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Introducing Climate Psychology: facing the climate crisis
Introducing Climate Psychology: facing the climate crisis

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3 A human story of real-world feelings

Climate Psychology tries not to get stuck in rationalistic or individualised accounts, for the reasons explored previously. So it often prefers to use approaches that produce real-world stories, for example by interviewing people in many varied positions and letting them tell their stories, with context, in an unstructured way. A Climate Psychology conference in 2022 invited a young South African woman to talk about her experience of water shortages. Although the conference was being organised in the UK, it expanded its perspectives by inviting speakers and discussants from many continents and of different ages and cultures. Shelot Masithi spoke about what water meant to her as she was growing up, gradually experiencing shortage of drinking water and actual thirst from drought. After the conference, she wrote a piece for the Climate Psychology Alliance monthly Digest. You can find that longer version of her story on the CPA website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

When I was growing up, I had the privilege of playing in the mountains and rivers and waterfalls. In different villages, growing up, I witnessed nature in its glorious form.

One of these villages is where my great-grandmother and my grandmother lived. It had the most beautiful stream carrying water from the mountain to the village and farms, turning into one of the main rivers in my home region. That is where I learned to swim. It is so sad that when I go back to this village today, my heart breaks to see that river barely flowing. Five years ago, it dried up completely and although the rains helped it back a little, it's still barely flowing.

(Climate Psychology Alliance, 2022)

Activity 3 Water shortage

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Now listen to a clip from Shelot’s keynote speech and answer the questions that follow.

Download this video clip.Video player: clpsy_1_464544_shelot_masithi_speech_keynote_edited.mp4
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  • What common assumptions did Shelot make about the water shortages and climate change?
  • What was required for her to make the link between climate change and her reality?
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Shelot Masithi, like the majority of people around the world, did not initially make sense of her experience in terms of climate change. Perhaps this is changing, but until recently there was no available language, few media outlets, that talked of climate change. This is how realising the link with climate change happened for Shelot:

One day it happened that our geography teacher was teaching about climate change. However, I still didn't think that our water scarcity was due to climate change because he spoke of it as a crisis that's going to happen in the far distant future. But I started reading about it. As I read on, I realised that climate change is a real issue, but I was thinking about it happening in other places. I overlooked what was going on in my community.