Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Psychology of Climate Change: Social Instability

Psychology of Climate Change: Social Instability 

 By Kati Corlew, Ph.D.
Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments
East-West Center

American Navy Admiral Locklear Samuel J. Locklear III is the top military officer for the security of the United States in the Pacific, including trans-Pacific security threats from North Korea and other Asian locations. He is the leader of the United States Pacific Command (PACOM), which monitors security for a region covering approximately one half of the earth’s surface.

In March, 2013, Admiral Locklear stated that climate change is the largest threat to security in the region, as reported by the Boston Globe.

Admiral Locklear stated:
“Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”

Storms of this magnitude damage infrastructure and disrupt the stability of societal functioning. Crops are destroyed and freshwater is contaminated. With basic needs and social structures thrown into disorder or destroyed completely, communities (or even entire countries or regions) are left in a state of heightened instability that threatens security.

Additionally, sea level rise threatens the long-term ability of coastal and island communities to continue to be communities. The Boston Globe goes on to report:

“The ice is melting and sea is getting higher,” Locklear said, noting that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of the coast. “I’m into the consequence management side of it. I’m not a scientist, but the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, they’re contemplating moving their entire population to another country because [it] is not going to exist anymore.”

Wholesale migration of entire populations due to climate instability is expected to overlap heavily with the experiences of refugees from political instability and war. Climate refugees will be populations who have lost everything, perhaps even their country. Without their community structures and relationships, property, and political power, populations who are forced to migrate because of climate change may wind up in a nebulous, uncertain, and inherently unstable position. Instability is often coupled with violence.

In Community Psychology, we explore the ways in which our social, political, and natural environments affect the physical and psychological well-being of individuals and communities. In essence, context matters. Researchers have been documenting the effects of climate change and variability on community well-being. It has been shown, for example, that countries experiencing El Niño are more likely to also experience war.

“Countries where the majority of the population lives in areas that become much warmer in El Niño years (red) are more likely to experience wars than those where temperatures are less affected (blue).”

Of course, the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO, which includes El Niño and La Niña) is a seasonal weather pattern, not climate change. Do these things even relate? A recent consensus report about climate change in the Pacific indicates that they do.

Despite rumors of perfect and unchanging island weather, the Pacific is actually home to some pretty dramatic seasonal changes. A strong El Niño year can mean some island nations run out of drinking and irrigation water while others are plagued with storms. La Niña years can have similarly dramatic effects. In fact, the difference between an El Niño year and a La Niña year can be so strong that in the coming decades, the effects of climate change may be overwhelmed.

That is to say, in some years ENSO may greatly exacerbate climate change, while in other years ENSO could reverse the trends entirely. This means that we cannot expect to see a smooth slope of increasing impacts with climate change. We will instead see periodic upswings in disasters and climate change impacts, coupled with periods of relative calm.

In the coming decades, we can therefore expect periodic upswings in social instability. These “human dimensions” of climate change impacts on communities must be addressed along with the physical impacts.


Bender, B. (2013). Chief of US Pacific forces calls climate biggest worry. The Boston Globe, March 09, 2013. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2013/03/09/admiral-samuel-locklear-commander-pacific-forces-warns-that-climate-change-top-threat/BHdPVCLrWEMxRe9IXJZcHL/story.html.

Burke, J. (2012). Maldives’ political instability allows gang violence to flourish. The Guardian, October 22, 2012. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/22/maldives-political-instability-gang-violence.

Burkett, M. (2011). The Nation Ex-Situ: On climate change, deterrritorialized nationhood and the post-climate era. Climate law, 2, 345-374. Retrieved 3/15/13 from https://www.law.hawaii.edu/sites/www.law.hawaii.edu/files/content/coliver/345-374%20Burkett.pdf.

Duddy, P. D. (2012). Political unrest in Venezuela. Council on Foreign Relations Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 16. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://www.cfr.org/venezuela/political-unrest-venezuela/p28936.

Keener, V. W., Marra, J. J., Finucane, M. L., Spooner, D., & Smith, M. H. (Eds.). (2012). Climate Change and Pacific Islands: Indicators and Impacts. Report for The 2012 Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment. Washington, DC: Island Press. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://www.pacificrisa.org/projects/pirca/report-materials/#.UUN9tByG3D4.

Kovats, R. S., Bouma, M. J., & Haines, A. (1999). El Niño and health. World Health Organization Protection of the Human Environment Task Force on Climate and Health. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/en/elnino.pdf.

Schiermeier, Q. (2011). Climate cycles drive civil war. Nature, 24 August 2011. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110824/full/news.2011.501.html.

Smith, H. (2013). Greece’s fragile political stability at risk as violence escalates. The Guardian, January 23, 2013. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/23/greeces-political-stability-violence-escalates.

Turchin, P. (2012). Dynamics of political instability in the United States, 1780-2010. Journal of Peace Research, 49(4), 577-591. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://jpr.sagepub.com/content/49/4/577.abstract.

Vidal, J., Saeed, S. (2013). Bangladesh’s climate refugees: ‘It’s a question of life’ – audio slideshow. The Guardian UK, January 29, 2012. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/interactive/2013/jan/29/bangladesh-climate-refugees-audio-slideshow.

Williams, N., & Pradhan, M. S. (2009). Political conflict and migration: How has violence and political instability affected migration patterns in Nepal? Population Studies Center Research Report No. 09-677. Retrieved 3/15/13 from http://www.psc.isr.umich.edu/pubs/abs/5938.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Call to Action on Preventing Gun Violence in the U.S.

Reasonable laws regarding the sale and use of guns are one necessary ingredient in the effort to stop gun violence. Research on how to prevent gun violence is another.

U.S. residents, let our representatives know if you support:
  • Universal background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases 
  • Bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines 
  • Making gun trafficking a federal crime 
  • Providing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives with the resources necessary to monitor and enforce gun laws 
  • Funding for gun violence research
Find your representatives here: http://bit.ly/myrepresentative or use the following phone numbers:

Majority Office 202-224-7703
Minority Office 202-224-5225

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Community Psychology’s Role in Preserving Culture and Improving Life

Volume 2, Number 3                            March, 2013

THEory into ACTion
A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice 

Community Psychology’s Role in Preserving Culture and Improving Life
By Michael Lemke

One of the strengths of Community Psychology is its wide-reaching applicability.  The skills, tools, and values held by many practicing Community Psychologists allow for fruitful engagement and collaboration with any number of communities, regardless of cultural background.  The work of Dr. Jordan Lewis with the Denali Center in Fairbanks, Alaska is a prime example of the broad usefulness of Community Psychology approaches.  For nearly two years now, Dr. Lewis has worked with the Denali Center, which is a long-term care facility with a high proportion of Alaska Native residents.  Among these Alaska Natives are elders from various tribal and rural communities across the entire state.

Image by providermagazine.com
Because of the rich cultural heritage among residents of the Denali Center, Dr. Lewis has worked with staff to collect and digitize stories, videos, documentaries, and languages to make available for Alaska Native residents.  In an effort to meet the technological demand for this work, he used funds provided through the SCRA Mini-Grant program to purchase vital technology, including a large touch-screen desktop computer that is used to store the digital materials collected through this project.  Soon these materials will be sorted and placed in folders based on Alaska Native cultural group on this computer, thus allowing residents to engage the stories, videos, songs, and live stream cultural activities of their group.  These partners are also developing a manual consisting of cultural protocols, native food recipes, and cultural information which will be used both in the skilled nursing facility and in other facilities in the state which serve Native elders.  This collaboration continues to work on other projects aimed at enhancing the availability of cultural resources at the Denali Center as well.

Vital to the success of projects initiated by this collaboration are the use of Community Psychology principles and tools, including being open to true collaboration, sharing ideas, and using a community-based participatory research framework.  The approach taken by Dr. Lewis includes a healthy dose of humility, as he believes that he can learn as much from his community partners as they can learn from him, as well as that executing a successful project relies on involving stakeholders who are the most affected by the project, as they best understand their own contexts and communities.  Finally, results are always brought back to the community to solicit their input and feedback, and findings are never presented without first being both approved by and reflective of the communities and their elders to which they pertain.

Through this collaborative effort, the partners involved on this project have developed a “trusting and open working relationship,” where staff and the social worker at the Denali Center have come to trust him and seek his assistance on other projects.  It is not that this work is without difficulties, however.  One challenge for Dr. Lewis is disengagement, which is mitigated in this collaboration through teaching Community Psychology skills to community partners and showing them how to develop sustainability in a project.  Another major challenge is finding the time, as often times stakeholders may be extremely busy, thus presenting a challenge in keeping the project moving forward.  This is mitigated by helping community partners to prioritize needs in the hopes of keeping the momentum of these projects going forward.

The success of this partnership has been noteworthy, including being published in the Provider Magazine and presented at the Annual Tribal Long Term Care Conference in Denver.  However, for Dr. Lewis, what is most fulfilling is being able to witness tribal communities successfully applying what they have learned from this collaboration to take action, such as securing grants and developing new programs or services.  He truly believes it is an honor for him to have the opportunity to work with community partners who are healthy, dedicated, and engaged – three attributes that all Community Psychologists themselves desire.  Perhaps just as important, he has come to value the relationships that have emerged from this work, finding great joy in returning to these communities and sharing in the excitement of these reunions.  “It is an incredible feeling to see them smile and engage you in questions and dialogue about the project,” says Dr. Lewis, “and you feel they trust you a little more with their stories and experiences.”

This is part of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Publicly Available Data Sets

Publicly Available Data Sets

Charles R. Collins, M.A.

Community-based research can be a taxing endeavor for the individuals within the communities of interest, and often times for researchers. As such, community-based research can require a significant investment
View detailsof time and resources (again, on part of the communities of interest and for researchers). Often, this community investment may be an unnecessary burden for communities involved. Alternatively, data collection within community settings may be impossible for researchers without a large funding stream.

Fortunately, many foundations and federal agencies have already done the work for us! Currently, there are a wide variety of publicly available (community-based) data sets from which researchers can quickly access to address questions of interest. These data span a swath of topics including childhood outcomes (e.g. Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count data), neighborhood outcomes (e.g. AECF Making Connections data; Census Data), and cultural surveys (European Social Survey; World Values Survey). Indeed, researchers have utilized these data directly to answer research questions of interest and in conjunction with their own data collection (e.g. utilization of the American Community Survey to integrate neighborhood level variables).

As a community-researcher, I feel we should utilize these data more often so that we can 1) reduce the burden we place on our communities through data collection (especially if data have already been
collected elsewhere), 2) enhance current community data, and 3) reduce the amount of time and resources needed to collect said data. Additionally (and possibly, unfortunately - you be the judge of that), tenure waits for no person! Utilization of publicly available data sources allows community researchers to move the community-based empirical literature forward on topics that are at the forefront of our field.

The link here http://www.scra27.org/wiki/secondarydatasources~2
provides an incomplete list of publicly available data sets that we can utilize to supplement our own research.