Conservation Psychology: Changing our Minds to Heal the Environment

Taught by Dr. Kathryn Caldwell, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology

Our thoughts become the world. Human societies need to make dramatic changes to our energy infrastructure and ways of life if we are to prevent devastating global climate change. It is clear that to solve these environmental problems we have to change human thinking and behavior. In this course, students will explore insights into mind and behavior that can help us change our thoughts, our habits, our culture, and our human story. In so doing, we can imagine a way forward towards a regenerative, sustainable world. We will propose psychological solutions for changing communities, organizations, and cultures.  

This project-based course will consist of readings, lectures, discussions, meditations, and films. Student assignments will include reflective writing assignments, in-class application assignments, a personal behavior change project, and group community change proposals which will be presented orally for the final assignment.

Course-Specific Learning Objectives:

  1. Students will have a general understanding of the urgent "state of the earth" in terms of climate change and general environmental degradation.
  2.  Students will reflect on the social justice concerns inherent in environmental issues and the quest for sustainable lifestyles.
  3. Students will understand and demonstrate psychological solutions for sustainable living. 
  4. Students will make connections between individual behavior choices and ecosystem-level effects.
  5. Students will reflect on their values, behaviors, and responsibilities regarding environmental conservation. 

    Note:  there will be no text or materials to purchase. All readings will be open access.  


Kathryn Caldwell has a PhD in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park. As Associate Professor of Psychology at Ithaca College, Kathryn’s focus area is the field of conservation psychology, which involves the application of psychology to understanding and promoting sustainable mindsets and behavior choices. She is part of an interdisciplinary working group at Ithaca College, who are currently developing programs in sustainable food systems. As a resident of EcoVillage at Ithaca, Kathryn is actively involved with promoting resilience, especially as it relates to sustainable food production, gardening and land use in the village. She serves on the board for Thrive Ithaca EcoVillage Education Center.