Why Human Wellness is Critical to Combating Climate Change

  • 2016-04-21
  • Huffington Post

In conversations around tackling climate change and creating a sustainable future, we’ve tended to forget one very important piece of the puzzle: creating healthy and just societies.

The key to building such a future may depend on our ability to understand how ourown well-being is tied to that of the natural world, some psychologists say.

In a new paper published in the journal Science on Friday, social scientists from the U.S. and the U.K. called for environmental science and the social sciences to come together in combating ecological destruction.

“Sustainability is ultimately about balance — balancing people’s differing needs and desires with those of their environment so that both people and nature can persist,” Dr. Christina Hicks, a lecturer at the Lancaster Environment Centre in England and the paper’s lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. “People will necessarily strive to achieve greater well-being, but what that well-being consists of can and will vary.”

The paper identifies seven key social indicators that should inform policies and practices around sustainability:

  1. well-being
  2. culture
  3. values
  4. equality
  5. justice
  6. power
  7. agency (self-determination)

These concepts have largely been absent from society-wide sustainability goals, according to the paper’s authors.

Without some focus on these concepts, we might risk taking actions that may protect the planet but are incompatible with human well-being — or vice versa. Any large-scale measures taken to protect the environment that do not promote equality, for instance, are unlikely to be successful in the long run, the paper’s authors explain.

“Lasting sustainability will hinge on fair and just solutions,” Hicks said in a statement.

In creating these solutions, the paper’s authors argue that we need to bring together the expertise of many disciplines — including psychology, sociology, economics and other social sciences.