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Climate Change

Advocating for federal policy to address the impact of climate change on mental health and health equity

APA Services hosted its 2022 Advocacy Summit: Addressing the Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health and Health Equity. Psychologists and graduate students joined APA Advocacy staff to learn more about the relationship between climate change and mental health and meet with members of Congress to advocate for climate legislation.
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American Psychological Association. (2022, July 27). Advocating for federal policy to address the impact of climate change on mental health and health equity. https://www.apaservices.org/advocacy/news/climate-change-effects-mental-health

2022 Advocacy Summit: Addressing the Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health and Health Equity

On July 25, nearly 160 psychologists and graduate students met with members of Congress and their staff to advocate for legislation to improve climate change preparedness and protection for public health, including mental health amid the climate crisis. Summit participants, including over 100 new advocates, came from 37 states and represented 23 APA divisions and 34 state, provincial, and territorial associations. They discussed research on climate change and psychology’s role in addressing the climate crisis, and then met with their congressional representatives to encourage them to cosponsor the Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act (S.1702/H.R.3271). This summit followed a 2011 APA Council Resolution affirming psychologists’ role in addressing global climate change, which was reaffirmed in 2020, as well as the release of the report of the APA Task Force on Climate Change.

APA President Frank C. Worrell, PhD; APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD; and APA Chief Advocacy Officer Katherine B. McGuire, MSc, all gave opening remarks. Scott Barstow, MSc, senior director of congressional and federal relations at APA, began the focused discussion on climate science basics. He discussed the history and breadth of climate science, as well as the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is human driven and offered insights as to how climate change can be addressed, from the individual to the state and federal level.

Panel Discussions

How Climate Change Impacts Health Equity and Mental Health

Throughout the summit, participants listened to a series of panel discussions, the first of which focused on the impacts of climate change on health equity and mental health. Moderated by Kati Peditto, PhD, EDAC, WELL AP, this panel featured Susan Clayton, PhD, MS; Natasha DeJarnett, PhD, MPH; and Nancy Piotrowski, PhD. Clayton started the panel by discussing the effects of climate change on psycho-social well-being, including the impacts of both short-term extreme weather events as well as long-term chronic changes to the climate. DeJarnett continued with discussion of the disproportionate health impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations such as children, older adults, communities of color, and impoverished communities, amongst others; and emphasized the importance of an intersectional approach to combatting and mitigating climate change. Piotrowski rounded out the discussion by highlighting the psychological impacts on caregivers of those facing the health effects of climate change, as well as the role psychology can play in ameliorating these negative impacts. Learn more about how climate change impacts mental health and health equity here.

Psychology’s Contributions in Responding to Climate Change

A second panel was moderated by APA Senior Director of Applied Psychology Dennis Stolle, JD, PhD, and featured Renee Lertzman, PhD; Adam Aron, PhD; Amanda Carrico, PhD; and Sarah Sutton, MA, and focused on the contributions that psychology can make in the response to climate change. In her presentation, Lertzman offered information from her online resource, Project Inside Out, about how psychologists can become guides to help people “wake up to the crises” caused by climate change and remain capable of adapting to a changing world. On a similar note, Aron discussed the psychological factors underlying collective action on the climate crisis and explained that psychology can be used to shift climate change skeptics into believers and shift believers to activists.

Carrico then discussed the ways in which psychology can be used to mitigate climate change through influencing the actions of individuals. She emphasized that, as experts on human behavior, psychologists can help individuals make choices that reduce carbon emissions such as dietary changes and adapting to new technologies like electric cars and solar panels. Finally, Sutton discussed how the cultural sector, particularly the museum industry, can act as an ally in climate mental health. Museums and other cultural institutions, Sutton explained, are valuable partners for supporting climate mental health because they can “normalize climate mental health awareness,” through facilitating important conversations about climate change and its health impacts.

Everyday Advocacy – State and Local Climate Policy Opportunities

The third and final panel of the climate summit was moderated by Ayli Carrero Pinedo, PhD, and featured Eric Goplerud, PhD; Samantha Adhoot, MD, FAAP; Derrick Sebree Jr., LP, PhD; and Jackie Qataliña Shaeffer as they spoke about different ways the summit participants can engage in advocacy at the state and local levels in their everyday lives.

Goplerud, who serves as the chair of the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, explained how faith leaders can facilitate climate action through allowing individuals to “act from their core values.” He also remarked that faith communities help people “support and sustain one another through the rough times,” and act as an avenue for collective action, both of which are essential in the face of climate change. Adhoot, who founded the organization Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, spoke about the ways in which practitioners can engage in climate action, particularly, through education, institutional decarbonization, and advocacy. 

Next, participants heard from Sebree, who discussed racial inequities and the importance of community in helping people build the strength and resilience they need to address climate change and its negative psychological impacts. Shaeffer finished out the panel with her presentation on the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Alaska Native and other indigenous communities and the importance of including indigenous knowledge in discussions around and efforts to mitigate climate change.

Federal Agency Initiatives to Address Climate Change and Health Equity

In addition to the three panel discussions, summit participants had the opportunity to hear from key members of the Biden Administration as they discussed federal initiatives to address climate change and health equity. Leo Goldsmith, a climate specialist for the United States Global Change Research Program spoke about federal activities and the intersections between climate change, health equity, and mental health. He highlighted the inclusion of mental health in the administration’s approach to climate change and discussed other ways in which the federal government is prioritizing health equity such as the formation of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Climate Change and Health Equity. Maggie Jarry, MDiv, the emergency coordinator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration then spoke to participants about federal disaster response and recovery coordination efforts. This presentation included how the federal government prepares for climate disasters and attempts to mitigate the negative mental health impacts of such disasters, as well as how the federal government can implement policies and programs to help communities build resilience to handle the “chronic disaster” of climate change.

Advocacy Training

Following the panel discussions, participants were trained in some of the basics of engaging in advocacy to prepare them for their upcoming Hill visits. Participants learned more about the legislation they were advocating for, the Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act (S.1702/H.R.3271), through an issue briefing led by Barstow and Corbin Evans, JD, of APA. Then, Doris Parfaite-Claude, APA’s director of grassroots engagement led a presentation on communicating effectively with Congress including how to build rapport, build and deliver a pitch, and follow up with their Congressional offices after their meetings.

Awards

Worrell awarded three presidential citations to psychologists who advance the discipline of psychology through their work and advocacy efforts. Susan Clayton, PhD, was awarded a presidential citation for her “exceptional leadership and longstanding commitment to improving the national and global response to climate change to protect psychological well-being, promote community resilience, and conserve wildlife.” She is the Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology and chair of Environmental Studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio, where she examines the implications of climate change on psychological well-being and the social processes that promote environmental concern and environmental identity. She was a lead author on the United Nations 2022 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and is a fellow of APA Division 34 (Society for Environmental, Population and Conservation Psychology), a fellow and former president of APA Division 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues), and a member-at-large of the APA Board of Directors. Her work has helped psychologists interact and communicate with researchers from other disciplines as well as with policymakers.

The second presidential citation was presented to Gale Sinatra, PhD, for her “exceptional leadership, influential advocacy, and extensive contributions to educational psychology, climate science education, and increasing public understanding of science.” Sinatra is the Stephen H. Crocker Chair of Education and Psychology in the School of Education, director of the Motivated Change Research Lab at the University of Southern California, chair of the APA Climate Change Task Force. Her work identified motivational factors and conditions that contribute to the likelihood that individuals will change their attitudes and thinking. Worrell noted: “In a time of increased misinformation and disinformation, Dr. Sinatra’s research to understand how to reduce misconceptions about a range of policies—from education to evolution and climate change—are needed now more than ever to support evidence-based policies and empower individuals to improve their digital literacy.”

The final presidential citation was presented to Howard Kurtzman, PhD, for his “leadership and commitment to promoting psychological science, which has helped shape APA’s activity to mitigate and prevent climate change and its effects on health and mental health.” Kurtzman contributed to the report of APA’s task forces on climate change and a joint report with APA and ecoAmerica. He served several senior positions at APA over the course of 15 years and has led efforts to enhance the status of psychology as a STEM discipline, develop clinical practice guidelines, and promote psychology’s role in addressing climate change. He previously worked on a broad array of topics with the National Institute of Mental Health after teaching and conducting research at Cornell University.

McGuire granted APA’s Leadership in Science Advocacy award to Barbara Andersen, PhD, for her dedication to science-based psychology advocacy and education. She has taught and conducted research at The Ohio State University since 1989 and has an appointment in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the school of medicine as well as in the Department of Psychology. Her work focuses on those living with cancer, developing and testing psychological interventions to reduce stress and depressive symptoms to improve patients’ quality of life, health, and survival. She is the president of APA’s Division 38 (Society for Health Psychology). She has worked with APA on proposals to White House offices and the National Institutes of Health, and is dedicated to sharing her expertise to inform psychological policy.

Congressional Meetings

Following the summit, advocates attended meetings with their congressional offices to advocate for climate action, encouraging their representatives to cosponsor the Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act (S.1702/H.R.3271). Advocates attended about 180 meetings and shared stories about how climate change has impacted them and their communities.