SPSSI United Nations NGO Committee Report Draws Parallels between COVID-19 and Climate Change from a Psychological Perspective
Trisha Dehrone, University of Massachusetts Amherst
The COVID-19 pandemic has been among the most devastating global health emergencies this century, while an ongoing, “silent” emergency -- climate change -- continues to be a threat. Last year, the SPSSI United Nations NGO committee began development of a foundational report to address the intersection of these two global crises from a psychological perspective and offer policy recommendations based in cross-disciplinary behavioral scientific research. This report was spearheaded by SPSSI UN graduate intern, Mehrgol Tiv, and SPSSI UN Main Representative, David Livert. Co-authors included (in alphabetical order) SPSSI UN Representatives Laurel Peterson, Deborah Fish Ragin, and Peter Walker and SPSSI UN graduate interns Trisha Dehrone, Maya Godbole, Laura López-Aybar, and Priyadharshany Sandanapitchai. Other SPSSI UN Representatives provided ongoing feedback and support.
The report highlights cross-cutting psychological research in the cognitive, social, and mental health domains that may be harnessed to achieve adaptive behavior change, encourage cooperation, and promote wellbeing in response to the global health and climate crises. Further, the report stresses the disproportionate impact both crises have had on vulnerable and systemically disadvantaged populations, and offers recommendations on much needed structural change to ameliorate these disparities. This approach allowed the authors to explore the intersection of global health and climate from within an individual (i.e., mental health, cognition), between individuals (i.e., social relationships), and across communities (i.e., disparities between communities). In total, the report provides twelve policy recommendations that are empirically supported by psychological research that policymakers and stakeholders can leverage. In this way, this work presents an initial framework to holistically address the cross-cutting psychological components of both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
In November 2020, a subset of the report’s authors (Mehrgol Tiv, Maya Godbole, David Livert, Laurel Peterson, Priyadharshany Sandanapitchai, and Peter Walker) organized and presented a panel on the findings at the 2020 Canadian Science Policy Conference, an organization focused on “strong, inclusive, and effective science policy community that contributes to well-being”. The panel included special guest, Dr. Angel Colón-Rivera, at the time senior adviser to Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and former SPSSI James Marshall Public Policy Postdoctoral Fellow, who contributed insights surrounding policy applications and policy decision-making. The live, virtual presentation, “Effective Applications of Psychological Science: Drawing Parallels between COVID-19 and Climate Change” covered six themes of community resilience, vulnerable groups, interpersonal relationships, mental health, cognition, and policy implications, and had approximately 80 virtual attendees. The presentation concluded with audience questions and a discussion addressing the efficacy of individual versus systemic behavioral interventions, the opportunities and challenges elected officials face in communicating about science, and the need for culturally-inclusive mental health to address COVID-19 and climate change. The panel presentation is available to view here.
The SPSSI UN NGO committee is continuing to share the policy recommendations of this foundational report to diverse audiences (e.g., at the United Nations, open-access publication) and will be hosting webinar discussions with the SPSSI community over the next few months.