapt is affected by a range of interacting social, economic, political, and environmental processes, many of which may have little or nothing to do with climate processes (Brown & McLeman, 2009) it is a lot more complex than just resolving the environmental issues because some of the things that are already irreversible. and make communities and nations vulnerable, it is from this vulnerability that further human security threats will arise for all internationally but through nations also. Psychology will be a powerful tool in understanding and creating resources for how to manage this.


It is clear that climate change has always been a threat but is now a treat that needs to be addressed urgently, we can no longer afford to wait any longer this is a major if not the most biggest threat to human security in the 21st century, if we do not take action the impact will grime and devastating, this has the potential to wipe out humans.

Each nation will experience different vulnerabilities and threats but regardless these vulnerabilities have the ripple effect over other nations in the form of migration, housing shortage spread of diseases, loss of land, food scarcity and many more other threats.

The threats from climate change need to be addressed with new policies and procedures, Psychology has the skills, research, and authority over understand complex human behaviour that working alongside policy makers to create policies that can be implemented.

Psychology as a discipline has been underused in the past in relation to climate change and human security but they have the past research to assess and help in predicting future events, how societies, communities, nations, and even international connections respond or react to threats. Understanding how threats have been addressed in the past through the location of past psychology also predicts how the general public may react, it goes deeper than the politics. We know that for any policy to truly be implemented and have the opportunity to make an impact against the threat of climate change that society needs to understand the urgency of climate change and to create more sustainable lifestyles, psychology has the authority and the knowledge to help educate society and to contribute in interdisciplinary relationships to help manage climate change.


Brown, O., & McLeman, R. (2009). A recurring anarchy? The emergence of climate change as a threat to international peace and security. Conflict, Security and Development.

DOI: 10.1080/14678800903142680

Coombes, L. M., & Te Hiwi, E. J. (2007). Social justice, community change. In I. M. Evans, J. J. Rucklidge, & M. O'Driscol (Eds.), Professional practice of psychology in Aotearoa New Zealand (pp. 379-396). New Zealand Psychological Society Inc.

Hamilton, C. (2002). The social psychology of climate change. National Academies forum. Retrieved from

National Intelligence Council. (2021). Global trends 2040: A more contested world (NIC Publication No. 2021-02339). National Intelligence Council.

Levy, E. (2022). Climate change in the 21st century. Retrieved from

Schoch, C. (2011). Rethinking climate change as a security threat. IIED, Opinion. Retrieved by

Spence, A., & Pidgeon, N. (2009). Psychology, Climate Change and Sustainable Behaviour. Science and Policy for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from iour_-_Spence_and_Pidgeon_web.pdf

UKEssays. (November 2018). Main Security Threats in the 21st Century. Retrieved from

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