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The Psychology of Environmental Problems,
Deborah Du Nann Winter & Susan M. Koger,
Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. 
287 pp.  ISBN 0-8058-4631-X $46.50

Reviewed by Ann Archibald and John Scull



Why do some people seem to close their eyes to the environmental threats all around them?  How can people understand ecological threats but do nothing to try to solve them?  What can we do to encourage good land stewardship and increase activities like recycling and energy conservation and to discourage waste, habitat destruction, or the use of toxic chemicals?  The discipline of psychology – the study of human thoughts, feelings, and behaviour – can shed light on these questions.

The Psychology of Environmental Problems by Deborah Du Nann Winter and Susan Koger provides an overview of six different psychological approaches that helps us understand the possible rationale behind seemingly irrational environmental behaviour and offers insightful examples that can lead to changes in environmental attitudes and behaviour. 

A good general overview of contemporary environmental issues in the first chapter familiarizes the reader with these issues while emphasizing the importance of personal action.  Readers familiar with the complexity of environmental challenges and their relation to broader social and global systems may find this brief summary lacking.  However, the primary focus of the book is a discussion of psychological theory and its relationship to destructive human behaviours, so the authors may be forgiven.

The body of the book provides an accessible overview of psychoanalytic, social, behavioural, cognitive, health, and holistic psychology in a clear and concise way and includes useful, realistic examples applying each theory to everyday environmental actions.  The material is presented in such a way that a reader with no background in psychology can gain valuable insight into human behaviour.  Because of its unique focus on environmental issues, this book would be an appropriate supplementary text for a university-level course in psychology or the environmental sciences.

Before reading this book Ann had a passing understanding of psychology but a fairly good understanding of the issues facing the environmental movement.  Often in her work with a local conservation organization she is faced with the task of encouraging people to adopt ecologically sound practices in their everyday lives.  Resistance to change is a common response to this work and Ann has been known to say that “sometimes it feels like we are selling something people don’t want to buy.”  Having read this book, she now has a greater appreciation and understanding of the underlying processes that people go through when faced with the reality of environmental crises and the necessity of change.  Ann is now more equipped to design and deliver educational and outreach programs that take these psychological factors into account.

While reading this book, Ann experimented with some of the concepts that address and attempt to overcome people’s resistance to the sometimes demanding changes necessary to successfully care for and steward their land.  This book has provided both insight, and more effective approaches to encouraging land stewardship.   

John found that the book gave a surprisingly balanced and thorough discussion of how different psychological theories and perspectives can be applied to environmental questions.  While the book did not have the detail of an introductory psychology textbook, it presented an accurate and comprehensive overview that avoided the over simplifications often found in pop psychology.  John felt that the book provided a balanced and informative review of how psychological theory can be applied to changing environmental behaviour. 

The authors of The Psychology of Environmental Problems are both psychology professors at universities in Oregon.  Deborah Du Nann Winter has worked extensively on the psychology of peace and environmental issues.  This book is a revision and expansion of her 1996 book, Ecological Psychology: Healing the Split Between Planet and Self.  Susan M. Koger’s work in biological psychology has focused on the role of pollutants in brain development.



Ann Archibald is Executive Director of the Cowichan Community Land Trust (CCLT) with an academic background in geography and political science but not psychology. 

John Scull is a member of the Board of Directors of CCLT.  He has a Ph.D. in psychology (but not a background in geography or political science) and has retired from a career in clinical psychology and college teaching.

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