Saturday, September 26, 2009

An Interview with Dr Steven Moffic, compiler and chief author of the Global Warming Mental Health Fact Sheet for the PSR

An Interview with Dr Steven Moffic, compiler and chief author of the
Global Warming Mental Health Fact Sheet of the Physicians for Social
Responsibility in Washington, DC

interview conducted and edited by Danny Bloom, Internet blogger

Webposted October 1, 2009

[ Editor's Note: Dr H. Steven Moffic of Milwaukee has compiled and authored a very
important "Global Warming Mental Health Fact Sheet" of the Physicians
for Social Responsibility in Washington, DC. It is part of four other
fact sheets on climate change and global warming that the PSR has
compiled. The other fact sheets from the PSR cover such topics as Heat's Deadly
Effects, Vector-Borne and Water-Borne Diseases, Shrinking the Food
Supply and Vulnerable Populations, Environmental Justice.
All five
facts sheets can be viewed at This interview
was conducted in late September by email. The fact sheet is listed below at the bottom of this page, please scroll down if you are using a computer.]

When asked how he got started on this project of compiling a mental health fact sheet on global warming for the PSR, of which he is a member, Dr Moffic said: "As a physician, these fact sheets seemed excellent to me, but as a
psychiatrist I was chagrined that mental health was barely mentioned.
Yet again. Over the last 2 years, I've found that mental health is
usually left out of the health discussions on global warming
(including President Obama's recent speech), even though our
psychology is crucial to the development, maintenance, and
repercussions of global warming. Of course, this is not new for mental
health and illness. The stigma around mental illness is longstanding
and powerful, so it is not surprising to find its impact also in the
discussions on global warming."

Dr Moffic continued: "Since I had been working on incorporating
psychiatry into the global warming debate for these 2 years, this
seemed like another good opportunity to do so, especially because PSR
is such a renowned and respected organization. This also offered a
unique way to discuss this in terms of a checklist of scientific
facts. I've found that we need to try all kinds of ways of
communication, as people learn and become interested in different
ways, to address the issues of climate change and global warming. That
was my start, my inspiration. I wanted to contribute my ideas to all

"When the PSR realized this mental health data was missing from the
earlier fact sheets, both the director and deputy direction of the
environment & health committee supported my project. The deputy
director, Barbara Gottlieb, was the editor.

Dr Moffic continued: "I already had an annotated bibliography on ''The
Psychological Aspects of Global Warming'' that I put together for a
national think tank meeting about 6 months ago. From that, I narrowed
in on this topic. The major reference that I used was a book by Cindy
Parker and Steven Shapiro titled "Climate Chaos: Your Health At

When asked how long it took to complete the project, Dr Moffic
replied: "It didn't take me long to finish the project, about a day
or two of hard work, since I like to "strike when the iron is hot",
but its publication on the Web site had to await the completion of
other important PSR projects."

The mental health fact sheet on global warming was vetted and edited
by the PSR team, according to Moffic, who added: "Barbara Gottlieb
processed it, and she sent it to Steve Shapiro, a psychologist and one
of the authors of that book mentioned above. He had a couple of good
suggestions that we incorporated."

The PSR shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 about the nuclear arms
race. The PSR's mission statement is: "Guided by the values and
expertise of medicine and public health, Physicians for Social
Responsibility works to protect human life from the gravest threats to
health and survival."

Dr Moffic said that the PSR now feels that global warming is as grave
a threat as nuclear proliferation, and that is why these five fact
sheets were compiled.

"PSR shared the Nobel Peace Price in 1985 for building public
awareness and pressure to end the nuclear arms race," Moffic
explained. "I think any organization that can make a major impact on
cooling global warming should receive consideration for the award,
since you'll note on the fact sheet that global warming will likely
lead to increased international conflict and war over changing and
scarce resources. The U.S. military recognizes this and now is a
driving force for our country to address global warming. Maybe the PSR
will be nominated or even win another Nobel Prize someday for these
five fact sheets, who knows. And not only for these fact sheets, but for all the related extensive and extraordinary work PSR is doing to address global warming."

When asked who the target audience for the fact sheet is, Dr Moffic
said: "It's for everyone, for medical professional to the lay public,
students and grandparents, everyone, really, and I tried to write it
clearly and simply enough for that."

Although the fact sheets appear in English only now, Dr Moffic said he
hoped that in the future, they might be translated into other major
world languages. "This is obviously a global problem, and the mental
health concerns are relevant to all," he said.

When asked about how the five facts sheets might reach the public, via
publicity and media attention, Dr Moffic said that word is slowly
getting out to the media, and that the PSR hopes for some major
publicity soon in the pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post
and the Guardian newspaper in London, among other media outlets
worldwide. "We are beginning out PR campaign now, and this interview
will help.," he said. "Thank you for your interest in this."

Dr Moffic noted that he was told a few months ago by a reporter
at the New York Times, that "the psychology of the global warming
problem was the toughest variable to address" in the media. "But this
is all the more reason for the PSR to get the word out and for the
world to listen to us."

Dr Moffic hopes that the five fact sheets from the PSR, including the
fact sheet on mental health and global warming, will reach a broad
audience worldwide.

"I now have 4 grandchildren, and the birth of our third grandchild, a
girl, about 3 years ago, was an epiphany and catalyst for me," Dr.
Moffic said. "Right after she was born, I went to the local grocery
store to do some shopping and the clerk asked, as usual: 'paper or
plastic?' Thinking of my fourth grandchild, so new to the world then,
I froze for a second, because I realized the answer was relevant for
her future. How then could I not try to save the environment for the
well-being of all our children? This seems to me to be a personal
moral, and a professional ethical, imperative."

Dr Moffic added that he hopes his fact sheet will also be of interest
to his colleagues in the field of psychiatry worldwide, noting: "It
soemtimes seems that due to the daily pressures of our work and the
needs of our patients, we as a professional group haven't paid that
much attention to this problem yet. If this list will make that easier
to do so, to pay attention, I will feel pleased."

[For media interviews with Dr Moffic -- via print, radio, TV and blogs -- on The Global Warming Mental Health Fact Sheet, please contact him at his office -- or contact this reporter at and forwarding details
will be provided.]

Health Implications of Global Warming:

Be Mindful of Mental Health

Global warming is acknowledged by scientists around the world to be a reality and to be caused primarily by
human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels. As the earth warms, the delicate balance of climate,
weather events and life is disrupted. Consequences emerge that threaten human health and, ultimately, survival.
This is one of several fact sheets produced by Physicians for Social Responsibility that examine recent scientific
evidence of global warming’s impact on health.

All of the specific health risks of global warming have associated mental health risks.i

• Heat waves contribute to more alcohol and substance abuse.ii
• Just an increase of 1 degree F (0.5 C) seems to increase the risk of violent behavior, especially in warm climates and the inner city.iii
• Food and water shortages threaten our basic sense of security and therefore are associated with increases in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health problems.iv
• The chronic drought in the outback of Australia is causing a new and dangerous variation of grief, solastalgia, which is a kind of distress about environmental losses in one’s homeland.v
• Perceptions of poor air quality results in increased anxiety, especially in children, along with increased family
• Individual panic and group hysteria are risks of vector-borne or waterborne diseases. Recent harbingers of this possibility were seen in the SARS epidemic.vii
• People with schizophrenia are of particular risk health-wise as they tend to ignore health risks and tend not to take necessary precautions. One study links increased air pollution, specifically from motor vehicles, with an increased risk for schizophrenia. If duplicated, this would be an important finding with implications in regard to climate change.viii
When viewed in the totality of its impacts, global warming creates the potential for large-scale human conflict, as a result of displacement from climate-scarred lands and/or disputes over increasingly scarce resources.
The direct mental health risks of global warming have some unusual variations.
• The mental health implications will vary with the type, suddenness, and scale of climate change damage, as well as the social, historical, and cultural context. All of this will be filtered through the resilience of each individual.ix
In certain isolated locales, the climate change of global warming can be desirous and beneficial to human life, at least temporarily. In these environments, mental wellbeing can improve.

NOTE: "Yet more people are likely to be vulnerable to the mental health implications of climate change than to physical health impacts", according to one observer. That remark does not figure into the fact sheet above, since -- even though Dr Moffic thought it was likely to turn out to be true -- he also felt it was too speculative for a “fact” sheet.

NOTE TWO: This fact sheet has been sent to a key coalition of nonprofits lobbying on climate change. It is a very large list of top activists. It has also been sent out to the Sierra Club list of coal activists – another good list, with subscribers all across the country.


National Public Radio, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED show
CNN, Sanjay Gupta medical correspondent
New York Times
Washington Post
Boston Globe
Los Angeles Times
Juneau Empire
Chicago Tribune
Yahoo News
Drudge Report
Climate Depot

I’m pleased to send you a new PSR fact sheet on the health impacts of global warming: Health Implications of Global Warming: Be Mindful of Mental Health compiled by Dr H Steven Moffic. While the health effects of global warming are becoming more widely recognized, the mental health impacts are often overlooked. Yet more people are likely to be vulnerable to the mental health implications of climate change than to physical health impacts.

PSR has also prepared four other fact sheets on the health impacts of global warming. As debate heats up about climate legislation, PSR invites you to use them all when you talk to policy-makers. You can access them at


Barbara Gottlieb
Deputy Director, Environment & Health
Physicians for Social Responsibility
1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, suite 1012
Washington, DC 20009

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We should know, as the psychologist Maslow taught us, that we have to prioritize basic needs such as safety and security. If industrialization supported by fossil fuels helped us to feel safer, secure, and ever more successful, yet had the side effect of dangerous carbon levels in the atmosphere, the benefits will usually win out.

Indeed, we should know how hard it is to change behavior and tolerate uncertainty. To overcome this, per Skinner’s behavioral modification principles, stronger priorities, positive behavioral rewards, and less negative reinforcement will be necessary.

These tendencies fit Freud’s defense mechanism of denial, whereby we can consciously, or unconsciously, prioritize what is most valuable to us at any given time, and ignore the rest. Threatening that invokes resistance to change, which we see so often in our work, especially with the AODA population.

We can also project the psychiatric casualties from climate change, or as I would reframe it, climate instability. There are many canaries in the coalmines, as that saying tragically rings true more than ever. Undue heat is associated with more violence. Environmental change, such as is occurring in the drought areas of Australia, is causing a variation of grief termed solastalgia, which is being homesick while still living in a changed homeland. People that do have to leave their slowly changing environment, as in Bangladesh, are subject to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and depression. They have been called climate refugees. Our military leaders now realize that this climate instability can destabilize the world in intense competition for scarce resources.

There is so much we can do to help, even with all our other challenges. Certainly, in our private lives, we can model behavior that is friendly to the environment. The President of Yale drives a Prius, So does my son, who never fails to remind me that I still drive an older, gas-guzzling Toyota. My wife reminds me that I still do not turn out the lights and use too much paper. I guess I’m a good example of do what I say, not what I do, and how hard it is to break undesired habits. If so inclined, we can become politically involved, for as Al Gore recognized, we need both personal and political global change. Our workplaces can reduce unnecessary energy consumption.

We can even wear more green for a kind of subliminal message. Gandhi knew this when he decided to dress in a traditional Indian loincloth and said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. If you’re asked why you are now wearing more green, you can expound on why going green is good for our mental health. If you do this, let me tip my green hat to you!