Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Psychology’s Voice in Environmental Advocacy

James F. Brennan, Keith A. Houde

Feature image of green fields and windmills against a blue sky with puffy clouds. Blog #4 of the Psychology and its Antecedents series

Blog #4 in the ‘Psychology and its Antecedents’ series

On October 16th in the United States, the Public Broadcasting Service premiered a new Ken Burns film, The American Buffalo. This program examines the story of the buffalo, or American Bison, from its emergence as a modern species about 10,000 years ago, at about the same time ancestors of indigenous Americans appeared on the North American continent.

A central theme of the film views the co-habitation of this species with Native Americans prior to the 19th century. Simultaneously, exploitation by Americans of European decent almost extinguished this animal, an emblem of the North American continent. While the film follows stories of the recovery of the species, issues of land management, and holistic ecology, the theme of the interrelatedness of the buffalo and Native Americans provides the lens for much of the program’s contents. Indeed, Native Americans recognized that intimate bond, expressed religiously as well economically, between themselves and the buffalo as one of kinship.

Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychology is a vibrant and productive specialization within the discipline. Given the impact of extreme weather effects from climate change, psychological research has much to inform on what is becoming a major issue in social and political policy of the highest urgency. Certainly, this important area of psychology should be supported and expanded. But what is impressive about the Ken Burns film is the emphasis on the core prosperity between this species and human beings living in harmony over millennia of mutual benefit. Indeed, the film underscores the observation that over those centuries of co-existence, when the buffalo herds prospered, so too did the tribal nations, and vice versa.

One commonality of the considerable rhetoric in national conversations clamoring for global action to address planetary doom is the extent that this notion of harmony with nature must be the guiding principle of any policy and practical action to address the impending disaster. While sometimes dressed in more contemporary jargon, this harmony finds resonance with the ancient Greeks who viewed the human condition through analogies, metaphors, and allegories all based upon necessity of equilibrium of humans and their natural environment. Likewise, the ancient philosophies and religions of Asia, particularly Buddhism, underscored the need for harmony through the achievement of peace with nature and oneself. It is perhaps interesting for psychology and other disciplines to seek through their utilitarian, practical research to address the ancient goal of many societies to pursue harmony with all of life in nature.

History and Systems of Psychology cover

History and Systems of Psychology, Eighth edition
James F. Brennan & Keith A. Houde

Catch up on the previous blogs from the Psychology and its Antecedents series:

Read Does Psychology Crowd Out Its Antecedents? Blog #1

Read That “Olde” Story: Faith and Reason Blog #2

Read Men, Masculinity, & Psychology Blog #3

Read 2023 Retrospect: Emotions and Politics Blog #5

About The Authors

James F. Brennan

A Professor Emeritus of Psychology at The Catholic University of America, Dr. Brennan followed two lines of research throughout his career. His interest in learning processes focus...

View profile >

Keith A. Houde

Keith A. Houde, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Ave Maria University in Florida. He previously worked as a clinical psychologist within a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Ma...

View profile >

Latest Comments

Have your say!