Trinity Electives: The Climate Crisis- Why are we stuck?

One of my main objectives in planning my courses at Trinity College Dublin was to expand my academic focus and explore topics of my interest outside of my main field of biology and medicine. An intriguing course I am currently taking is part of the Trinity Elective modules, which are interdisciplinary courses tackling key societal challenges or relating the University’s research themes. This course is named: the Psychology of the Climate Crisis. As a prominent issue in today’s news, politics, environmental discussions, and pretty much all aspects of everyday life, I have been interested in the impact of climate change as a concerned citizen of the Earth and as a future healthcare professional. This course caught my eye as it explores in depth how humans have approached the climate crisis and how our brains process this worldwide crisis on individual and societal levels.


              Our first class started off with the professor displaying pictures of natural disasters—as recent as the drastic floodings in Pakistan last month and the ongoing wildfires in California. One of her first questions asked us how these pictures made us feel and if it spurred a sense of action in us. The crowded lecture hall pretty much came to a common consensus of worried feelings and a need for change in the way we use energy. The next question she posed was about whether we felt helpless in hearing about the seemingly endless list of climate change consequences. A shocking number of students felt helpless and desensitized to the overwhelming burdens of this crisis affecting people now and in the future. In the next couple of weeks of this course, our professor had several guest speakers and experts from the University come speak at our lectures, covering various topics in relation to how psychology plays a role in our perceptions of this global issue.

              The psychological barriers to engaging in climate risk include the 5 D’s: Distance, Doom, Dissonance, Denial, and Identity. Psychological distance encompasses the perception of negative outcomes of climate change as less severe in distant location than locally. Doomism relates to the role of fear and helplessness in the lack of pro-environmental behavior. Dissonance is the mental block when your beliefs do not line up with your actions. Denial is the negation, ignoration, and avoidance of unsettling facts to find refuge from guilt and fear. Identity is the search for information that confirms out existing values and notions, while filtering away values that challenge them. All these barriers combined can describe how react to climate change news and how society has not made much progress on both individual and societal levels. These psychological blocks are preventing more prompt engagement in this ensuing issue.


              In discussing these psychological concepts in the context of the climate change crisis, I have gained a better understanding about how climate issues cause a mental block in most people’s brains and the role that emotions play in our behaviors reacting to these issues. This course really expanded my view on this global issue and how the drastic impacts of climate change are ever-present in all aspects of life. With our group presentations and policy brief assignment, we have to actually reach out to the public, using techniques we learned in class about persuasion and attention-grabbing psychological ideas. I am glad to be enrolled in a course that is actively promoting community engagement and social change as part of the course curriculum!

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