Climate Change and Wellbeing: An Interdisciplinary Opportunity

The links between climate change and wellbeing could not be more stark. In fact, we have known this for the better part of a decade now. There are numerous direct and indirect effects of climate change that will exert influence over the mental wellbeing of communities around the world, and shape the way we think about interactions between our environment and community wellbeing. Recognising this challenge is the first step, responding actively to it is now required.

I began my research career (an albeit short one thus far) investigating how to promote pro-environmental behaviours that work toward mitigating climate change. I then took a left turn along the way and am now working toward my PhD in the field of youth mental health. The two areas are passions of mine, and one thing switching foci has taught me is that the ability to think with multiple research hats is invaluable in generating new ideas for research. The way in which we as a society and as researchers respond to climate change I argue, as do others, is highly dependent on our ability to work with an interdisciplinary focus. The remainder of this blog will be dedicated to detailing how disciplines of research and practice can and are working toward a brighter future, starting in this critical decade.

Food Production

Climate change is expected to significantly affect food availability and the consumption of vegetables in many parts of the globe. The development of resilient communities to produce locally grown food is of increasing importance, and several disciplines can work toward communities that grow food for each other locally. In Adelaide, Australia, researchers at CQU are developing community gardens that invite those struggling with homelessness "the opportunity to work in garden beds of flowers, vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, and crops to grow fresh produce to enrich their own lives and the community as a whole". Combining disciplines of permaculture, sociology and public health there is considerable scope for supporting mentally and physically healthy communities.

Architects and engineers can also play a role in bringing community gardens into urban environments, making better use of 'dead space' atop buildings in cities. There are currently 880 hectares of space atop the buildings in Melbourne's CBD, and the council's rooftop project aims to convert these air conditioning storage areas into green spaces with solar panels and rooftop gardens for food production.

Transport

If we are to truly address the causes of climate change, excess energy consumption in the form of unsustainable transport needs to be curbed. Fortunately we already possess an efficient, cheap and safe form of mass transit: cycling. It just so happens that the Co2 reducing option of riding a bicycle also happens to result in improved mental and physical wellbeing when compared with the carbon and fossil fuel intensive car mode of transport. Couple this with the economic savings and greenhouse gas reductions from reduced asphalt and bitumen construction and maintenance and you are on somewhat of a winner. The challenge lies in convincing a great deal of the population seemingly tethered to their cars that trips under 10km can be made by bicycle easily and with relative safety. After all, the cost-benefit is often in favour of the bicycle, even without considering the benefits for the environment.

Consumption of Energy and Resources

Energy consumption itself has evidenced close ties to mental wellbeing, see Jorgenson and colleagues discussion on the reduction of "energy intensity on human wellbeing" here and here. This relationship is however, complex, but with energy consumption between poor and wealthy countries continuing to become more unequal, a close look at how much energy we really need to maintain physical and mental health needs to be undertaken.

A great deal of the research linked to in this blog does not epxlicitly connect climate change and wellbeing, but these interlocking themes swell beneath the surface in these interdisciplinary spaces. Researchers need to recognise this - sometimes a simple solution can be the answer to what is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity and our planet.

This post was originally written by ConNetica Research Consultant Alex Stretton in 2016. It has been modified and updated since the original publication which can be found here.