Doomed Planet

Suitable Cases For Treatment

shrink madProfessor of Psychology Stephan Lewandowsky is much in the news of late because the science publishers Frontiers dumped his paper, Recursive Fury (pathologising climate skeptics), because of its ethical shortcomings. Lewandowsky  is a favorite of the Australian Psychological Society (APS). According to UK Guardian, the APS backed him all the way. The APS, said The Guardian, offers  “a good example for journals to follow when subjected to organized bullying from contrarians trying to censor sound but inconvenient research.”

It seems time for a look at the APS, a 21,000-member international pacesetter among psychology bodies for ministering to alleged mental health impacts of alleged climate change. It cites as me-too organisations the American, British and Canadian psychology societies (APA, BPS and CPA).

Long-time senior psychologist at the APS is Dr Susie Burke, who also co-authored  the APS position statement on climate change. In October, 2013, she put out a statement on the 5th IPCC report: “The threats that unmitigated climate change pose to physical and mental health rise every year”. This is a bit hard to reconcile with the halt to warming since 1997, but Burke’s inclination to gush about her role models remains undiminished. Here’s a sample, re a Perth APS conference, which is headlined lugubriously, The Hopeful Space between Denial and Despair:

“Exhibitors have packed up, the corridors are empty, voices echo, the complimentary coffee trolley has gone home. You’d be forgiven for thinking the Conference was over. But wait, not yet, what’s this? Down the corridors stride three professors to talk about one of the most serious environmental and health threats of the 21st Century, and why mental health professionals care about it.”

Who were these eminent psychologists who “lowered the mood, and raised the pulse”? Professor Carmen Lawrence, a former  Labor premier and ALP president;  Lewandowsky, the chronicler of the now-failed Recursive Fury; and Professor Joseph Reser, the APS’s opinion survey guru. (There will be more on Reser in Part Two of this series).

Part II of this series will be published tomorrow

The APS endeavours to out-do Greenpeace in climate catastrophism. Here’s some samples from the APS website  (heaven knows what gets written in the ‘member-only’ sections):

Perhaps the APS could take its own advice:

“We generally cope better, and are more effective at making changes, when we are calm and rational…  don’t over-react and start behaving as though catastrophic change is imminent. Lasting change requires sustained commitment, and fanning short-term panic can have the opposite effect.”

The APS has only the most tenuous grasp of the on-going  warming debate. For example, it is  incapable of distinguishing weather (including droughts, floods, storms etc) from longer-term climate, let alone critiquing the IPCC’s climate modelling. But the APS is happy to discover and see treated whatever neuroses and depressions that warming talk (including its own) is generating. The APS clearly expects these conditions to become epidemic as CO2 does its deadly work. In  its own words, the APS goal is  “to position psychologists as a professional group with expert knowledge, skills  and resources that can help in climate change science, including mitigation and adaptation.”

While excoriating sceptics as part of a giant conspiracy backed by Big Oil, the APS was fretting in the queue for some  oil money itself: “We need to lobby the Australian Government to divert at least some of its climate change research budget towards psychological research … There may also be money available from fossil fuel companies (such as coal and oil producers and consumers) in the same way that tobacco companies contributed to research designed to prevent adolescents from taking up smoking.”

The APS’s big coup  was to publish a “Tip Sheet” on how children can be indoctrinated with the warming messages without sending them clinically insane. This is a worldwide issue. As an American journal put it, “Before she had even lost  her baby teeth, a small girl was saying, ‘I worry about [global warming] because I don’t want to die.’ Surveys across the Anglosphere have shown children under the age of 11 are fretting that global warming will destroy the planet before they can grow up. And slightly older children can be more worried about climate change than dating.

So the APS Tip Sheet was timely:

Alarmed small children may show behavior changes  —“ e.g., in their play, drawing, or dreams that might suggest that something is unsettling them.” They might find it easier to talk about environmental issues via a toy or puppet. Try asking, “And how are you feeling today, Teddy?”. [This seems to  be cut and pasted from child-sexual-abuse counseling].

Climate issues have the potential to bring up strong feelings like fear, anxiety, frustration, sadness, depression, helplessness, anger or despair:

“Worries and anxieties about these threats can become difficult for children of all ages to deal with.”

Parents should reassure small children “that their home is a safe place” [but who is telling them it isn’t?]

Climate talk, like sex and divorce talk, is to be avoided in front of small children.

“Adults need to be conscious of the presence of children when discussing climate change and other worrying environmental problems…Be mindful of how you are reacting to news about environmental problems in front of your child. If your reactions are too strong, these can upset and confuse your child.”

Children may need to be reassured that environmental catastrophes are not happening near them.

Small details can quickly turn into large generalisations (e.g., ‘If the planet is getting hotter, will we all get burnt?’).”

The Tip Sheet promotes activist groups, with even primary school-aged children being urged to help choose an environmental group for family donations. [Is pointing children towards green activist groups likely to improve a tot’s equanimity?]

Adolescents are encouraged to precociously pester the talk-back radio and newspapers, and lobby the government and industry. Activist websites are recommended.

“Encourage your whole family to be part of a world-wide movement of people who recognise that there are limits to the world’s natural resources,”

The above advice is either a platitude or drawn from the discredited 1972 Club of Rome forecast, “Limits to Growth”. More than four decades later, and despite its dire prognosis for the planet having failed to materialise, the defence of that flawed and foolish tract continues.

The Tip Sheet encourages adolescents to study diverse views, but   implies that skeptic views are beyond the pale. Recommended authors include environmental zealot David Suzuki, who wants sceptic politicians gaoled on criminal charges. Elsewhere, the APS positively urges that children be shoved into the front lines as warmist climate-fodder:

Schools also increasingly include environmental education in the curriculum. Psychological research can help optimise the effectiveness of schools’ efforts by identifying factors influencing ESB [environmentally sustainable behavior] in young people. These include lack of knowledge, believing actions won’t make much difference, frustration, action paralysis, and pessimism…

Schools can provide students with experiences of ‘active citizenship’, like writing letters, signing petitions and making complaints. This pro-environmental concern can be passed on from children to parents…although there is conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of children as environmental change agents.

For the 2010 election, the APS issued its climate change manifesto calling for “development and implementation of school based curriculum promoting sustainable values, attitudes and behaviour in school aged children, and developing a series of guidelines for educators.”

Business is business, and the APS sees money-making potentials with its kiddie tip sheet.

“There are many ways you can use APS Tip Sheets as a marketing resource for your practice. Start by always remembering to place your practice’s name and address stamp in the empty box provided on the back page, then try the following ideas:

  • Distribute Tip Sheets to clients and their families as an extra tool for education and understanding
  • When updating a GP about a jointly managed patient, enclose a Tip Sheet and business card. GPs are a great distribution channel for Tip Sheets
  • Enclose a Tip Sheet with every introduction/thank you letter you send to referral sources
  • Display Tip Sheets in your waiting room
  • Mail Tip Sheets to phone enquirers
  • Distribute Tip Sheets at public speaking  engagements

The APS’s bestie was the now-axed Climate Commission. The APS saw the commission as a font of “independent” warming advice, notwithstanding federal funding that included   $180,000-a-year for three days’ work a week by its chief commissioner Tim Flannery, of whom the APS gushed:

“At the meeting’s end, Tim leant forward in his chair, gazed out the 13th floor window and asked ‘Did you know you had a falcon nest above your office?’ What a fitting way to end our exchange, being reminded of the wild and wonderful world, even in the heart of a major metropolitan city, that we have a responsibility to protect by restoring a safe climate.”

Not surprisingly, the APS provided the Commission with  “additional psychological principles” to reinforce Flannery & Co.’s  crusade.

Apart from the much-admired Tim, other alleged authorities revered by the APS include Al Gore plus Inconvenient Truth,  Professor Ian Lowe, president of the activist Australian Conservation Foundation, and any other green propagandist the APS encounters.  Fiction films like the crazed Day After Tomorrow, The Age of Stupid, and The 11th Hour are described as “addressing climate change”. Even  APS people can have brief moments of lucidity, such as in these comments:

  • Trust [of scientists and government] is easily damaged, and when e-mails are stolen and selectively quoted, or a single overeager scientist exaggerates future climate change outcomes even in one region, widespread distrust can be created.
  • Disparaging sceptic blog comments, namely: It figures that a bunch of psychologists need to mess with people’s heads to get them to fall in line with this “eco-friendly” nonsense. … Climate change is a problem invented by “scientists who are pursuing a phantom issue” and   scientists are ignoring research “proving” the problem is overestimated or does not exist.
  • Disparaging sceptic blog comments, namely: The host of a popular show on a leading U.S. television network held up a copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and said, “The shrinks are trying to brainwash us again.”

A little scepticism can’t shake a true believer’s faith however, so the APS pumps out advice like that below. If the tone seems a tad patronising, it may just be that the author had in mind the anxiety-prone warmists who purport to report climate news for The Age, SMH and ABC:

  • Although environmental threats are real and can be frightening, remaining in a state of heightened distress is not helpful for ourselves or for others.
  • Remember, other people may well be like you and feel anxious or unsettled at learning about some of the environmental threats looming.
  • Spending time with loved ones can be helpful in keeping yourself grounded and energised. Enjoy friends and family, and make sure there are at least one or two people with whom you can share your concerns when feeling dispirited.
  • Ensure you are familiar with common arguments and useful counter-arguments that will help you respond more comfortably and smoothly. Asking a friend to role-play a sceptic, and practising how you’re going to handle these different perspectives can be very helpful. 
  • Sometimes taking a news break can be helpful. Turning off the radio or TV, and having a break from the newspaper for a few days can be a welcome relief. Taking a deliberate break is quite different from becoming desensitised.

Tony Thomas achieved a B-pass in Psychology 101 at UWA in 1959. He blogs at

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