Beyond Storms & Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change [Eng]

Research and communications about the impacts of climate change have generally focused on physical impacts, like more extreme storms, rising sea levels, and increasingly severe droughts. Psychological impacts, on the other hand, have received comparatively little attention. The goal of this report is to summarize these and other impacts on human well-being, and provide climate communicators, planners, policymakers, public health officials, and other leaders the tools they need to both respond to these impacts and bolster public engagement around climate change.
Research on the impacts of climate change on human well-being is particularly important given the relationship between understanding and experiencing climate impacts and comprehending climate change. Experiencing the direct effects of climate change sometimes makes people more likely to accept climate change, although psychological factors and people’s worldviews and ideologies can complicate this link. Thus, helping people understand climate’s impacts on human well-being, as this report aims to do, could be one way to increase people's willingness to take action in response to climate change.
The impacts of climate change on human well-being will vary widely. Not all individuals and communities will experience climate change in the same way. Factors that may increase communities’ vulnerability to the psychological effects of climate change include the frequency and intensity of climate impacts, weakened physical infrastructure, social stressors such as racism and economic inequality, and socioeconomic and demographic variables such as lower average education levels, and large numbers of children and older adults.
The impacts of climate change on human well-being will arise through several pathways. Some impacts will arise directly from natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, like floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and heat waves. Other effects will surface as a result of the more gradual physical impacts, such as changing temperatures and rising sea levels. Still others will be born out of indirect impacts on society, like weakened infrastructure and less secure food systems.
It is important to note that we conceptualize human well-being broadly in this report. Well-being is more than just the absence of injury or disease; it is also about human flourishing and resilience.

Similarly, individual well-being is supported not only by a healthy mind in a healthy body, but by a healthy community and a healthy network of social relationships.
This report divides the impacts of climate change on human well-being into three general categories: impacts on mental health, impacts on physical health, and impacts on community health.
Major mental health impacts include increases in the incidence of stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as increases in more severe reactions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research indicates that women, children, and older adults tend to be especially vulnerable to the psychological impacts of climate change, especially those related to stress and anxiety. While existing research has focused primarily on the mental health effects of climate change that will come about from disasters, climate change’s more gradual effects, like rising temperatures and changing landscapes, also have important implications for human psychology.
Physical health impacts run the gamut from brute physical trauma to more pernicious effects like increased incidence of infectious disease, asthma, and lung problems. These physical health impacts will likely interact with mental health impacts, which is why they are included in this report.
Climate change will also impact community health. While both mental and physical health impacts will affect communities, community health impacts of climate change are defined in this report as impacts that have a particularly strong effect on community fabric and interpersonal relationships. These types of impacts are understudied, but may include things like an increased likelihood of criminal behavior, violence and aggression, and the loss of community identity.
This report concludes with two sets of recommendations designed to help readers put research findings into action. The first set of recommendations, “Tips to Engage the Public on Climate Change,” is targeted toward climate communicators and policymakers. This section provides strategies for crafting language to talk about climate change's impacts on human well-being that will help build understanding and action rather than ambivalence, anger, or resignation. A few of the top-line recommendations include giving people confidence that they can prepare for and help prevent further climate change, focusing on local conditions and customs, and acknowledging emotions associated with climate change and its impacts.
The second set of recommendations, “Tips to Prepare and Strengthen Communities” is targeted towards people and organizations—from city planners and public health agencies to disaster relief organizations and faith-based communities—who are interested in strengthening communities’ response to climate impacts. This section provides strategies that communities can use to effectively bolster their response to the uniquely human impacts of climate change. A few of the top-line recommendations include strengthening community and social networks, involving and informing the community in preparation efforts, working to create a sense of safety, and fostering optimism.
While this report outlines some of the major psychological impacts of climate change, more research is needed to understand the full spectrum of psychological impacts, and how they can be incorporated into climate preparation, communication, and engagement.


Susan Clayton
Christie Manning
Caroline Hodge


51 p