In conversation: Hilary Prentice and Colin Feltham

March 18, 2014 – 7:01 pm | 3 Comments
Hilary Prentice talks further with Colin Feltham about the threat of climate change and the radical role counsellors and psychotherapists could play by enabling people to articulate their fear and guilt. This in turn could free them to individually change their lifestyles and collectively challenge the indifference of governments and industry. The conversation can be read here at Therapy Today. Hilary's article, entitled 'Floods, Climate Change and Denial' can also be read here on Therapy Today.
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Presentations: CPA/IGA’s ‘Environment Crisis and the Group’ Event 1st February 2014

February 25, 2014 – 5:12 pm | One Comment

CPA/IGA’s event on 1st February 2014 ‘Environment Crisis and the Group’

Click here to view Ro Randall’s presentation and notes from the ‘Behaviour, Dream, Nightmare: Psychological Approaches to Climate Change.’
Click here to view Morris Nitsun’s presentation ‘An Anti-Group Perspective of Climate Change’.

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Environment Crisis and the Group

February 12, 2014 – 1:01 pm | One Comment

This one day event on 1st February 2104, jointly organised by the CPA and Institute of Group Analysis, attracted nearly 40 people.

The day started with presentations from Ro Randall and Morris Nitsun.  These are now available here

Ro, from the CPA, offered a brave and reflective account of the flowering, crisis and disintegration of the climate change initiative, Cambridge Carbon Footprint she founded in Cambridge.

Morris, from the IGA, provided a thought provoking exploration of how the insights of Foulkes, who was optimistic about groups, and Bion, who was pessimistic, could illuminate both generative and destructive societal dynamics in the face of climate change.

Some of the themes from their presentations seemed to resonate around the small and large group discussions that comprised the rest of the day. Destructive splitting, evident in some of the oppositions that became impossible to contain within the Cambridge Carbon Footprint initiative, was one. For instance, oppositions between practical doing and feeling/reflecting, between quick ‘solutions’ and patient work with groups and communities in which the outcome was uncertain. Another theme concerned the shadow cast by death.

This is so much a part of the culture of western-type societies which is in flight and denial, and it makes it more difficult for us to feel loss and grieve for all that is passing – species, habitats, ways of life – as climate change wreaks it’s destruction.

I was struck by how, particularly in the large group (ably conducted by Theresa Howard), some of the dynamics in the here-and-now of the group illuminated wider social processes. The voicelessness of those who were located on the margins and the flight from raw grief into thoughts and concepts, were two examples.

I would like to reiterate the thanks I proffered at the end of the event to Sarah Deco, for being the inspiration and organiser of the initiative, and to the IGA in general for being such a generous host. It may well be, with sufficient patience, that the event provides the basis for an ongoing group in London. Let’s hope so.


Paul Hoggett

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A View from the Somerset Levels

February 12, 2014 – 12:50 pm | One Comment

A neighbour of mine, a local Councillor with extensive knowledge and practical experience of land management issues in Somerset, gave me a draft document to look at yesterday.  This was his analysis of the dire state of the Somerset Levels, with recommendations for remedial action.  The document will no doubt be a valuable contribution to an intensive period of consultation and planning which the Government has initiated, in response to the protracted flooding of large tracts of our local countryside, our roads and villages.

Reading this document reminded me that the technical issues are complex and interconnected.  Weighing the relative importance of these issues is a demanding task. Upstream, midstream and downstream river catchment, land management and intensive farming, protecting homes vs food production, the growth of our County town (Taunton), dredging and drainage, the tidal range of the Bristol Channel, all come into the picture.  The roles and funding channels of central and local government, the Environment Agency, Internal Drainage Board and environmental or wildlife organisations also feature prominently.

My friend’s grasp of the practical and agency issues is, to me, informative and humbling. It is impressive from both a managerial and a practical perspective.  His proposed remedies to soil erosion (the source of the silt problem) and rapid run-off into the upper reaches of our County’s rivers include reforestation and hedge renewal.  They make good sense and chime with the comments of George Monbiot and others in the national press.  From a climate psychology standpoint, however, my neighbour’s approach reflects the intense difficulty which we humans have in engagement with climate change and the relationship between the human and greater-than-human world.

I asked him about his fleeting mention of climate change and reference to its impacts as a future prospect, rather than a current and escalating reality.  He was agreeable to changing the latter point, but was wary of increasing the emphasis on climate change, for fear of putting people off, and not having the document taken seriously.

Here, as elsewhere, the Environment Agency was judged as unfit for purpose, this being largely attributed to a confused agenda, in which ecological considerations are given undue prominence, at the expense of human needs.  I am not qualified to judge how well or badly the E.A. reconciles these criteria, but what I do pick up strongly is a widely held perception that it’s an “either/or” matter, rather than a set of perspectives which must be integrated because, as Tony Juniper puts it, the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of planetary ecology.

There was another striking point in my friend’s document which again reflected the views and feelings that have been evident in the recent media coverage.  This was that local people find the current situation “completely unacceptable”.  This phrase prompted me to recall COIN’s illustrated report Moving Stories, which documents the plight of those caught up in climate related migration in places as far flung as the Arctic and Indonesia, China and the Sahel.  How “acceptable” is the situation of all these people?  We of course live in a country that is both rich and small, but I wonder whether all the resources and technology at our disposal will enable us to protect the Somerset levels from inundation for very long, dredging or no dredging, improved land management or not.  The river Parrett is tidal to a few miles from here, well into the Levels.  I’ve not heard anyone locally talking much about sea level rise, nor the fact that the weather perturbation which we are now experiencing results from just 0.8 degrees C of heating, compared with the 4-6 degrees currently predicted.

On 4th February, following Prince Charles’ visit to the Levels, local residents who were gathered in Northmoor village hall were interviewed on TV over their reactions to the situation.  Two batches of interviews were interspersed with an explanation of the effects of climate change, including the fact that several decades of heating and its consequences are now locked into the climate system.  This commentary was unusually clear, full and incisive.  It was shown to those present, as well as to viewers.  The small number of interviewees may have been unrepresentative, but somehow I doubt it.  What I found most striking was how little indication there was of the climate change perspective becoming incorporated into people’s narratives.  One lady foresaw continuing difficulties in the short term followed by an improvement in the longer term, as a result of anti-flooding measures such as dredging.  This left me with the impression that, for whatever reasons, climate change as a root cause of our troubles here, and drastic emissions reduction to mitigate it, still gains little traction in most people’s minds, even when the evidence and explanations have just been set out clearly.

It would be as unwise to make simple interpretations of what is going on in people’s minds as it is to think that the problem of flooding on the Somerset Levels can be solved with one or two local measures.  It is hardly surprising that people, traumatised or anxious, displaced, disrupted or even bankrupted, are desperate for remedies that they can see a possibility of implementing.  Nor is it surprising that, in what is now a succession of floodings, in Summer as well as Winter, stoicism and resilience is turning to desperation and anger.  Responsibility for addressing the wider issues surely lies more heavily with our government and our media.

That BBC coverage of climate change on 4th February was maybe a good sign, even if it did not find a receptive audience in Northmoor.  On the same day, Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, spoke in London of the “merciless” process of climate change and the urgent need to remove fossil fuel subsidies and to price carbon emissions effectively.  We should not wait for those in that merciless firing line to join the dots, but the number of people in the rich world who find themselves directly facing it, along with millions in faraway places, is growing.  Perhaps the cries of distress from within (and on) our own shores will coalesce with the warnings from climate science and help to concentrate the minds of our policy makers.


Adrian Tait

8th February 2014                

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Flood Defences

February 11, 2014 – 6:23 pm | 12 Comments

Flood Defences

We face a real dilemma. To take the radical actions required to have a hope of mitigating dangerous climate change we need to both reduce energy use and switch rapidly to renewable sources for the energy that we do use. Neither of these can be achieved without incurring individual and collective losses. For example, for many of us one of the most sudden and dramatic ways we can reduce our energy use is by cutting out flying, but this means giving up things, not the least the exploration of areas of wild beauty in other parts of the world. But switching to renewable sources is not without costs either, particularly the collective costs to our landscape of installing solar and wind farms. I am very aware that people have different views about this, that for some the British landscape of moorlands, hills and estuaries is sacrosanct and once we start planting windmills in such places our renewable ‘means’ have undermined our climate mitigation ‘ends’. But talking to friends who have this view and listening to local and national voices which oppose the spread of renewables I have become increasingly convinced that there is a strong element of denial in such standpoints.

Looking down from the Mendip Hills in early February a vast lake currently covers parts of the northern stretches of the Somerset Levels around Westhay and Godney Moors (an area where millions of starlings roost in the marshes at this time of year). Given that this is the part of the Levels least affected by flooding it really makes you wonder what Britain will look like 50 years from now. By then the rise in global average temperatures may be approaching 2 degrees (in contrast to the havoc already being caused by our present 0.8 degree rise). Those friends of the British countryside (including the National Trust) who oppose proposals for wind and solar farms such as the Atlantic Array (an opposition campaign spearheaded in North Devon by UKIP) would do well to consider what ‘natural landscape’ it will be that they are preserving through their opposition to renewables. There is a strong strand of conservative environmentalism which has deep echoes in traditional rural communities which is still in deep denial about the actuality of climate change and some of this can currently be heard demanding river dredging and other ‘finger in the dyke’ solutions in south Somerset.

The Somerset Levels are at the moment the focus for what some people call a ‘risk panic’, a moment at which underlying social anxieties find expression in a particular crisis. Like ‘moral panics’ such as those surrounding child abuse, risk panics are ripe for exploitation by populists. We see this being played out at the moment, rather than the pillorying of a social services department for its failure to prevent child abuse we see escalating attacks upon the Environment Agency for its failure to continue dredging local rivers. Scapegoats are easy meat and conveniently provide a means of distracting attention from more systemic issues.

I find it particularly ironic (tragic?) that as vast swathes of the Levels disappear under water for months on end for the second year running one group of residents who live on the edge of the Levels are eagerly waiting what they hope will be a decision by the Planning Inspectorate to turn down a proposal by Ecotricity to build four windmills just to the west of the M5 south of Huntspill. According to the Huntspill Windfarm Action Group:

These huge machines are little but a large visual political statement of green intentions. If we have to have them put them offshore or in areas that do not affect local residents. Siting them in the middle of six villages on the Somerset levels is not the place to have them. SO if we are called nimbys for that that then fine.

The Huntspill group is affiliated to the European Platform Against Windfarms. I know little about this organisation but their propaganda clearly pits the ‘little man’ against the powerful commercial interests involved in many wind farm schemes. The Huntspill Action Group’s website also argues that nuclear is a much better alternative and quotes approvingly a recent article by Griff Rhys Jones in the Daily Mail (31st July 2013). Reading this I was struck by the following statement by this British comedian (no pun intended):

I am deeply worried about global warming: I accept the evidence without demur. The world is getting hotter, and we are going through serious climate change. But the fundamentalist green lobby — and those involved in sponsored research or subsidised industry — react to our legitimate concerns as if they are nothing more than selfish whining. They ask: ‘Do you want to die in a horrible conflagration and for your children to starve to death as a result of global warming?’

I think Rhys Jones (who also advocates the nuclear power option) speaks for many who accept that anthropogenic climate change is occurring and yet who oppose green policies in the name of conservation. Now my own view is that the situation that we face is so drastic that we must use all means possible, which does not preclude nuclear, to move from carbon intensive forms of energy. But nuclear is high risk, expensive and takes so long to come on stream that it is poorly equipped to meet the urgency of our present situation and so we must prioritise wind, solar, wave and tidal.

I think the Huntspill Action Group provides a vivid illustration of what we could call ‘flood defences’. Here they are, situated on the edge of the Levels, on land which is partially below sea level, land which will only exist in 50 years time if there is massive expenditure on local sea defences, opposing the very type of renewables initiative which, at a national and international level, could prevent the complete disappearance of the very landscape that they treasure!

Earlier I called this ‘denial’ but I’ve come to feel that ‘denial’ is a bit of a blanket term which needs unpicking. Let’s look at some of the elements at work here. The flooding over the last two years is what we call a ‘harbinger’. It is signalling the approach of something (the destruction of landscapes, habitats and ecosystems such as the Levels as climate change gathers pace). The fact that for the vast majority of local people it does not yet seem to function in this way could be understood in one of three ways. People are still ignorant of the risk of dangerous climate change, or people are not ignorant but lack the collective capacity to imagine something that seems far off in time (a failure of the social imagination) or, finally, if they were to imagine such a future it would feel like a catastrophe so it is not imagined in order to avoid the anxiety. In this sense denial is not seeing what is in front of our eyes, it is a collective reluctance to know the truth or make the necessary connections.

But there seems to be a second element involved in ordinary denial, something involves I think of as ‘internal propaganda’. This refers to the rationalisations, displacements, projections (blame the green fundamentalists), etc. which enable people who accept the actuality of human caused climate change to nevertheless evade responsibility for it. It’s always someone else who needs to act, its nuclear not wind, or if it is wind then it is offshore wind, or ‘what is the point of us doing anything?’, a fatalistic remark illustrated in this extract from Rhys Jones

Even if we hit that 15 per cent target (and we are still far away from that), it will make only the tiniest dent in world carbon emissions…..Meanwhile, look at what we stand to lose. Our heritage is being destroyed by solar plants and wind farms.

There is one issue that I think Rhys Jones has got right, the dilemmas we face about the siting of wind, solar and tidal projects are multiplied by the anarchic market methods through which our energy future is determined. As he notes,

this ugly and expensive intrusion is being left to the ‘free market’. The result is random and opportunist. Wherever a stricken farmer or a greedy landowner can be bribed or hoodwinked by subsidy, we see a wind turbine or a wretchedly blank area of solar panels go up.

Of course to have a national energy plan would fly in the face of the neo-liberal perspective that Labour, Liberal, Conservative and UKIP are all hostage to. One thing we can be sure of is that the kind of drama currently being enacted on the Levels is going to be an increasingly common occurrence as climate change begins to really bite. Is it that people still don’t yet smell the fire or is it that they do smell it and have already become gripped by panic?

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Sleep Walking to Catastrophe: environment, crisis and the group Event

January 16, 2014 – 5:11 pm | One Comment

Sleep Walking to Catastrophe: environment, crisis and the group event

1st February 2014, 10- 5pm

The Institute of Group Analysis, 1 Daleham Gardens, NW3 5BY

This is an innovative collaboration, jointly sponsored by the Institute for Group Analysis (IGA) and the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) exploring psychological responses to climate change from a group analytic perspective and the contribution that this might make to current discussions about human responses to climate change.

Behaviour, nightmare, dream: psychology’s responses to climate change. Ro Randall (CPA)

Ro is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist working in private practice. She has been active in the environmental movement for many years, is the founder of the Carbon Conversations project

An anti-group perspective of climate change: destructive aspects of our relationship to the environment and ourselves. Morris Nitsun (IGA)

Morris is an NHS consultant psychologist, psychotherapist and group analyst at the Fitzrovia Group Analytic Practice. His paper is based on his forthcoming book Beyond the Anti-Group: Survival and Transformation.


020 7431 2693

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Artistic Engagement with Climate Change

December 16, 2013 – 10:02 am | 4 Comments

Peter Gingold of Tipping Point discusses despair, imagination and the artist’s contribution to mobilising society about climate change.

TippingPoint is part of the intriguing ecology of small organisations that have made the UK something of a world leader in the field of artistic engagement with climate change. One way of putting our work is that given the way conventional political and policy processes are stuck in various types of log-jam, we are working in our various ways to encourage creation of works of the imagination that might mobilise society to take action, or give politicians the confidence to take the sort of decision they currently believe to be sure-fire vote-losers.

Examples of this fast growing body of work can be found on our website, on Cape Farewell’s, and in many other places.  There are many artists asking themselves the very difficult question of how to bring the subject into their work without sounding hectoring or didactic, without getting themselves inexorably branded as a ‘climate change artist’, and yet communicating images and ideas that are intended to have some type of constructive impact.

A central part of our own practice is to hold events which bring artists of many types together with people with expertise in climate change – researchers, policy-makers and others. These are often very intense gatherings lasting two days or more, and the objective is of course to stimulate as deep and fruitful engagement as possible between people who would normally never meet – leading to who knows what sort of outcome.

We have done this all over the world, and a few years ago, working with our sister organisation TippingPoint Australia, we held a series of events in Australia.  In Sydney one of these was a public event including about a hundred people from a cross section of the environmental, activist and arts community.

Group discussion in Sydney

A technique we use a lot is Open Space, in which those present choose the subjects for discussion, rather than having them imposed by the event organisers.  I had just finished Clive Hamilton’s long cry of anguish ‘Requiem for a Species’, and being of a melancholic disposition was (and remain) strongly moved by his point: we have blown it; it is too late.

I found myself suggesting ‘Looking into the Abyss’ as a topic for discussion.  And to my amazement, a good half of the people there, about fifty, joined my group.  It became very clear that the majority of us were labouring under much the same problem – we were struggling with keeping our motivation or indeed mental well-being in reasonable shape when a perfectly rational understanding of the future is so bleak.  There are plenty of walking wounded in this field.

I‘d love to report that we all went away from our hour-long discussion energised, or at least equipped with a useful and practical list of coping mechanisms!  But while we certainly smiled it would be more honest to say that apart from gaining strength from the fact of being in good company we didn’t make a great deal of progress.

The nature of this problem will come as no surprise to many readers of this site. Perhaps I might take this opportunity to remind the therapeutic community of what I think is a clear need: for a structured programme, something other (and cheaper) than individual therapy, that might support the many activists, researchers, artists and others who labour daily in this field, and the significant proportion who struggle with it.

As far as I am aware the nearest thing to this are Joanna Macey’s programmes ‘The Great Turning’ and ‘The Work that Reconnects’; they are wonderful in their own way, but they are largely restricted to the USA, and are also ‘strongly flavoured’ in a way which I think will not appeal to all.

So here is a request: let’s have a programme of support for people who find the fact of a future world less comfortable than our own, perhaps much less so, troubling to the extent that it affects their ability to function.  I don’t have much doubt that there would be takers.

- Peter Gingold

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Environment, Crisis and the Group joint event with the CPA/IGA

December 6, 2013 – 6:27 pm |

The Institute of Group Analysis in association with The Climate Psychology Alliance are pleased to announce a public event:



Environment, Crisis and the Group


Rosemary Randall & Morris Nitsun

Saturday 1st February 2014 – 10.00am – 5.30pm

The Institute of Group Analysis

1 Daleham Gardens, London NW3 5BY

Individual, group and governmental responses to the risk of climate change remain puzzlingly inadequate. This is a public event, jointly sponsored by the Institute for Group Analysis (IGA) and the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA). It will explore psychological responses to climate change from a group analytic perspective and the contribution that group analytic thinking might make to current discussions about human responses to climate change. The event will begin with contributions from two speakers, Morris Nitsun from the IGA and Ro Randall from the CPA, and then proceed via dialogues in both small groups and the large group.

Ro Randall (CPA): Behaviour, nightmare, dream: psychology’s responses to climate change.

Rosemary Randall is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist working in private practice. She has been active in the environmental movement for many years, is the founder of the Carbon onversations project and writes and lectures widely on the psychological dimensions of climate change.

Morris Nitsun (IGA): An anti-group perspective of climate change: destructive aspects of our relationship to the environment and ourselves.

Morris Nitsun is an NHS consultant psychologist, psychotherapist and group analyst working privately at the Fitzrovia Group Analytic Practice. He lectures in the UK and abroad. His paper is based on his forthcoming book Beyond the Anti-Group: Survival and Transformation.

Fees: (including lunch, tea and coffee): Members (IGA and CPA) £50, Students £35, Non-members £60

To Book/ Methods of Payment:

You can book by phone (020 7431 2693) using your debit card (no charge) or credit card (2% fee).

or book online at

Or send your name, address and contact details, including your email address and organisation (please state your occupation) with a cheque (made out to “The Institute of Group Analysis”) for £50/ £35/ £ 60 to The Events Administrator, IGA, 1 Daleham Gardens, London NW3 5BY

The Institute of Group Analysis

1 Daleham Gardens, London  NW3 5BY

Tel. 020 7431 2693   Fax. 020 7431 7246

Email: |

The IGA is a charity registered in England and Wales (280942) and in Scotland (SC040468)


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Joseph Dodds – Fertile and sterile Dialogue in the Climate Change Debate in the Czech Republic

December 6, 2013 – 6:16 pm |

Fertile and sterile Dialogue in the Climate Change Debate

A written contribution sent to us by Joseph Dodds in Prague, Czech Republic and composed by an Ecopsychology colleague.


Firstly the effect of the previous President Vaclav Klaus, a right-wing Thatcherite, are very important here. He was in power for two terms, the maximum, and only replaced this year, who greatly expanded the role of the president compared to Vaclav Havel. He had the most extreme climate sceptic viewpoint of perhaps any head of state, being the only head of state to go to the climate sceptic conferences. His book ‘blue planet’ (to distinguish from green of course) views climate change paranoiacally as an attempt of environmentalists to take away our freedom, comparing the IPCC process which plans carbon emissions over centuries to the old Soviet 5-year plans but sees them as even more intrusive and totalitarian and trying to control the future more completely. He has explicitly compared environmentalists to fascists and Stalinists and see’s the ‘green agenda’ as being one of the biggest threats to freedom our democracies face today.

Pavel Skala, a Czech ecopsychologist, psychodynamic psychotherapist, with an interest in phenomenology, sociology, and systems theory/Bateson, suggests that in the Czech Republic the mainstream media is mostly right-wing, partly out of the residue of anti-communism. On climate change they are ‘conservative’, emphasizing we need to be cautious about saying anything outright. Skala’s hypothesis is that the reason for this isn’t any pure “unbiased” skepticism nor journalistic correctness but really linked to the Klaus who should not be seen as a fringe perspective but as really embodying what many feel or at least want. He also suggests this was one of the reason why Klaus was so popular (he’s also an extreme Euro-sceptic who would leave the EU).

Skala writes that:

“Klaus’ previous popularity was partly due to the fact that he has always proclaimed freedom – without responsibility (but this special feature was only implicit of course). It’s probably a part of the post-Bolshevik heritage, this need for this never experienced freedom “for free”, maybe something in a way parallel to the infantile developmental situation where first a kind of unlimited freedom needs to be experienced so it makes eventually sense afterwards (for the caretakers) to set some meaningful limits to it.”

So within this context Klaus, and Klaus-style thinking sees climate change paranoiacally as involving eco-terrorists that gleefully desire to take our freedom from us. And perhaps embodying an infantile idea of freedom without any responsibility, consequences, or limits (whether moral or based on the physical limits of natural systems). This is accompanied in the media with an intense focus on the almost daily and shocking corruption scandals, with popular anger but also almost a cynical acceptance of politicians acting without limits, stealing, bribery, fraud, etc.

Since Klaus’ departure earlier this year there is less overt climate scepticism in the media. But more due to, according to Skala, the “gutterization” of the czech media, responding to drives of profit and greater ‘economic efficiency’. For example, we can see noticeable discontinuities in the medias’ treating of the climate change (which is not that much observable in other topics such as the pension system, etc). In general the news only reports climate related material after there’s something scandalous or shocking going on, with the view that the public will not be interested in the day to day ‘gloomy’, depressive aspects of climate change, but only the more ‘exciting’ ones. Only those IPCC statements that newly predict some new really disastrous developments are being reported…

Skala also notices a particularly striking phenomenon which is that there’s almost never any connection suggested between climate change (and its threats) and the mainstream czech people’s lifestyle, it is all an ‘external’ problem (causes and consequences), something for the politicians to address but not the public. Furthermore, despite of even exceptional – almost jerky – “correctness” of most of the articles on these themes, the reactions of the discussants under them are often extremely violent in their denial – suggesting on some level many people here actually do grasp the reality of climate change but angrily attack its presentation and existence.


So to conclude the main themes from the Czech Rep. are:

1. Climate change as an attack on freedom, with the idea of environmentalists as gleefully and enviously trying to destroy and take away our freedom.

2. Freedom without limits (moral, physical, etc.), related both to post-communism, and to infantile developmental state, perhaps even with some unconscious desire for someone to set limits to the new freedom (the ‘underside’ of which is acknowledged in the obsession with the corruptions scandals of politicians).

3. ‘Shock’ reports on the environment (driven less by ideology than by economic factors, shock stories sell), rather than keeping a day to day awareness or holding the depressive aspects of our times.

4. Climate change as an ‘elsewhere’ (both causes and consequences).

5. Aggressive denial.

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Carol Ride – Australia – a sorry tale of a dramatic shift from fertile to sterile ground for climate action.

December 6, 2013 – 6:13 pm |

Click here to listen to Carol Ride’s contribution to the CPA’s Fertile and Sterile Dialogue Event, or read a transcript below.

In 2011 the Labor government of Australia introduced a carbon package – comprising a tax on CO2 emissions, funding for renewable energy projects, an independent advisory body on Australia’s emission targets based on science and international action, and a body independent of government to advise the community on the latest climate science. This package was backed by a pre-existing renewable energy target. This impressive suite of measures was introduced by a minority Labor government under pressure from the Greens party, because the government needed the support of the Greens to have governing rights.

Despite the fact that the opposition conservatives had supported an emissions trading scheme in 2007, by 2011 the carbon tax and accompanying measures were criticized both by the Murdoch press (who control two thirds of Australia’s print media), and the opposition conservative parties. The tax itself was criticized on the grounds that it would destroy the economy and disadvantage families because of electricity price rises.

A recent study[1], found that in 2011 – 2012, one third of articles in Australia’s major newspapers did not accept the consensus position of climate science: that human beings are contributing to climate change. Campaigning against the tax, “The Australian”, a national Murdoch paper, produced 49% negative articles about the tax to 9% positive articles.
Because of their role the Greens also took a beating from the press – and as scapegoats, paid a huge price later in the subsequent 2013 election.

The 2013 election was dominated by the then opposition who dubbed it a referendum on the carbon tax. Slogans such as ‘axe the tax’ and ‘dump the government’ were aggressively promoted by the Murdoch media.

In its one year of operation, the carbon tax initiative reduced electricity consumption by 7% – a change unseen in Australia since the time of the two World Wars and the Great Depression. Electricity prices did increase but not out of line with increases in previous years. And households were compensated in tax for carbon tax price rises.

Polls at 2013 election show that people actually want action on climate change: two thirds of Australians now support action an illustration of the complexity of how to really engage people – and with what action.

The opposition conservative parties won the election and claimed their victory vindicated their first step in office – the repeal of the legislation in relation to the carbon tax and the supporting measures.

Their first target was the Climate Commission. It was set up to deliver current understanding of climate science to the community. On their very first day of office it was abolished.

The Climate Commission was headed by Professor Tim Flannery and included other eminent Australian climate scientists.  In a resounding response from the a dismayed public, climate concerned citizens rallied using crowd funding to re-establish the body as one independent of the government funding. So phoenix like, the Climate Commission survives, now stronger and more secure than ever, as the Climate Council.

This body has been pivotal in informing the community of the need for serious action this decade. They regularly published very clear, vital explanatory information – and will be able to continue to do so.

And this is essential!  Australia has to date experienced its hottest year ever with 100 records being broken.  The first month of our spring was the hottest September ever.

In October bushfires were ablaze in 73 different locations across the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney. While bushfires in October are not unknown the firefighters feared the fires would all join to create a massive fire front 1500 km long – in impossible conditions, hotter and drier and windier than normal. Thankfully no lives were lost but over 200 homes were destroyed.

Our climate change denying prime minister Tony Abbott – an experienced volunteer fire fighter – joined a local firefighting effort in the Blue Mountains. This was seemingly to make a point that bushfires are a familiar part of our experience and nothing out of the ordinary that we tough Aussie blokes can’t manage.

Did he also fear people might make a link between the bushfires and climate change – and then find gaping holes in his climate policy? When one Green’s politician did make the link and accuse the government of failing to protect its citizens, he was vilified for being insensitive and for seeking to score a political point. It was a very sensitive subject for Abbott, so much so that he even accused the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, of “talking through her hat” for suggesting there was a link between global warming and bushfires.

Not to be outdone by the PM, the Environment Minister thought he had settled this question when he reported he checked Wikipedia  – and found the answer he wanted – no link. It would be laughable if not so pitiful.

In place of a carbon tax and the associated measures, the new Government’s climate policy is called Direct Action. It is fuzzy plan to pay companies who agree to reduce their emissions – a ‘pay the polluter ‘ rather than the ‘polluter pays’ scheme.  It includes a plan to plant trees – but without halting the vast deforestation that goes on across the country.  Direct Action aims for 5% emission reduction (by 2020 relative to 2000 levels):  No economists thinks this is achievable under the current Direct Action policy. The 5% target falls way short of the latest target advice from the government’s own Climate Change Authority (which he is about to dismantle). A 5% target is a drop in the ocean compared with what is needed, especially when we are the highest per capita CO2 emitter in the world.

The bushfires were seen by many citizens as evidence that climate change is already occurring in Australia and a precursor to what is predicted to be a hellishly hot summer and early autumn in South Eastern Australia – in December to March.

The link between bushfires and climate change provided fertile ground for climate discussion to surface again, even while it is conveniently considered by the Murdoch press to be insensitive to do so.  Whilst to join the dots at this time was difficult, there was a recognition that when the horrific bushfires occurred in Victoria in 2009 (the state in which I live), when 170 lives were lost and over 2000 homes burnt to the ground, the link between severe weather and climate change was evaded by the climate movement because of fear of being seen to be politicizing suffering. But as the recent report by the UK organization COIN (Climate Outreach and Information Network – headed up by George Marshall) says, we need to be able to bring the impacts of climate change closer to home in order to resonate with the values of those on the centre-right.

Abbott is using the crucial issue of climate change to create of a cultural divide in the community. He charges those wanting climate action with destroying the economy, destroying jobs and damaging family financial security. Those supporting climate action are denigrated for giving tacit support to what he has termed a ‘wacko’ Labor government that he repeatedly claims was a failure and incompetent. He is supported in the Murdoch press by journalists who also wickedly promote the idea that concern about climate change is a quasi religious ideology, as well an economic threat. These threats I believe feed the community’s confusion, cynacism and distancing from what they see has become primarily a political issue, rather than a moral one.

Abbott instead advocates freedom to mine for new coal and new coal seam gas on farmland and environmentally sensitive and protected areas – without constraint –  and with “red – tape – free” deregulation.

Will the devastating reality of ever more record breaking temperatures, severe summer heatwaves and bushfires break through the denial and stop the promotion of this alienating and divisive culture?

Sadly, a blisteringly hot, destructive summer might have to be what it takes to re-establish some fertile ground for a constructive approach to climate change in Australia.

Carol Ride is President of Psychology for a Safe Climate – based in Melbourne, Australia. She is a psychologist and couple therapist and has been active in the climate movement in her local community since 20

[1] Wendy Bacon Professorial Fellow, Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at University of Technology, Sydney reported in The Conversation. 4.11.13

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Fertile and Sterile Dialogue in the Climate Change Debate

December 6, 2013 – 6:04 pm |


We can see debate of the sterile kind going on everywhere – the sort which reduces national negotiators and UN officials to tears, or in everyday discourse, coloured by urgings in the media to dismiss the problem.  Suggestions that nothing is settled, nothing is clear in climate science are powerful encouragements to shrug our shoulders.

The data are complex, the process is slow, the manifestations often remote.  Despite this, some surveys do show public concern growing again, but here we encounter something really equivocal.  We know and don’t want to know, want government action, but don’t want it to cost us anything, desire a safe future for our children, but are preoccupied with the close-up and perhaps more manageable insecurities of the present.  We believe in justice but don’t want to face being the beneficiaries of injustice.

So there’s a momentous struggle going on around this subject, at a psychological as well as economic and political level.  Its existence, and certainly its true ingredients, need to be better understood.

Resolving this huge clash of interests calls for the highest conceivable quality of dialogue – imaginative, generous, courageous, ruthless, determined and focussed.  All these qualities are needed in order for it to have the fertility that is required.  That fertility also depends on depth.  The dialogue takes place in many spheres, within our minds, between individuals, and amongst groupings of every size, from the family to the international arena.

Given that all these spheres inter-connect, the search for a fertile process need not be inhibited by their scale and complexity.  And the all too frequent sterility of polarised, ideologically entrenched and fear-driven debate can be used to instruct us, rather than make us despair.

C.P.A. is aiming to promote the cause of fertile dialogue by highlighting two key, and closely connected, areas of interest: the role of journalism and the possibility of re-framing environmental concerns so as to free them from the shackles of ideology.  To give a place to feelings of hopelessness, grief and outrage in the apparent impossibility of real listening without projection would bring some fertility.

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The story of how greens became energy enemy number one

November 11, 2013 – 7:08 pm | 2 Comments

On the  Greenpeace website 6th November George Marshall posted an interesting piece on the way that enemy/victim hero/victim narratives are common in environmental debates from many sides. Psychotherapists are familiar with these narratives, whether couched in the terms of Karpman’s drama triangle, or in psychoanalytic terms of the paranoid-schizoid position.

Marshalls’s suggestion is that we should dispense with these narratives altogether ‘The best chance for climate change to beat enemy narratives is to refuse to play this partisan game at all. We are all responsible. We are all involved and we all have a stake in the outcome. We are all struggling to resolve our concern and our responsibility for our contributions. Narratives need to be about co-operation common ground-and solutions need to be presented that can speak to the common concerns and aspirations of all people.’

What do we think about this? Perhaps readers of this site can contribute to the discussion on the Greenpeace site (link above).

The question is highly relevant to CPA’s conference on Saturday 16th November Fertile and Sterile Dialogue in the Climate Change Debate


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Fertile and Sterile Dialogue Event

November 5, 2013 – 7:09 pm |
Fertile and Sterile Dialogue Event

Fertile and Sterile Dialogue in the Climate Change Debate

Saturday 16 November 2013

An event organised by the Climate Psychology Alliance


Photo: What Lies Under?  Ferdi Rizkiyanto


The 5th report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ought to bring a sharpening of debate. But will it? Or will we see the usual responses of point scoring, attacks, blame and defensiveness? This CPA sponsored day offers a psycho-social perspective on the way the media relates to government, the economic system and individual/group psychology and explores a fresh approach to how we frame our communications.

Our two speakers have given a great deal of attention to the challenge of fertile communication. They are Patrick Chalmers and Jamie Clarke (see below for bio). Following their catalysing contributions there will be small and large group dialogue. The morning session will be chaired by Sarah Deco.

After lunch we will be invited to engage in a simulation built around Fracking. This will have well scripted roles and will be conducted by a facilitator. The purpose of the simulation will be to engage the dilemmas in an experiential role play and debrief the learning together. It will be less the outcome and more how the dialogue is conducted that we imagine will be the crucible of potential learning.

Patrick Chalmers is an ex-Reuters reporter and author of Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies ( He aims to do journalism and to take part in real-life experiments to transform governance practices at local, national and global levels of our society.

Jamie Clarke is the Executive Director of the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN). COIN is a pioneering climate organisation aiming to broaden and deepen the understanding of climate change. We run  the international gateway for climate practitioners looking to understand the latest climate communication research.

Sarah Deco is an Art Therapist, Group Analyst and member of the CPA management Cttee.


Location: Guild of Psychotherapists 47 Nelson Square, Blackfriars Road, London SE1 0QA.

Time: 10am-5pm   [Full programme on application.  Fee includes a light lunch, tea and coffee].

Fee: £80         £65 -CPA members  £25-40 Concession scale (full time students or unwaged)

To Book: Transfer to Lloyds TSB sort code 30-80-37; a/c no. 68188968 Tag as 16/11 event.

Or send cheques payable to Climate Psychology Alliance to Adrian Tait, Hobdens, Stoke Road, North Curry, Taunton, Somerset  TA3 6HN

See events page

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One Year in Transition

November 4, 2013 – 8:07 pm |

 ONE YEAR IN TRANSITION (A programme for young adults)

Invite to be a Personal Support Mentor

This September an intrepid cohort of young adults, aged 20 plus, set out on a quest, an adventure, a learning journey. The purpose? To find the way for their individual life and life’s work and to contribute to creating a life-sustaining future for the planet. They will embrace and weave together the ingredients of resilience, well-being, sustainability and meaningful, satisfying work, lives and relationships: all within a framework of interconnectedness with the natural world. To achieve any of these goals a balance between working on the external environment and the inner world of the self and its experience, is needed. Without both we are less effective and certainly incomplete.

This is the second year of this programme within the international Transition Network, designed with the input of young people to provide themselves and others with the tools they really need for the future. There is an emphasis on self-directed learning in community, practical skills and experience, and mentoring from adults with personal support skills. The young adults seek to practise and promote Gift Culture so the minimum of money changes hands but the skills, qualities and activities of each person are given as a gift. They and their mentors may be surprised by what they receive in “exchange”, either at the time, later, or from someone else.

We are asking Do you share this vision? Do you have the qualities and experience to support them on their journey in the role of a personal mentor? From your professional experience you may have a sense of the obstacles they will encounter in themselves, and in the external world.

This is what the young people in the design team reported wanting from a mentor (most have never experienced mentoring or counseling before):

  •   Your ability to stand outside the situation, rather than being part of it
  •   ‘Reliability’: to be there, to keep your part of a contract
  •   Skill in asking pertinent questions so that we can find our own answers
  •   Huge capacity to listen without judging
  •   A holding space in which we can ‘unpack’ what is going on for us
  •   No attempt to ‘fix’ things or ‘fix’ us
  •   Tools to help us vision/visualise, or to invoke a shift from a stuck place, to frame things differently
  •   Help when up against a ‘barrier’, or not able to see a path ahead, or not knowing where our future may lie (either physically or psychologically)
  •   Help with cultural sensitivity (when working in a community where most residents were born and bred, but we were not).
  •   Recognition of the space and support needed to take initiatives, to make mistakes, to keep trying, to ask more questions, to find out who we are, and ultimately what we want to do
  •   To be treated with respect, as an equal

In summary this work with a personal mentor is a journey of how to handle our inner and outer worlds. 

If something in you stirs to meet this challenge then you are one of the people we are looking for, to be part of the creation of a real education for a future that cannot be Business as Usual, but a future that is inherently unpredictable. This Transition course is designed for this new world. You will probably be a trained psycho-therapist, counselor or facilitator (with insurance), able to give roughly one hour a month for free and be willing to find the boundary between counseling and therapy.

You have already provided a short profile of yourself, your training and experience and what you feel you would offer the young Transitioner in their process. Plus details of your geographical location, and broadly your availability – how frequently you might be able to meet, and the times of day/evening/weekend/skype/phone that might suit you.

Once you have been matched with a young adult you will:

  • Negotiate a contract for time, place and frequency of meetings
  • Be clear about how and when the young person can contact you (they agree the ground rules of confidentiality and commitment with you)

There will be support for mentors from ‘base camp’ in Transition Education!


For more information contact:

Isabel Carlisle, Education Co-ordinator, Transition Network

Tel: 01803 847 976       Mobile: 0777556648



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Emotional Resilience: Compassionate Approaches to Loss

November 4, 2013 – 7:58 pm | One Comment

While there is much talk these days about resilience, it tends to be defined in terms of relationships, resources and infrastructures. However a vital element is often overlooked – the need for emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is the capacity to hold space for loss, upheaval, and shock – allowing us to process, feel, and experience impacts. As psychotherapists can tell us, this “pause” is what builds real resilience. And it is needed now more than ever.

The recent events in Boston remind us of the trauma when the very things that bring us pleasure, gratification and connection can turn in one horrific moment into the opposite. What has been associated with connection, hope, identity and pride has now become associated with violence, risk, threat and danger. In the wake of such ruptures in normalcy, we try to make sense – through talking with one another, reviewing the events repetitively, as if to gain some sense of meaning or understanding. And yet such events tend exist beyond understanding; all we can do is to sense our confusion, grief and anger. This is the work of mourning.

Loss can take many forms. Most notably it can be a loss of identity (who am I without this thing, activity or relationship?), loss of innocence (longing for a simpler time, what I call “environmental melancholia”), or the tangible losses of place, homes or prosperity. In fact, there is always an element of loss when we learn and gain knowledge; we let go of who we were, as we step into new levels of awareness about our world and what this means for ourselves.

When it comes to climate change, we are also engaging with facing practices, which have provided much pleasure, comfort, identity and security. To suggest such things as heating one’s home, taking a vacation with loved ones, or that cross-country road-trip may contribute to great harm is precisely about losing what was once innocent. The better we can acknowledge this, the more honest our work can be.

We tend to be allergic to acknowledging loss; that we may fall into a black hole of despair and never emerge. Actually the opposite is usually the case. When we have compassion and allow space for the experience of ups and downs, shock and repair, we develop greater capacities. And this is what resilience is all about.

A year ago I wrote about “making friends with fatalism,” inviting us to soften towards our feelings of despair, rather than fight against it. Making friends with our fatalism is about practicing compassion for ourselves and our world.

Renee Lertzman

Dr. Renee Lertzman is an applied reseacher and engagement consultant. She can be reached here.

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Climate Change Denialism and the Problems of Psychology Article

November 4, 2013 – 7:55 pm |

Despite the fact that more people now acknowledge that climate change represents a significant threat to human well-being, this has yet to translate into any meaningful action. Psychologists may have an answer as to why this is. Article in TIME Magazine

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Community Ambassadors Promote Green Changes radio program

November 4, 2013 – 7:47 pm |

Renee Lertzman speaking on a new radio program in Pittsburgh that is trying to improve the climate conversation and what people might do about the problem, community by community.

Click here to listen:


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The Psychology of Climate Change on OPB’s Think Out Loud

November 4, 2013 – 7:36 pm | One Comment

Renee Lertzman speaks on the OPB’s Think Out Loud program:

The new but growing field of ecopsychology is focused on what makes climate change so daunting to confront. A recent Time magazine article asked why, in the face of public opinion polls showing a significant majority of Americans believe the planet is warming, we have failed to take significant action.

That’s what Portland researcher Renee Lertzman spends her days thinking about. She says the reasons humans have had a hard time dealing with climate change are related to how we are hardwired to deal with threats. And those posed by a warming planet are indirect, slow-moving and complex — all factors, she says, that are problematic. Lertzman is one of those in the ecopsychology field who are trying to come up with new approaches to communicating about climate change and by so doing, help change behaviors. How do you think about climate change? Do you have questions about changing the way we think about climate change?

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Comedy, climate change and campaigning

November 2, 2013 – 8:53 am | 3 Comments
Comedy, climate change and campaigning

In the first of a series of interviews and posts about climate change and the arts, the CPA talks to Cheat Neutral’s Alex Randall

CPA: Alex, in 2007 you and two friends made a film called Cheat Neutral  – a very funny satire about carbon offsetting. The film went viral and it won a number of awards. Can you tell me a bit more about the film?

Alex: The premise of Cheat Neutral is that it’s an off-setting company but rather than offsetting carbon emissions it offsets cheating and infidelity. So you can have an indiscretion and you then pay a small amount of money for someone else to remain single or faithful to their partner. The joke is that like carbon offsetting, it’s making sure that the total amount of cheating in the world doesn’t go up. We set up a website where people could pay £2.50 to offset their infidelity and the film shows us launching the company, promoting it in the centre of Cardiff and the media coverage that ensued.

CPA: There are some very touching moments in the interviews you do in Cardiff. What was it like doing those vox pops?

Alex: The experience of talking to the public was an interesting one because we were presenting them with something really silly, pretending that it’s deadly serious and that it’s our new business, but obviously it’s completely absurd.

Interestingly, when we asked some people if having bought our product they would consider cheating on their partner, some said that they would. I don’t know whether that tells you more about them as people or the extent to which everything about our lives has become so marketised and so commodified that when you tell people that there’s a service where they can pay to go on cheating they go “Ah! I can pay for almost anything else online…so why not this?”

But most people we spoke to did think that the idea that you can offset your infidelity is absurd. They go “Well obviously it matters who does the cheating.” And then, from there, they maybe see the absurdity in carbon offsetting. They then have the opportunity to go “But, that doesn’t work, how can you do that?” “Is that legal?” “How on earth do you think that that’s OK?”

CPA: You’re drawing on a number of traditions in the film aren’t you – on the one hand TV formats like Candid Camera, and on the other street theatre and performance art.

Alex: Right…in British comedy there’s a kind of long and noble tradition where you do something ridiculous in front of members of the public and film their reaction. The peak of that was probably Dom Joly’s ‘Trigger Happy TV’. But what we were doing was also informed by our activism. We were involved in Climate Camp – direct action against airport expansion and new coal-fired power-stations. – and in actions against open-cast coal mining. It was protest but it was also disrupting the work of the place – we’d chain ourselves to diggers and occupy the mine for as long as we could.

Ffos-y-Fran action

When you look at direct action it is half theatre – unless you’re doing a really covert action where you’re just trying to screw something up. If you want to be photographed by the press then there’s got to be an element of theatre in it. Buried in all those direct actions are a plot and a story. It is often David vs Goliath – every time you see a tiny Greenpeace speedboat, bouncing around in front of a whaling ship, they don’t need to tell you the story because it’s in the bible. The trick with activism, is often that you find a powerful story that already exists and you create a very obvious shortcut to it.

There are risks to creating those story shortcuts as well – think of the activist standing on top of something being dragged away or arrested and the story is suddenly ‘I’m Jesus Christ – I’ve sacrificed myself for you.’ And then people are just like – ‘Screw you – get out of here with your Jesus complex.’

CPA: So what was the story you were hooking into with Cheat Neutral?

Alex: It’s the story that everyone knows of being dumped or cheated on. Everyone shares it and goes – I know how that pans out. But also everyone secretly goes, yeah, maybe I could do that – and the stories unfold in front of you…

CPA: Brecht famously described the difference between conventional theatre and what he called his epic theatre – a self-consciously political form of theatre – by saying that in conventional theatre the audience views the drama and everything is self-evident: that’s life, that’s the way it will always be, suffering grips because there is no escape. But in epic theatre – or political theatre – the audience views the drama and says: I would never have thought that. You can’t do that. That has to stop. The conventional relationship between audience and theatre is disrupted, producing the possibility of political awareness and dissent. Can you relate that to what you were trying to do with Cheat Neutral?

Alex: Part of the comedy was that disruption of people’s assumptions.  People would come up to us and go “But it doesn’t work does it, because how do you check whether people are really staying single or not?” And we’d be like, “How do you check that they really planted those trees? How do you check that the stove that they installed in that village really cancelled as much carbon as they said?”

When you show something really absurd like the idea of offsetting cheating, people can agree that it’s absurd and then make the leap themselves to conclude that carbon offsetting is absurd as well.

A lot of those conversations and arguments didn’t make it into the final cut, but they were certainly entertaining.

CPA: Is comedy in general a good vehicle for talking about climate change?

Alex: There are a number of conventions in TV comedy for dealing with political issues but none of them really produce that disruption that Brecht talks about so I’m not sure that it is. Comedies like ‘The Thick of it’ – or going back further ‘Yes Minister’  – are essentially about the culture of government and the relationship of the civil service, ministers, the press office, the SPADs and so on. That’s the seam of comedy they mine.  I thought ‘The Thick of it’ was hilarious in its treatment of corruption, nepotism and hypocrisy but you don’t remember what the department did or the policy issues they were dealing with.

Another convention is TV telethons like Comic Relief  or Children in Need which appear to deal with an issue – poverty – but split the comedy and the issue.  Russell Howard or whoever does 10 minutes of unrelated stand-up, and then they cut to a serious 10 minute clip where some comedian looks out of their depth and terrified in a school in Africa that last year’s funds have paid for, then everyone phones in and gives money and it’s back to the comedy. But they’re not being mixed are they? It’s an evening of comedy and trauma, but it’s not an evening of comedy about trauma.

Just occasionally someone does create that disruption. There’s a similar event in Australia – a comedy fundraising gala – where the comedian Tim Minchin does this song called ‘Fuck the poor’ – you’ll find it on Youtube – where the premise is ‘You’ve all come here to raise money for these poor people, but you don’t know where they live, whether it’s Africa or Asia, and you’re donating the price of a drink to offset the fact that you don’t give a shit.’ Everyone claps, but he’s mocking them, it’s uncomfortable. They can’t quite accept that he’s trying to undermine the concept of charity that doesn’t address the structural problems of incredible wealth in countries like Britain and Australia and incredible poverty in other countries.

TV telethons can never have jokes about poverty because what would the joke be? The only joke you could make would be: “We do this every year and we haven’t fixed it. We’ve got a TV telethon, we’ve got incredible poverty, we’ve got people texting donations, it’s been going on for years.” That’s the joke.

CPA: And it’s the same with climate change?

Alex: Yes.

CPA: You sound pessimistic. Have things changed in the seven years since you made Cheat Neutral?

Post-Copenhagen, I think there’s definitely a change in the mood amongst people who work on climate change. Around 2005 to 2009 we all really felt that this was an issue that might be fixed. It might not be fixed in exactly the way that we’d campaigned for but progress would be made. There was a hopeful element then, a sense that things weren’t as grim and hopeless as they feel now.

That change has created a number of things, firstly, you don’t really find people trying to be funny about it any more, there aren’t humorous, light-hearted climate change campaigns now. You just don’t find them. And people work on slightly tangential issues. You feel there’s no point in campaigning around international climate policy so you decide to do something on tar sands, or fracking or shale gas  because it seems as if you can conceivably change something, there might be a partial victory of some sort. No-one can really bear to work on international issues any more. No-one can really bear it. People still do – campaigners still go to the climate change negotiations and do what they did pre-Copenhagen but certainly the big NGOs aren’t sending as many people, it’s not like 2007,8,9 when there was real energy behind those talks as the key international event to create a new framework for reducing emissions globally.

CPA: Your words were that you can’t bear it…

Alex: Did I say that?

CPA: Maybe we touched on one of the deeper issues of working on climate change, that it does feel unbearable sometimes and comedy doesn’t feel appropriate in a situation that’s unbearable. Comedy was only possible when there was more hope.

Alex: Yes. I think that’s a very good way of looking at it. Sometimes even on issues that are bleak and difficult where there is a conceivable path to victory, then as a campaigner, comedy can be great. If you look at something like ‘Don’t Panic TV’ – the people who made ‘The Revolution will be televised’ – they tackled things like the idiocy of the big society, the bedroom tax, the EDL and Guantanamo through comedy. Although victory is not imminent, you can see that with a change of government or a change in the law or a change in something imaginable, those issues could be changed – maybe not completely fixed but improved.

And that’s why they work. You can see how comedy does provide a route to change, it does move the discussion on, it does add to a milieu of dissent around certain policies, whereas – what would you do with climate change? What would the equivalent be?

CPA: So it’s really hard to be funny about climate change at the moment?

Alex: Yes – firstly it’s hard to be funny about it and secondly, if you did find a joke, how is it creating any change? Maybe there’s a challenge there for Don’t Panic TV or Dom Joly…

CPA: But not for you?

Alex: There was maybe a point where any or all of us could have pursued a career doing comedy or doing film and TV, but none of us did. We were invited in to talk to various production companies. We were summoned to meet the head of Comedy at the BBC. Maybe they invite someone funny in every week to see who they find the most amusing but we were like “Wow, this is a big deal, we’ve hit the big time.” But at the end of the day that wasn’t a world that any of us wanted to be in because it’s not about issues, it’s not about changing anything. At the Awards ceremonies we went to we met a lot of people who were complaining because they hadn’t made it, hadn’t got a part in this, been overlooked by someone for that, and it just didn’t seem particularly appealing. I don’t know if it was really a career that was open to any of us or it’s just that we had a brush with it and peered into that world for a bit and moved on. At the end of the day we made the film because we were activists and campaigners. And we carried on being activists and campaigners.

CPA: What are you all doing now?

Alex: We’re all still involved in work on climate change. I’m running a project on displacement and disasters. Beth Stratford, the director, is doing a Phd in sustainable economics.

CPA: So in the end it was politics that won out for you?

Alex: I guess some forms of art create the possibility of dissent more easily than others. Simply taking climate change as a theme or a subject is not enough. You have to do something more.


Cheat Neutral won the following awards:

Grand Jury Prize, Best Short, Environmental Film Festival at Yale
Short Film Award, Aotearoa Environmental Film Fextival (New Zealand)
Audience Award, Colchester International Film Festival
Audience Award, Cambridge International Film Festival
Best Documentary, Heart Of Gold International Film Festival (Australia)
Best Documentary, Canary Wharf Film Festival
Best Documentary, Rushes Soho Shorts
Honorable Mention, Columbus International Film and Video Festival, Western Psychological Association Film Festival, United Nations Association Film Festival, Taos Mountain Film Festival

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Why the World Won’t Listen: Problems with a ‘Values Approach’ to Climate Change

October 18, 2013 – 12:17 pm | 8 Comments


This is intended as a reply to the recent posting of Adam Corner’s article “Why the World Won’t Listen” on the CPA website. Although I am somewhat critical of Adam’s approach I think the whole ‘values based’ approach to climate change communication raises a number of important and contentious issues that we really need to debate as my guess is that even within the CPA we may have very different views on this. So I am writing this with the intention of provoking dialogue not closing it down. I do hope others might join in. 


Although the recent Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that the scientific consensus regarding human induced climate change is now more convincing than ever, and that the problem is graver and more immediate than was understood before, it does not follow that this consensus is necessarily likely to create conditions more conducive to taking action to prevent climate change. Or at least this is a recent popular view. Indeed there have been several voices such as Adam Corner’s (see “Why the World Won’t Listen” posted on the CPA website) telling us that the facts of climate change are not self-evident but filtered through peoples’ value and belief systems. He argues that because we filter reality through these value systems we need to find ways of reaching out to value systems such as those of the Centre-Right in order to get our message across more effectively. If the climate change message becomes associated with environmentalism it can all too easily come across as an ideology which can be safely bracketed and labeled ‘tree hugging leftism’ by majority opinion.


In fact this kind of argument is not new. Something similar has been advocated for over two decades by researchers influenced by a group who developed what has become known as ‘the cultural theory of risk’[i]. From this perspective risks such as health risks, security risks and environmental risks are construed according to the cultural values we subscribe to. A person might be obsessed by health risks such as GM foods or security risks such as global terrorism but be oblivious to the risk of climate change, it all depends upon their cultural values.

Different groups of researchers have identified different value systems. For cultural theory these systems boil down to four – hierarchical, egalitarian, individualist and fatalist. Other researchers of human values, such as Schwartz, offer up a tenfold typology of values including benevolence, achievement, self-direction, hedonism and tradition[ii]. Indeed one of the problems with this approach which nowadays relies heavily on survey research is that it seems to generate as many typologies as there are different research groupings. However cultural theory has been particularly influential because of the connection it has made between value systems and what it calls ‘myths of nature’ which it derived from the ecologist C.S.Holling[iii]. For example it argues that an individualist way of seeing construes nature as benign, as wonderfully forgiving of whatever knocks we deliver, whereas an egalitarian worldview construes nature as ephemeral and precarious, likely to be knocked off balance by ill considered human intervention.

I think there are a number of problems with these approaches, perhaps not irresolvable but certainly worth debating. First of all these ‘values approaches’ are thoroughly pluralistic, they do not see one value system as being superior to another. As Timothy O’Riordan and Andrew Jordan have argued, “these …perspectives are equally valid. None is more ‘right’ for climate change response than any other”[iv]. Although O’Riordan and Jordan are referring to ‘cultural theory’ I think the same could be argued for Schwartz’s framework – if these values are universal then no single value or set of values (eg. intrinsic values) can be deemed ‘better’ than any other.

Secondly ‘values approaches’ appear to disconnect values from systems of power, social control and socialization processes. In other words values become non-ideological. Now I’m very happy to agree that we do desperately need to transcend traditional left/right, liberal/conservative dichotomies. As COIN’s recent report A New Conversation with the Centre-Right About Climate Change argues, “an appreciation of the beauty of the British countryside, or a conception of the good life that rests upon more than just money, are surely principles upon which both left and right would agree” (p.29). Absolutely, but it is precisely this conservative appreciation (romanticized, dehistoricised) which has provided the fuel for the recent emergence of the anti-windfarm and anti-renewables lobby of right wing Conservative MPs. My fear is that it is precisely at the time when we should be gearing ourselves up for a fight that the COIN report urges us to “drop the language and narratives of environmentalism that have only ever appealed to a minority of people” (ibid).

Thirdly, if reality, including the reality of climate change, is only ever absorbed through ‘values frames’ then we can no longer talk about a society being ‘in denial’ about climate change, it is simply that the frames that other people use to apprehend climate change are different to ours. Nor can we say that their way of seeing is more ‘wrong’ than our’s, it is simply different to our’s – this is the logic of pluralism.

Indeed the problem with these kinds of approaches is that taken to the extreme they encourage the view that there is no such thing as ‘the real’ beyond the way in which it is construed via our value and belief systems. This ‘relativist’ position downplays the importance of the real. In social science, for example, it often leads to the view that there is no such thing as an organization beyond the ideas that we have about it. In psychotherapy we encounter the same view, this time expressed in the idea that the individual is nothing more than the stories that they tell about themselves. What disappears from view in all of these accounts is the idea that there are real forces, limits and constraints in the world which exert force upon us irrespective of how we construe them.

Whilst recognizing the importance of the way in which we construct or frame reality I believe that it is also important to understand that reality is able to ‘bite’ us irrespective of how we frame it. You could say that one of the primary tasks of the psychotherapist is to develop the capacity of the individual to face reality. And I think it is because society is having such difficulties in facing reality that a significant number of psychotherapists, group analysts and others influenced by these traditions have become concerned about what appears to be our collective indifference to climate change, many becoming involved in the Climate Psychology Alliance.

You could say that there are certain fundamental facts of life – our dependency on nature and other human beings, the existence of limits to the demands we can make upon them, our individual mortality – that, if faced, provide the basis of human flourishing. But how hard we struggle not to face such realities, using all sorts of illusions to persuade ourselves not to take these facts seriously. And of course these illusions don’t work and as they begin to crumble so we redouble our efforts to shore them up. So whilst I am sympathetic to the idea that we filter reality through frameworks of values, beliefs and meanings I also believe there is a sense in which reality seeps through our filters and affects us unconsciously. Let me give an illustration using the life of the writer, critic and activist Susan Sontag. In a moving account of the life and death of his mother David Rieff recounts how, even though cancer had been a recurring feature of Sontag’s life for 30 years, she refused to accept the possibility of her own mortality. Rieff notes the paradox that “so terrified of death she could not bear to speak of it, my mother was also obsessed with it”, constantly visiting cemeteries, naming her second novel The Death Kit and drawn to places of death such as Sarajevo in the early 1990s. As Rieff notes it is also true that there are moments when reality simply breaks through whatever propaganda we surround ourselves with. Two weeks before she died,


I was in her hospital room in Seattle when, months after the transplant, when she could not roll over in bed unassisted and was hooked up to 300 metres of tubes infusing the chemicals that were keeping her alive but could do nothing to improve her condition, her doctors came in to tell her that the transplant had failed and the leukaemia was now full-blown. She screamed out in surprise and terror. ‘But this means I’m dying,’ she kept saying, flailing her emaciated, abraded arms and pounding the mattress. (The Observer, May 18, 2008)

So I’m skeptical of the usefulness of pitching our communication about climate change in a way that appeals to the values of those who don’t seem to ‘get’ the relevance or the urgency. Rather I believe we should devote all of our energies into creating the conditions in which difficult truths can be faced.

[i] Thompson, M., Ellis, R. & Wildavsky, A. (1990) Cultural Theory, Boulder: Westview Press

[ii] Schwartz, S.H. (1994) “Are there universal aspects in the structure and content of human values?”, Journal of Social Issues, 50, 4: 19-45.

[iii] Gunderson, L. & Holling, C.S. (2002) Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Washington: Island Press.

[iv] O’Riordan, T. & Jordan, A. (1999) “Institutions, climate change and cultural theory: towards a common analytical framework”, Global Environmental Change, 9: 81-93.

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Why the World Won’t Listen: Climate change is real. Why has science failed to convince people?

October 7, 2013 – 11:47 am | One Comment

Why the World Won’t Listen:
Climate change is real. Why has science failed to convince people?

Adam Corner’s article WHY THE WORLD WON’T LISTEN in New Scientist makes many points that we’re familiar with, like the information deficit fallacy and the unpoductiveness of shaming people; he also raises the complex subject of the relationship between science and politics.  The concluding point concerns the need for conversations , which engage with people through their own values.

This is very much the theme of our event in November on Fertile and Sterile Dialogue in the Climate Change Debate
(See events page)

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BPS Research Digest: Climate change sceptic films more influential than advocacy films, claims study

September 18, 2013 – 9:49 am |
BPS Research Digest: Climate change sceptic films more influential than advocacy films, claims study

Climate change sceptic films more influential than advocacy films, claims study, by Christian Jarret, September 2013

Eminent scientists have condemned films that are sceptical about climate change. After airing of the Great Global Warming Swindle in 2007, for example, Sir Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society at the time, said “those who promote fringe scientific views but ignore the weight of evidence are playing a dangerous game.”

Of course there are also films that affirm the idea that human activity has contributed to the rise in global temperatures – Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is probably the most well known. Unfortunately for environmentalists and people who believe global warming is a threat, a new study claims that sceptical films have a more powerful influence on viewers’ attitudes than climate change advocacy films.

Tobias Greitemeyer recruited 97 students at the University of Innsbruck. Thirty-three of them watched the climate change affirming film Children of The Flood – a futuristic tale depicting the life-threatening impact of melted ice-caps. Thirty-six watched The Great Global Warming Swindle, which challenges the idea that global warming is affected by human activity. The remainder acted as controls and watched a neutral film Forgotten Country in The Mekong Region, about life in Laos. The participants watched the first 15 minutes of each film.

Although the students were allocated randomly to the different conditions, those who watched the sceptic film subsequently reported more negative attitudes toward the environment than those who watched the neutral film or the affirming film. By contrast, there was no difference in attitudes to the environment between students who watched the neutral film and those who watched the affirming film.

A second study was similar but this time 92 students watched either Six Degrees Could Change the World (climate change affirming); The Climate Swindle: How Eco-mafia Betrays Us; or Planet Earth: Caves (a neutral film). Also, Greitemeyer added in a questionnaire about participants’ concern for the future.

This time participants who watched the sceptical film ended up with greater apathy towards the environment as compared with participants who watched the neutral or affirming films, an outcome that was mediated by their having reduced concern for the future in general. This was the pattern both for participants who tended to engage in pro-environment behaviours in their everyday lives and those who didn’t so much. As in the first study, there were no differences in post-viewing environment attitudes between those who’d watched the affirmative or neutral films.

When it comes to a lack of belief in the human causes of global warming, Greitemeyer said his results suggest “the media are part of the problem, but may not easily be used to be part of the solution.” He thinks sceptical films have a negative influence on people’s attitudes, but that films advocating for the human impact on climate change are ineffectual.

Unfortunately his claims are undermined by the limitations of the study. Above all it’s unfortunate that he didn’t measure his participants’ baseline attitudes. This means we can’t get any idea of the size of the influence of the films and we have to trust on faith that the randomisation to conditions was effective (i.e. that students in the different film conditions didn’t differ in their attitudes before watching the films). There is also a question mark over how much the results would generalise to a non-student sample.

Indeed, in a subsequent survey of different students at the same uni, Greitemeyer found that they had an overwhelming bias towards believing in the reality of human effects on global warming. Therefore, perhaps the sceptical films appeared to be more influential because they contradicted students’ pre-existing beliefs whereas the affirmative films told the students only what they already knew. A final limitation is the lack of analysis of the content of the films – we don’t know what the active ingredients might be nor whether these were found equally in sceptical and affirmative films.


Tobias Greitemeyer (2013). Beware of climate change skeptic films. Journal of Environmental Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2013.06.002


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Why Climate Change May Be Responsible for the Horrors in Syria

September 10, 2013 – 4:41 pm | 4 Comments


Why Climate Change May Be Responsible for the Horrors in Syria

Perhaps we should stop blowing things up for a little while and concentrate on being a global leader on the real existential crisis of our time: climate change.
Important article linking conflict and climate change on the Alternet website syria

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Earth Under Water BBC Documentary

September 5, 2013 – 4:57 pm | 2 Comments

Here is a link to the BBC Documentary Earth Under Water, which imagines the Earth after sea levels have risen 70 meters and particularly focuses on the effects of that rise on human civilization. I thought I’d post a quick directional pointer to try and stimulate a discussion about this sort of representation of the possible consequences of Climate Change. How useful is it in educating people in the science underpinning these issues, or does it in fact do the opposite and push people away from engaging with these issues? What are the psychological implications of this sort of representation on viewers?


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Security, masculinity and the fracking debate

September 4, 2013 – 7:01 pm | 2 Comments

This post is by Ro Randall


A few weeks ago George Monbiot suggested in the Guardian that we should think about the psychological motivations of fracking enthusiasts. Spot on – as I wrote 18 months ago, the language of the debate is determinedly, and demeaningly masculine. But I think there is more to it than the macho fixation that George suggests. This masculine strutting is, after all, familiar from every other large engineering project you care to think of: nuclear power, space exploration, the channel tunnel. It chimes easily with the desire of large corporations to invest large amounts of money. It makes small men feel big. It’s familiar, doable and profitable.


With fracking however, government has tried to appeal to the public through the rhetoric of energy security, claiming that if we fail to exploit this resource, hard-working families will be priced out of energy, pensioners will die from hypothermia and the nation will be in hock to unreliable foreigners. Baloney, of course, since all energy is now traded on international markets and home-production guarantees nothing about price. It’s the framing that’s interesting – the appeal to security.

There’s an attempt to weld together the gung-ho metaphor of exploration with the paternalistic metaphor of security for those who are deserve it: those who belong to ‘us’ and not to ‘them’. They thus hoped to appeal simultaneously to their neo-liberal financial backers and to their traditionalist, rural constituents. This has of course back-fired, as those rural constituents feel anything but secure as they see their pleasant homes and stable communities threatened by industrialisation they would prefer located elsewhere.


As Alex Randall pointed out in a piece for Open Democracy 3 years ago, energy security is a troublesome frame. In this instance it has upset the apple cart for the right, but it can equally well do so for the left.

The psychological associations of appeals to security are to childhood memories of safety and care, the idea that someone will take care of us, provide for us, make sure that nothing goes badly wrong. Many of the Tory party’s traditional supporters have an ambivalent attitude to these associations. Sibling issues emerge in the fear that others may take what is rightfully yours and the security agenda slips easily into a jingoistic defence of ‘our’ energy and from there to the idea that it is justifiable to achieve energy security through armed conflict if necessary.


Alex points out in his article that while for people on the left a security agenda implies peace-building, conflict resolution and a fair distribution of resources, for those on the right it means achieving stability by any route necessary – political bullying, economic blackmail or military intervention.

In the fracking debacle, it’s the right who have come unstuck in their assumption that the security agenda will play out in the way they expected, but the left should be equally aware that this frame will not necessarily take you where you expect. You mess with people’s most basic fears at your peril.

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