Skip to content

The BIG ONE


Dear Psychologists,

We were encouraged to see the article by Georgia King on the inextricable link between mental and planetary health. As King highlighted, without urgent action we face the sixth mass extinction, with all of the physical and mental suffering that entails.

Unless our leaders facilitate rapid and significant reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, we are facing a future of mass death and large-scale forced migration due to climate change causing increases in flooding and other extreme weather-related events that render areas uninhabitable (Bradshaw et al., 2021; https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419/full).

Heatwaves kill people as well as animals and wildlife, and the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are most vulnerable (Howard & Krishna, 2022; https://www.bmj.com/content/378/bmj.o1741).

We also know that increased air pollution negatively impacts cognitive performance (Krebs & Luechinger, 2021; https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3947149), and increases rates of dementia (Peters et al., 2019; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30775976/), depression and suicide (Braithwaite et al., 2019; https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/EHP4595).

Of course, the realities of climate change are already with us; last year, in the UK we saw temperatures reach 40°C for the first time (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2022/july-heat-review), with these heatwaves causing more than 2,800 excess deaths in the over-65s (Office for National Statistics, 2022; https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/excessmortalityduringheatperiods/englandandwales1juneto31august2022).

Public Health England estimates that 28,000 to 36,000 deaths in the UK each year are attributable to long-term exposure to air pollution (Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, 2022; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/air-pollution-applying-all-our-health/air-pollution-applying-all-our-health#:~:text=In%20the%20UK%2C%20air%20pollution,and%2036%2C000%20deaths%20every%20year).

Tragically, the most severe impacts are and will be felt by those countries who have contributed least to global emissions (Althor, Watson, & Fuller, 2016; https://www.nature.com/articles/srep20281); recent severe flooding in Pakistan has left thousands dead and one-third of the country submerged (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-62712301).

Letter-to-the-Psychologist-April-2023-2