Population Matters

The APA Weighs in on Population and Climate Change

August 11th, 2009

The debate over what to do about climate change has a new entrant: the psychology community. A new report (“Psychology and Global Climate Change”) by the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Interface between Psychology and Global Climate Change suggests that psychology “can help understand what drives population growth and consumption and clarify the links from population and consumption to climate change while attending to global and regional inequities.”

While the bulk of the report is focused on how psychology could contribute to reduced consumption, the task force acknowledges upfront that consumption and population growth are both “major contributors to the impact of humans on the environment and on CO2 levels in particular.”

With respect to population, the task force notes that:

Psychologists’ knowledge about beliefs and how they influence individual and policy decisions, causes of and ways to address social dilemmas, decision making in interpersonal relationships, and a variety of gender related belief systems could all provide useful information for discussions that involve individual and social decisions that influence population size. For instance, restrictive gender roles that define women’s status by the number of children they have, limit women’s access to alternative roles, give others control over women’s decisions to have children, and devalue female children creating greater demand for more children to ensure having male children, have been implicated as causes of population growth in India (Bhan, 2001; Sen, 2003). Psychological research into beliefs about sexuality, the acceptance of birth control, masculinity and male dominance, and psychologists’ expertise on the increasing sexualization of girls, the effects of abortion on women’s well-being and various types of subtle and implicit sexist beliefs are relevant to discussions about population.

In identifying specific areas where further psychological research might be beneficial, the APA’s task force suggests that:

Psychologists could contribute to research about population size, growth, regional density, etc. Psychologists have examined research on population in terms of crowding. However, psychologists could contribute more to the area given the importance of topics such as gender roles and relations to this domain. Further, a number of beliefs systems may influence evaluation and support for population policies.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

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