2022 Robin Winkler Lecture

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Carmen Lawrence 

Climate Anxiety in Young People: Curse or Cure?

The 2022 Robin Winkler Lecture by Carmen Lawrence, Senior Honorary Research Fellow and Professor Emerita, School of Psychological Science, UWA.

13 September 2022

There is no doubt that the next decade is crucial for our world. Numerous credible scientific reports emphasise the need for us to use all the tools at our disposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the already devastating effects of climate change. Those tools include the way we think about and emotionally react to the changing climate. Despite the rapidly expanding body of evidence about how best to generate the necessary changes in human thinking and action, the research is too often ignored or misunderstood. Exposure to dire warnings and the burgeoning evidence of climate change induced loss and damage is now unavoidable, and anxiety provoking - even for the most determinedly denialist. This lecture argues that it is logical and adaptive for us and our children to be anxious in the face of such threats. Rather than pathologizing climate anxiety and seeking to insulate children from its effects, educators and policy makers would be well-advised to harness our emotions to help drive the change that’s needed, while protecting and supporting those who are most vulnerable to the traumatic effects of extreme events.

After training as a research psychologist at the University of Western Australia and lecturing in several Australian universities, Dr Carmen Lawrence entered politics in 1986, serving at both State and Federal levels for 21 years. She was at various times WA Minister for Education and Aboriginal affairs and was the first woman Premier and Treasurer of a State government. She shifted to Federal politics in 1994 when she was elected as the Member for Fremantle and was appointed Minister for Health and Human Services and Minister assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. She held various portfolios in Opposition, including Indigenous Affairs, Arts, Environment, Industry and Innovation and was the first elected national President of the Labor Party in 2004. She retired from politics in 2007. She is now Senior Honorary Research Fellow and Professor Emerita in the School of Psychological Science at UWA and President of the WA Conservation Council.

The Robin Winkler Lecture commemorates the work of Robin Winkler, a highly influential teacher and researcher at the UWA School of Psychological Science, whose work was guided by humanitarian values and a relentless questioning of accepted orthodoxies. He was a community psychologist and passionate advocate of the importance of equal access to psychological services, and of recognition of the social context in which treatment and research is being undertaken. He died at the age of 43 while heading the UWA Clinical Master’s program at the Psychology Clinic, which he established and which now bears his name. In the Oxford Handbook of the History of Psychology he is described as “a singular, crusading figure” in Australian psychology.

This lecture was presented by the UWA School of Psychological Science and UWA Public Policy Institute.