September 25, 2015 – 12:40 pm |

New website

We are actively constructing a new website that will make the material here more accessible. We hope it will be launched later this autumn. Do please stay a while on this version and enjoy the many contributions that have been posted over the last 3+ years.

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UKCP college develops Climate Change guidelines

September 24, 2015 – 4:34 pm |

The Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy College of UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy) has developed Environmental Sustainability & Climate Change guidelines for its 28 Training and Accrediting Psychotherapy organisations and over 3,000 registered psychotherapists and trainees.

This important development follows several years of work with UKCP to develop relevant policies appropriate for the crisis we face.

HIPC say that any psychotherapy or counselling organisation is welcome to use or adapt these guidelines. If used ‘as is’ then it should be acknowledged as an HIPC document. If adapted then please credit/ acknowledge as ‘based on….’

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Radical Hope conference: videos of keynote speakers

September 24, 2015 – 3:51 pm |

The videos of this conference are now available on CPA’s youtube site

Jay Griffiths keynote: Ferocious Tenderness

Jay Griffiths, first keynote speaker and author of Wild: An Elemental Journey, opens the conference with an eloquent, impassioned evocation of the richness of indigenous knowledge, often raped and besmirched by colonialist endeavours. Land is, by contrast, mind medicine.

Chris Johnstone’s keynote: Cultivating Inspired responses to Planetary Crisis

Chris Johnstone, psychiatrist, coach and our second keynote speaker  gave a taster of the ideas in his book, co-authored with Joanna Macey, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy.

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Dreams of Home: Two Social Dreaming Events in response to the refugee crisis

September 21, 2015 – 7:42 pm |

Dreams of Home : Two Social Dreaming events in response to the
refugee crisis
Friday October 2nd and November 6th, 2015, 6.30 – 9.15pm
Helios, 116 Judd St, London WC1H 9NS
In these two special themed events we will keep in mind the current reality of the refugee crisis, and make links and connections if they emerge. It is not necessary to have had a dream that seems to directly address this situation to take part, connections and associations develop in a spontaneous and sometimes surprising way from apparently unrelated material.The dreams may reveal new perspectives, fresh thoughts and meanings.
The matrix is open for dreams for an hour, then here is a short break, and then a Dream Reflective Dialogue where we explore the content of the matrix in the light of our human,
social, political, natural and cultural life; past, present and future.

The London Social Dreaming Hub is open to all interested in this social dimension of our dreamlife.
Please arrive at 6.30 for a prompt 6.45 start. We will finish by 9.15pm. A £5-10 donation is asked for the use of the room, but is not a requirement. For more information about this event contact or For more about Social Dreaming see

SD Refugee Flyer

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Behaviour Change From the Inside Out

August 7, 2015 – 8:14 am |

Behaviour change from the inside out: Psychosocial approaches to sustainability, energy and climate change
Thurs 29 – Fri 30 October 2015, Cambridge, UK.

The Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University are hosting Dr Renee Lertzman for a visiting fellowship later this year. As part of her fellowship, we are co-organising a two-day workshop on psychosocial origins and methods. Psychosocial research techniques place affect and emotion centrally within design, drawing on learnings from social work, psychotherapy, counselling and community work. The workshop will be exploring specifically how psychosocial techniques can add new dimensions to sustainability research, including theoretical foundations, a flavour of a range of specific tools (in-depth interview design, narrative analysis, using these methods in concert with surveys, polling and focus groups) as well as hands-on practice and case study analysis. See attached 2-page flyer for full details.

Booking is now open for attendees, with an early bird rate until 14 Aug, and places are limited to 25 so we advise people to book early.


More details BehChangeInsideOut_Psychosocial_RLertzmanGSI_2930Oct2015

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The Psychology of Inspired Collective Climate Change Action (and what gets in its way) 21st November 2015

August 6, 2015 – 6:13 pm | 2 Comments


This cutting-edge conference will examine psychological processes that help or hinder collective action on climate change. Working on the assumption that finding the way to effective global action involves psychological dimensions, we will be asking:



  • What psychological factors inspire or inhibit effective action on climate change?
  • What do we know about the psychology of coordinated collective action?

We start from a position that the analysis of climate change anxiety and denial offers us important insights. We want to build on this to create a discussion that considers the importance of emotional and cognitive processes to collective climate action and thus to mental and societal health. This conference will examine the psychology of moving from short-term self-interest to long term sustainability, and from mind-sets that block action to pathways that facilitate widespread participation in effective solutions.

Using a TED style format of brief presentations, the event will bring together an interdisciplinary panel of speakers who will suggest that the key element of any solution to climate changes lies in how we think and feel together.

Full details : Confer Event

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When the Heart Can’t Contain What the Mind Can See: Psychosocial Research on Human Engagement with Climate Change 24th October

July 31, 2015 – 6:14 pm |

Seminar Birkbeck University 24th October

Psychosocial research on climate change examines the conflicted meanings, emotions and identities which underlie both engagement and non-engagement with the issue.

Focusing on the relationship between personal experience and social systems, the psychosocial approach goes beneath surface questions about attitude and behaviour to ask hard questions.

How does anxiety relate to indifference? What does identity have to do with denial? How do social systems protect us from difficult truths?

This one day seminar critiques the traditional cognitive and behavioural approaches to the psychology of climate change, highlights an alternative approach and presents findings from in-depth, qualitative research.

Details below:

Invitation to Seminar at Birkbeck University on October 24th

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It’s not Climate Change, It’s everything change by Margaret Attwood

July 28, 2015 – 4:15 pm |

Interesting writing graphically illustrated.


Margaret Attwood article

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Everything and Nothing: Radical Hope in a time of climate change

June 18, 2015 – 6:40 pm |

Everything and Nothing: Radical Hope in a time of climate change


In this article Tony Cartwright reflects on the theme of Radical Hope and brings his own thinking and analysis to bear

When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground and they could not lift them up again.  After this nothing happened

                                                Plenty  Coups, last great Chief of the Crow Nation.

            Quoted in Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation.


In the Guardian of Saturday, March 7th this year there was a special cover with a single quote in the top right hand corner.  You may have seen it.  The quote was from Naomi Klein’s Introduction to her book, This Changes Everything:


‘We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions year after year, climate change will change everything about our world.  And we don’t have to do anything to bring about this future, all we have to do is nothing.’

Alan Rusbridger, who, after twenty years in charge, is retiring as editor of the Guardian, wrote – in the same edition – of his intention to foreground the subject of climate change in the paper before he goes.  Journalism, he says, usually writes of events that have happened and ignores the future since it is unpredictable and uncertain.  But, exceptionally, one possible future is very predictable.  And it is explained by three simple numbers.  Quoting from Bill McKibben – in July 2012’s Rolling Stone – Rusbridger reminded us of them:

  • 2C - ‘there is overwhelming agreement that a rise in temperatures of more than 2C by the end of the century would lead to disastrous consequences for any kind of recognized global order.’
  • 565 gigatons – McKibben believes we can pour 565 more gigatons of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere by mid-century and still have some hope of staying below 2C.
  • 2795 gigatons – this is the amount of carbon dioxide that would be released from the proven fossil fuel reserves that we are planning to extract and burn.

McKIbben, who warned us about The End of Nature some 25 years ago, wrote in the Guardian on the Monday following Rusbridger’s declaration, of ‘a sea change….as the confidence in the old order starts to collapse’.

Given that our past track record suggests we are unlikely to stop the powers that be from extracting and burning fossil fuel reserves well over the 2C limit and that scientists now think we are heading for 4C+ sometime this century, I would like to make the case for ‘doing nothing’.  I have been thinking about this since the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) day in June last year (2014) at the Conway Hall.    In the afternoon David (Wasdell) gave a summary of his Apollo-Gaia Project, presented in March 2014 to the Climate Challenge Conference convened by Climate Change Solutions in the I-Max Theatre of the Millennium Point in Birmingham, and gave us a copy of his paper, ‘Sensitivity and the Carbon Budget. The Ultimate Challenge of Climate Science’ to take home.  I wasn’t able to follow all the science at the time but was left with a strong sense of the hopelessness of the task, so much so that I failed to make any contribution to the discussion that followed at the end of the day about what we should do as a group in future.  Was there really anything we could ‘do’?

The source of everything

By ‘doing nothing’ I don’t mean an idle or despairing, hopeless nothing but an active, thoughtful, contemplative ‘nothing’.  In our Western, industrious culture doing nothing often connotes something empty and vacuous, an idleness associated with a moral lack, an absence of virtue and purpose.  But we know in our psychotherapeutic culture that holding back on our wish to act – doing nothing in the sense of not acting, just being there – especially when faced with extreme distress and suffering, can sometimes be the most therapeutic – if often the most difficult – ‘intervention’, for, along with compassion, it offers the support that allows a person to draw on their own inner resources.

In the East Asian cultures, ‘nothing’ – or ‘nothingness’ – is highly esteemed since it is seen as the source of everything.   ‘Nothing’, in this view, is not the opposite of ‘everything’, everything comes from nothing.  Ironically, science knows this because it believes the universe began from nothing with the Big Bang, something that was also understood by the writers of Genesis, the first book of the Bible – interestingly scientists are now beginning to wonder about the nothing that produced the Big Bang.

The central sustaining reality of Buddhism is shunyata – sunyata in Sanskrit.  It is often translated as emptiness. This is not an empty but a full and infinitely rich emptiness – an emptiness from which everything emerges, what in the Zen tradition is known as the ever present ‘origin’, an origin both in and beyond time, space, and causality.  In us it is experienced as the empty or original self.   Again, it is not the opposite of the personal self but its source and host.  In returning to nothing we are returning to our origin.

This is not to discount action or recommend a secluded life apart from social and political commitment but to suggest that an active life can be enhanced by periods of quiet and focussed contemplation.   ‘Climate warriors’ like McKibben and Klein are to be admired for their energy and thinking, but is hope and optimism alone enough? Klein shares McKibben’s belief that the climate emergency is also an opportunity.  McKibben says we won’t defeat the fossil fuel corporations with rational and ethical arguments alone.  This will be a fight and ‘like most fights it was, and is, about power’.  Their power lies in money and can buy political favour while ‘our power lies in movement-building and the political fear it can instill.’    Of course, there is less guarantee than ever that the ‘movement’ will win.  But is not wisdom – the wisdom that comes with contemplation – the true power, win or lose?

Klein – a more recently converted climate warrior – sees the fight in terms of the defeat of deregulated capitalism and impressively links the struggle to all historical liberation movements – anti-slavery, anti-apartheid, race relations, global social justice, human and gender rights and so on.  But climate change is, of course, more momentous than them all, for ‘this changes everything’.  Hers is a vision of the future that goes beyond just surviving or enduring climate change, a vision in which ‘we collectively use the crisis to leap somewhere that seems, frankly, better than where we are right now.’  Klein’s title is wonderful, the more wonderful because her book cannot exhaust the meaning she – or we – might give to ’everything changing’, including the change to ourselves.

What is wrong with us?

This is important because in one sense climate change is about us rather than the Earth.  Geologists and earth scientists reassure us that, whatever we do to it, the Planet will regain its balance and regenerate without us – give or take some tens of millions of years.   Mass extinctions are its means of evolution.  If the dinosaurs had not been wiped out we might not have evolved.  Perhaps we are not designed to survive, perhaps it’s now our turn to disappear and the ‘opportunity’ lies in what we discover about ourselves in the process.   The question is whether – or to what extent – we become aware of being part of the everything-which-changes before we disappear.  One wonders whether this is in Naomi Klein’s mind in her interesting introductory chapter when, for instance, she writes:

‘So my mind keeps coming back to the question: what is wrong with us?  What is really preventing us from putting out the fire that is threatening to burn down our collective house?’

The answer she gives herself is a simple one – because the lowering of emissions is in conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology.  But does this really answer her question? Does this get to the heart of ‘what is wrong with us’?

Again when she is writing about ‘the politics of human power’ – which is the real problem as opposed to ‘the mechanics of solar power’ – she reflects, in the process of researching for her book, that she has come to understand ‘the shift will require rethinking the very nature of humanity’s power….. a shift that challenges not only capitalism but also the building blocks of materialism that preceded modern capitalism, a mentality some call “extractivism”’.’  She concludes that climate change isn’t an ‘issue’ to add to the list of things to worry about – such as health care and taxes – but ‘a civilizational wake-up call’.  This comprises ‘a powerful message telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet’.  While one cannot but agree with her, is it purely about ‘economics’ or might we ask what are the social, psychological and spiritual roots of economics in the first place?

While one applauds the fighting spirit of warriors such as Klein and McKibben, a reading of the current climate science, as I have said, casts a shadow over their hope and optimism.   George Marshall suggests that we are just not wired to contemplate the reality of a changed climate – which is why we have done so little about it for a generation or more.  In his book Don’t Even Think About It he explores the reasons why and offers ’In a Nutshell’ – his last numbered chapter – ‘Some Personal and Highly Biased ideas for Digging Our Way Out of This Hole’.  But in an unnumbered final chapter he offers a devastating statement about the depth of the real hole we find ourselves in – ‘Four Degrees.   Why This Book is Important’.

The difference between two and four degrees

In this final chapter Marshall sketches the reality and possible consequences that lie in store.   As he reminds us, since 2008 scientists are now more willing to warn that four degrees – rather than two – is the actual future we face.  He quotes Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at UCL, telling the Warsaw climate negotiations:

‘We are already planning for a 4 degrees centigrade world because that is where we are heading.  I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that’.                              

Four degrees most scientists consider to be nothing less than ’catastrophic’ but it is a figure increasingly on the minds of senior policy makers.   With details that may be familiar to many of us Marshall describes how catastrophic it will be:

  • Heatwaves of magnitudes never experienced before – temperatures not seen on Earth in the past five million years.  Four degrees is only the average, so temperatures over large land masses will rise far higher.
  • Forty percent of plant and animal species will be at risk of extinction.
  • Precipitous decline in the growth of crops world wide, exacerbated by drought, floods and increased weed and pest invasion.
  • Total melting of the Greenland ice sheet and, most likely, the Western Antarctic ice sheet raising sea levels by thirty two or more feet – this would put two thirds of the world’s major cities under water, as well as large regions of countries.
  • Once four degrees is reached there’s no guarantee that temperatures would level off.
  • A population of nine billion will not be able to adapt to these conditions.

Professor John Schellnhuber, one of the world’s most influential climate scientists, speaking at a conference in 2013 on the risks posed by a four-degree climate to Australia, said: ‘the difference between two and four degrees is human civilization.’

What is even more disturbing is the time we have left.  ‘So when will we get there?’   The science around four degrees keeps moving but it’s possible that it could be with us by the middle of this 21st century – in our lifetime!  Where, then, does this leave our hope for the future?    The challenge becomes ever more urgent: how do we begin to think about climate change and its implications?    This is also a question raised by Paul Kingsnorth in a thoughtful essay – ‘The Four Degrees’ – for the London Review of Books (LRB 23 October 2014) in a review of both George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything.

‘No amount of psychological awareness …..’

Kingsnorth writes out of his experience as an environmental activist for some twenty years – now disillusioned.  Like McKibben in the past perhaps, he used to believe that if we just give people the information they need, they will demand action and then the politicians will have to act.   But it’s not that simple, in fact it’s almost completely the wrong way round.  He quotes Marshall:

‘Everyone, experts and non-experts alike, converts climate change into stories that embody their own values, assumptions and prejudices.’

According to Kingsnorth ‘the real problem comes when we start trying to cram climate change into our preexisting ideological boxes.’  For instance, in the US climate change has been used as a weapon in the cultural war between left and right.  As Dan Kahan, a professor of psychology, told Marshall, it isn’t information but ‘cultural coding’ that forms the basis of our worldviews.  If you’re affiliated to the Tea Party anything an environmentalist says will automatically be wrong – and vice-versa.  Even people who have lived through environmental disasters often remain oblivious to the wider climate implications.       This applies to us all, including Naomi Klein.   Kingsnorth acknowledges the quality of her analysis and exposure of the way private capital has bound the hands of government – as well as sucking in organizations that should know better – but he also makes the point that she could only allow herself to face the climate threat when she had worked out how to fit it into her ideological box – framing her message ‘as a “progressive” cause firmly aligned to the left’.

Kingsnorth ends his essay by siding with the view of Daniel Kahneman whom Marshall met and interviewed in a New York café.   Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his work on the psychology of human decision-making.  ‘This is not what you want to hear’ he said to Marshall.  ‘I am very sorry, but I am deeply pessimistic.  I really see no path to success on climate change…. No amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living.  So that’s my bottom line.’

Kahneman may have been pessimistic but he seems to have influenced and been greatly respected by some optimistic people, including the psychologist, Steven Pinker, and the economists, Richard Thaler and Richard Lazard.  He is also admired by Salley Vickers, the psychotherapist and novelist, for his demonstration that ‘ultimately we are not rational’. (Observer 16.2.2014)  Kahneman’s pessimism may be the result of his focus on the cognitive mind but perhaps he has also opened the door for those whose thinking takes them beyond both rationality and pessimism, including the psychoanalytic tradition of the modern West and also – I would add – the contemplative practices of all cultures.

Science and religion

Our Western scientific culture is uncommon in that science and religion are quite split off from each other.  Science has rejected a divine creator but it no longer has a connection with any unifying metaphysical ground.  One could argue historically that in sixteenth century Europe the emerging modern science made a pact with the Church – theoretically and practically – that it would not trespass on its religious domain if the latter would allow it to continue freely investigating the material universe.   As a result science separated from religion and was able to proceed unchecked with its empirical revolution.

This may have led to the progressive achievements of the European Enlightenment but there was a downside – the development of a fundamentalist scientific materialism and a modern material mythology – split off from ethical, aesthetic and spiritual values.   It also led to the division of knowledge into two polarized spheres – objective and subjective – with orthodox science having the power to ignore – even deny – not only any metaphysical reality but the subjective experience of the human mind itself.

We see what the scientific and technological power of the 19th century Industrial Revolution led to – devastating World War in the first half of the 20th century, the development of annihilating atomic weapons, and now the actual alteration of the Earth’s climate.  It’s almost as if the threat of our possible extinction is foreshadowed in the absence of any psychological self awareness accompanying the scientific view.  Perhaps this is why we cannot bring ourselves to think about the consequences of climate change.  We assume we lack the inner resources to do so.

The philosophy of scientific materialism also led to the fragmentation of our knowledge and understanding. Science used to be a part of natural or moral philosophy.  But without any integrating philosophy – or world view – our scientific disciplines – natural and human – have become so dissociated they have hardly been able to talk to each other.  This is the real challenge and opportunity of climate change.   Has it not now become the overriding context from which all our sciences should start, the new common denominator – or unifying thread – which could begin to integrate all our divided discourses?   Perhaps It is the new meta-narrative, the common ground from which we could all begin to talk to each other again, if only we could find the courage and means to face it.


This is why the initiatives of the psychotherapy professions – and such collections of articles as Mary-Jane Rust and Nick Tottons’ Vital Signs and Sally Weintrobe’s Engaging With Climate Change – are an important beginning.  Vital Signs discusses the rich possibilities of thinking about the relationship between therapy and ecology while Engaging With Climate Change explores the urgent questions: why we don’t engage and how we might begin to.       The latter book addresses – and discusses – the complex levels of resistance – negation, denial and disavowal – and its many contributors analyse them from different social, political, emotional and psychological perspectives.    This is a challenge because of the difficult feelings and thoughts the climate emergency evokes.  In her introduction Sally (Weintrobe) also emphasizes the importance of facing up to reality as well as the need for a new ethics, an understanding of the nature of mind, and a revaluation of human nature itself.

Of course, this begs the question of what we mean by reality – or the Real – and how our understanding of mind and human nature shapes our ethics.  Exploring these challenges may entail a far more radical transformation than we realize.      Engaging with climate change – as Naomi Klein suggests – could change everything.   Yes, it asks us to face our deepest anxieties and unfathomable thoughts but offers to transform us – and our view of ‘reality’ – in the process.

Perhaps this is already happening.  We worry that we are not wired to think about climate change but perhaps at the same time there is a change going on inside us, despite ourselves.   Perhaps our wiring, itself, is changing.   We know about the plasticity of the human brain, but what could have more potential plasticity than the human mind?   We may be looking at a very uncertain future but has life ever been so exciting as it is in this 21st century?   Science may have given us the means to destroy ourselves but never has the Earth it discloses looked so extraordinary and magical.

Are we being re-wired?

For example we are beginning to feel and see the bigger picture, aesthetically and scientifically.  In 1968 who was not moved when we first caught sight of Earth from space in that epoch-changing photo of Earthrise from Apollo 8 as it circled the moon?   And in the early 1970s down here on Earth James Lovelock came up with the Gaia intuition – the sense of the whole Earth as a living system.  What was initially a hypothesis eventually became a theory and was responsible for helping to integrate the earth sciences.  If the Earth is the new symbol of transformation and integration, then the question today is whether the human sciences – and particularly psychology – can also become an integral part of ‘the Earth Sciences’.

Cosmology is opening up the universe in extraordinary ways.  But also at a subatomic level ‘matter’ itself is looking stranger and more mysterious than ever.  There is a growing sense that it has agency – a life of its own – independent of us.  The traditional solid dualities are dissolving.    What used to be ‘dead matter’ is more alive than we realise and the distinction between organic and inorganic – animate and inanimate – is no longer so sustainable.   This may be a new vitalism, experienced as much inside, as outside ourselves.  Perhaps what is changing is less the world around us as the lens of the human mind through which we perceive it.

Other contraries are breaking down.  The opposition between the ‘human’ and the ‘non-human’ is being questioned.  Human nature is no longer so distinct from the natural forces out of which it evolved.     To be part of a universal continuum takes us back in a way to the pre-modern teleology of the Great Chain of Being, except that the new chain is not a static structure but a dynamic one – a changing continuity.  It evolves in time and doesn’t need a mythic creator god.

Along with this there is also a new feeling about the simple fact of existence. There is a new interest in ontology – the fact of our being.   Our future may be in doubt but we may come to feel more alive in the present than we ever have.       Nor are life and death so much the contraries we in the modern world have made them.   Death need no longer be the fearful mystery it has been.  More mysterious and magical is life itself – how we come to be here in the first place.

These changes are also mirrored in the creative arts.  Extraordinary are the infinite knowledge and interconnections that the world wide web reveals but more innovative is the aesthetic and integrative potential of the human imagination, whether in science, music, the visual arts, theatre and dance, or creative writing.   Poetry and narrative literature are as alive as ever but there is a new romanticism to be found in writing on nature, a romanticism which explores how nature and culture are not separate but essentially intertwined.  An example is Jay Griffiths’ remarkable Wild: an Elemental Journey, a book which redefines and re-enchants the human relationship to nature and the wild.  Griffiths put her boots on and went to live in such wild places as the Amazon, the Arctic,  and outer Mongolia only to find that ‘wildness’ is actually ‘home’ to the humans and other species which live there, a protective, even ‘kind’ place, not the alien, frightening or uncanny wild which modern European Romanticism often made it.

What I am trying to suggest is that our experience of ourselves – our ‘human nature’ and the human mind – is changing and this may be as important – if not more important to us – as the fact of climate change.   And if this is so, how are our human sciences – individually and collectively – responding, particularly for us, psychology and psychotherapy?      The great nineteenth century Tibetan scholar, Jamgon Kongtrul, proponent of the Rime – non-sectarian – movement, wrote, reflecting the great and essential insight of Buddhism:

‘Just realizing the meaning of mind encompasses all understanding.’

In Jamgon Kongtrul’s Buddhist analysis this is not just the human mind but the universe itself – and everything in it – as mind.  This is a view obscured to our modern scientific culture.   We limit consciousness to ourselves only but are beginning to realize how short-sighted this is.  The human mind is an extraordinary phenomenon but it evolved and emerged from something larger than itself.

Psychoanalytic practice

The new discourse is that of the philosopher who thinks from Freud – that is after, with, and against him.  Paul Ricoeur

The two great Western figures who initially explored human psychology through subjective, as well as analytic, experience were William James and Sigmund Freud.  While James brought his ‘radical empiricism’ to bear on our experience of consciousness he remained a philosopher.   Freud wanted to be a philosopher but remained a physician – of the mind – and teacher, though – in the famous phrase of W.H. Auden’s ‘In Memoriam’ – he became ’a whole climate of opinion’.   Freud created a school and, in doing so, devised a practice which students of his art could learn – and develop.   The relationship between practice and theory is an interesting one but I have always thought that practice precedes theory.   Though theory can help practice, it cannot determine it.

Freud introduced a form of practice without which such innovations as the interpretation of dreams and analysis of the unconscious would have been far less effective.  This was the mode of thinking known to us as ‘free association’.  As we know the traditional ‘basic rule’ in psychoanalysis – the ‘talking cure’ – is that the patient should report his thoughts without reservation and should make no attempt to concentrate, on the assumption that nothing he says is without significance and that his associations will lead to meaning and insight, insofar as resistance doesn’t operate.  Resistance does, of course, operate and traditionally much of the work is about analyzing the resistance.  Freud thought resistance is lessened by relaxation and often increased by too much concentration.  We sometimes forget that, of course, ‘resistance’ can also be interpreted positively – as an assertion of the human spirit.

Interestingly, as Charles Rycroft remarks In his Critical Dictionary, ‘free association’ is a mistranslation of the German freier Einfall which means ‘irruption’ or ‘sudden idea’ rather than ’association’ and refers to ideas which present themselves without straining or effort.  In this state ideas occur, or happen, to a person from somewhere beyond the rational or logical mind.    As Rycroft goes on to explain, this technique enabled Freud to abandon hypnosis and allow the focus to be on the patient who alternates between free association and reflection.   An alternative way of thinking about this process is that ‘the patient oscillates between being the subject and object of his experience, at one moment letting thoughts come, the next moment inspecting them’.

Contemplative practice         

For me there have always been similarities between psychotherapeutic practice and contemplative – or meditative – practice, but crucial differences too.  Where Freud made the distinction between the relaxed, freely associative subject and the thoughtful, analytical, reflective mind classical Buddhist meditation, for example, also makes a twofold distinction between a calming, tranquil state and the special insight that comes with analytical examination.

In Sanskrit these are known as shamata – literally, ‘dwelling in tranquillity’ – and vipashyana – insight, clear seeing.   Shamata is not so much relaxation as a still and alert state where particular attention is initially given to posture and breathing.  These are thought to be important because without them insight is limited, even misguided.  Vipashyana is not so much personal analysis as insight into what Buddhists call ‘the three marks of existence’: impermanence or transience, the truth of suffering, and what they call ‘no-self’, by which they mean egolessness, in an absolute sense.  In fact, in the Buddhist understanding, nothing has a self-nature that is fixed, permanent and unchanging – at present most of us unconsciously believe that human nature is a permanent given.

Freud was a scientist but, as a man of culture, he also belonged to the European Romantic tradition.  An important given in that tradition was the cult of the individual which is still a driving factor in our consumerist, capitalist society.   From a systemic perspective a person is not so much an individual as an interdependency – whether one is thinking at the level of family, society, or the wider ecology – so a therapeutic practice that is based on interpreting a person’s reality only from the individual perspective could sometimes be seen as reactionary, even oppressive.  Everyone has individuality but it emerges from an interdependent reality.

A contemplative practice acknowledges this principle and would equate freedom with the realization of one’s interdependency.  Early Buddhism encouraged freedom through the individual mind – the Hinayana, or narrow tradition of the arhat, practiced in isolation – but this became known as the lesser journey and evolved into the greater way – the Mahayana or the Bodhisattva tradition of enlightened compassion for all beings.  The Hinayana and the Mahayana are not viewed as opposed since compassion for others requires an understanding of oneself, but without the greater view it is thought one cannot realize true freedom and enlightenment.  

Knowing oneself

Contemplation involves a paradox which is about using the mind to understand itself – sometimes referred to as ‘minding mind’.  In his book, Luminous Mind, Kalu Rinpoche, whom the present Dalai Lama compared to Milarepa, the great thirteenth century poet and mystic of Tibet, wrote:

‘The basic issue is that it is not possible for the mind to know itself because the one who searches, the subject, is the mind itself, and the object it wants to examine is also the mind.  There is a paradox here: I can look for myself everywhere, search the world over, without ever finding myself, because I am what I search for.’

A paradox is a form of understanding that goes beyond conventional logic or reason and therefore cannot be grasped by conceptual thought only.  Hence it is more amenable to the contemplative rather than the rational mind.

Tibetan culture had devoted itself for a thousand years to developing the art and science of meditative introspection, building on the profound Buddhist teachings and practices of India and China before them.  Freud – both the phenomenological psychologist as well as the natural scientist – didn’t have the benefit of East Asian psychological and philosophical teachings that we have today and relied on his own intuitive genius and place in Western cultural thought.  As a result he was defeated by this paradox, never became the philosopher – the metaphysician -  he aspired to be and called his movement ‘psychoanalysis’ – ultimately a contradiction in terms since in the end the mind cannot be analyzed, only experienced and lived.

In the last century the two traditions and practices of ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ cultures were thought to be very distinctive, even incompatible.  Karl Jung’s warnings about our difficulties – or unsuitability – in the Western world to engage in East Asian meditational practices are understandable, given our limited knowledge of the philosophy and psychology behind them at the time.   But now we know much more, different cultural traditions are seen to be more complementary than we realized.

Many people in the West have turned prematurely to contemplative practices and teachings to address personal difficulties when they would be better starting with some form of psychotherapy which would help them first to establish some personal stability.  As has been said, you need to have a self before you can think about no-self.   But at the same time people genuinely turn to non-Western contemplative practices because they are thought to address existential and metaphysical issues which our modern culture – and psychotherapy – neglects.

The Secret of the Golden Flower

A contemplative practice will be experienced differently by everybody and grow out of a person’s unique disposition and life circumstances.   But there are some general understandings and guidelines within the perennial, or ageless, wisdom that have come down to us from all cultural traditions.   Take The Secret of the Golden Flower, for instance, that Classic Chinese Book of Life which Jung and Richard Wilhelm – its original German translator – made known to us as early as 1932.  Thomas Cleary published a new and more complete translation from the Chinese in 1991 along with notes and commentaries informed by his extensive knowledge of Taoist and Chan/Zen literature and practices.   His edition brings a clarity and depth of understanding that was lacking in the 1932 edition.

As Cleary explains in his introduction, The Secret of the Golden Flower is a lay manual of Buddhist and Taoist methods for clarifying the mind.  Written some two hundred years ago, it draws upon ancient spiritual Chinese classics and describes a natural way to mental freedom practiced for many centuries.  The golden flower symbolizes the quintessence of Buddhist and Taoist paths:  ‘Gold stands for light, the light of the mind itself; the flower represents the blossoming, or opening up, of the light of the mind.  Thus the expression is emblematic of the basic awakening of the real self and its hidden potential’.

Central to this realization or awakening of the self is the conscious recognition of the original spirit – the true self – as it is in its spontaneous natural state, independent of environmental conditioning. In the text this original spirit is also called the celestial – or natural – mind, a subtler and more direct mode of awareness than thought or imagination –  an invitation, perhaps, to step outside our ideological boxes.   Cleary describes the experience of the blossoming of the golden flower as likened to light in the sky, ‘a sky of awareness vaster than images, thoughts and feelings, an unimpeded space containing everything without being filled.  Thus it opens up an avenue to an endless source of intuition, creativity, and inspiration.  Once this power of mental awakening has been developed, it can be renewed and deepened without limit.’

The Secret of the Golden Flower is a manual containing many helpful meditation techniques but its central method goes beyond techniques, right to the root source of awareness.  The core of this method Cleary translates as ‘Turning the Light Around’.  It is difficult to describe this in a few words but what is implied is that by turning in towards the light within yourself you become aware that it is not separate, or distinct, from the light within everything else,‘outside’ you.  As the text puts it:

‘The light is neither inside nor outside the self.  Mountains, rivers, sun, moon, and the whole earth are all this light, so it is not only in the self.  All the operations, intelligence , knowledge, and wisdom are also this light, so it is not outside the self.  The light of heaven and earth fills the universe: the light of one individual also naturally extends through the heavens and covers the earth.  Therefore once you turn the light around, everything in the world is turned around’.  (III, 10)

Radical Hope

In this essay I have been trying to say that while, at best, the near future looks very uncertain and our chances of keeping the average global temperature below four degrees – not to mention two – are slim, at the same time we may be experiencing an important awakening within ourselves – psychologically, socially and spiritually.   This may come too late to ensure our survival on an Earth potentially about to experience a sixth mass extinction – if our climate and earth scientists are to be believed – but we may be enabled to face it without denial and without giving in to despair.  When NaomI Klein declares This Changes Everything she also implies ‘This’ includes a change within ourselves – more profound than she perhaps realizes.

Radical Hope, the title of the philosophical psychoanalyst, Jonathan Lear’s book – which Paul (Hoggett), the Chair of the CPA, first drew to our attention and which we discussed at the CPA day in Bristol this April – examines the paradox of a hopeless hope.  This is a hope beyond conventional hope but also beyond despair – Lear writes of ‘courage and hope’ in contrast to ‘mere optimism’.   He describes the loss of the way of life of the indigenous North American Crow nation when the buffalo were wiped out in the nineteenth century and they no longer could do battle with the Sioux, their common enemy.  As Plenty Coups, the chief of the Crow, lamented, ‘when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground and they could not lift them up again.  After this nothing happened’.  But this ‘nothing’ proved anything but an empty nothing for out of it the Crow were able to find a new way of life.

In Radical Hope Lear describes how with the loss of their culture the Crow found themselves ‘reasoning at the abyss’ – they faced a ‘radical discontinuity’ with their past which involved ‘a disruption in the sense of being’, like ‘a rip in the fabric of one’s self’. Plenty Coups did not give in to despair but accepted the demise of his culture with courage and a faith that something would emerge out of the abyss.  Accordingly at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier he laid down his ‘coup stick’ – the emblem of his warrior culture – acknowledging that the traditional ways of the Crow had to be laid to rest before a new life could begin to be imagined.  What made his hope ‘radical’ was that it was accompanied by a faith in a future goodness.  In Lear’s words:  ‘Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have this hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it.’  This is what makes Lear’s book a study in ethics.

Everything and Nothing

The actual discipline or practice of the Bodhisattva is to regard whatever occurs as a phantom (dream).  Nothing ever happens. But because nothing happens, everything happens …… that “nothing happening” is the experience of openness.

Chogyam Trungpa,  Training the Mind.


The parallels with the challenge to our own culture in a time of climate change are very clear.  The big difference is when nothing ‘happened’ to the Crow, at least they had the opportunity of an actual future – a new sense of being could emerge, the rip in their fabric of the self could be addressed.   Our ‘nothing’, on the contrary, implies the collapse of everything.  The ethical challenge we now face is an absolute, not a relative one – how to conceive of a ‘good life’ – and a benign universe – when there is the possibility of no future at all.   The questions multiply as we reason at our own abyss:  how do we think beyond death? How is it possible to live ethically in the face of our own demise?  What meaning can we give it?  How must it change our view of ourselves?   Where do we find the courage, faith and understanding we now need?


I have suggested one way of trying to answer this last question.   For the Crow it was not about simply exchanging their traditional way of life for our modern one, so – for us – it is not about turning away from our own culture but seeing how we might begin to learn from others – learning ways that we could begin to integrate with our own. There is an intriguing question that runs through all the ancient Indian Upanishads, those sacred writings that are thousands of years old:


‘What is that by knowing which all things are known?’

The answer in the Upanishads is:  knowledge of the true or original self – incidentally a knowledge which enables a contemporary American exponent of the perennial philosophy like Ken Wilber, for instance, to write books with such titles as A Brief History of Everything and A Theory of Everything.  Everything and Nothing are not opposites.   Everything comes from Nothing.  The question is, do we have the courage to face our Nothing?

As for an ‘ethics in the face of cultural devastation’ we are badly in need of this.  The Tibetans have a tradition of seven-point mind training they have used for centuries.  It is called Lojong and consists of 59 pithy slogans which are a means to awaken the kindness, gentleness, and compassion which are core to the training.  Central to the actual practice is Bodhicitta or ‘awakened mind’.  There are two levels of bodhicitta relative and ultimate.  Relative is about attaining liberation through compassion for all beings and practicing meditation to achieve this, while ultimate bodhicitta is viewed as the vision of the true nature of everything – shunyata.  Since we are currently facing the ultimate challenge, this teaching could not be more timely.   A number of commentaries have been published but the ones I have found helpful – in addition to the original modern English translation by Chogyam Trungpa, Training the Mind  - are B. Alan Wallace, The Seven-Point Mind Training  and the classic  commentary  by Jamgon Kongtrul – The Great Path of Awakening translated by Ken McLeod (2005 edition).

Although I originally began by making the case for doing nothing this is not a passive, but an active, mindful and meaningful nothing.  Nor is it an alternative to doing nothing in the conventional sense.  On the contrary the need to be active in every way has never been more urgent – for practical, psychological and spiritual reasons.    One way of avoiding despair at the difficulty of the task is to remember the third of the Seven Points of Mind Training:

The Transformation of Adversity into the Path of Awakening – when misfortune fills the world and its inhabitants, make adversity the path of awakening.


Tony Cartwright,  June 2015

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In Time for Tomorrow 2nd July and 10th July

June 17, 2015 – 2:11 pm |

In Time for Tomorrow?

Talks and workshops by Rosemary Randall and Andy Brown at

Taunton Library meeting room, Paul Street, Taunton, TA1 3XZ on Thursday 2 July, 8pm, and

The Bristol Folk House, 40a Park St. Bristol BS1 5JGV on Friday 10th July 6.30 – 8.00 pm.

Rosemary Randall is an outstanding figure in the field of climate change and with Andy Brown founded the nationally recognised Carbon Conversations project.  Between them they offer a wealth of knowledge about the environmental impacts of all aspects of our lives.  As a psychotherapist Rosemary has a unique understanding of the profound human challenge in facing these impacts, complemented by Andy’s extensive technical knowledge about the practical dilemmas.

In Time for Tomorrow?  the Carbon Conversations Handbook by Rosemary Randall and Andy Brown is published by The Surefoot Effect (   ISBN 978-0-9931211-0-4).  It has been acclaimed by both Naomi Klein (‘This Changes Everything’) and George Marshall (Founder of Climate Outreach & Information Network).

Rosemary and Andy will be available to sign copies of the book afterwards.

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The Pope and the Planet

June 12, 2015 – 2:33 pm |

Pope Francis will issue an encyclical (the highest form of catholic teaching) on Climate Change on 18th June, before his upcoming speeches at the UN and the US Congress, and before the climate talks in Paris at the end of this year.  This programme about his encyclical was broadcast on 11th June by Radio Open Source, a public radio station in Boston:

On the programme are Naomi Oreskes (author with Conway of Merchants of Doubt and advisor to Pope Francis), Sally Weintrobe (psychoanalyst, CPA member and editor of Engaging with Climate Change) and Dorothy Boorse, (biologist and Christian).

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Climate Psychology Alliance Members’ Day 2015

May 11, 2015 – 6:00 pm |

Climate Psychology Alliance Members’ Day:  10am – 4pm Saturday 6th June 2015, at The Guild of Psychotherapists, 47 Nelson Square, London SE1 0QA

Keynote speaker: George Marshall.    Respondent: Rosemary Randall

Why Is Climate Change so Toxic to (English-Speaking) Conservatives?

George will explore the latest research explaining how climate change has become so challenging for conservatives, and why this should be so marked in the English-speaking world.

It is a question that goes to the heart of the wider psychological reasons why people find it so hard to accept this issue,  and the ways that people construct narratives of threat and opportunity around their worldviews.

Across the Anglophone countries, research into public attitudes on climate change consistently show one common feature: that people with conservative politics are far more likely to play down, disattend, or openly deny climate change than people with left-wing politics.

Even more worrisome, in the USA and Australia a rejection of climate science has become a key identifier of right-wing political culture, to the extent that in some US surveys a denial of climate change is a stronger indicator of people’s politics than support for the death penalty or opposition to gun control and abortion.

What is also interesting is that this political polarisation is not found across all cultures. In Germany and Japan for example there is no measurable political influence on attitudes towards climate change.
George Marshall and the organisation he founded, the Climate Outreach Information Network, are internationally recognised specialists in this field, and in his presentation George will draw on their two reports on this theme, and research in Wales, England, Australia, and among members of the European Parliament. George is the author of the widely acclaimed new book, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (
Rosemary Randall is a psychotherapist and is on the steering committee of the CPA. She is co-founder of the Carbon Conversations project and co-author (with Andy Brown) of In Time for Tomorrow? the Carbon Conversations Handbook

The members’ Day is free to all CPA members.  Non-members are welcome to attend the morning session, for a fee of £25.  Refreshments (not lunch) included.

To reserve one or more places and receive directions, please e-mail, indicating member / non-member.



10.00:  Arrival, tea / coffee

10.30: Welcome and introduction – Paul Hoggett

10.45: George Marshall

11.25: Ro Randall

11.40: Break

11.55: Small group and full group exploration

13.00: Lunch

2.15: AGM (formal notice and agenda will be issued to members)

2.45: Reflections on day, CPA’s development needs and membership resources

4.00: Close

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Taking heart in troubled times

March 27, 2015 – 6:04 pm |


Posting by Paul Hoggett and Lynn Reed:

is a radical yet subtle act.

Be present in every small breath of Life, showing up in this moment and in this; attentive, responsive, courageous,

Offer a new story – beyond separation, disrupting duality;
doing the beautiful we find ourselves artists of the infinite.

Embody the divine, through the three tandiens – the pelvic cradle, heart and third eye:
jing, qi, shen ….
opening into the wu wei –

the empty gasp.

And in our playfulness, our childlike arrival afresh in life, we might tumble to carnival – the subversion of rules. Inhabiting the landscape of interbeing,
let us feel that rush of ‘I thou’ connection,
the interstices of love.

Through such urgent intercourse,
the fertility and potency of mysticism and activism might finally fully merge -

birthing new hope in troubled times.

Lynn Raphael Reed, March 2015


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Flight Behaviour

March 19, 2015 – 12:48 pm | 3 Comments

The radical vicar Giles Fraser has argued recently that anyone who sets themselves moral standards will inevitably be guilty at some time of hypocrisy, something he defines as “professing a position that one fails fully to live up to”. He goes on to argue that it is much better to be a hypocrite than a cynic because at least hypocrites believe in something whereas cynics don’t believe in anything. It would be useful to apply this to the way in which we respond personally to climate change.

Maybe my starting point is to say that I don’t find Fraser’s definition a very useful one. When it comes to the personal conduct of my life I have for many years been of the Samuel Beckett persuasion, one that insists that failure is inevitable and what one must strive towards is failing better. I don’t think the fact that we are all to some extent moral failures necessarily means that we are all hypocrites. For me hypocrisy refers to something more than Fraser’s definition captures. When I think of hypocrisy the classic example that immediately comes to mind is the attitudes towards sex of Victorian men – puritanical in public, avid users of prostitution in private. This would be an example of ‘say one thing, do the opposite’, something more than simple moral failure.

What if we apply these definitions to climate change, and flying in particular? I find flying a really difficult one given that my daughter lives and works in Cambodia. I have flown out there once, two years ago, and I have to admit that I’d love to go again. I don’t know whether I will (a CPA member in the USA, Renee Lerztman, has talked about this ambivalence in a recent interview on PostCarbon Radio). I have stopped nearly all other flying and the thing that helped me do this was reading David Mackay’s on-line publication Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air where he calculates that one intercontinental flight is equivalent to consuming 30 KWh per day for a whole year for each passenger. As he says:

Let’s make clear what this means. Flying once per year has an energy
cost slightly bigger than leaving a 1 kW electric fire on, non-stop, 24 hours
 a day, all year.

In my own mind I now think of flying as a form of fly tipping in the atmosphere and I find that thinking like this helps me overcome temptation. So I have managed to turn down work related offers of trips to Peru and the USA. But I did fly to Bulgaria a few times in 2013 when I was involved in a project designed to get rid of the country’s orphanages (a condition of EU membership). I could have gone by train, I expect it would have added a couple of days to each direction of travel. I didn’t even consider this because I felt I didn’t have the time. And I recognize that this perception is a marvelous get out clause for busy middle class people in pressurized jobs (one climate scientist travelled all the way to an academic conference in China by train – he said he managed to write several papers on the journey). And I also recognize a kind of narcissism that pops up inside me sometimes, one which says that I’m an exception to the rules that apply to everyone else for after all I was ‘doing good’ in Bulgaria. And, one more thing. I notice how easy it is to feel ‘entitled’ to fly and the cultural dimension of this, that we in the developed ‘West’ carry this sense of entitlement around with us in a way that we are barely conscious of.

From interviews Ro Randall and I have done with climate scientists I know that flying is a big issue, a minority of researchers feel very angry with what appears to be a norm of ‘frequent flying’ (e.g. to undertake field research and attend academic conferences) within the climate science community. And what about climate activists? Well we probably all know of prominent activists/writers who fly around the world to promote their work. Should this arouse our protest, is this a glaring example of hypocrisy?

There’s a link to hope in all this. Sometimes we use the word hoping as a shorthand for wishing – I hope to see my daughter this summer. To be disappointed is to be caught wishing for something which then doesn’t materialise. On the other hand, sometimes we use the word hoping as shorthand for believing. To be disillusioned is to have been caught believing in something/someone which lets you down. So hope is about both want and belief. I hope that together we can mobilize the kind of collective effort we normally only reserve for war (this is the demand of the Climate Mobilization movement in the USA) to address the issue of climate change before it is too late. If we fail to do this I may have to endure being disappointed (my wish for change is dashed) and disillusioned (my belief in progressive politics is undermined once more).

The cynic avoids disillusionment by avoiding belief. Perhaps having once been caught believing in something that failed, the cynic vows never to believe again. Cynicism may therefore arise from an earlier loss, a loss that the cynic has never been able to get over. But more crucially I think cynicism is the manifestation of a destructive from of narcissism. For the cynic, beliefs are for the weak or the stupid. Cynicism therefore conceals an attitude of superiority. This is the extreme form of cynicism, a form in which it comes to be the defining element of someone’s character.

But in its milder form cynicism affects us all. Speaking personally I find that when I react with cynicism towards someone I often find on reflection that I have been almost predisposed to think the worst of them either because I can then feel better than them or at least not feel worst than them. And yes, I catch myself reacting precisely this way to the efforts of some of my friends to adopt a low carbon lifestyle. In other words I ‘deal’ with my own moral failure by disparaging the moral effort of others. So wherever possible I think we should try and restrict ‘thinking the worst’ to our enemies (yes, I have enemies and I enjoy hating them) whilst giving our friends and allies ‘the benefit of the doubt’ (a great phrase and a core element of emotional generosity).

So I think there’s an argument to be made for exposing hypocrisy within our ranks but there’s also equally an argument to be made for being cautious about our impulse to criticise. So to Wikipedia and the well known extract from the New Testament

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

I note that this doesn’t seem to exclude giving one’s own eyes a good clean out so that one is then better equipped ‘clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye’. I wonder if there isn’t a danger that we in the climate change movement become so concerned not to polarise, not to engage in ‘enemy narratives’ and not to be judgemental that we end up disarming ourselves. In previous political movements judgements were made about activists’ private lives, sometimes to their faces if, for example, this involved racist or sexist behaviour. Why is flying any different?

Of course there are other important ways than flying to reduce our carbon footprint. But for the middle classes and young people (many of whom don’t own a home) flying makes a huge difference and qualitative research being undertaken by Robert Tollemache reveals just how deeply people like us feel entitled to fly.

It would be good to open up a debate on this website about this issue.

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Radical Hope & Cultural Tragedy Conference 18th April 2015 *** The conference is now fully booked ***

March 10, 2015 – 8:24 pm | 6 Comments

*** The conference is now fully booked ***

Climate Psychology Alliance


Radical Hope and Cultural Tragedy:

A conference to highlight the complex pressures within our

collective mind in the face of dramatic climate changes

Location: Bristol Folk House, 40a Park Street, Bristol BS1 5JG Bristol (European Green City of the Year 2015)

Saturday 18th April 2015

This event will be the culmination of much collaboration, contact-making and imaginative effort and will offer a rich, stimulating and useful experience to all participants.

Fees have been set as low as possible, to make it widely accessible.

Like the species now being extinguished, many cultures face devastation due to fragmentation, loss of diversity, modernisation, blindness to consequences, and climate change. Examples from the New Guinea Highlands (Jared Diamond) to the Crow nation (Jonathan Lear) offer telling stories of tragic disavowal and radical hope. If hope is not to be an escapist delusion, then it needs to emerge out of facing the tragic.

As well as major presentations, there will be workshops, storytelling and a play to explore how many cultures, both animal and human, are facing tragic losses that cannot easily be thought about. The courage to face tragedy requires not only letting go of cultural certainties, but letting come unthought or unheard possibilities for being in and of this world. Such explorations radicalise hope to enable sustained ethical and political engagement.

Jay Griffiths: Ferocious Tenderness: Cultures may cease but Culture itself does not; human life accents itself with culture in language, ethics, beauty and with roots in the ferocious necessary: the wild earth.
Jay is an award-winning author whose work includes Wild: An Elemental Journey, Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time and Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape.

Chris Johnstone: Active Hope – cultivating inspired responses to planetary crisis. We live at a time of uncertainty where the challenges we’re confronted with can feel overwhelming. What helps us rise to the occasion and give our best response? Chris is co-author, with Joanna Macy, of Active Hope – how to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. He has worked closely with the Transition Movement in exploring how insights from addictions recovery can be applied to tackling oil-dependence.


  • Four Worlds and a Broken Stone: Sarah Deco;
  • Dreams- A Cultural Resource in Dark Times: Paul Hoggett & Penny Mclellan;
  • Catastrophe Ethics: Chris Robertson & Richard Wainwright:
  • Hope resides in mending the human heart and mind: Sally Weintrobe.


Steve Waters: In a Vulnerable Place, a performance of his meditations upon the impact of climate change from the Broads of Norfolk to the Steppes of Mongolia.


Adrian Tait in conversation with ‘Mac’ Macartney (founder of Embercombe and author of Finding Earth, Finding Soul: The Invisible Path to Authentic Leadership).


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Sally Weintrobe’s review of Rosemary Randall and Andy Brown’s book “In time for Tomorrow?”

March 10, 2015 – 8:20 pm | One Comment

In Time for Tomorrow? the Carbon Conversations Handbook

By Ro Randall and Andy Brown

Published by Surefoot Effect, 208 pages, £11.99 paperback.


As Naomi Klein rightly says in her back cover endorsement, “this lovely handbook covers it all”.   It helps one to understand what’s at stake with climate change, reduce one’s personal carbon emissions and find ways to talk with people about a subject still seen as taboo.

The book, beautifully written in a clear style, explains sometimes complex issues simply, but not over simply.  For example:  ‘Could ‘fracking’ for natural gas in the UK reduce our emissions and provide energy security?  Natural gas has lower carbon emissions than coal but it is still a fossil fuel.  We need to move quickly to genuinely low-carbon sources of fuel.  Fracking for gas will divert investment from the renewables that need to be developed.  The fact that the gas is produced in the UK is unlikely to make it cheaper or provide security as it will be sold on the international market’.  

It explores all aspects of one’s carbon footprint, introducing each at a manageable pace.  For example, the chapter on travel and transport takes the reader through:  what’s the problem with transport and travel; how did we get here; status, belonging and security; international families; need, freedom and choice; options for low-carbon travel; technical solutions; policy changes; reduction; one tonne travel; imagining the future; four altered lives; making changes now; practical steps; getting stuck; underestimating the difficulties; what about at work; ideas to try; and rules of thumb.

Personal carbon emissions are broken down into: energy at home and at work; travel and transport; food and water; consumption and waste, with a chapter on each topic.  The introduction gives a general overview of the problem of climate change ending with a useful section on ‘frequently asked questions’, while the two final chapters are on talking about climate change with friends, family and colleagues and moving on.  Both authors have considerable experience in helping people reduce their carbon emissions through their work in Carbon Conversations Workshops, and this experience shows.

The book enables us to calculate our total individual carbon impact, see how we compare with others in our country and other countries, and understand where we need to be for a viable future.  Its genius is to give factual information in an easily digestible form.  For instance, there are tables giving lifestyles changes, with boxes to tick ‘I’m already doing this’, ‘I would consider this’ or ‘This would be really hard’, and carbon star ratings for each action.  The tables can help one identify places to start to make carbon reductions.  I have two home freezers, one in the basement that I hardly use.  On seeing that a freezer has a 3-star rating, I emptied it and switched it off.  I knew this freezer was wasting energy, but reading the book made this more immediate and real, and put it in a context that helped me think about it.

The section on how to talk about climate change is psychologically sophisticated in its understanding of what can make conversations stall and why.  It raises issues like projecting one’s own unprocessed anxiety and guilt into others by knobbling them as though one was the Ancient Mariner; how demoralizing it can be to encounter social resistance to talking about the subject from one’s nearest and dearest, and also the importance of recognizing when other hidden personal agendas get in the way of a carbon conversation.

Deciding to take climate change seriously in one’s personal, social and political life is like setting out on a journey, one that, as Randall and Brown point out, will take time and involve setbacks.  This book offers support on the journey.  It helps identify the sorts of feelings one is likely to have about making changes to one’s life, and it doesn’t fudge social, political or personal difficulties that ensue.  In Time for Tomorrow? helps us keep climate change at the forefront of our minds which, is where it needs to be.  I think it is essential reading.


Sally Weintrobe


Member of the Climate Psychology Alliance

Editor and contributor, Engaging with Climate Change (2013) Routledge: London.


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Review of Stephen Duguid (2010) Nature in Modernity. New York: Peter Lang.

February 15, 2015 – 8:46 pm |

This is one of the most stimulating and enjoyable books about humanity’s relationship to nature that I have come across. In particular it offers a possible answer to one of the most vexed questions facing us as the climate change crisis deepens: when did our relationship with nature first start to go wrong? In answering this question Duguid takes us on a fascinating journey using ancient history, social anthropology, literature and philosophy as our guides. And although he rarely touches upon psychology he is very clear from the outset that, as he puts it, “the source of the environmental crisis lies not without but within”.

The problem, according to Duguid, is the emergence of the belief that nature is not only radically different, ie other, to humanity but also that it’s essential purpose is to serve human interests. This belief, which puts humans separate and first, is often referred to as anthropocentrism. Duguid argues that the roots of this anthropocentrism can be traced both to the early Judeo-Christian tradition and classical Greek philosophy, flowering with the onset of modernity at the end of the medieval period in approximately 1500AD.

This idea that humans are in some way not only different but exceptional finds expression both in religion (God made humankind in his own image) and philosophy. For the Greeks it was reason that set humankind apart and demonstrated that humanity was the peak of creation. Passion was the antithesis of reason and, according to the Greeks, tit followed that the good life lay in mastery of human passion by reason. And so a whole series of binary oppositions were established including human/nonhuman, reason/passion and modern/primitive. Enlightenment thought extended this ‘logic’ so that, for example, Descartes believed that, unlike animals, only humans had mind and soul and thus felt pain in a human way. It followed that it was erroneous to extend compassion and rights to the other-than-human.

Such false dichotomies dominated the emerging discipline of science. Francis Bacon, arguably the founder of experimental science, thought that the scientific method was designed to “command nature in action”. Three hundred years later and the so-called ‘triumph of reason’ is manifest in the widespread belief that we stand on the brink of mastering nature (from the mysteries of outer space to the secrets of the genetic code) as humanity progresses towards a state of absolute knowledge. Duguid uses Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to illustrate the way in which such hubris has in reality brought us to the edge of catastrophe.

At both the individual and societal level we have become so encased in our own thoughts and perceptions that our encounters with otherness (human and nonhuman) is fleeting and shocking because entirely unexpected. At such moments it is as if some kind of foreign matter has broken through the invisible membrane which surrounds our own personal biosphere, something beyond our (imagined) control and therefore destabilising, terrifying. In a telling extract from the work of Charles Guignon, Duguid indicates where this leaves us. Subjectivity becomes structured around an intense individuation, “distinct from everything outside itself, including its own body…a sphere of subjectivity containing its own experiences, opinions, feelings and desires, where this sphere of inner life is only contingently related to anything outside itself”.

So far so bad, but in the second half of his book Duguid then presents us with evidence of an equally ancient and enduring but very different way of thinking about our relation to the other-than-human. He sees this ‘shadow modernity’ in the thought of Epicurus and Lucretius, Rousseau and Spinoza and, more recently in the ecocentrically inclined philosophy of Michel Serres, Val Plumwood & Carolyn Merchant and psychology of Carl Jung. Far from the triumph of reason over nature, this perspective construes humanity as a citizen rather than conqueror of the natural world. The human being is no longer confronted by a world ‘out there’ and propelled into the future by fear of mortality and terror of insignificance but is a being at home in a universe of chaos, chance and transient meaningfulness, content with the daily pleasures and sufferings of life. Duguid uses nineteenth and early twentieth century ‘nature writers’ to evoke this different relation to the other-than-human, one in which nature’s ‘voice’ (whether Aldo Leopold’s pine forests or John Muir’s Canadian wilderness) speaks to us and we are able to “view nonhuman nature with wonder and reverence rather than rapaciousness”.

For someone with little knowledge of ancient or modern philosophy Duguid’s accessible exploration is a treat. His conclusion is also one I concur with. If the problem of modernity is expressed in the false dichotomies it has continually created then the answer does not lie simply in reversing them so that nature/emotion is good and humanity/reason is bad nor does the answer lie in a merging which denies the differences. And he sees four developments in recent decades which might enable us to contain the contradiction of what it means to be human, i) a growing reappraisal of what human happiness and flourishing look like, ii) the challenge of feminism to our understanding of compassion and ability to accept otherness, iii) new forms of non-mechanistic science and, iv) the increased influence of non-Western belief systems and philosophies.

But above all, what I enjoyed most, was an appreciation of the power of the ‘voice’ and the presence of the other-than-human as it watches the passing of our small human lives.

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Psychotherapy in a time of Global Warming

February 10, 2015 – 12:52 pm |

Psychotherapy in a time of Global Warming: Tree Staunton and Judith Anderson call for an official policy on Climate Change from United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy

The following article was published in UKCP’s magazine The Psychotherapist Issue 58 Autumn 2014 pp33-34


The reality of global warming is acknowledged by most of the world’s governments and by non-governmental organisations, scientific organisations and many businesses. Because of this and other environmental problems, we are all facing inevitable, significant changes to our way of life. The scale of the deprivation, loss and change anticipated will mean that the provision of psychological support services will be of vital importance.


Global environmental problems already affect the society in which we work in a number of ways and the contribution of what we in the psychotherapeutic community do on a day-to-day basis is desperately needed. With our understanding of the importance of consciousness and engaging in depth, whether from a psychoanalytic, humanistic, existential or neurobiological point of view, we can contribute to a more effective response to this threat.


The voice of psychotherapy

To be a psychologically aware human being in society today means embracing the web of life and to know that with every breath we take we are dependent on the living system of our environment. It is no longer possible to separate psychology from ecology – or indeed from science. Systems theory scientists have made the links. Can psychotherapists?


The psychological theories on which our practice is based have – with notable exceptions (Searles, 1972; Roszac, 1993,1995) – neglected to recognise, respect, theorise and address the clearly implicit intimate relationships we have as individuals, as groups and as a global species with the non-human world. This neglect can be seen as part of the dissociation in which we participate, related to our consumer-oriented societies and driven by the need for ever-increasing economic growth.


Many members of our profession have been working strenuously in recent times to bring these issues to consciousness, placing human psychology in an ecological context (Dodds, 2011; Rust and Totton, 2011; Weintrobe, 2012). The professional journals of several modalities have published special issues on these themes and the cross-modality Climate Psychology Alliance arose from a 2009 conference, Facing Climate Change. Furthermore, several UKCP organisations offer ecopsychology training modules and numbers are increasing as interest grows.


Why should a major UK therapy organisation be involved?

All socially responsible organisations can show leadership by adapting to the situation in their own areas of operation and fields of influence and to join with others to place pressure on government for policies to produce faster, deeper emissions cuts.


A recent editorial in the British Medical Journal, ‘Climate change and human survival’, states that ‘those who profess to care for the health of people have perhaps the greatest responsibility to act’. The first action they propose is ‘to push our own organisations … to divest from fossil fuel industries completely and as quickly as possible’.


The Institute of Psychoanalysis is already reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The Royal College of Psychiatry has a full-time sustainability fellow and is holding a summit in October on the environment, society and health. In a recent article in International Psychiatry, ‘What psychiatrists should know about environmental sustainability and what they should be doing about it’, Maughan et al suggest three areas of immediate focus:


• Mitigating the effects of climate change

• Preparing effective, achievable, adaptive strategies for mental health services

• Equipping present and future psychiatrists with the knowledge and skills to manage the effects of climate change in their clinical settings.


UKCP central office has done a creative and thorough job in taking action with regard to mitigation and we applaud this. However, these activities are only a small part of our environmental footprint. Training organisations and individual psychotherapists and counsellors comprise a large part of UKCP and need to be encouraged to take appropriate action.


As psychotherapists, we have a particular contribution to make to co-creating

the kinds of changes in consciousness needed at this time. We are in a unique position to listen out for the fears, fantasies and dreams that will emerge as the realities of climate change hit collective awareness. We need to equip ourselves to face these realities with our clients and avoid colluding with the silence and the denial.


UKCP can – and we would argue should – spearhead and promote dialogue and introduce forums where these issues can be looked at, discussed and felt, so that its psychotherapists will be equipped to deal with the future issues facing humanity collectively as well as individually.


Why does UKCP need a policy?

Climate change will develop as a central narrative in the coming years in relation to the mental health and wellbeing of the population at large. It already impacts on issues of equality and diversity because 98 per cent of people currently severely affected by climate change and 99 per cent of those dying because of climate change live in the developing world.[1] We live in a multicultural society and many of our colleagues, clients and the communities in which we live have close connections with places on the planet where disaster is already happening and will do so to a greater extent in the future. UKCP provides policies and offers position statements on gender, equality and issues affecting minority groups. We believe that environment and climate change issues require a leadership position from UKCP.


COIN (Climate Outreach and Information Network) published a report in April 2014 summarising the findings of its ‘narrative workshops’, which were used to research communication and developing narratives surrounding climate change. The most popular frame to emerge focused on ‘the things we

care about which are threatened by climate change’. The campaign is using the narrative ‘For the love of…..’ to showcase the diverse, personal and unexpected motivations for taking action to avert climate change, as well as all the things we stand to lose without action. Psychotherapists can – and should – have something to add to the framing of this developing narrative, with an understanding that embraces our unconscious response and the stimulation of strong primitive reactions when current defence mechanisms fail.


While individual therapists may have a voice and offer an opinion, it is important that our national body represents us and offers a policy position. A policy raises awareness. It calls on us to act and offers forums for debate and understanding, pointing to implications for clinical practice. We believe that UKCP needs to establish a considered position, offering guidance and to some extent a ‘holding’ of the situation, as information begins to hit public awareness.


Those of you who subscribe to the LinkedIn UKCP discussion group will be aware that the board of trustees recently voted against a proposed policy on climate change and environmental sustainability. A number of reasons were given, one being that the board was not aware of membership support for a focus on these issues. Perhaps we are talking to the wrong people but to our knowledge there is a whole raft of therapists out there who share our concerns.


We are part of a workgroup in UKCP’s Diversity Equality and Social Responsibility Committee (DESRC) that has drafted a proposed policy. If you are interested in supporting this work, please take action. Join in our LinkedIn discussions and let UKCP know you support them in adopting a policy.

For the Love of all we hold dear …



Dodds J (2011). Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos: Complexity Theory, Deleuze|Guattari and Psychoanalysis for a Climate in Crisis Routledge UK

Maughan D, Berry H and Davison P (2014). What psychiatrists should know about environmental sustainability and what they should be doing about it. International Psychiatry, 11(2). Available at

Rust MJ and Totton N (2011). Vital signs: Psychological Responses to Ecological Crisis, Karnac UK

Roszak T, Gomes ME and Kanner AD (1995). Ecopsychology: restoring the Earth, healing the mind. University of California Press.

Searles HFMD (1972). Unconscious Processes in Relation to the Environmental Crisis, The Psychoanalytic Review, 59 (3) 361-374

Weintrobe S (2012). Engaging with climate change: psychoanalytic and interdisciplinary perspectives, Routledge London and New York

 Tree Staunton (MA HIP, UKCP) Integrative Body psychotherapist, Director of Bath Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling, acting Chair and Vice-Chair of the UKCP HIP College: Editor of Body Psychotherapy (Routledge 2002); MA Research Explorations in Body Consciousness. She lives in an eco-cohousing community in Stroud, Gloucestershire and has worked as a psychotherapist for over 25 years. Tree has a special interest in the integration of politics and psychotherapy, has been closely involved with PCSR (Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibilty) for many years and has been active in UKCP’s DESRC

Judith Anderson is a founder member of Climate Psychology Alliance and is on its management committee. She chaired Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility for 7 years, and represented the Climate Change workgroup on UKCP’s Diversities Equality and Social Responsibilty Committee from its foundation. She works as a Jungian psychotherapist with individuals and couples and is interested in the integration of newer energy psychology techniques into practice. She is passionate about the part that all the psychological professions can play in response to ‘the greatest collective challenge we face as a human family’ (UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon)

[1] World Health Organization.

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Radical Hope – approached through poetry and psychotherapy

February 7, 2015 – 11:32 pm | One Comment

Radical Hope by Paul Hoggett

‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing ‘

These opening lines from T.S. Eliott’s East Coker illuminate the pull of false hope, the hope that leads to tears. And perhaps we then become too quickly disillusioned by our leaders, and by friends and colleagues upon whom we had pinned such hopes.  But often, shorn of our illusions, we slip into cynicism and despair or go off to find a retreat inside ourselves. Facing the worst and yet sustaining an optimism of the will, now there’s a challenge.

Facing climate change, species extinction, global conflicts and poverty, allowing ourselves to be disturbed by them, moved by them and yet remaining sane, is no easy thing. As therapists involved in the Climate Psychology Alliance many of our clients also face a private world which is in ruins and so we know something about inner strength, the nature of courage and the capacity to look into a future bereft of familiar landmarks. This is what we call, following Jonathan Lear, ‘radical hope’. And in April we will hold an event in Bristol, Radical Hope and Cultural Tragedy, dedicated to an exploration of this kind of hope, involving the writer Jay Griffiths, activist Chris Johnstone, playwright Steve Waters,  Embercombe founder ‘Mac’ Macartney and many others. Go to for more details.

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Paul Zeal’s poem ‘Sacrum’

January 30, 2015 – 9:51 am |



When you bring things in from other worlds to this,

You may have no say in the ways of this world

Where humans have possessed it all

And the vast majority are deaf to your call.


There’s every kind of rapture, every kind of grace

Every kind of capture, every kind of chase –

And though no one appears to save us from the human race

There’s something that the sacrum knows is sacred.


All the spilt blood, the burning oil,

The ransacked depths and the green laid waste –

It’s our species’ total freak-out

Masked by the manufacture of consent


Yet Nature ain’t so friendly,

‘Red in tooth and claw’

An awful lot of food forever in her craw,

We were supposed to stand above

Her trance communion

And raise Her gruesome game

Instead our startling adventure is mired in our shame

That mostly what we do is sacrifice Her in our name.


There’s every kind of rapture, every kind of grace

Every kind of capture, every kind of chase –

And though no one appears to save us from the human race

There’s everything the sacrum knows is sacred.


  Paul Zeal

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Sustainable Psychotherapy project wins RCPsych award

December 2, 2014 – 11:08 am |

RCPsych Psychiatric Team of the Year 2014: Outstanding Contribution to Sustainability.

The Growing Better Lives Project.

Growing Better Lives is a social enterprise based in a yurt at an environmental centre near Uxbridge.    Weekly therapy groups are based on principles of modified therapeutic communities, ecological sustainability and ‘greencare’ (therapeutic horticulture and other nature-based approaches). The team includes ex-service users, horticultural therapists and a medical psychotherapist

The judges said:  “The Greencare for Personality Disorder programme demonstrated excellent environmental awareness across all aspects of the service, from care delivery through to sourcing local food and using green spaces therapeutically.

This is the first time the RCPsych has included a sustainability award in their annual award scheme

Read more at Sustainable Health Care

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Climate Change and the Media event

November 8, 2014 – 1:19 pm | One Comment

Climate Change and the Media:

Anne Karpf in discussion with John Vidal, James Painter and Sally Weintrobe in an event organised by the Centre for Research into Media, Identity and Culture (MiC)

Anne Karpf is Reader at London Metropolitan University and a freelance journalist;  John Vidal is Chief Environment correspondent of The Guardian; James Painter, of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford is author of ‘Climate Change and the Media’; and Sally Weintrobe is a psychoanalyst and editor of ‘Engaging with Climate Change’.

When:                        Tuesday 18th November 2014  (6 – 8 pm)

Where:                       London Metropolitan University, (opp. Holloway tube)
Followed by a reception.

Booking and details:             see attached flyer here - Climate Change and the Media

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The Plague

October 28, 2014 – 5:32 pm | 7 Comments

Written in 1947, with the memory of French collaboration with the Nazi occupation fresh in his mind, The Plague, the novel by Albert Camus, is an allegory about the human condition in a time of terror. It is not a pessimistic book, nor is it a moralistic one. I reread it earlier this year because I had a feeling that it might help deepen my understanding of how we will probably react as the reality of climate change begins to bite. But today, as we face the Ebola crisis, we also literally face the kind of plague that Camus made the subject of his fiction.

The Plague is set in a fictional N African town overwhelmed by an infectious disease. The entire town of Oran is subject to quarantine and the novel focuses both upon the different reactions of the townspeople and in particular on a volunteer health team led by a Dr Rieux. As the disease gathers momentum its slow spread is met at first with collective denial but when the brute reality of death makes itself inescapably present then denial is followed by terror. Sometimes this terror is overt and noisy but more often it is a quiet background hum of terror which people respond to in a variety of ways – by silent resignation to fate, through hedonism, through a cold and calculated struggle for individual survival and through kindness and solidarity.

If we move from the literal to the metaphorical meaning of the story then we can see how The Plague is an exploration of the infection of the social body. In a central section of the novel one of the protagonists, Tarrou, reveals something of himself to Rieux. In his introduction to the Penguin Modern Classic edition of The Plague Tony Judt argues that Tarrou’s speech here is the authentic voice of Camus. According to Tarrou, “all I can say is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims – and as far as possible one must refuse to be on the side of the pestilence”.

In her contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Camus (2007) Margaret Gray writes,

“Suggesting that we are all complicit in the death of innocents, Tarrou asserts that we must nonetheless fight any force that brings death; and this includes maintaining vigilance, as well, against the potential each of us carries within ourselves for infection by such a plague, whatever form such evil might take.”

As Naomi Klein notes, climate change will test our moral character like little before. On occasions nowadays I catch myself feeling fearful about our future. Although I am aware that climate change is just one contributory factor it is as if the tens of thousands of Arab and African migrants crossing the Mediterranean in their overcrowded and leaky boats are the shape of climate change to come. Only this week ministers from various European nations have argued against supporting search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean because it encourages the false hopes of the migrants and the ruthlessness of their traffickers. And yes, there’s a part of me that I’m quite aware of that says “we can’t let them all in, we’ll be overwhelmed and the far right in Europe will simply be strengthened”. To avoid complicity during the times that are coming is going to be no easy thing.
So this is the plague that Camus speaks of. This pestilence of paranoia, hatred, denigration, despair, righteousness and moral outrage, othering, scapegoating, silence and turning a blind eye. As he says, “everyone has it inside himself, this plague, because no-one in this world, no-one, is immune”. This is not about the inherent nature of human evil but about the forces that are unleashed at particular points in history when an organised structure of feeling, that is terror, grips us.

But Camus is not pessimistic. Rieux points to the stunning fact that throughout the epidemic, there was never a shortage of nurses and grave-diggers, despite their greater risk of infection. One thinks of the Ebola crisis today and of those health workers inside and outside the infected area who have what seems to us to be the courage to look the plague in the face. Over again Camus makes the point, these are not heroes, they are ordinary people who do what they feel must be done sometimes out of duty, sometimes out of love but more often than not for reasons that they themselves cannot understand.

In the introduction to This Changes Everything Naomi Klein reminds us that it is too late to stop climate change from happening for it is already here and the disasters which will be part of it are already starting to occur. But, she adds, “it’s not too late to avert the worst, and there is still time to change ourselves so that we are far less brutal to one another when those disasters strike.”

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Royal College of Psychiatrists Sustainability Summit

October 3, 2014 – 3:54 pm | 5 Comments

3rd October 2014 from Daniel Maughan RCPsych Sustainability Fellow

The RCPsych Sustainability Summit

On the 1st October we had the first sustainability summit run by a medical royal college in the UK. However, people continue to think that sustainability remains the remit of politicians and self-styled hippy tech companies. “What has sustainability got to do with mental health care or psychiatrists and what is a sustainability summit anyway and why on earth is the RCPsych holding one of these??”

Soon the videos from all the talks at the sustainability summit will be on the RCPsych website if you want to find out more. The summit brought together psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, clinical leaders and academics. There was vibrant discussion about how to tackle these issues and which issue should take priority in the busy milieu of clinical practice. A big thanks goes to the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare for helping with the organising, running and hosting of the day!

Vanessa, CEO of RCPsych introduced the day then I provided an outline of sustainability and its relation to mental health. President of RCPsych, Simon Wessely gave his views on the constraints on mental health today and for the future. Professor Helen Berry, via video link from Australia, outlined the evidence for the mental health effects from climate change. Dr Judith Anderson, a consultant psychotherapist,  discussed the issue of climate change denial and how mental health professionals who are experts in human defences such as denial, have a responsibility to help begin the difficult conversations about how to tackle the complex issue of climate change. The staff at the Greencare centre for those with personality disorder in Slough provided an excellent talk about their work and David Pencheon, director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit brought the day to an end by hammering home the importance of sustainability for health care.

Sustainability for health care is a paradigm that creates a focus on constraining factors that could affect health in the future. The sustainability framework for understanding these factors is the triple bottom line, which includes economic, environmental and social factors. The fact that we are running out of money to fund the NHS is a major issue and ‘more of the same is not the answer’. Another major issue is the fact that climate change is currently having a significant effect on mental health globally and these effects will continue to increase over the next few decades and are starting to affect the UK more each year. Drought, cyclones, flooding and temperature rise can all negatively affect our wellbeing and exacerbate mental health conditions (see my previous blog for more details on this). Another issue is the manner in which society is changing with increasing digitalisation of our progressively sedentary lives, over population and hyper consumerism. “We have never moved around t he world so much and we have never moved ourselves around so little!”

The RCPsych is leading the way in developing a conversation about how doctors can get involved and can help mitigate the effects of health care on the environment. Other Royal Colleges and all doctors need to advocate for a more widespread response to what the World Health Organisation have stated is the largest threat to human health in the 21st Century.


The consensus statement and videos of the event are available here RCPsych Consensus and videos

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time death nature

October 3, 2014 – 3:02 pm | One Comment

Sometimes he stares into the distance and when he does this I can’t tell whether he is looking out or looking in.  Looking in I guess, looking in for those signs that all is not well, those strange murmurs and apprehensions the body makes in its ailingness. But he does look out also, at dawn when no-one else is about except those who suffer in their sleep; he sees the sun rise up far to the north, illuminating the Severn in it’s morning stillness. And it touches him and he wants to tell me about it.


Time moves differently when you are waiting to go see the big chief. We’re not in any hurry until the pain becomes intolerable, only then might we attend to our calling. The partner of a close friend died a few days ago, she said he literally seemed to ‘slip away’. My hunch is that we are, mostly, called to go when our time has come and we can respond to that calling or resist it. Modern medicine seems designed to enable us to resist it.


And so who is this big chief? God? The grim reaper? Surely it is none other than nature, the (animal) nature within us, our corporeal nature. We don’t have to be near death to experience this. In ordinary sickness we are oppressed by our bodies and (for the Italian philosopher Timpanaro) this brings to our attention the ‘passive aspect’ of relations between humans and nature. We may spend much of our time oppressing nature, manipulating her to serve our purposes, an active domination, but ultimately it seems she triumphs over us. The question she puts to each of us is this, can we surrender to her with grace and honour?


Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


This is the shadow that (our) nature casts upon us, a shadow against which we are ultimately defenceless, it signals the immanence of human vulnerability.  Freud (in the Future of an Illusion) referred to it as the hand of Fate. So we do not need an exotic cosmology to understand that we are of nature, that nature is not set apart from us. We are nature, the fingers that type these words, the eyes that look at them, they are of nature, human nature.


Most of my neighbours are retired. They spend their days looking after gardens and grandchildren or elderly parents, playing badminton, golf or bridge, going for walks, taking hours to read the paper, watching TV. Time passes. Life is filled with small things. Ambitions have been abandoned and that restless sense of unfulfilment seems to have gone. These people are no longer grandiose and may never have been. That desire to leave a mark, a trace, no longer itches ferociously, if it ever itched.


This does not mean that we are ready to go when the time comes, for this is to ignore the role of terror.  The thought of that last journey arouses monsters in our unconscious. One day after experiencing a death I dreamt of one, a sea monster in the harbour at Lowestoft, a small sea port on England’s east coast. There were crowds upon the quayside and then a boy jumped in. We knew in horror what that meant.


So when we speak of nature, of our alienation from nature, of our desire to master nature, of nature as this foe which must be conquered, are we necessarily speaking of mother nature, that nature ‘out there’, the nature of trees and seas, or are we also speaking of the nature ‘in here’, the nature that resides within us? Does not this second nature seem like an unnoticed intruder, an unwelcome guest who might, without a moment’s notice, upset the peace? Are we not equally alienated from this nature, set upon a desire to conquer it and deny our actual enthrallment to it?


Surely it then follows that there must be an intimate connection between the two struggles, the struggle to repair the split between the modern self and external nature and the struggle to repair the split between this self and and our bodily nature? In other words, the struggle to overcome our separation from nature both without and within? And that perhaps they go together, no peace with external nature without our being at peace with our internal nature, that is, our nature as natural, physical beings.


And then I  wonder whether ‘peace’ is the right word here. To put it mildly, nature (both without and within) can be a pain in the arse, a cause of suffering without end for some. Indeed for perfectly valid reasons (interminable pain, the absence of almost any remaining quality of life) some would like to go into that good night but their bodies just will not release them. So maybe ‘peace’ with its connotations of merging and transcendence is misleading, does ‘reconciliation’ more accurately describe what I’m looking for?


To the extent that we are oppressed by our internal nature we are also oppressed by time. For time reminds us of life passing, of things not done, or of things done but now gone, lost.  For some people I know this oppression is almost unbearable, as if all that they are in touch with in the here-and-now is the absence of life. Life goes on elsewhere, but not here. In my consulting room they hear my clock ticking and it persecutes them.  And there is a societal echo of this – time is intolerable and must be compressed, accelerated, annihilated. Nowhere is this more true than in the organisation of globalised business.


We know of the transience of all life and yet disavow what we know for that transience includes ourselves and those we love. And yet, as the poet and artist Rossetti knew, the beauty of an object resides in its transience. If that child, that sunset, that tree, that woman was eternal it would be intolerable. The aesthetic quality of an object therefore depends upon its fragile and transient nature, no thing lasts for ever.


Upon this terrain of the body, this place of frailty, an ethics has grown. It has emerged from the patient being-with of the one who cares for the vulnerable other – at first the helpless child, much later the equally helpless elder. Within social policy this has become known as ‘the ethic of care’ and is often contrasted, unhelpfully, with an ethic of justice.


To the extent that ecological movements have built themselves solely upon an identification with external nature they have lacked the enrichment which would otherwise come from the ethic of care. If we really want to address the split between the human and nature then the intimate connection between ecology and our own human frailty must be realised.


The contradiction. We are of nature and yet somehow also beyond nature or, if you like, a strange outgrowth of nature, a lifeform possessing this thing we now call ‘subjectivity’ (something more than just the hyper development of one animal’s cognitive capacities). Through this outgrowth one part of nature (for we are not supernatural) has acquired the capacity to look upon all other nature (including itself) to study it, manipulate it.


This subjectivity has evolved through stages over thousands of years slowly decentering itself in the process. So the discovery that the stars did not in fact rotate around the earth was one of many milestones in this process – the earth (and hence mankind) was not the centre of the universe but rather a little dot (and just how small and insignificant a dot we are still discovering).  Freud in The Future of an Illusion plausibly charts other stages in this process. For example, animism clothes Fate in more familiar and less terrifying terms:

 Impersonal forces and destinies cannot be approached; they remain eternally remote. But if the elements have passions that rage as they do in our own souls, if death itself is not something spontaneous but the violent act of an evil Will, if everywhere in nature there are beings around us of a kind that we know in our society, then we can breath freely, can feel at home in the uncanny and can deal by psychical means with our senseless anxiety.


And after animism comes organised religion. But now according to Nietzsche we live after the Death of God.

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?  (The Gay Science)

Nietzsche wrote “God is Dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. And we — we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.” Right now caves proliferate, some proclaiming the rapture, others the new Caliphate. These are modern peoples, experts in mobile and virtual communication systems, who disavow the very reality, the triumph of reason, which makes their life possible. Surrounded on all sides with evidence of our murderousness we choose the manic defence which, when periodically it fails us, brings us to the edge of collective self destruction (Two World Wars, Mutually Assured Destruction and now, what next?).


Civilization and its Discontents Revisited: The Bipolar Civilization.

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The CPA web site: glitches and plans…

October 3, 2014 – 12:43 pm |

We’ve had some glitches with this web site recently. This is one of the reasons that the amount of new material has been slower of late. Apologies for this. We are however, we hope, on our way to resolving these…

….and are moving towards a plan for a revamp of the site. Details will follow. Comments are welcome meantime.

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This Changes Everything: Rosemary Randall reviews Naomi Klein’s new book

September 13, 2014 – 10:56 am |

Rosemary Randall reviews Naomi Klein’s new book

Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything: capitalism vs the climate is a tour de force of uncompromising argument, backed by penetrating analysis, a gift for story-telling and a deep, human empathy for those who are suffering now – and will suffer in the future – from the depredations of a turbo-charged capitalism that is ideologically unwilling and practically unable to deal with climate change.

The systematic sabotage of neo-liberalism

Her central thesis is straightforward – neo-liberal capitalism, with its dependence on fossil fuels and its need for continuous growth, is unable to tackle climate change. Free-market fundamentalism has spent the last thirty years removing regulation, rubbishing the public sector, promoting unsustainable growth, destroying collective solidarity and concentrating power and wealth in the hands of the few. Its practices have attacked and undermined the very tools – state action, planning and investment – that are urgently needed to bring climate change under control. Its ideology has made us doubt our capacities for collective action and undermined our values of solidarity and human kindness. It has, she says, “…systematically sabotaged our collective response to climate change.”

Klein is clear that only concerted national and international programmes of regulation, state investment and planning, comparable to the powers taken by UK and US governments during the Second World War, have any hope of making the annual 8-10% reductions in emissions that are now needed to bring climate change under control. She sees further than this however. She argues that tackling climate change and tackling inequality and social justice are part of the same struggle and she brings a sense of enthusiasm and possibility to this challenge. The good solutions to our climate problems could also bring lives that are more just, more equal and more worth living to far more people than currently enjoy them.

Klein is not blind to the benefits that capitalism has brought to society and she is not proposing the destruction of everything that characterises our current economic system. She does however wish to see the back of the free-market fundamentalist version that has ruled the globe for the last thirty years. And she is clear that it will not leave the stage quietly. Her interviews with participants at the Heartland Institute’s meetings are chilling indeed. She is in no doubt about the struggle that we face. And she is in no doubt about the urgent need to build a political movement that cuts across the boundaries of our existing concerns.

From ecological amnesia to radical change

As Klein herself acknowledges many of her arguments are not new. This is territory that others have trodden before but she makes the arguments with renewed vigour and honesty and draws many threads together with meticulous research, compelling stories, vivid prose and a sense of hope and possibility that has been lacking from much writing on the climate in the years since Copenhagen 2009. One of the most interesting parts to me was her admission of her own past blindness to climate change and her curiosity about the mechanisms for this ‘ecological amnesia’ as she calls it. Klein understands that our psychological defences and our capacity for disavowal play a part in our collective failure to address the problem. But this is only one of many insights that Klein weaves into this complex and riveting book. Her understanding of the way that corporations work, her grasp of complex trade agreements, her capacity to outline the science and her historical understanding of our assault on nature – all these make her book stand out. But for me it is her empathy with the lives of ordinary people and the way she tells their stories as she makes the arguments for radical, long-term change that spoke to my heart.

In a week where the UK government has published its proposals for the Paris round of negotiations with the depressing statement that growth and decarbonisation are ‘both sides of the same coin’, this is a must-read book for anyone serious about making Paris deliver on what the world, its biosystems and its people actually need.

You can hear Naomi Klein speak about This Changes Everything in London on October 6th and in Oxford on October 8th.

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The Dynamics of Social Action event

July 26, 2014 – 8:49 am |

The CPA is a co-sponsor of an event taking place in Bristol, entitled ‘The Dynamics of Social Action.

Whatever your area of interest and action – as a citizen or in community, environmental, cultural, social or political arenas – this is for you.

This highly interactive event draws on the traditions of group relations work (see the Tavistock Institute for more information). It is led by experienced group relations facilitators, who also have a current and active interest in core issues of our times – environmental change, emotional well being, sustainable approaches to resources, cohesive communities and social transformation.

The programme challenges you to experience and reflect on your power in the room; creative and destructive dynamics that impact on how we all operate; and leadership, community relations and participatory democracy.

• A chance to develop self-awareness through work in large and small groups
• Short inputs on Power, Conflict, Difference, Emotion, Learning & Leadership
• Personal development sessions… an opportunity to link your insights to your practice

Click here to find the registration form

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Breaking the Deadlock

June 30, 2014 – 4:50 pm |

This report, Breaking the Deadlock, summarises the proceedings of a one day conference funded by the UK Energy Research Council which explored the contributions that psycho-social interventions can make in relation to human responses to climate change. The UK ERC had funded the formation of a network of researchers and activists in the period 2013/14 and CPA members, particularly Tony Wragg and Jane Orton, had been central to getting this off the ground.

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Chris Rapley: UCL Policy Commission on Communicating Climate Science

June 29, 2014 – 11:50 am |

Chris Rapley has worked closely with several members of the Climate Psychology Alliance on various projects and some members were also involved as external reviewers of the attached report.

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George Monbiot: An Ounce of Hope is Worth a Ton of Despair

June 29, 2014 – 11:28 am | One Comment

Please follow this link to read the excellent article on George Monbiot’s website about hope, despair and the politics of Climate Change.

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Years of Living Dangerously

May 6, 2014 – 11:57 pm | One Comment

Showtime TV in the USA has screened a series by James Cameron: Years of Living Dangerously.  Described as a climate change blockbuster, it has enlisted well-known stars such as Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger, though some will  feel that the real star is the bridge-building climate scientist and Christian, Katharine Heyhoe .  The programme tackles a range of issues head-on, including the tensions between climate science and both faith groups and Republican politics.  A link to the first episode is here.

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Naomi Klein – Climate Change is the fight of our lives – yet we can hardly bear to look at it

May 6, 2014 – 5:19 pm |

An outstanding article by Naomi Klein has been published by the Guardian newspaper.  In the article, titled Climate Change is the fight of our lives – yet we can hardly bear to look at it, Klein highlights what she sees as a “mismatch” on several levels.  The one she focuses on in particular is the mismatch between the need for collective action and the “ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.”  Here is a link to the article.

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Paul Hoggett: From ‘alarmism’ to false optimism?

April 17, 2014 – 5:23 pm | 4 Comments

Paul Hoggett’s piece ‘From ‘alarmism’ to false optimism?’

I’m trying to step back and see the wood for the trees among the mass of news reports, magazine articles and blog responses to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on the impacts of climate change. For whilst some of the messages coming out of AR5 are valuable – e.g. climate change is already happening and it’s affecting everyone – others are slightly worrying.

One powerful narrative, anticipated by Fred Pearce in Yale Environment 360, is that the report signals a retreat from what he describes as the ‘alarmist tone’ of the Fourth Assessment Report of 2007. So rather that scare people the emphasis in the new report is more upbeat, on what people can do. The emphasis is on resilience rather than vulnerability. Whilst the 2007 report devoted just 2 pages to adaptation the new report devotes four whole chapters and resilience and adaptation are in fact dominant themes of the summary for policymakers.

A second narrative I can see developing appears to have been initiated by Andrew Lilico in the Telegraph in the week before the IPCC report was published, this was then picked up by the Economist on April 5th and the Atlantic on April 1st and by the climate scientist Judith Curry on her website Climate Etc. The basic theme of this second narrative is that AR5 signals ‘the end of climate exceptionalism’ by which they mean the end of the idea that climate change is a problem like no other (trumping other problems such as the control of global population or tackling global inequality). Rather, the new IPCC Report tends to situate climate change alongside a range of other factors such as public health, nutrition, access to clean water, the rapid expansion of  massive urban populations in low lying regions, and so on. For Curry this introduces a healthy dose of ‘realism’ into AR5. As the Economist argues:

This way of looking at the climate is new for both scientists and policymakers. Until now, many of them have thought of the climate as a problem like no other: its severity determined by meteorological factors, such as the interaction between clouds, winds and oceans; not much influenced by “lesser” problems, like rural development; and best dealt with by trying to stop it (by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions). The new report breaks with this approach. It sees the climate as one problem among many, the severity of which is often determined by its interaction with those other problems. And the right policies frequently try to lessen the burden—to adapt to change, rather than attempting to stop it. In that respect, then, this report marks the end of climate exceptionalism and the beginning of realism.

Note the interesting slip here from ‘we need to adapt and prevent’ to ‘we need to adapt rather than prevent’.

Interestingly enough the controversy about the economic impact of climate change, and Professor Richard Toll’s much publicised criticism of the IPCC’s redrafting of his part of the report, links both narratives. Toll has argued for some time that assessments of the economic costs of climate change such as the Stern Report have grossly overestimated the likely economic impact. Toll argues that the extra costs of 2º C warming are likely to amount to no more than 0.2 to 2% of world GDP or, as he puts it, ‘half a century of climate change is about as bad as losing one years of economic growth’. Toll has said, ”the message in the first draft was that through adaptation and clever development these were manageable risks, but it did require we get our act together”. But whilst Toll’s figures were cited in the final draft they were surrounded by caveats which suggested that many economic impacts (such as ocean acidification) couldn’t yet be quantified and the eventual economic cost was likely to be much greater. For Toll this redrafting was proof, if proof were needed, that the 5AR, like 4AR, is still all about ‘the four horsemen of the apocalypse’.

Some neo-liberal commentators have already taken Toll’s comments as evidence that the costs of mitigating climate change (by switching to renewables etc) will be greater than the costs of doing nothing. So we can see a new trend emerging here. From outright denial we can anticipate a neo-liberal reconciliation with the scientific evidence on the basis that though climate change is happening the economic impact will be fairly limited and that in ‘adaptation’ there will be abundant opportunities for new sources of economic growth and development. Of course what the Economist completely fails to take into account are the other costs, that is, the non-human costs. Adapting the insurers’ concept of ‘loss adjustment’ George Monbiot notes (Guardian 1st April) that we are being invited to collude with a process of writing off those parts of nature which will be unable to adapt. Indeed I can even glimpse a dystopian version of this neo-liberal position in which, as global temperatures push past a 2 degrees rise towards 4 degrees, new waves of capitalist accumulation arise based on the economic opportunities to be derived from programmes of defence, repair and adaptation to our trashed planet. In their book Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously Brad Evans and Julian Reed argue that the concept of ‘resilience’ has become so fashionable precisely because of the way in which it prepares us for a coming world of endless insecurity and trauma.

Of course the interesting thing is that Pearce’s narrative assumes that AR4 was ‘alarmist in tone’ whereas a growing number of climate scientists privately believe (and some, like Kevin Anderson publicly state) that the IPCC has been so anxious to gain the ear of policy makers that it has in reality consistently understated the degree of danger that we face. The more upbeat tone of AR5, with its strong emphasis on adaptation and resilience, should therefore give us pause for thought. Faced with consistent and overwhelming resistance to the climate change message from all levels of society (we can’t just ‘blame the politicians’ that’s far too easy) is a new common sense emerging which says we have to remain resolutely positive, avoiding anything ‘scary’ or which could make people feel in the slightest bit guilty, appeal to peoples’ better nature and to our common interests, emphasise human resilience and inventiveness, etc.? Within the UK I think we can already see evidence of this trend in, for instance, the belief that we need to reframe our messages so that people don’t simply dismiss it as ‘green’ or ‘environmentalist’, further that the very concept of climate change is a divisive one, it sets people apart rather than bringing them together.

What I’m worried about is that as things gets worse, as the idea of holding global temperature increases to 2 degrees is quietly dropped (as is already starting to happen), we are being encouraged to pull our punches and not do anything that might alienate those who hold opposing views. This is what worried me about the interview with George Marshall in Transition Network of March 20th. Speaking of people who have been affected by the recent flooding in the South West of the UK and yet still don’t make the connection to climate change George says, ’what they are not receptive to is a direct challenge that therefore brings up all of their defences’, and later, ‘the solutions always lie in ways of talking, ways to behave that would involve…drawing people together rather than pulling people apart.’ Well I have to say that whilst the psychotherapist part of me recognises the importance of avoiding judgemental stances and believes in dialogic approaches to change the political activist part of me wonders whether such ‘softly, softly’ approaches don’t always need to be complemented by clear, angry and forceful forms of direct action. Indeed it’s even more complicated than this. For I also recognise that no matter how hard a therapist tries not to be these things he will often be seen as judgemental, smug or condescending because that’s how the client needs to see him at the moment s/he feels challenged. But if the therapist then stopped being challenging then all possibility of psychic change would disappear. Surely we need to be able to identify with the other and care about their plight and we need to be able to talk with conviction.

Which brings me back to the two narratives. Adaptation aims to preserve an existing lifestyle, and in adapting to flooding and other threats people are brought together. Thus it’s attractiveness to policy makers compared to mitigation. And although adaptation is expensive it promotes ‘business as usual’ and an upbeat message – “see, the broken rail link at Dawlish to Cornwall has been restored in record time!” And meanwhile the urgent need for action to mitigate climate change is quietly forgotten as, in the very same week that the rail link is restored and the IPCC Report is published, the UK Conservative Party decides that it will oppose onshore wind turbines in the coming general election.

Now I believe that in the UK the battles to support onshore wind and oppose fracking are both at the forefront of the struggle to sustain the mitigation agenda – onshore wind is the cheapest and most quickly operationalisable renewable whereas fracking directly contradicts the urgent need not to exploit new sources of fossil fuel (hence Bill McKibben’s valuable slogan “Keep it in the ground”). And it is absolutely no coincidence that both the Conservatives and UKIP can oppose onshore wind whilst simultaneously being cheer leaders for fracking shale gas (even though the aesthetic impact on rural landscapes is probably similar). According to the Guardian report (April 5th) which revealed the new strategy, Conservatives believe onshore wind has become self-defeating, ‘alienating people from the whole clean energy debate’. Now whilst I am happy to believe that some Conservatives such as MPs Anne McIntosh and Tim Yeo have a real commitment to clean energy it can’t be any coincidence that both of them were deselected by their constituency associations earlier this year! The reality is that this guff about onshore wind being ‘self-defeating’ is simply a ruse to cover up ‘the dash for gas’.

In conclusion, I’m very wary of the IPCC’s attempt to strike a more ‘upbeat tone’ about climate change because the public do not want any more ‘doom and gloom’ and I’m even more wary of the idea now being trumpeted by some economic interests that, rather than being the fundamental issue facing humanity in the new millennium, climate change can be seen as one problem of many, none of which are inherently insoluble within the ‘business as usual’ paradigm. The threat of climate change seems more urgent and, in the UK, political polarisation on this issue is increasing not decreasing. In this context we surely need to adopt a twin track strategy. On the one hand our psychological knowledge can be put to use to support those already reeling from the effects of climate change (e.g. coping with fear, loss and uncertainty) and to communicate with the lay public in ways which draws together rather than pulls apart. On the other hand we need to fight for renewables and oppose fracking with even greater conviction, and this must mean sharp debate and political opposition to the UKIP led reaction against renewables currently sweeping parts of the UK including the Conservative Party.

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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 | 2 Comments

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 | 13 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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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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One Year in Transition

August 30, 2013 – 9:37 am | One Comment

This blog post is by Isabel Carlisle, Education Coordinator for the Transition Network.

The Transition movement started in Kinsale, Ireland as a response to a challenge to permaculture students to imagine life beyond the end of cheap fossil fuels, in a future world of climate change and economic contraction. In 2005 the students published an “Energy Descent Action Plan” for their community and posted it on the Internet. It clearly met a need as communities all over the world started downloading it and testing how it would work for them. In 2006, Rob Hopkins moved from Kinsale to Totnes in Devon and Transition took root in the town that is now a seed-bed for experimental action towards more resilient, sustainable, local living. There are now over 1000 communities around the world officially registered as participating in this self-organising movement, sharing learning and inspiring others to come on board as what was seen as the future in 2005, is now a reality.

In 2010 Isabel Carlisle moved to Totnes and began to design and then pilot programmes for young people in Transition. Here she writes about One Year in Transition, a low-cost, part-time course in community organising and project leading for young adults under 30. One feature of this course is that each participant has a personal mentor, who is a trained psychotherapist or counsellor, to support the “inner” learning. In Transition we are convinced that we cannot be effective agents for outer change if we don’t do the inner work. Students meet or skype with their mentor for one hour around every three weeks (each arrangement is different). If you would like to become a pro-bono personal mentor to the young change-agents who will be joining the course in September, please contact Isabel. Phone: 01803 847976. Email:


One Year in Transition: Navigating by a different star

There is a conversation going on at the margins of higher education that is just beginning to be heard in the market place. It goes something like this: If the future that we are educating young people for is not the future that is approaching, how can we adjust the course of our monolithic education system? What are the skills and aptitudes needed for a world of economic contraction, rising energy costs, environmental degradation and climate change? Have we been charting our course by the wrong North Star?

For many young people the rising tuition costs of higher education are not the only reason that they are questioning the desirability of getting a University degree or college certificate. The conveyor belt of performance leading from SATs to GCSEs and A-Levels and upwards no longer guarantees a job at the end. Nor do they see much work that accords with their values and their desire to bring a different future into being, one that supports their lives, the lives of their communities and the lives of future generations.

In spring of 2011 I began to reflect on these issues as I looked at ways in which Transition could make an offering to young people looking for right livelihood in community. If they were to step forward into community, either their own or a Transition community that offered them a place, what skills and knowledge would they need? How would they map that community and make their pitch, knowing that they were creating value and finding their niche? How would an understanding of new economic models such as Gift Culture serve them, and how would we weave a learning process that combined the inner and outer aspects of Transition?

Around these questions a group of eight young people aged 17 to 27, in different parts of the UK, gathered for regular Skype chats. This design team agreed the learning should be through mentoring. They liked the idea of practical skills and they asked for the freedom to learn through being given responsibility and being allowed to fail. They didn’t want an over-designed course, they thought the students should design much of it themselves, and they said it should not cost more than £1000 for a year. One Year in Transition was born and then launched at the September 2012 Transition conference.

Despite the fact that we didn’t have time for marketing 1YT, we have three intrepid “Transitioners” who have so far had two week-long meet-ups in Totnes in which we explored the nature of change. Each has a personal mentor who is a trained psycho-therapist or coach. We use Action Learning to plan, take action and reflect on our projects and own our learning journeys. Skills mentors are recruited as needed to offer voluntary placements or coaching in the skills that the Transitioners choose to learn. So far these range from story-telling to interning in a dairy, from setting up a youth network to hedge-laying. We collectively plan future meet-ups and the “tutors” who we invite to teach us. The January focus was on REconomy (revitalising high streets) and Gift Culture (non-monetary exchange).

The projects that the Transitioners are working on include setting up the new network for youth in Transition, starting up a new Time Bank in Oxford (Cowley) and starting a new green skilling programme for young people at risk of exclusion in Bristol. 1YT validates the way in which young people want to learn: “The course is showing me many possible ways to tackle difficulties with a healthy attitude, but also how to avoid situations becoming difficult in the first place. It has encompassed personal, group and social psychology, and the technicalities of developing Transition initiatives. It has given me permission to get wrapped up in nature and the metaphors of myth and has caused us, as a group of students to become close and to be truly honest and appreciative of one another” (Richard in South Brent).

“I signed up to 1YT because I felt I needed a container and support for the things I’m planning to do this year. I need to reframe success, and I want my ethics to be central to my working life, not something I do in my spare time. The first week’s training was just phenomenal. I learnt so much from the Transition model, which is going to be so helpful in my own project. Especially the way people deal with the realisation that we are living in an unsustainable world, and how to support them and ourselves as we come to terms with the kind of appropriate actions we need to take” (Hannah in Oxford) “As I stepped out of the door [at the end of the first week] I realised how incredibly grateful I am to be a part of 1YT and how healing it is to be carrying out this work” (Lisa in Bristol).


Isabel Carlisle

Co-ordinator, Transition Education


Registration for 1YT 2013-14 is now open. The cost will be £1500 for the year. For more information click the following link:


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150 years and counting: confidence in climate science

August 26, 2013 – 10:51 am |

Sometimes a piece of the puzzle won’t fit, but overall the picture is coming together. In the lead up to the release next month of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Fifth Assessment Report we are exploring concepts of confidence and certainty in climate science. The first article is here. Building any scientific theory is like putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, pieces of evidence are assembled in order to resolve the complete picture.

And the picture has never been clearer for the puzzle of human-induced climate change.

The theory that additional carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere would increase global temperatures, and cause other changes to Earth’s climate, is not new. That puzzle box was opened nearly 200 years ago. Joseph Fourier, who made the initial hypothesis of a greenhouse effect, identified the very first piece of the climate change puzzle in 1824. In 1859, John Tyndall identified the “greenhouse gases” and their role in the atmosphere. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius made the first suggestion that humans could influence the climate. Even well over 100 years ago, he postulated that global temperatures would rise by 5-6C if the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere was doubled.

More puzzle pieces were added when Brooks reported increases in temperatures in the 1920s. But it was Guy Callendar who, through meticulous examinations undertaken from the late 1930s to 1960s, identified not only increases in global temperatures, but also suggested that these were caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. By the late 1950s and into the 1960s the atmosphere was being studied in increasing detail with the sudden expansion of observations that were associated with the International Geophysical Year. In addition, scientists gathered yet more puzzle pieces with the advent of computers that could accurately model the physics of the atmosphere. In 1960, Charles Keeling first published what is now known as the “Keeling Curve”, showing consistent rises in observed atmospheric CO2. By now, the scientific puzzle was well and truly taking shape. There was clear evidence that CO2. was increasing in our atmosphere and that temperatures were increasing concurrently. Many independent lines of evidence were consistent with Arrhenius’ theory from over 60 years prior.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, this evidence continued to grow, increasing confidence in the theory that humans were affecting the climate. Scientists used high accuracy instruments to observe changes, reconstructed past climatic changes and also modelled the climate system using the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry. At the same time, the number of alternative hypotheses about the observed warming declined. While scientists were neatly putting together these puzzle pieces, they were also examining whether any other known process, besides human activities, could be responsible for the observed changes. Solar variations, volcanoes and other natural cycles were all systematically discounted. From 1991 to 2011 alone, more than 4,000 additional pieces of the climate change puzzle were gathered. An estimated 97% of them fit the puzzle and were consistent with previous evidence. So of these 4,000 pieces, 3,880 pieces demonstrated that humans were having a noticeable and significant influence on our climate.

Trying to construct a puzzle is difficult and time consuming. You might lose a few pieces along the way, and sometimes some pieces just don’t fit. But as with any large puzzle, there comes a point where there are enough pieces, enough consistent evidence, to be able to resolve the picture. The result of nearly 200 years of scientific endeavor is now a clear and recognisable picture of humans influencing the climate through the emission of greenhouse gases.



Ailie Gallant, Lecturer, School of Geography and Environmental Science at Monash University
Sophie Lewis, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Melbourne

Disclosure Statement:

Ailie Gallant receives funding from Monash University. She is affiliated with the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

Sophie Lewis is a Research Fellow at the Melbourne University node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

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Al Gore explains why he’s optimistic about stopping global warming

August 24, 2013 – 5:39 pm | One Comment

It has been a long, hard haul since Copenhagen 2009.  The news on climate change has kept getting worse and the juggernaut of fossil-fueled economics, urged on by denial, has sometimes looked set on an unstoppable dash to the precipice.

But here is Al Gore, in the same optimistic vein that he exhibits in his 2013 book The Future, talking about a tipping point in the fight against global warming.  I recommend reading this interview.  Whether or not you agree with all his arguments, with his belief in a sustainable version of capitalism, or with the way he walks his talk, it is packed with interesting points and issues.

Over-arching all the detail is the subject of optimism and pessimism.  Gore walks a kind of tightrope here, for instance claiming that the flooding in New York caused by Hurricane Sandy helped to quicken awareness of the need for urgent action.  He acknowledges that emissions continue unabated, underlining this with the chilling observation that the energy thereby released is equivalent daily to 400,000 Hiroshima bombs.  Without any apparent wobble, he seems to be asserting that rational fear is, after all, acting as a motivator, also that we should not be too fearful because the signs are everywhere to be seen that the necessary changes are under way.  He tells us that he has picked up clear signs of discomfort within the Republican Party, over its anti-science stance.  The recent pronouncement by four Republican ex-EPA chiefs that the scientific debate is over does seem to substantiate that.

He links his political observations with economic and industrial data, citing for instance a far more rapid increase in renewable electricity generation than had been predicted.  These, and other strong signals from the USA, he puts together with evidence from around the world,  amounting to the tipping point he detects.  The “conversation” on global warming he deems to be “very nearly won”.  This claim links hands with the confidence and conviction of Obama’s recent climate speech.  I expect it also has something to do with what we can expect from next month’s IPCC report.

Gore seems to believe that the influence of the denial industry will soon be on the wane.  Even if this is true, I wonder if his optimism has enough in it to shrink the need for denial at the level of individual human vulnerability.  Time will tell, but for me, the exciting thing about all this is the feeling that he is sensing at very least a moment of opportunity and is calling out to everyone who cares to go on looking for ways of realising it.  Perhaps he is helping to provide the kind of leadership that the world has been in desperate need of, since the dark days of Copenhagen.

There have been plans brewing for a while to devise a CPA event on the theme of optimism and pessimism.


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Mind in the Gap: Summary of a research project exploring ‘inner’ influences on pro-sustainability learning and behaviour

August 18, 2013 – 1:32 pm |

Paper by Paul Maiteny in Environmental Education Research journal Vol. 8, No 3, 2002. Special issue on understanding the role of emotional engagement and significant experience in prompting pro-environmental behaviour change.

Please note that the email address on this paper is out-of-date.
Please use


This paper is offered in a spirit of collaboration with the other contributors to this special edition of Environmental Education Research on understanding the role of emotional engagement in prompting pro-environmental behaviour change. It describes 1. experiences that have prompted individuals to reduce the environmental impact of their lifestyles through attitudinal and behavioural change, and 2. how these experiences relate to their wider beliefs, meanings and convictions. The research from which these findings are drawn hypothesises that pro-environmental behaviour change is more likely to endure in the long-term if it is rooted in, and driven by, significant and meaningful experience -if a person’s ‘heart is in it’ – and, conversely, that if behaviour changes in reaction to regulations, incentives and/or anxiety alone, it is more likely to be ‘skin deep’, temporary and prone to revert back to old habits. (For more on the theoretical background to this, see Maiteny, 2000b; 2002).

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Attitudes to Energy System Change Report

August 1, 2013 – 10:48 am |

A new report from the Understanding Risk research group at Cardiff University, recently launched at the Royal Society of London on 16th July 2013, shows that the British public overwhelmingly supports a move away from fossil fuels towards a greater reliance on renewable energy production and a reduction in energy use. The research also describes for the very first time a set of values that underlie preferences for energy system change. We conclude that energy policies which are not broadly in line with these values, particularly in relation to the longer term trajectories of change, are likely to encounter significant public concern or resistance.

To view the report click here:

The work arises from a major 30 month project using novel deliberative and survey methodologies to explore British public views on ‘whole system energy transformation’ and was funded by the UK Energy Research Centre ( For more information, or to obtain paper copies of the report, contact any one of the report’s authors.

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Shouldn’t climate scientists try harder at communicating their findings?

August 1, 2013 – 10:36 am |


  • Kathryn Adamson
  • Monday 22 July 2013 12.35 BST

Science outreach is not without its difficulties, but with greater transparency, increased public understanding may follow

Public interest in climate change has exploded over the last decade. The increased exposure of public audiences to the scientific discourse, however, is not always straightforward. By the time scientific understanding has migrated to the public domain it has often been distilled multiple times, by multiple parties. This can lead to misinterpretation of the original message.

Given this, shouldn’t climate scientists try harder at communicating their findings direct to the public?

This isn’t to say that science-public interaction is anything new. A great number of climate scientists already engage very effectively in science outreach through television, radio, newspapers, blogs and social media outlets, to name but a few. Engaging with wider audiences allows climate scientists to share the research journey and explore the broader applicability of their subject. After all, these are the reasons many of us have selected a scientific career in the first place.

Climate scientists belong to a global network of collaboration and interaction which goes largely unseen by the public. Through greater transparency, increased public understanding may follow. What is more, in the UK, environmental experts are responsible for millions of pounds of government funding. When research is publically funded, scientists are obliged to communicate their findings to wider audiences in an accessible manner. The recent shift in the UK towards open access publication may in part facilitate this data dissemination.

Science outreach is not without its difficulties. By their training, academics are, among other things, skilled researchers, authors, teachers and speakers. But they do not necessarily possess the skills to translate their findings into material suitable for public consumption.

Another important consideration is the fact that ‘the public’ is actually better defined as ‘the publics’, each with varying levels of engagement. To address all publics, academics are required to be entertainers as well as educators.

Even for scientists intending to communicate with public audiences, the demands of research mean that prioritising public outreach is not always possible. Scientists are formally evaluated on the basis of their research output. There is often little more than personal reward for outreach work. This is changing, however, and a number of research councils now cite public outreach as a proviso for securing funding.

Many climate scientists have become wary of outreach due to a number of highly publicised incidents including lawsuits, data misrepresentation, and even death threats. A post by John Abraham earlier this week touched on the need to protect scientists from such defamation. If this continues, it is likely that researchers will require a degree of coaxing to continue putting themselves in the public spotlight.

If these problems can be dealt with now, hopefully upcoming scientists will not be deterred by previous attacks. We need to better equip scientists with the skills to address wider audiences, develop secure public platforms for data dissemination, and pressure research bodies to recognise public outreach as a valuable scientific output.

Even with these measures in place, engaging with non-scientists is a personal decision. It is a fine line between rewarding those who do, and penalising those who don’t.

• Dr Kathryn Adamson is a lecturer in physical geography at Queen Mary, University of London, and researches past climate change. She is co-developer of recently launched climate science-public outreach website Climatica.

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Lost in translation: Scientific uncertainty and belief in climate change

August 1, 2013 – 10:27 am |
Lost in translation: Scientific uncertainty and belief in climate change


  • 23 Jul 2013, 17:30
  • Kate Pond

“Uncertainty is normal currency in scientific research”, states a new Sense about Science report called Making Sense of Uncertainty. And yet the concept of uncertainty is often misunderstood, and taken to mean that research is deficient or unreliable.

Uncertainty, to most of us, means not knowing, or not being sure. But to scientists, it meanshow well something is known. When it comes to uncertainty, scientists and the general public are often speaking different languages.

Lost in translation

Like pretty much everything, science has its own particular technical lexicon. Words can mean very specific things that are often different to their common usage. If the audience does not understand the technical lexicon, it’s like scientists are speaking to them in a language they don’t understand.

It can be even worse than that. Instead of simply not knowing what is being said, if people pick up on recognisable words in scientists’ communication, the message can be misconstrued. So ‘uncertainty’ is often interpreted as ‘ignorance’ – after all, the dictionary says it means doubt, or hesitancy.

In the case of climate change, confusion arises when media reports focus on areas of uncertainty without also explaining the areas where scientists have reached high levels of certainty, or suggest that scientific uncertainty throws all of climate science into doubt.

‘Making Sense of Uncertainty’ calls this the “misuse of uncertainty”: the politicisation of scientific uncertainty itself to gloss over or ignore evidence. “Smoke and mirrors”, they call it. I call it bad translation, but it all boils down to the same thing.

A simple way to remedy bad translation is to adapt the communication to fit the audience. A number of excellent publications, like this article from Somerville and Hassol – which identifies areas of confusion and offers alternatives for scientists – make plausible suggestions.

But what’s of interest to us here is the mechanics of bad translation. So, as it pops up again and again, let’s take a closer look at uncertainty and likelihood.


When scientists talk about uncertainty – and other terms like probability – they refer tohow likely it is that something will happen. What the audience may hear is, “we don’t know if this is right”.

For example,  the IPPC says:

“[M]ost of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century isvery likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”.

‘Very likely’ in this case means a probability of more than 90 per cent. But the way that uncertainty is presented in the media strongly indicates that the public ‘translates’ this term as aprobable cause, but with significant doubt. This is an interpretation which is significantly less certain than the original intention.

Of course, misunderstanding is possible or likely, but not guaranteed. The inexactness of the transmission means that there is a reasonably large margin of possible interpretations for the audience. They will not necessarily misunderstand, but it is likely that a significant proportion of a non-scientific audience will understand uncertainty to mean doubt, as it does in the dictionary, and likelihood to indicate possibility, not probability.

Bad translation does not just mean that the content of the message is misunderstood. It also foments a secondary kind of uncertainty in the audience’s mind. This secondary uncertainty is psychological rather than scientific, and is characterised by doubt. To use the metaphor of ‘sowing the seeds of doubt’, if the badly-translated scientific uncertainty is the seed, this secondary uncertainty is the plant that grows from it.

The Pandora’s Box of uncertainty

When likelihood and uncertainty are badly translated, the audience can misunderstand on a number of levels. They may not understand how likely scientists think something is, but they might also not understand what kind of uncertainty is being talked about.

The kind of uncertainty intended by the scientist may not be what is received by a lay audience.  To return to the metaphor of the plant, these layers of misunderstanding are the soil in which it puts down roots.

An important element of secondary uncertainty is how concrete doubt can be. Among the possible interpretations for uncertainty or likelihood mentioned above, one is interpreting them as a question over how real climate change is: is it real, or is it just a matter of perception?

It is important not to underestimate how deep the roots of doubt can be in an audience, and how doubt has crept almost unnoticed into day-to-day discussions of climate change.

As doubt gives rise to questions about the reality of climate change, it also has a more insidious branch: the notion of belief.

“Do you believe in climate change?”

This is a question we’ve all heard. It may sound innocuous enough, but presenting climate change as something in which one does or does not believe undermines its basis in facts and evidence. We don’t need to believein things that are real, we know they’re real.

The popularity of this question shows how insidious this doubt – this secondary uncertainty – is. The question itself frames climate change as something that is not necessarily real. As the author Terry Pratchett puts it in his book Small Gods:

“There’s no point in believing in things that exist. [...] If they exist, you don’t have to believe in them… [they will go on existing] whether you believe it or not.”

An episode of ‘Any Questions?’ in June illustrates this. Presenter Jonathan Dimbleby asked sceptic columnist James Delingpole:

“Do you believe [climate change] is not happening, or if it is happening, has nothing to do with human action?”

By introducing the notion of belief, Dimbleby’s question legitimised the response, regardless of what it was, before it could be spoken.  Even Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood used the term, embedded in a list of facts: “Yes,” stated Wood, “I believe in climate change.”  While it got a round of applause from the audience, the pairing of facts and belief was, in reality, a paradox.

Turning uncertainty into certainty: “It’s the science, stupid”

As a final point, we will look briefly at the politicisation of uncertainty mentioned in Sense about Science’s report.  In his book, ‘Understanding Uncertainty’, the statistician, Dennis Lindley, states: “uncertainty [for most people] is a personal matter: it’s nottheuncertainty butyouruncertainty”.  This is often overlooked in communicating scientific uncertainty, and is a key element of its politicisation and “misuse”.

Much of the strength of arguments which try to undermine the areas of agreement in climate science is in their clarity, repetition of memorable phrases and their certainty about both their own rightness and their opposition’s wrongness. Confidence is persuasive.

However, green politicians are starting to play the same game.  Leanne Woods’sAny Questions?performance was a series of definite statements and facts.  Even “Yes, I believe in climate change” was, after all, definite.

UK climate secretary Ed Davey’s  speech at the Met Office last month is another example. It was loaded with emphatic statements like “The facts don’t lie, the physics is proven. Climate change is real and itis happening now”.

Davey’s speech reached a much wider audience than the Met Office, largely because of his diatribe against “absolutely wrong and really quite dangerous” misinformation. Certainly, it riled The Telegraph and the Mail enough to respond.  In the process, the newspapers accidentally promoted his speech. There may well be a question over how comfortable scientists are with this approach, but this is certainty as strategy.

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Paths to Climate Action

July 19, 2013 – 2:40 pm |

Rachel Howell writes:

I’m a researcher at Aberystwyth University and I’m doing a survey about the motivations of people who teach/write about climate change as a significant part of their work and/or take action to combat climate change. I would be very grateful if you could complete the questionnaire yourself and forward this request to colleagues and others you know who might be interested.

The questionnaire is at:

Participants can choose to submit their email address to be entered into a draw for a chance to win one of five £50 vouchers (type to be chosen by winners).

The questionnaire asks about concern about climate change, actions that people may be taking to combat it, and motivations for teaching/writing/other action, including providing a statement about the significant life experiences that have led to concern about climate change and engagement with the issue.

The survey is anonymous; email addresses (if submitted for the draw or to receive a report of the research findings) will be kept separate from the data.

If you would like any more information about this study, please do not hesitate to contact me: rah22[at]

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Comment from the U.S.

July 16, 2013 – 6:30 pm | One Comment

Comment from the U.S.

by Susan Bodnar PhD Psychologist and Relational Psychoanalyst

When President Obama unveiled his climate change initiatives, I waited for an outpouring of response. Only 586 people responded to the NY Times article covering his well received speech. I waited for dinnertime conversations and student lounge debates about climate change. None came.

It is both disturbing and interesting that environmental issues aren’t drawing public attention here in the U.S.  People cite the poor economy and frustration with congress as the main issues on people’s minds.  Do those concerns prohibit more vigorous reactions to Obama’s environmental plans, or to the problems themselves?

My work with young adults twenty and older, our cultural narrators, suggests a different reason for the general public’s ambivalence about environmental issues. They suffer from what I call a flattening, or decontextualizing, of consciousness.  Young people coming of age today don’t consider themselves a part of history or place.  For this reason they don’t know how to process climate change, a concept that assumes an understanding of time and place.

Kids now grow up consuming as much as seven hours and thirty-eight minutes of media per day.  Only 51% go outside once a day and they spend their time plugged-in at home, separated from nature and a sense of place outside of the self. They also have disconnected from history and a sense of time outside of the present focused orientation of cyberspace.

For example, I asked a young Mexican woman of thirty-two why she wanted another tattoo. She explained, “To record time.  This is the only way I can mark the past as having happened, by having it recorded on my body.”

A young man responded to a question about where he was from by reflecting, “Do you mean what I believe?  Or were you thinking something like where I was born? Because I don’t think where you are born means anything.  What matters is (sic) the ideas that you live in. That’s where you are from.”

When kids grow up thinking in those types of metaphors, how do we expect them to evolve into adults who understand climate change?

Obviously, these two clinical quotations can’t be generalized to explain the phenomena of silence about climate change. They do, however, suggest that ordinary defense mechanisms, like dissociation or denial may not adequately describe the psychological structure of young adulthood.  Those mechanisms were conceived before the digital age.  The developmental trajectory of childhood today creates people who exhibit a flattening of consciousness.

Traditional psychotherapy and psychoanalysis doesn’t always have the language to re-dimensionalize the mind. Emotion, authentic connection, historical reconstruction of family trees, and walking therapy show some evidence of making a difference.  My research of these types of interventions is still ongoing although in clinical practice I can feel people coming alive.  Here’s an example:

Jeff, a thirty-two year old manager of a local convenience store, still hadn’t finished college and didn’t care. He moved to another part of the country every year or two, starting in Florida and ending up in Texas, then Washington, D.C. Struggling with a mixture of ADD, depression and anxiety (the diagnoses of our times) he both enjoyed and rejected being part of a different social class than the one in which he was raised (upper-middle). What concerned me was the ambivalence – being neither here nor there, dislocated and de-contextualized, without any sense of timeline.  Multiple therapists had treated him, not successfully.

One of our first sessions happened to take place just before a rainstorm. The dark and heavy clouds rolled overhead, the wind blew trashcans upside down.  Just as he sat down looking vacant, weary and typically flat – crash! Bang! A thunderous explosion released a waterfall from the sky, lights flickering.

I said, “let’s go watch,” knowing that the overhang at the building’s door would keep us safe. He looked startled but not reluctant.  Outside the rain beat down around us, and the mist steamed my glasses.

“Why are we here?” he asked.

“Rain is beautiful “ I said.

He looked at me intently.

“You believe that?”

“I do.”

He turned toward the storm.  “Well, this feels real,” he said.

Very little experiences feel real these days.  Its like we all live in some version of adjudicated sensory input where technology increasingly defines our neural patterning and cognitive framing. Of course the topic of climate change fails to resonate.  It’s no more real than the here and now produced by Rockstar North.  In order to engage people, we may have to devise interventions that awaken the deadened senses of young people and re-dimensionalize their flattened psyches.

Susan Bodnar PhD is a NYC psychologist and relational psychoanalyst who teaches and supervises at Teachers College, Columba University and the Stephen Mitchell Relational Center in addition to working in private practice.

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Energy Behaviour & Individual Complexity

July 16, 2013 – 6:24 pm |

Energy Behaviour & Individual Complexity

Several members of CPA are very involved in The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) Meeting Place workshops on  “Energy behaviour and individual complexity” in Oxford in Autumn 2013.

Workshop 1

The UK Energy Research Centre’s Meeting Place is hosting an international, interdisciplinary conference to enhance interdisciplinary collaboration and methodological rigour in the understanding of individual, household and community action on energy reduction in early September. This “invitation only” event is the first of two meetings to stimulate progress towards generating an evidence base for psycho-social interventions. Workshop 2, likely to be later in the autumn, will have a much broader remit and is aimed at engaging policymakers, industry and the media. If you would like to express interest in this second conference, please write to Jennifer Pate (

Behavioural approaches have been dominant amongst policy and academic circles that consider the contribution of individual change to low carbon futures. Approaches such as DEFRA’s Engage, Enable, Encourage and Exemplify intervention model are based on cognitive-rational behaviour change theories.

Recent Meeting Place events have highlighted criticisms to this approach. Issue is taken with framing citizens as consumers who need to be persuaded to act under the rationale of avoiding more difficult policy changes and infrastructure developments.

This first conference brings together:

•Researchers and Practitioners of individual and community engagement techniques which centre on emotion and values;

•Psycho-social Academics;

•Those skilled in collecting and analysing appropriate, mixed methods data on attitudes, consumption and behaviours, and in evaluating how these may be changed by values-based initiatives.

Workshop 1 Aims

The aims of this workshop are threefold:

1.      To bring together leading thinkers and practitioners to map out current practice and research;

2.      To identify the sort of evidence that could influence policymakers in adopting psycho-social values-based approaches to addressing energy reduction at an individual and community level and propose research programmes to obtain this evidence;

3.      To prepare, initially in Workshop 2, to engage with policymakers, social, governmental and industrial leaders as well as the media, to support practice and further research in this field.

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An undeniable truth?

May 17, 2013 – 12:50 pm | One Comment

An undeniable truth?

From Palin to Parnell, Alaska’s politicans have struggled to reconcile policy with actuality

This article in the Guardian 14th May 2013 An Undeniable Truth accompanied by a video, describes the effects of climate change clearly visible in this USA state. There is also a striking description of the difficulty in speaking about  Climate Change, with politicians deliberately avoiding mention of causation. A mindset change is clearly necessary.

The article also links to a blog discussion America’s first climate refugees

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Returning to Membership in Earth Community: Systemic Constellations with Nature

May 8, 2013 – 10:44 am |

Advance Notice of New Book

Returning to Membership in Earth Community: Systemic Constellations with Nature

This first book on Environmental and Nature Constellations will be published in July 2013

Human beings are deeply embedded in nature, not separate from it.  Systemic Constellations are being used in many different ways to explore both nature within us and our position within nature as we try to find our place in the earth community.  This anthology collects reports from both the originators and the latest explorers in this work.  The book contains contributions from fourteen individuals working in five different countries in Europe and North American, including Daan van Kampenhout, Victoria Schnabel and Zita Cox, Edited by Francesca Mason-Boring and Kenneth Edwin Sloan.

Publication date July 2013, in print and eBook, via Amazon.

More information and sign-up for Early Reader Discount at

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When the time comes to disobey: civil disobedience and coal

April 25, 2013 – 4:31 pm | One Comment

When the time comes to disobey: civil disobedience and coal

Clive Hamilton

Article in The Conversation Latest ideas and research


In this short paper, Clive Hamilton, who was keynote speaker at CPA’s first conference with PCSR (summer 2011), comments on campaign of civil disobedience directed at Australia’s export coal industry and discusses the ethics of non-violent direct action in the face of political systems that seem unwilling or unable to respond to facts about global warming that overwhelmingly demand sweeping measures.

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Ecopsychology Response to Polly Higgins by Sandra White

April 23, 2013 – 1:46 pm |


16th March 2013 London

‘Psyche, Law and Justice’

Main speaker: International barrister Polly Higgins

 Response to Polly Higgins[i] “The Earth Needs a Good Lawyer”

by Ecopsychologist Sandra White


Polly, it is wonderful to hear how far your work has come in such a short space of time.  I also appreciate very much the way you speak about your love of Earth, and your poems and invocations.

As an ecopsychologist and also as the daughter of a Jewish woman who was nearly killed by the Nazis when she was 3 years old, I welcome Eradicating Ecocide because I see real value in naming what is happening and its scale and giving it its due status.

Relating with Earth as our larger self lies at the heart of ecopsychology.  Recognising that our bodies are integral to Earth’s body, just as are rock, soil, tree, corn, bird, mole, horse, spider, wind, sunlight, water … and all the other forms of life which may be crowding into your minds now.  Allowing that our minds are integral to Earth’s mind …  Knowing that Earth too is part of a larger self and reaching for what that might mean …

“Recognising”, “Allowing”, “Knowing”  … words we ascribe to mental activity, if we forget our body sense …

Body sense.  Visceral intelligence.  Embodied wisdom.  Ours and Earth’s.  Earth’s which is also ours.

These are expressions of ecopsychology, and there are many many more.

Underlying where we are now, at the start of the collapse of Earth’s life support systems generated largely by human activity, are so many systemic factors.  Ecopsychology proposes that underpinning them all is modern humanity’s perceived separation from Earth.

Separated, individual consciousness is a vital aspect of being human, enabling identity, agency, desire and personal expression of universal, archetypal experience.  Separated, individual consciousness allows reflection on what it means to be of the human species. It can, equally, reveal to us what it means to be of the whole Earth community.

In Vital Signs, the first UK-based ecopsychology anthology edited by Mary-Jayne Rust and Nick Totton, I wrote about the image in the Eden story of the barrier of a sword of fire and cherubim that God put in place to prevent the newly self-conscious Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life “lest they become as Gods” as the Bible put it.  As we know, the human species is wielding God-like power now.  I suggest that the barrier of the sword of fire and cherubim can also be thought about as a description of the immense difficulty modern humans have in retaining a sense of connection with Earth, with Eden and the Tree of Life, once separated, individual consciousness arrives.  Acknowledging that section of Genesis as our creation story and treating it as a dream, I focus on God’s almost immediate association to the Tree of Life after the first couple eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and I argue that this linking of the two trees, the only two in Eden to be named, may point to a developmental task.  I accept their eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge as the moment of transition into individual self-consciousness, and I suggest that our developmental task hidden in this story is to cultivate equally our sense of interconnection and commonality with the rest of life here alongside our sense of human uniqueness.  In modernity’s cultural failure to recognise such a task over millenia, we have failed to wield our power lightly and so our potential for destruction, which mirrors and expresses Earth’s own destructive forces, is coming to pass.

I also see the Eden story as an archetypal story, a myth in the sense that I once heard William Golding quoted as naming, “a truth that can only be told as a story”.  All the images I’ve seen of Adam and Eve shut out of Eden show them in utter grief and desolation.  A close-up of one by Renaissance painter Masaccio in 1427 is at  As possible archetypal images, I suggest they depict how being torn from interconnection with larger nature causes an unbearable rift, a tear in the psyche.  An incalculable wound.

And of course an archetypal story speaks to what is as well as to what was.  Those images reveal that there is a moment when we know what is lost.  And, surely, what is lost is our sense of being part of Earth’s extraordinary, abundant creativity, to which death and destruction are integral.

That moment of knowing what we have lost is pivotal – how we respond to it shapes all that follows.  In my view, not having a cultural, storied frame, which includes Earth, for that transition from interconnected consciousness into separated consciousness is a critical factor in the trajectory Western civilisation has pursued.  For without such a storied frame, what is lost is conscious, positive identification and relationship with Earth – and the potential to find one’s small but valuable place inside a beautiful and terrible, sophisticated and complex larger whole.  With that, we lose the appropriate context for the creative and destructive powers which ebb and flow through us, and so we lose the containment that comes from knowing that these immense powers derive from something larger than ourselves to which we belong.  Looking at, say, a pride of lions devouring a buffalo to nourish their own lives – the sheer rawness of nature – can make it hard for us to want to belong and yet it is vital that we know we do.

When conscious identification with the first source of life is no longer available, I think that unconscious identification with one’s own creations becomes inevitable.

Images of Adam and Eve outside the Garden reveal their sense of smallness, their shame, their abject poverty in their newly separated state.  Another by Thomas Cole in 1828 can be found at  Without a storied frame for this critical juncture, I think what happens is an unconscious taking into the individual self the very powers one newly lacks access to which originate in and thereby properly belong to the larger whole.

Hubris, I think, is characteristic of this state, because what is unconsciously appropriated to the tiny self is too huge, and inflating oneself is the only way to carry it.

These are the conditions which spawn denial, and the continuum of behaviours that relate to it like knowing and not knowing, and knowing and not acting.  For me, the first and main purpose of denial is to uphold and protect the core sense of one’s own validity.  I want to underline that:  To uphold and protect the core sense of one’s own validity.  We can see from Cole’s painting just how threatened the core sense of one’s own validity can be when connection with the larger whole is lost.

And those of us who study the unconscious see how particular energy centres within it insatiably gather to themselves anything that looks remotely relevant.   The painters I have referred to show us a wound of such character and scale that it forms this kind of energy centre.  Here I think a cluster gathers around the idea of being valid, a cluster made up of similar notions like being good and innocent.  And a process develops in which, identified with one’s own creations, one makes them very large and then lives inside them as expressions of validity, goodness and innocence – all as a way of defending oneself from knowing their opposites, which are equally present, unconscious and unregulated.  What is also defended against is seeing the equal validity, goodness and innocence of anything that threatens this constructed identity – and so one has license to kill.  Earth is the greatest threat to this constructed identity.

All this means that there is a real psychological state in which one is genuinely incapable of seeing one’s own destructiveness.  Polly described earlier how she has witnessed many people in the corporate world being unable to listen to and look at the damage that some of their activities have caused to local people, their ecologies and also to migrating birds.   I think that what she observed is rooted in this deeper, genuine incapability to see one’s own destructiveness.  It is unfaceable.  In this way, denial is doing its job – upholding and protecting the core sense of one’s own validity.

I have come to think about the work of psychotherapy as creating the conditions in which the unfaceable can be faced.  And one of the questions at the centre of the Climate Psychology Alliance is whether it is possible to create similar conditions at a more collective level to enable the unfaceable to be faced.  I don’t know if they define their work in the same way, but various people, including Paul Maiteny, Mary-Jayne Rust, Ro Randall, Tom Crompton and Zita Cox, have been experimenting with different models and the Alliance seeks to learn from, where appropriate support and, with them, build on their pioneering endeavours.

I think this work involves walking a tightrope between on one side boldness, strength, determination and confidence and, on the other, what might be humility.  I think that creating the ‘genuinely enabling conditions’ that Polly seeks involves finding ways to deeply honour the state of mind which I have been describing, rooted as it is in the incalculable wound we all share.  Otherwise we increase the need for denial and thereby strengthen its grip.  I don’t know about any of you, but ‘deeply honouring denial’ challenges me greatly.  I have to find new ways to come to terms with and contain the kinds of feelings I imagine many of you also grapple with:  frustration, fury, fear, hatred, contempt and even a desire to kill.   Some are mine and some, not integrated by those who cannot face their destructiveness, are playing in the space between us and it can be hard to distinguish between them.

These perspectives have brought me to more consciously investigate my own needs to feel good and innocent as a way of upholding my sense of validity.  I’ve been surprised by occasional new feelings of empathy with people who live their lives in opposing ways to me – what I perceive as Earth destroying ways – and there have been odd moments of desiring to get to know them better, which I put down to the empathy.  I do fear being drawn into collusion, but if I can allow these feelings in more I’m hoping now I’ll find a new language, one that, through genuine relationship, will open the door for them to turn and face the unfaceable.  That’s where I am in this experiment that so many of us have taken on and I hope it contributes something towards Eradicating Ecocide.


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Response to Polly Higgins “The Earth Needs a Good Lawyer”

April 17, 2013 – 5:11 pm |


16th March 2013 London

‘Psyche, Law and Justice’

Main speaker: International barrister Polly Higgins

Response to Polly Higgins[i] “The Earth Needs a Good Lawyer”

by Psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe[ii]

Polly Higgins, in framing ecocide as a war crime, bursts the gargantuan bubble of complacency that allows us to maintain the fiction that we are living in a time of peace.  We are living in the midst of a violent war being waged against Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.  And, we are turning a collective blind eye to what has been called the ‘slow violence’[iii] of this war.  Polly’s proposed ecocide act helps us take in the true scale of the violence.

Corporate law currently sanctions runaway exploitative greed by making it the prime legal responsibility of companies to maximize profit.   The law is the set of rules under which we live, and these are set to ensure ecological destruction.  Polly has proposed new rules, and they have radical implications.  An ecocide act as the fifth international crime against peace would criminalise those in power who attack life and support those in power who protect life; it would hold power to account and provide necessary legal clout for good and mindful leadership; it would value and protect not only human lives but all lives.  Implementing the act would require a shift in our moral and philosophical frameworks and the act itself would empower this shift.

Responsibility for ecocide

A law of ecocide makes those who have ‘superior responsibility’ legally accountable for their ecocidal acts. Superior responsibility would rest with governments and CEOs of large corporations.  In my response to Polly’s talk, I will concentrate on how ordinary people may see the extent of their own individual moral responsibility for damage to the environment and for the violence that underpins this damage.  Viewed from a psychoanalytic perspective, this is a complex issue.

The starting point for my discussion is the ongoing underlying conflict we all have between – very broadly speaking – two positions.  One is our awareness that we share resources with others who are as inherently worthy of respect and provision as we are.  The other position is our wish to take the lion’s share and to justify this on grounds that we are somehow superior and special.  The conflict between these two positions can be seen in childhood in sibling rivalry, and it plays out later in life in geopolitical conflict and issues of social and environmental justice.  Morality begins with acknowledging the conflict and immorality begins with finding ways to dodge it.

The moral landscape of the common ground

When we think of ourselves in moral terms we tend spontaneously to visualize ourselves in landscapes[iv] that we imaginatively construct as phantasies[v] within the inner world of the psyche.  I find it fascinating that, in phantasy, we tend to see our inner moral landscapes quite literally as patches of ground.  I suggest this is because we are dependent for our survival on the ground – the earth, the soil – of the Earth and what grows from it, and our moral dilemmas centrally involve how we treat those we share ground with, whether well or badly.  I will contrast two moral landscapes: that of ‘common ground’ and ‘high ground’.

‘Common ground’ is visualized as an integral and shared landscape.  On common ground we claim no moral superiority and we see other inhabitants in the landscape as just as entitled to life, provision and respect as we are. Common ground is the soil from which our concern, empathy and generosity grow; it is where we recognize that what we share most centrally with other inhabitants is that we are all alive, fleetingly and for now, all equally worthy of respect as life forms, and that resources are limited and we share them and compete for them.  On common ground we also face our differences from other Earth inhabitants, and we learn where we fit in within laws of nature not of our making.  We face helplessness, need, and mortality.

Common ground is rich creative soil.  Awareness of common ground goes with a warmer, sadder and more conflicted inner emotional climate, one that involves mourning our sense of entitlement to endless idealized provision.  We tend to feel grounded on common ground, and I suggest this grounded feeling conveys our sense of being attached to the Earth and in touch with reality.  We tend to see common ground with the mind’s eye as concrete and material, but it is an abstraction.  For instance, common ground can be shared with all those who have lived and will live after us.

I suggest that we tend to visualize our moral selves and communities as living in a shared landscape is based on our profound understanding that we are part of nature.  Within the internal world it seems that we configure our morality in ecological terms, where ecology is the study of the relationships that living organisms have with each other and with their environment.  The word ecology is from the Greek word for home,[vi] and feeling at home with ourselves includes adopting a moral position vis a vis our living ecology.  Psychoanalytic theory, by focusing mainly on relationships humans have with each other and tending to ignore relationships with non humans and with the environment, has unnecessarily restricted its view of mental life.  The perspective I put forward here aims to broaden a psychoanalytic understanding of our internal world to include our ecological awareness.  If we pay attention to mental phenomena, signs of our ecological awareness are everywhere to be found, for instance in the way in which the dreams of even those of us who live lives far removed from nature are regularly set in natural landscapes and ‘peopled’ by animals and plants of all kinds.

The moral high ground

The common ground of moral concern contrasts sharply with another psychic imaginary landscape, ‘the high ground’, a cold, barren and unsustainable place in which feeling ‘super moral’ or ‘holier than thou’ predominates.  However, this is actually the landscape of immorality or amorality.  The ‘moral high ground’ may be resorted to defensively when moral conflicts feel too much to bear.

Within the inner world of the psyche, the landscape of the moral high ground tends to be visualized as the top of a mountain or high rise building, an island cut off from the mainland, an idealised Eden-like special area or a ‘gated community’.  The high ground is kept segregated from territories imagined as ‘down there’, ‘far away’ or ‘on the other side’.

From the perspective of the high ground, common ground is looked down on and so are nature and our ecological selves.  We ‘occupy’ the moral high ground, and the act of occupation can be visualized as actively creating a fracture, a split, in the ecological internal moral landscape of common ground.  The splitting is into separated chunks of landscape, kept far apart, designated ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’, to which we assign ‘us’ and ‘them’.  When one occupies the moral high ground, one has split the ecological moral self, and its landscape of common ground is broken and shattered into pieces.  The act of mental splitting damages the inner representation of the Earth as the common ground that sustains us all and is a psychic ecocidal attack on our capacity to think in a concerned joined up way about reality. The ‘high up’ ‘holier than thou’ ground clung to most fiercely, I suggest, is a position of apparent exemption from having to face that exploitative values cause environmental damage and involve violence.

In a psychoanalytic perspective, we lead strange inner lives, where we move between split and more integrated psychic landscapes, between positions of moral superiority and entitlement and the ordinary pain of realizing we have caused damage to our beloved Earth and damage to our emotional links with her, damage that we want to try to repair.  This is our human plight.

Freud (1923)[vii] provided us with a cogent reason as to why we tend to split into ‘idealised superior us’ and ‘denigrated inferior them’ when he made the profound point that we are not as moral as we would like to think we are, but far more moral than we realise.  Freud was pointing to a basic fact of human nature, which is that morality is central in our lives and we have a deep human need to be moral and be seen as behaving in ways that are moral.  As animals primed to relate socially, our morality weighs heavily in us and when we behave in immoral ways we can be easily plagued by anxiety, guilt and shame.  Splitting into superior/inferior is an omnipotent way of trying to rid ourselves of anxiety, guilt and shame at our immoral acts.  It provides a ‘quick fix’ magical solution.  If we convince ourselves that those we share the landscape with (animals and certain other humans) are beneath us, not our equals, do not feel things as we do, or need less than we do, we are not so discomforted when we exploit them and treat them unfairly or cruelly.  But ‘superior/inferior’ splitting on its own is not enough.  So persecuted are we by the possibility that we are behaving in immoral ways that we need to take further steps to protect ourselves from the truth.  We fill ourselves up with ideas that we have special entitlement to claim everything we want when we want it for ourselves, and we mentally arrange things such that we are in as little danger as possible of being emotionally touched by – and so also plagued and tormented by – feelings of concern for those we exploit. We denigrate them and consign them to distant chunks of landscape in phantasy, where we can keep them out of sight and emotional reach[viii].  We narrow our view to only those we include in our circle of concern.  All these kinds of omnipotent phantasy tend to operate together and in this way we can kid ourselves we are superly moral when we claim the lion’s share (and especially clever for finding our moral quick fixes).  As Freud noted, we are not nearly as moral as we like to think we are.  His other point, that we are more moral than we realise, I see as pointing to the way that deep down while behaving in immoral ways and pretending we are super moral, the moral part of us, also there, but kept in the shadows, knows the truth of what we are up to.  It may experience mounting realistic anxiety and concern.

The psychoanalytic concept of phantasy is crucial to understanding how we construct the moral landscape in the internal world.  A background sense of narcissistic entitlement to exploit others powers our tendency to split the internal landscape, while a lively sense of entitlement to know we share with others and a willingness to face reality powers our tendency to re-integrate our split inner landscapes.  In other words, how we see the moral landscape in the mind’s eye – whether ground is more split or integrated – is heavily influenced by underlying power struggles going on between different and radically opposed underlying factions within us, and the outcome of these power struggles determines which kind of phantasied landscape prevails currently within the psyche.  We are mostly not conscious of these power struggles going on.

Moral choice

Do we have individual choice about how much we damage the environment and how much we make repairs?  This is a complex issue.  Paul Hoggett (2012)[ix] has outlined the way in which our disavowal of climate change – and the environmental damage this causes – is not best understood at an individual level but when seen as part of the current culture, which is a perverse culture characterized by a lack of concern.  The perverse culture involves, in the terms I have been using here, a brutal attack on common ground.

Polly Higgins’s work in this sense can be seen as a powerful expose of the laws that govern and prop up the perverse culture.  Law that protects greed is perverse law that stacks the odds against moral behaviour. This perverse framing of the rules promotes mindless grabbing of resources.  It is harder to heal our inner ecological selves in these circumstances as we are given no legal and structural backup to fight back and to make repairs, and, as I have argued (2012) elsewhere, we are actively encouraged in current ‘Western’ culture, to split into ‘us’ and ‘them’[x].

Culture shapes us profoundly and frames how we see the world we live in.  But even where we recognise the perverse culture and its effects, we have limited free moral choice within it.  It is not possible to live currently in ‘Western’ societies without causing at least some environmental damage.  This is because unregulated capitalism gives us products produced, packaged and transported in a way that currently causes extensive damage to the environment.  Because of this, every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat to our love and work relationships, involves us in our share of causing environmental damage.  Currently, with the best will in the world, with Spartan practices, and even if we try very hard and ‘walk our walk’ with the lightest footprint we can manage, we cannot avoid some damage and stay alive.  Literally.  It is important to note here that I am not talking about an idealized view of being able to live in a way that causes no damage.  Instead I am saying that we are, each of us in our own ways, currently unavoidably implicated in a perverse and violent system that is causing extensive ecological damage.

Moral injury

This problem raises the question of moral injury.  Currently, ordinary people are both victims of and active combatants in the immoral war being waged against the Earth.  They are the foot soldiers while those in power hold superior responsibility.  Participation in immoral wars leads to moral injury.  Moral injury is a new term[xi] being used to describe distressed and dysfunctional soldiers returning home from immoral wars, unable to find themselves, in mental pain and suffering from outbursts of rage often turned against themselves.  Moral injury replaces the psychiatric diagnosis of PTSD[xii] in suggesting that these symptoms are a normal response to being placed in an abnormal position where one is prevented from acting according to one’s inner conscience, and required to collude with violence one deep down knows is morally wrong.  From a psychic point of view, the injury is felt when one faces the pain of seeing that the landscape of common ground, where one feels at home as a human being, is being forcibly shattered and fragmented on a daily basis, both by the culture and by the practices one is forced into participating in and colluding with.  By landscape here I mean both the physical landscape and our capacity to maintain our internal landscape of common ground.  Both the external landscape and the internal more integrated moral landscape are under heavy bombardment and attack.

I will try to convey my sense of the dislocation and distress of taking in such violence against Mother Earth through my experience of visiting Dachau with two friends. After being in Dachau, the physical place, each of us became lost and disorientated.  I found myself standing on a vast parade ground, in a panic, having lost my two friends and not knowing how to find my way back home in a foreign land. One friend set off in the wrong direction on our way home and ended up head in hands not knowing which way to go, and the other friend suddenly started sobbing that evening on hearing some haunting music.  It was, he said, as though beauty and hope had suddenly returned to his world.

I think the assault on our sense of hope that our love can make repairs is one of the most devastating results of the current ecocidal attacks, and it can leave us struggling with feelings of hopelessness as well as helplessness.

I will use another holocaust image to indicate the effect that the slow violence of ecocide may have on us.  At Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin, we saw a sculpture in the hall of remembrance.  It comprised thousands of tiny clay pieces, like discarded leaves, at the bottom of a huge dry well.  I felt it as all those thousands of moments when I had ignored and forgotten, chosen lack of care over the difficulty of showing care.  It was deeply affecting.  Facing damage, especially irreparable damage one has caused, is the hardest of human tasks.  Each time we disavow the environmental ecological damage that each of our small actions cause, we nevertheless register this damage psychically; we store it up and it can feel increasingly unbearable to face.  We may end up not merely being seduced by consumer capitalism but further colluding with it because we feel not strong enough emotionally to face the extent of our collusion.

I have recently found on the web some important echoes of this, in blogs where people are beginning to address the issue of seeking forgiveness from themselves, and going through the details of what they have disavowed and are seek forgiveness for.  It is so much harder to forgive the self when one cannot repair the damage.  In this exercise they are also painfully seeking to reclaim their fractured inner living ecological selves, rooted in the living ecology of common ground.[xiii]


Polly has made a profoundly important contribution.  A law of ecocide could hugely help ordinary people manage their guilt about environmental damage.  It would do this by introducing proportionality about who is primarily to blame.  By helping to heal our fractured injured minds, it would improve mental health as well as making the important repairs we still can make to the environment.  Mental health depends on the state of our relationship with our primary good object, Mother Earth.  Indigenous communities we chose to see as ‘primitive’ understood this full well, and those that survive are currently in the vanguard of those of us who are fighting back.[xiv]

[i]Polly Higgins (2010) Eradicating Ecocide. Shepheard-Walwyn: London.  (2012) Earth is our business: changing the rules of the game. Shepheard-Walwyn: London.

[ii]Sally Weintrobe is a psychoanalyst and a founder member of the Climate Psychology Alliance:

[iii] Rob Nixon (2011) Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Harvard Univ Press

[iv] In a paper (2012) On our love of nature and on human nature, published in Engaging with Climate Change Weintrobe (ed) Routledge :London and New York , I argue that common ground is configured as a series of landscpes of the mind, reflecting ourselves as social, familial, ecological, etc, beings.  Here I develop these ideas on landscapes and focus on moral psychic landscapes as reflecting our ecological selves.

[v] Using the psychoanalytic convention of spelling it with ‘ph’ to indicate unconscious elements

[vi] οἶκος, Greek word for house or home

[vii] Freud, S. (1923). The Ego and the Id. Standard Edition XIX London: Hogarth Press, 1953,


[viii] Stan Cohen (2001) discusses the ‘distant other’ in States of Denia, Cambridge: Polity Press..

[ix] Hoggett (2012) Climate change denial in a perverse culture in Weintrobe, S. (ed): Engaging with Climate Change: Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Routledge: London and New York

[x] See Weintrobe, S. (2012) op cit

[xii] Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

[xiii] See for instance http:/

[xiv] For example the “Idle no more movement’ in Canada:

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Let’s stop hiding behind recycling and be honest about consumption

April 12, 2013 – 5:24 pm |

Let’s stop hiding behind recycling and be honest about consumption

Important article in Guardian 12th April 2013 by George Monbiot, about the way we export our manufacturing to to other countries and the impact that has on how carbon emissions are counted.

He hopes that  a brilliant animation by Leo Murray, neatly sketching out the problem, to be launched on 16th April  on the Carbon Omissions site will explain the issue simply and engagingly, and reach a much wide audience.

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TV report on legislating against non-violent eco-activism

April 12, 2013 – 12:35 pm |

A report relating to the depths of denial being reached… in this case legislation
against protest including non-violent activism

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A case of eco-despair

March 23, 2013 – 10:59 pm | 9 Comments

A case of eco-despair


After being invited to join this forum I hesitated to do it. Why? Because my voice is not that of a peer, it is that of someone who could have been your patient but who relied instead on self-analysis to find a way out of his eco-despair.

Do I belong on this stage? I am not sure. I venture onto it in the hope that my inside-out perspective on the problem will be of some use to you in your work with others who suffer from what may be the signature malady of our time.

What follows is the introduction to my book, Moving to the Earth’s Beat: the road back from eco-despair. I hope it will help both you and me to answer some questions.

The book speaks to those who suffer from that malaise, not to you the healers. Is that a take on the subject that you might find useful? If so, one way to add that perspective to your forum would be for me to continue to participate in it. The other would be for some of you to read the book and extract from my story what you feel would be of interest to your colleagues. I would vote for the latter, especially if the extractors are from different schools of psychology.

I will, however, go with your answer to the question.



What it’s about

The funk hit me suddenly. In hindsight I can see that it had been building for a while, but when it broke out into the open it came as a surprise. It was both unexpected and hard to explain. There seemed to be nothing in my situation to be depressed about. I was in good health, and had people in my life I cared about and who cared about me.

I was one of four partners in a small consulting company located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was doing well. When I joined it there were four people in it: two partners and two staff assistants. I made it five. Now, seven years later, there were twenty-four of us in our Harvard Square office, and another dozen in our affiliates in the U.K., Holland, and Germany.

Our business was based on work we had done to identify elements of the thought process that successful inventors use in their work. We were the first in our field to make parts of that process explicit. The Random House Dictionary extracted a common noun from the name of our company, Synectics, and defined it as “the study of creative processes, esp. as applied to the solution of problems by  a group of diverse individuals.”

Clients hired us to run problem-solving sessions for project teams when they needed to do some fresh thinking. Initially we worked primarily with engineers and scientists from the Research and Development departments of companies such as Kimberly-Clark, General Foods, Exxon, and Johnson & Johnson. Then their marketing and organization development groups discovered us.

Ours was an unusual line of work. There was no short answer to the “and-what-do-you-do” question, but it was hard to conceal how pleased we were to be doing it. We existed at the wild edges of the business world, unconstrained by its conduct and dress codes. We could work in sneakers and sandals, and wear our hair long. At day’s end on Fridays, staff members trickled into our second floor “living room,” a roughly twenty-by-thirty-foot loft space in which we could both run sessions and party.

The long wall across from the entrance had two French doors in it. Three easels were mounted on the wall space that separated them. Black leather couches formed a big “U” in front of the easels, and an oriental rug covered the space between them. On it was a table made of a solid core door sitting on four wooden cubes cut from an old beam. Several other cubes served as end tables. A dozen or so directors’ chairs provided additional seating. There was a long table behind one of the couches. When sessions were held on the floor, drinks were set out on it at the end of the day for the participants. Most welcomed that opportunity to relax after a long day, often with a working lunch and a couple of short breaks. On Fridays, it was the staff’s turn to relax and party.

I enjoyed my work. I had no trouble giving it sixty or seventy-hour weeks because it energized me. It was both my work and my favorite recreation. And then, suddenly it seemed, that changed. It was as if I were my usual self one Friday evening, a different person at the end of the following week.

What happened? It took me almost a year to figure out, first, what ailed me and then to develop a remedy for it. I was, it turned out, like the miners’ canary, among the early victims of an emerging virus, the one that causes eco-despair. Unlike the canary I was still walking and talking, though my spirit had a hard time getting out of bed. The first symptom was a growing awareness that our way of life had put us on a high-speed train headed for a nasty ecological crash. Then came the question that felled me: was there any reason to hope that we would be able to change course in time to avoid it, or at least to slow the train enough to minimize the damage?

I feared the answer was no. The train was propelled by a hyper-consumption lifestyle that we equated with progress and success for us as both individuals and as a species. We were addicted to it. I didn’t think enough people could be convinced to quit or quit aspiring to it. In developed countries it would mean giving up too many conveniences that we considered our birthright. Like cars and air conditioning and ever-increasing supplies of electricity and running water, both cold and hot. In the developing ones it would mean letting go of the dream of attaining that lifestyle.

The impetus for the change was not going to come from our political and business leaders. It had to come from us, the consumers. Together we had a lot of economic clout — we accounted for two-thirds of the GNP in developed countries. What we needed was a consumer uprising that forced the invention of a different economic order. But I couldn’t see it happening, because I’d lost faith in our collective good sense, and in the power of our big guns, Science and Technology. If you see your kind heading for a precipice and see no way to keep them from acting like lemmings, you are left with two choices. Stop caring about them and focus on getting the most out of your life while you can. Or get depressed. Why couldn’t I settle for the first option?

I talked to therapists about my problem, but that didn’t help, so I worked on it on my own. I got lucky and stumbled into an explanation of it in some books that happened to be sitting on my shelves. The authors included the psychologists Abraham Maslow and Viktor Frankl.

What I heard them say was that there is a part of us that transcends the boundaries of the personal ego. It identifies with its world — with other people, with other living things, with the earth. It experiences the pain of these “others” as if it were its own. It can be deeply bothered by the way things are out there. Such as injustice, or poverty, or the abuse of children or of the environment Not a reason to get bummed out if you feel that something can and is being done, by you or by others, about the wrong you feel needs to be set right, and that the fight can be won.

But this requires you to believe that the forces on your side have what it takes to prevail against those that create the “wrong.” Difficulties arise if you lose that faith. You are then left with two choices: recover that faith or live with your pain.

This book tells the story of how I regained hope that we could change our ways quickly enough to, if not avert, then at least soften the blow of an ecological crash. I tell it now for two reasons:

  • Because it will be hard, for others who catch the malaise, to get the help they need to uncover its root causes. It’s not easy to find therapists who in their practice make use of the findings of Maslow (and others who are part of what he called the “Third Force” in psychology). This was the case when I needed them, and it continues to be the case today. Why? The answer, according to several friends who are psychologists, is that their training focuses them almost exclusively on the non-transcendent part of our psyche. This is also why the needed help is unlikely to be found in publications by them, whether in books or blogs.
  • And I tell it now because it is no longer only my story or that of a few other kindred “miner’s canaries.” Eco-despair may prove to be the signature malady of our time.

An online article published by Time magazine is titled In Despair Over the Polar Bear. It begins with the story of a forty-one-year-old mother of two who “gets a stomach ache” every time she looks at a nearby volcano with a glacier at the top that has “definitely been receding over the years.” It goes on to say that psychologists now have a name for her condition: “eco-anxiety, the overwhelming and sometimes debilitating concern for the worsening state of the environment.” And,  “As signs of global warming accumulate, therapists say they’re seeing more and more patients with eco-anxiety symptoms. Sufferers feel depression, hopelessness, and insomnia, and go through sudden, uncontrollable bouts of sobbing.” *

Back in the early eighties there were no eco-psychologists of either the pop or the pro variety. The therapists I consulted focused on other possible reasons for my depression. The idea that we were heading for an eco-crash seemed at the time to be a far-out one, and if the threat was real there was plenty of time to do something about it. Yes we’d created environmental problems, but there were people working on them. One obvious solution to my distress was to support that work either directly or indirectly by minimizing my contribution to those problems — insulate the house, buy recycled paper, don’t drive a gas guzzler, whatever.

A possible second explanation for my angst was that I hadn’t outgrown my atavistic need to stay connected with the natural world. So go hug a tree, or spend time in a nearby National Forest. But I didn’t think immersions in the wilderness would help. Even looking at pictures of such places deepened my angst — they made vivid what it was that we were destroying. Contact with the natural world did once feel good, but that was to happen again only after I emerged from my gloom.

Variations of those two commonsense remedies are what most eco-psychologists seem now to be selling. But if the angst is rooted in a loss of hope that we, collectively, can get off this train we are on or slow it down significantly, then these are at best temporary painkillers, not a cure for the ailment. I hope this book will help you to grasp the root causes of that angst and to put together a remedy for it.

To the extent that you are not as engaged in the fight to save our habitat as you would like to be, I hope this book will help move you past a couple of the things that held me back. One was not seeing clearly enough that I had a very personal, here-and-now reason to do it.

There is a consequence of pollution and habitat destruction that is being almost totally overlooked: its impact on our psychic health. A part of us is viscerally connected to the earth, making it sick invites souls sickness. But it’s easy to ascribe its symptoms — such as anger, anxiety, and depression — to other causes. What I needed — and describe here — is a way to determine the extent to which these feelings are rooted in the realm of the individual ego versus that of the more connected self.

The second thing that held me back was loss of faith in our collective ability to avert or minimize the impact of an eco-crash, whether in our lifetime or that of our now and future children. I found hope in two places: evidence that we do have what it takes to win that fight; and reasons to think that we can increase the odds of doing that if we align ourselves more closely with the forces that work to maintain the health of the organism that is our biosphere.

This book also describes how a move to a more sustainable future can be catalyzed by the gifted storytellers among us, be they writers or rappers or moviemakers. If you are one of these folks and are not already engaged in that effort, I hope you will be moved to join it.

A preview of what follows

Have you caught — or are you susceptible to catching — a case of eco-malaise? Easy question to answer if you know you are depressed about what’s happening to our habitat. But what if you have caught the malady and it’s in an initial mild stage that manifests itself in subtle ways, such as a general increase in irritability or impatience or feelings of unease? In hindsight I can see that this is what happened to me, and that the resulting state of mind diminished my ability to bring my “A” game to my work for at least a couple of years.

Even after the problem broke out into the open as a depression, it took time to figure out its cause. I knew I was bothered by what we were doing to our environment, but why wasn’t that reason to be moved into action instead of into despair? To answer that question I first had to answer another: was the cause of my funk something else?

The first part of this book is an account of what I needed to do to answer those questions. It was, in essence, an exploration of what made me tick, as an individual and as a member of our species. I hope what I learned about myself will bring into sharper focus aspects of your own psyche in one or both of two ways: Yes, that’s me too. No, not me, but it makes me think of something that feels more apt.

The questions I had to ask along the way were not new: Who am I behind the face I present to others and to myself? Why do I feel as I do about my world? What do I believe the nature of things to be, and to what extent is that based on secondhand ideas? Which of those inherited ideas keep me from being at peace with my world?

Old questions, but the act of asking them helped me tailor the answers so they felt relevant to me.


Part two of this book is about imagining a way forward. OK, I understand why I feel as I do, how do I get out of this pit?

What reasons are there to think it’s not too late to avert or minimize the impact of the eco-crash for which I think we are headed? How do I rekindle faith in the power of our best instincts to win the fight to save our habitat? If part of the anwer is to be open to the idea that we might get an assist from the earth’s equivalent of a health maintenance organization, how do I square that idea with my inner skeptic — the part of me I think of as my modern, hard-science-based sensibility? Can I see a way forward that doesn’t require anyone else to do that squaring?

To find answers to these questions I had to pull together ideas about the nature of things from the viewpoints of both our scientists and traditional Native Americans. I hope going along on my excursions through those worlds will help you to create an antidote for your eco-despair, one that may or may not resemble mine.


* Nancy Harbert, In Despair Over the Polar Bear, Time Science & Space, August 17, 2007.







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Origins of Ecopsychology

March 15, 2013 – 3:31 pm | One Comment

“Re origins of ecopsychology –  my understanding was that Robert Greenway was involved in this work in the USA in 1960’s (as psychoecology) although term ‘ecopsychology’ was coined by Roszak in 1992 (history page on has noted this). It’s also true to say that origins stretch back to indigenous cultures and their cosmologies?”

Mary-Jayne Rust

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Are we right to use the term ‘climate change denial’?

March 13, 2013 – 7:51 pm | 4 Comments

Are we right to use the term ‘climate change denial’?


The question of the use of language such as ‘denial’ in the context of climate change has already emerged as an issue on postings on this website. The argument is that such language is unnecessarily provocative and polarising, and brands as ‘deniars’ all those who remain sceptical of some of the claims made by the majority of climate scientists (see piece in the Guardian March 2010

Indeed my experience is that the use of the word ‘denial’ in conjunction with climate change seems to provoke a range of vehement responses. When we ran a conference on climate change denial at the University of the West of England in 2010 the on-line furore preceding the conference was such as to force one of my colleagues to consider organising conference stewards to prevent disruption on the day, something he hadn’t thought about since the days of anti-fascist politics in Britain in the mid 1970s. Wind forward to 2013 when Sally Weintrobe and I went on Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed at the end of January to talk about climate change denial the following week the show’s host, Laurie Taylor, referred to “the maelstrom of correspondence” that our remarks had provoked.

At their most virulent such protestors accuse people like us of equating climate change denial with holocaust denial. We are therefore forced to question whether it is any longer appropriate to use a term which has become unnecessarily provocative. I want to argue strongly that I believe it is still appropriate, not the least because by insisting on the validity of this term we draw attention to a deeper truth about what we are all capable of as human beings and the tragedies that may then follow.

Holocaust denial is a case in point. It is a huge shame that the term has become synonymous with the ravings of a small band of miscellaneous zealots such as the historian David Irving and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who, 60 years after Auschwitz, still insist that the idea that 6 million died in the concentration camps is a hoax.  By making this connection to a small group of denialists something much more disturbing is conveniently covered up, for holocaust denial more properly refers to the behaviour of a silent majority rather than a noisy minority. That is, the silent majority of Germans who, in the 1930s and 1940s, knew something was going on but chose to turn a blind eye to it. Hence the significance when, at an event in January this year to commemorate Hitler’s taking control of the Reichstag in January 1933 (exactly eighty years ago), the current German President Angela Merkel said that the rise of Hitler had been made possible because “the majority had, at the very best, behaved with indifference”. This is what the holocaust survivor and unsurpassed chronicler of life in the camps, Primo Levi, described when he said in his book The Periodic Table, “(A)t that time, among the German silent majority, the common technique was to try to know as little as possible, and therefore not to ask questions”.  It is crucial to understand that this would have been us had we been living in Germany at that time. We (and I include myself here) would no doubt have behaved in precisely this way, no differently to the way in which normal anxious German citizens behaved at that time. For this is how ‘silent majorities’ tend to behave when faced with unpalatable truths and unless we begin to realise this we are doomed to repeat the crimes of omission of previous generations.

This is what the late and much missed Stan Cohen picked up on in his book States of Denial, it is the organisation of denial in whole societies or specific institutions within a society (such as the UK’s Stafford Hospital) that is the problem, not individual denial or the denial of small groups. This is what we are talking about in the case of climate change – the problem is not the noisy minority (although they can be a distracting pain in the arse), the problem is the silent majority and that, to a greater or lesser extent, includes all of us. When Levi says that we try to know as little as possible, I recognise traces of that in myself. I’ve seldom visited the IPCC website or kept abreast of the latest findings in the scientific journals and when I do read some of the most recent research which suggests the IPCC projections were too cautious I fight hard not to be overcome by despair. I also recognise that there is a part of me that wants to be deceived, wants to be told that things aren’t as bad as they seem. The point is that we are not just dupes of powerful media forces, governments and advertisers, there is someone inside each one of us that wants to be persuaded that everything is ok and who is ready to collude.

Working as a clinician I see this on a regular basis, it seems to me to lie at the heart of the difficulty we all have when trying to change. Most of the people I see as a therapist gain insight into their difficulties relatively quickly but change is much slower to occur. This is, I think, the problem with cognitive therapies. Changing scripts or narratives is usually not a sufficient condition for personal change. To change, people also have to negotiate loss (the loss of old identities and meanings), contain the despair and anxiety that accompanies loss, and abandon the pleasures (often perverse) they got from old but destructive ways of being.

And this brings us back to climate change and why it is possible to have some insight about climate change and yet carry on with old forms of behaviour. As should by now be clear  when I use the term denial I do not do so to refer to some group ‘out there’ who are different to me, I use the term knowing full well that it applies to myself. I remember a precisely analogous situation in the early 1990s when news reports were reaching us about ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. To begin with the response of ordinary citizens in the UK including myself was negligible, largely because the line being pedalled by the media and by politicians (of left and right) was that this was a civil war rather than a war of aggression by Serbs, and to a lesser extent Croats, on other ethnic groups. But more and more reports came through, including scarcely believable reports of rape camps and even people being held in conditions (at Omarska, Trnoplje and elsewhere) that resembled concentration camps. Yet still our response was negligible (perhaps just as it was in the early 1940s). I remember feeling many of the things I now feel in relation to climate change. Disbelief to begin with, surely this couldn’t be happening in a part of Europe where only recently, like hundreds of thousands of others, I had been on holiday. Then, later, guilt, the evidence particularly from journalists such as Ed Vulliamy was incontrovertible and I can remember having that sense of what Sartre termed ‘bad faith’, feeling that ‘we’ or ‘they’ (the government etc)  should be doing something whilst doing nothing myself. Finally in 1994 we formed a Bosnia Support Group in Bristol where I live. No political parties or campaign groups were active around Bosnia at the time and a national demonstration in London that we attended only managed to rally a few thousand people.  We raised money, twinned with a project for young people in Tuzla which remained a multi-ethnic city, and eventually I went out there to see for myself. In a way, you could say, that only when I saw it with my own eyes did reality break through. But at the time and to this day I still feel that what I did felt like ‘going through the motions’, just enough perhaps to ease my feeling of guilt, just enough to enable me to live with myself.

Now come back to climate change. One of the preoccupations of climate change campaigners is that the ordinary citizen’s actions seem too little in relation to the scale of the problem we face. As a result there is much concern with communication, how to get the message right and how to communicate it in the right way. Much useful work focusing on the lifestyle choices and consumption habits of individuals and groups has been done here. But the fact is that ultimately climate change is a political problem and at the moment we have no political movement dedicated to this problem (no equivalent to the anti-poll tax, or anti-nuclear, or anti-war movements of the past).  When you look at the history of political movements you can see the powerful effect of emotion in determining whether or not they get off the ground. Sometimes it is despair that has a demobilising effect, something explored vividly by Debbie Gould in Moving Politics her history of gay and lesbian activism in the time of AIDs.  Sometimes, particularly in authoritarian societies such as those in much of the Middle East before the Arab Spring, it is fear that keeps people from taking action. But in democracies which rule by consent I believe that we learn to live with unpalatable realities through collusion, and denial is a crucial element of collusion.

So to return to my theme, the silent majority, people like us who consent to the political and economic regimes we find ourselves in and yet who are the true power in the land, unlike the noisy minorities, the ideologues. Of course in climate change politics we have our ideologues too, on both sides, united in their preferred position on the moral high horse, and what strikes me is the way in which both groups use the rhetoric of denial in a spiral of accusation and counter-accusation. In fact it is quite hard to use the term ‘denial’ these days without a chorus of injured voices immediately shouting on the virtual stage “how dare you talk about me like that!”.  I think there is a secret enjoyment here, the thrill of victimhood.  And to such people I would say that I’m sorry to disappoint you but when I talk about denial I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about me and people like me, those who through inaction, prevarication and omission are consenting to a civilization which seems increasingly bent upon self-destruction.  Perhaps we should more properly speak of ‘denial and collusion’ because the two things seem to go hand in hand.

A final point. There is something about the age we live in which means that denial and collusion has become a necessary part of everyday life, part of what the German social critic Peter Sloterdijk calls the ‘unhappy consciousness’. In our world the means of communication are such that it is impossible not to know about things that have the potential to disturb us deeply. A child dies of hunger every 6 seconds, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates more than 20 million sharks are killed (just for the fins) every year (recent research suggests this dramatically underestimates the actual numbers), in September 2012 the extent of the summer Arctic Sea Ice was the lowest since satellite imaging began and was 50% below the 1979 to 2000 average, despite the Winter Fuel Allowance in the UK during the winter over 25,000 people (mostly elderly) continue to die from cold related illnesses. I could go on but my point is that our world is now saturated with this kind of information and therefore dramatically different to the world that existed just 50 years ago. And if we let all of these facts disturb us likely we would go mad. So we develop a thick skin and become versed in the arts of distancing, dissociation, rationalisation, diffusion of responsibility and all the other techniques of making sure that these facts remain just that, useless facts that don’t affect us.  Hence the name of Stan Cohen’s book States of Denial. And you could say, this is our predicament, this is the predicament of being human and living in technologically advanced and relatively open societies. Except I’d add one extra clause and put ‘neo-liberal’ after ‘technologically advanced’.

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BPS Research Digest: Ecological footprint feedback can make people some people less green, by Jarrett

February 10, 2013 – 9:35 am |

BPS Research Digest: Ecological footprint feedback can make some people less green


by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest (3 May 2011)


Originally published in  BPS Research Digest, 3 May 2011. A blog post based on the original study of Amara Brook (2011) Ecological footprint feedback: Motivating or discouraging? Social Influence, 6 (2), 113-128


The benefit of ecological footprint questionnaires for the environmental movement seems obvious enough, especially since the vast majority of people say they care about the planet. For most Westerners, their results on such a questionnaire are sobering, informing them about the unsustainability of their lifestyles. And that, you’d think, would lead them to start behaving in more environmentally friendly ways. Trouble is, it’s been shown that if changing their behaviour seems too difficult, many people change their attitudes instead, in this case ditching their pro-environmental beliefs (as a way to reduce what’s known as ‘cognitive dissonance’, which is when there’s a mismatch between our attitudes and behaviour).

Amara Brook has illuminated this dilemma further. She measured how important environmental issues were to the self-esteem of 212 undergrads. Then she had them complete an ecological footprint questionnaire to which they received false feedback – either positive or negative (ie they were told that they consumed fewer resources than most people, or far more resources than most people). Finally, they were given the opportunity to write a letter to their local politician, on any pro-social topic they liked.

For those students for whom the environment was not important to their self-esteem, receiving negative feedback on the ecological footprint questionnaire actually prompted them to be less likely to write to their politician about environmental issues (relative to the students who received positive feedback about their footprint). In other words, for people who aren’t green minded, alarming feedback on a footprint questionnaire can actually make them less sympathetic to green causes. For students whose self-esteem was tied to the environment, negative feedback on the footprint questionnaire had the effect you’d expect, prompting them to be more likely to write to their politician about environmental issues.

‘Ecological and carbon footprints are in widespread use, but the present study suggests that they may fail to promote or even reduce sustainable behaviour for some people,’ Brook wrote. ‘Understanding how to modify footprint feedback to more effectively motivate sustainable behaviour is urgently needed.’

One strategy that might help is to provide practical information alongside footprint feedback, outlining ways to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, thus encouraging people to respond to negative feedback by changing their behaviour, rather than abandoning their green sympathies. Or perhaps, Brook said, ‘the ecological footprint should be targeted to people who are already invested in environmentalism, such as members of environmental groups, and should be used with caution, if at all, with the broader population.’

Brook, A. (2011). Ecological footprint feedback: Motivating or discouraging? Social Influence, 6 (2), 113-128 DOI: 10.1080/15534510.2011.566801

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Taking Counselling and Psychotherapy Outside: Destruction or Enrichment of the Therapeutic Frame? by Jordan & Marshall

February 9, 2013 – 6:27 pm |

Taking Counselling and Psychotherapy Outside: Destruction or Enrichment of the Therapeutic Frame?

by Martin Jordan and Hayley Marshall (2010)


Originally published in European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, Vol 12., No. 4, December 2010, 345-359



This paper will explore emerging issues in the practice of counselling and
psychotherapy in the outdoors, which the authors encountered when they
took their clients outside of the traditional therapy room. The outdoors is
defined as natural areas and spaces, such as woods and parks which have
been termed ‘nearby nature’ (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) and also more
remote areas such as mountains and moors which are more isolated from
civilisation, what some have termed wilderness (Mcfarlane, 2007).
Particular emphasis will be given to the ‘frame’ of psychotherapy and
how aspects of this are affected by moving outdoors, in particular
contracting in relation to confidentiality and timing. The relationship in
psychotherapy will be explored in relation to issues of mutuality and
asymmetry alongside the role of nature in the therapeutic process. Lastly
the challenges and therapeutic potential of psychotherapy in nature will be


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Nature and self: an ambivalent attachment? by Jordan

February 9, 2013 – 6:15 pm |

Nature and Self: an ambivalent attachment?

by Martin Jordan (2009) CPsychol, UKCP registered psychotherapist, senior lecturer and course leader for the psychodynamic counselling course at the University of Brighton, ecotherapy trainer and founding member of Counselling and Psychotherapy Outdoors (CAPO). Martin Jordan also runs the blog ecopsychoanalysis with Joseph Dodds


Originally published in Ecopsychology, 1 (1). pp. 26-31. ISSN 1942-9347. See also Ecopsychoanalysis, November 2, 2012.



This article explores how our attachment to nature is formed in our early love relationships and draws on ideas from psychodynamic theory and contemporary research in developmental psychology to explore the development of the self, the importance of attachment, how “splits” have formed between self and nature as a protection against vulnerability, and potential ways forward in dealing with this. The article argues that at the heart of our current ecological crisis are fundamental problems of dependency and vulnerability, resulting for many in an ambivalent attachment to nature. Understanding the complex ways in which humans react to intimacy as a result of early attachment is central to the project of ecopsychology and the ways in which people can help understand and shift the nature of their relationships, both to the planet and with each other. The article concludes by looking at evidence for a securely attached “ecological self” and the potential for developmental models to promote this.

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Book Reviews: ‘Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos’ by Dodds

February 9, 2013 – 5:56 pm |

Book Reviews: Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos: complexity theory, Deleuze|Guattari, and psychoanalysis for a climate in crisis

by Joseph Dodds


Making connections: psychoanalysis, ecology and deleuze and guattari’s philosophies  Maria Tamboukou Centre for Narrative Research University of East London London England. Psychology in Society.  no.42 Cognella  (2011),  ISSN 1015-6046

Review in the International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology. Terry Marks-Tarlow (2012) Review of Joseph Dodds’ “Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos”. International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology. Vol.7, Issue 4, 2012, pp565-572. DOI: 10.1080/15551024.2012.710352

Renee Lertzman (2012) Review of Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos: Complexity Theory, Deleuze|Guattari and Psychoanalysis for a Climate in Crisis by Joseph Dodds, Ecopsycology, Vol.4, No.3, 2012, pp1-3

Review in Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology and Life Sciences.  L. Douglas Kiel, University of Texas (2012). Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology and Life Sciences. Vol 16, No. 2, pp232-235

Martin Jordan (2011) Foreword to Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos, (Dodds 2011). Routledge, xiii-xv 

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Animal Totems and Taboos: An Ecopsychoanalytic Perspective by Dodds

February 9, 2013 – 4:55 pm |

Animal Totems and Taboos: An Ecopsychoanalytic Perspective

by Joseph Dodds


Originally published in Psyart Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts, November 26, 2012. Republished with images in Ecopsychoanalysis, 27 November 2012



What is an animal? In addition to biological and ecological answers, the animal needs to be explored in its psychological and social dimensions. The animal has long been a symbol of human psyche and culture, from fairy tales to horror films, Oedipal pets to animal phobias, scapegoating and large-group symbols, philosophy to ideology and myth. This article explores animal symbols, totems and taboos, and their interaction with non-human nature, through the perspective of ecopsychoanalysis (Dodds 2011), combining, psychoanalytic, eco(psycho)logical and Deleuze-Guattarian modes of thought. Three animal-types are identified, and these are placed within Guattari’s ‘three ecologies’ of mind, society, and nature, seen to be in constant, complex nonlinear interaction with one another. Expanding Bion’s ‘binocular vision’, we need to include along with individual psychology and social dynamics interactions with non-human nature. How does an idea or a phantasy impact on an ecosystem or social system? How do our own minds shudder upon collision with the hyperobject of climate change? These are some of the core concerns that ecopsychoanalysis seeks to address.


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Understanding Environmental Cognition by Henry & Dietz

February 6, 2013 – 9:00 am |

Understanding Environmental Cognition

by Henry A.D.1  &  Dietz T.2

1University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
2Michigan State University, MI

In Organization & Environment. vol. 25 no. 3 238-258 (2012)

Many research questions in environmental policy lead us to questions of environmental cognition—how do individuals structure their thinking about environmental issues, how are these cognitions learned, and how do they influence behaviors? Although these processes tend to be understudied and undertheorized, at least two theoretical perspectives are useful for illuminating different aspects of environmental cognition. The Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) was developed in the political science literature to explain major policy change in technically complex issue areas, and the Values-Beliefs-Norms (VBN) theory was developed in the social psychology literature to explain environmental activism among the lay public. Unfortunately, these literatures rarely communicate with one another. This article shows how integrating key aspects of the ACF and VBN can moves us toward a more robust theory to guide future empirical work on cognition, learning, and behavior in the context of environmental issues.

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There is no “I” in nature by Frantz et al

February 6, 2013 – 8:34 am |

There is no “I” in nature: The influence of self-awareness on connectedness to nature

by Frantz C., Mayer, F.S., Norton C., Rock M.
Psychology Department, Severance Hall, Oberlin College, Ohio, USA

In Journal of Environmental Psychology 25 (2005) 427–436

This paper explores how modern, industrialised people’s sense of self, the “I”, influences and is influenced by the degree to which we feel connected with nature and provides accounts of experiments undertaken to test how these mutual influences play out.

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What can the Climate Psychology Alliance achieve through the medium of a website? by AdrianTait

February 6, 2013 – 7:49 am | 10 Comments

What can the Climate Psychology Alliance achieve through the medium of a website?

by Adrian Tait,
CPA Steering Group

In the early days of my work with Paul Hoggett at the Centre for Psycho-Social Studies, I used, somewhat tongue in cheek, the phrase “unified field theory”, about the need to link up the many layers or dimensions involved in the subject of human responses to climate change and ecological crisis.

That need still seems valid and it follows that those of us involved in climate psychology should work together to develop a conceptual platform, so that we can communicate with each other and with a wider public from a shared basis of understanding.  Differences are important, but the narcissism of small differences shouldn’t be allowed to divert us from looking for common ground and a common language, which can only give us all a stronger voice and a more effective medium.

Despite the diversity that has been deliberately built into the CPA Steering Committee, I think I’ve witnessed the beginnings of a coherent culture, during the two years in which the Alliance has started to take shape.  This is confirmatory of the original vision and relevant to any discussion of “the media” in this context, given the argument I want to make, namely that we need to look in two directions at once: at the media “out there”, the organs of mass communication, and at the organ we ourselves are seeking to create, through conversations, alliances, events and website.

At a recent conference organised by Positive Money, one of the speakers was Patrick Chalmers, an ex Reuters correspondent and author of “Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports our Bogus Democracies”.  (downloadable free:  I was struck by his disillusionment with mainstream journalism.

Chalmers, whilst acknowledging some exceptions, made a number of points about journalists as a breed – some of which, it seems to me, pertain to society as a whole:  They flock to those with power and celebrity.  Their publications are understaffed; they go in for “churnalism”; time pressures discourage depth of thought.  They’re pack animals, with few real contrarians amongst them.  They are biased towards “free markets” and de-regulation.  They fear backlash if they stray too far from the prevailing ideology.

Perhaps we are more fortunate with climate and ecology reporting, but I wonder how much so.  There is a systemic problem in the mass media, involving commercial pressures, political myopia and mixed messages (which often get erroneously interpreted as objective uncertainty).

In these lights, there is paradoxically much to be gained and much at risk when engaging with the mainstream media, both in its own right and as a microcosm of wider attitudes.

A recent example of how hard it is for the most powerful mainstream medium to break out of its complexes comes from Al Gore, in his 2013 book The Future.  Referring to the fear of discussing global warming which afflicts U.S. television networks, he says:  “Even the acclaimed BBC nature program The Frozen Planet was edited before the Discovery Network showed it in the United States to remove the discussion of global warming.  Since one of the over-arching themes of the series was the melting of ice all over the planet, it was absurd to remove the discussion of global warming, which is of course the principal cause of the ice melting.  As activist Bill McKibben wrote: ‘It was like showing a documentary on lung cancer and leaving out the part about cigarettes.’ ’’ (The Denial Machine pp 325-9).

Those of us who are convinced that Earth Inc. is on a disaster course need organs of communication that are under our own control.  Chalmers’ main advice to anyone wanting to challenge aspects of the contemporary system and zeitgeist is to pursue the route of “citizen media” or “participatory media” of which CPA’s website is an instance.  Its aim is to help mobilise and focus efforts to address the ecocidal elements present in our culture.  The website is of course an application of information technology and whilst technology is all too often a tool of human omnipotence and dissociation from our roots in nature, this in no way contradicts its value for our purposes.  It is desperately urgent that all available resources be used to foster engagement with the problems that science and our own senses (if we are able to use them) have been telling us about for decades.  The urgency stems both from the escalation of the problem we’re causing and the increasingly intolerable weight of guilt, fear and hopelessness that gets harder to face, as it gathers at the periphery of our awareness.

Although the broad objective is clear, we need to ask ourselves what the medium of CPA is designed to carry and what are we looking to the wider media to help us convey.  This links back to the point about finding a holistic picture of the human engagement problem.  We need some sort of map on which to locate ourselves as climate psychologists, and in particular to consider the role of the media.  My aim in this article is to propose that task as part of our venture, in the hope of wider involvement in taking it forward, building on the work of Roszak, Rust & Totton, Weintrobe and others.

At the centre is what climate science has been telling us loud and clear.  Greenhouse gas emissions (now 90 million tons a day) are rapidly undermining the period of relative climate stability which has enabled human civilisation to develop – hence the proposition that we are now moving from the Holocene to the Anthropocene.  There are uncertainties about how this process will play out at given levels of future emissions, but there is a high level of consensus about the process of devastation that we are unleashing and the need to do all in our power to mitigate it.  Alongside this is the knowledge that we are responsible for an escalating extinction of other life forms, impoverishing us all and further undermining the health and resilience of the biosphere on which we ultimately depend.

I can hear most readers of the above paragraph saying “We know all that”, but I imagine that relatively few of us have committed to a personal path leading down to two tons of CO2 emissions pa (as opposed to the UK average of ten tons).  And we are presumably a fairly concerned and well-educated group on these matters.  So we are all involved in a degree of disavowal, part of the spectrum of denial defined by Weintrobe et al’s Engaging with Climate Change.

Amongst the vast majority of people not reading this article, there will be some in the same boat, some saying it’s a problem but owning little responsibility in the matter.  Some switch off, to protect against anxiety and/or because they cannot see the relevance of the problem to themselves.  Others align themselves with denialism, for ideological or psychological reasons  When I listen to what people actually say, I realise that what often seems to be going on is a muddle of wanting to act responsibly but without too much sacrifice, combined with  elements of that whole spectrum of denial.  For most of us who are not in some form of extreme denial, I suspect there’s a projection of responsibility, both for the problem and for remedial action: onto corporations, government or activists.

My point is that the human engagement part of the map is a mess, both because of the conflicts, inconsistencies and evasions to which we’re all prone and because, faced with the size of the challenge, there’s a vast deficit in the take-up of responsibility.  The buck is being passed around and the hotter it gets the faster it moves.  Illustrating both these points, George Monbiot pointed out in his book “Heat” that people want government to take action on climate change and they want these measures not to affect them (ie to fail).

The human engagement territory must be drawn in psycho-social terms.  The problem cannot be charted or understood without reference to both psychology and the way that social, cultural, political and economic systems function.  A case in point is that we need psycho-social tools to understand the functioning of the mass media.  We know about the dependence of commercial media on their sponsors and advertisers, their concern for circulation or listening/watching figures – a popularity contest that has something in common with the political system.  We could perhaps augment that knowledge with reference to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the skill of the tabloid press in activating people’s basic security concerns, by pin-pointing groups in society that are defined as a threat and by appealing to our appetites for titillation and distraction.  The blame game is a much easier sell than the message that we’re all invested in a system which guarantees its own nemesis by fostering appetites that are unsustainable and values that are grossly wasteful and destructive.

So I come inevitably to consumerism and the need for a different yardstick of human well being.  Sermonising won’t work, but perhaps our own participatory medium will encourage us to walk the talk, as we discover the rewards on offer from the community we are helping to create.  That way we might, as Ecopsychology has been pointing out for years, contribute to a shift of awareness, in favour of transactions and experiences that enrich without devouring and plundering.

Finally, in Positive News (Winter 2012).  Catherine Gyldensted has a double page piece  headed “Positive Psychology Could Revolutionise Journalism”, followed by the strapline: “The science of positive psychology offers a new, more constructive foundation for news reporting.”  Chalmers makes a similar point in the opening pages of Fraudcast News.

She points out that a diet of bad news induces learned helplessness and stops people wanting to listen and engage.  She gives various examples of stories where the positive element has been, or could be, emphasised in order to convey hope, even when the background subject is a difficult one.  Amongst these are hurricane Sandy and the trial of Jared Loughner (the Tuscan, Arizona shooter).  But hang on a moment, I also read a recent article by Monbiot about Australia’s descent into climate chaos and how the opposition leader Tony Abbott, in the very act of praising the undoubted courage of Victoria’s fire fighters, maintains and encourages denial of the underlying problem.

I suspect that there is a lot of truth both in Gyldensted’s and Monbiot’s contrasting arguments.  It will take care and skill to develop our own medium and utilise the other media available to us in such a way as to help inspire the quest for a saner way of living and at the same time to hold constantly in mind the forces we’re up against and how high the stakes are.


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Transforming Environmental Psychology by Uzzell and Rathzel

February 5, 2013 – 4:57 pm |

Transforming Environmental Psychology

by David Uzzell and Nora Rathzel

In Journal of Environmental Psychology 29 (2009) 340–350

David Uzzell is Professor of Environmental Psychology at University of Surrey, UK
Nora Rathzel is Professor of Sociology at Umea University, Sweden

In this article, Uzzell and Rathzel argue for a change in emphasis in environmental psychology towards giving priority to examining the reciprocity between people and environment and the ways in which they mutually reproduce the material conditions for their existence.

Obtain article here


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Sustainability, Self-Identity and the Sociology of Consumption by Soron

February 5, 2013 – 4:17 pm |

Sustainability, Self-Identity and the Sociology of Consumption

by Dennis Soron
Brock University, St Catherines, ON, Canada

In Sustainable Development 18: 172–181 (2010). DOI: 10.1002/sd.457


In order to develop a more nuanced model of consumer behaviour and the dynamics of behavioural change, this paper argues, the discourse of sustainable consumption needs to draw more fully upon the sociological literature addressing consumption, its varied drivers, and the complex roles it plays within contemporary life. Since its revival in the 1980s, the sociology of consumption has largely focused on the ways in which everyday consumption choices in affluent societies facilitate the process of creating and sustaining a ‘self-identity’. While the literature in this field is not without its own flaws, framing sustainable consumption in relation to the problem of self-identity enables us to confront not only the psychocultural factors that maintain demand for material goods, but also the difficulties faced by ordinary people as they try to understand and respond ethically to large-scale social and ecological problems within an everyday environment that is highly commodified and individualized.

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Help put an end to Ecocide

February 4, 2013 – 2:56 pm |

May I ask you to join me in adding your name to the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) today to End Ecocide in Europe?

This is not just another petition; it is one of the first ECIs to be successfully lodged and was launched on Jan 21st at the European Parliament. When we have collected 1 million signatures within 1 year, the European Commission is obliged to fully consider opening up the legislative process to end ‘Ecocide’, the extensive damage and destruction to ecosystems, throughout the European Union.

Please sign here today to put an end to Ecocide in Europe.

This European Citizens’ Initiative calls for Ecocide to be made a criminal offence
• throughout the European Union whether on land or sea
• when European citizens are involved anywhere in the world
• when European companies are involved anywhere in the world
and for a Europe wide ban on the sale of any product derived from Ecocide.

This Initiative could be the catalyst to end ecocide globally, and it gives the EU, as winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, the opportunity to lead the way to make Ecocide the fifth international Crime Against Peace, alongside Genocide and War Crimes.

Help us achieve 1 million signatures by 21st January 2014 and leave a legacy of life on a planet free from ecocide, for future generations. Sign the ECI now and show how many signatures we can collect on day one!

Please pass on this message to all your contacts.
With best wishes
Antony, Jane, Prisca and the UK End Ecocide team

For more information visit:
listen to the Ecocide Rap here and help fund the video.

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Ecopsychology and the person-centred approach by Blair

February 4, 2013 – 2:18 pm |

Ecopsychology and the person-centred approach: Exploring the relationship

by Lewis Blair
Paisley Community Mental Health Team
NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde

In Counselling Psychology Review Vol. 26 No.1 43-52 (2011)

Content and Focus: This article explores the relationship between ecopsychology and the person-centred
approach to psychotherapy and counselling. The literatures of both topics are reviewed and areas of fit as
well as of conflict are identified. This exploration is situated within the context of climate change and the
broader damage to the natural world. Specific person-centred concepts are considered with regard to our
relationship with the natural world.
Conclusions: Considerations for the person-centred approach and counselling psychology practice are
discussed. In particular, the article highlights ways in which the self may be relocated within a larger
ecological context, the possibility of ecologically situated well-being and incongruence, and the relevance of
Rogers’ concept of psychological contact to our relationship with the natural world.

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Contested Meanings by Burgess et al

February 4, 2013 – 2:03 pm |

Contested Meanings: the consumption of news about nature conservation

by Burgess, J.,  Harrison, C.,  Maiteny, P.
Department of Geography, University College, London

In Media Culture & Society 1991 13:499-510

This article, published over 20 years ago, explores themes that remain pertinent today.  It is not freely available, so we have quoted a paragraph and then linked it to where it can be obtained.

“In the last few years, environmentalism has flowered once again in the media: watered by widespread anxiety over events like that at Chernobyl and mulched by Mrs Thatcher’s ‘Green Speech’ to the Royal Society in September 1988. The environment has been ‘re-mapped’ in distant-public discourses after many years of being denigrated as of concern only to a tiny minority of eccentrics, doom-mongers and self-seeking academics. Perhaps not surprisingly, nature conservation … has been relegated to a subordinate position in arguments currently raging in the media and other public fora about the long-term consequences of environmental pollution and degradation.  And yet, we would argue, the cultural politics associated with the destruction or preservation of habitats and species in different localities offer a particularly appropriate way of tackling questions about the role of the media in the interactions between the local and national arenas of public life.  This is because conflicts in nature conservation and economic development have an immediate impact on people’s lives unlike other environmental threats such as global warming or the hole in the ozone layer … ” pp 500-501

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Living on Earth by Totton

February 4, 2013 – 1:26 pm |

Living on Earth: Embodiment and Ecopsychology

by Nick Totton

In Transformations, the journal of Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility (PCSR)

Nick Totton is a body psychotherapist and started Embodied-Relational Therapy.

Our human project of living on earth seems to have reached a crisis point, one which may entail the collapse of large parts of the planet’s ecosystem. Although we as a civilisation probably know how to avert this collapse, there is very little likelihood – although still some hope – that we are going to do so. We know how to do it technically speaking; but we don’t seem to know how to mobilise our social energy in order to take the necessary steps. This illuminates the sense in which, from another point of view, our project has always already been in crisis: we have never known a
good human way to live on earth. As Rilke says in the First Duino Elegy (my own translation),

Even the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in our interpreted world.

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Public understanding of, and attitudes to, climate change by Pidgeon

February 1, 2013 – 5:45 pm |

Public understanding of, and attitudes to, climate change: UK and international perspectives and policy

by Pidgeon, N.

In Climate Policy 12, 85-106. (2013) and published on Talking Climate


Although levels of concern and awareness about climate change have been rising in many nations over the past 20 years, climate change remains of low importance relative to other global or personal issues. Powerful contextual barriers act to prevent public engagement with it, such as psychological distancing and externalized responsibility. Despite extensive media coverage of the issue since 2006 there was a gradual decrease in public concern between 2006 and 2010. Possible explanations are issue fatigue, the impact of the global financial crisis, distrust, and the deepening politicization of the issue. Risk and uncertainty will become part of the debate about climate change policy in the future. Although engaging both the public and decision makers needs to draw upon the best guidance already developed in communicating risk, it is also likely that a radical reframing of the terms of public debate and new approaches to ‘risk communication’ will be needed. The most significant risk to achieving ambitious climate mitigation and adaptation goals appears to be the ‘governance trap’ engendered by current national and international systems of governance, such that the public and governments each seek to attribute responsibility for instigating change to the other.

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Uncertainty, scepticism and attitudes towards climate change by Corner et al

February 1, 2013 – 5:35 pm |

Uncertainty, scepticism and attitudes towards climate change:  biased assimilation and attitude polarisation

by Corner, A ; Whitmarsh, L ; Xenias, D

In Climatic Change 114, 463-478. (2012) and published on Talking Climate


‘Scepticism’ in public attitudes towards climate change is seen as a significant barrier to public engagement. In an experimental study, we measured participants’ scepticism about climate change before and after reading two newspaper editorials that made opposing claims about the reality and seriousness of climate change (designed to generate uncertainty). A well-established social psychological finding is that people with opposing attitudes often assimilate evidence in a way that is biased towards their existing attitudinal position, which may lead to attitude polarisation. We found that people who were less sceptical about climate change evaluated the convincingness and reliability of the editorials in a markedly different way to people who were more sceptical about climate change, demonstrating biased assimilation of the information. In both groups, attitudes towards climate change became significantly more sceptical after reading the editorials, but we observed no evidence of attitude polarisation¬ – that is, the attitudes of these two groups did not diverge. The results are the first application of the well-established assimilation and polarisation paradigm to attitudes about climate change, with important implications for anticipating how uncertainty – in the form of conflicting information – may impact on public engagement with climate change.

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Self interest and pro-environmental behaviour by Evans et al

February 1, 2013 – 5:21 pm |

Self interest and pro-environmental behaviour

by Evans, L ; Maio, G ; Corner, A ; Hodgetts, C ; Ahmed, S ; Hahn, U

In Nature Climate Change 2, (2012) and also published on Talking Climate


Inspired by the principles used to market physical products, campaigns to promote pro-environmental behaviour have increasingly emphasized self-interested (for example, economic) reasons for engaging with a self-transcendent cause (that is, protecting the environment). Yet, psychological evidence about values and behaviour suggests that giving self-interested reasons, rather than self-transcending reasons, to carry out a self-transcending action should be ineffective at increasing self-transcending behaviour more generally. In other words, such a campaign may fail to cause spillover, or an increase in other, different environmental behaviours. Here we show that recycling rates are dependent on the information participants receive about a separate environmental behaviour, car-sharing (carpooling in the USA). In two experiments, we found that recycling was significantly higher than control when participants received environmental information about car-sharing, but was no different from control when they received financial information or (in experiment 2) received both financial and environmental information. Our results suggest that, congruent with value theory, positive spillover from one environmental message to another behaviour (car-sharing to recycling) may occur primarily when self-transcending reasons alone are made salient.

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Psyche and World: Ecopsychology and Psychotherapy by Robertson

February 1, 2013 – 1:12 pm | 4 Comments

Psyche and World: Ecopsychology and Psychotherapy

by Chris Robertson

Chris Robertson has been a psychotherapist and trainer since 1978 working in several European countries. His training background includes Psychosynthesis, Child Psychotherapy, Family Therapy and Archetypal Psychology. He is co-author of Emotions and Needs (OUP) and author of several articles including ‘The Numinous Psyche’ in International Journal of Psychotherapy (Vol. 18, no2). He is co-creator of the workshop Borderlands and the Wisdom of Uncertainty, which in 1989 became the subject of a BBC documentary. He is a co-founder and director of training at Re•Vision, an integrative and transpersonal psychotherapy training centre. He works in London at Re•Vision where he also sees individuals, couples and supervisees.

In The Psychotherapist February 2011

We are walking on Hampstead Heath after the Great Storm in 1986. It looks like a scene from a disaster movie. So many trees have been torn out of the ground with their roots showing. We cannot quite believe it. People are standing around, in tears.

Ecopsychology widens the context of psychological inquiry in locating pathology not solely in human relationships but also with the other-than-human world. It sees our human roots in the earth and not just our mother – even if, like the trees above, we have been uprooted. Such wider inquiry reaches out through the windows of individual clients’ stories to the earth stories that are simultaneously coming in through the window. It recognises our collective alienation and split from nature as a major source of suffering. Roszak, one of the originators of the term ‘ecopsychology’, describes this repression of the ecological unconscious as the deepest root of collusive madness in industrial society[i].

The tears above could express kinship with the fallen trees but it could also be the grief of our own alienation triggered by the destruction. An ecological awareness may bring an overwhelming grief for what has been lost potentially followed by a resurgence of ancient longing for reconnection. This is not solely a personal or family grief but collective grief. Roszak suggests this collective grief can awaken the inherent sense of environmental reciprocity that lies within the ecological unconscious. Perhaps climate change is not so much a technical crisis, nor even an ecological crisis but a crisis of consciousness. Our consciousness is caught in a dualistic paradigm of heroic achievement – a story of overcoming the dark with light, of domesticating nature, of colonising the unconscious, of human dominance.

 Jerome Bernstein, a Jungian analyst, writes in Living in the Borderland[ii] of many moving client experiences of the reciprocal affinity between humans and animals. It took him a while to understand that their stories were not about their internal world. The dualism between our inner world and the earth outside makes it difficult to see through a client’s narrative to the earth story. Perhaps our psychological emphasis on the ‘inner reality’ has become dysfunctional itself.  Maybe the split we seek to heal within the individual is part of the fabric of our culture.

The question is whether psychotherapy can address this split, as it may itself be part of it. Whilst in Freud’s Vienna, this emphasis on the internal world was both radical and liberating from a repressive social norm; it may now be part of the problem. Even the present concerns with psychotherapy legislation could be a misconstrued attempt to rebalance this overemphasis on the individual’s internal world with social values. The issue is not so much with the short-termism of some present therapeutic approaches even if it parallels the extravagant use of fossil fuels as if there was no tomorrow. The issue is with the focus psychotherapy training brings to how we hear and respond to clients.

Working with a group of psychotherapists training to be supervisors on a sunny day, we decided to work outside. Even though the garden is fenced off, we all initially became aware of the possibility of being overheard and the consequent issues of confidentiality. In discussing this sensitivity, it seemed to us a conditioned response to being out of the box. Were we allowed to discuss clients in the open air rather than closeted in our secret consulting rooms? As we stayed outside, this somewhat paranoid reaction subsided and we all began to feel held by our surroundings and sensitive to various synchronistic phenomena (a scream, a bird call) the outside offers.

Our clients carry something of the collective distress which does not belong just with them. I have noticed a pattern with some of my male clients who have suffered early abandonment. To psychologically survive they split off their hopes from reality testing, keeping them ‘unspoilt’, while simultaneously developing a negative expectation towards their environment. This may have been a useful survival strategy but it was one that made it very difficult for them to bring their creative endeavours out into the world. This seems to me to be a mirror of our consuming culture in which we are fed idealised celebrity fantasies of what we could be and pathologise the consequent depression. Such clients become depressed not solely due to their early history as they carry something of a collective depression.

In this context, personal wounding is a gateway to Earth wounding. Grieving the loss of a mother is also grieving the loss of Mother Earth. The desire to consume, to fill up the hollowness is both inner and outer, personal and collective. Ecopsychologist Mary-Jayne Rust writes,

recovery from consuming involves coming back into our bodies, and realising the earth is also our collective body; recovery is also making a shift from a relationship with ‘things’ to a relationship with inner and outer nature; respecting and living according to the Natural Law; experiencing relationship with all around us as nourishing as well as challenging in growth. [iii]

Jared Diamond, scientist and historian, in his cautious but gripping book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, surveys historical environmental crises across the planet, such as the deforestation of Easter Island, to provide the evidence of our civilisation’s collective denial. Many societies before us have assumed a continuity despite changing conditions. The failure to understand longer term consequences or read the trends in environmental degradation is one explanation he offers for apparent blindness to ecological crisis. It is the clash between short-term gratification and ‘intergenerational justice’ that speaks most clearly of systemic denial.

We may have experienced those excruciating times when defences dissolve, shadow is confronted and we are faced with the pain we have been denying. These threshold moments are both awful and potentially transformative.  They require facing into, not turning away from human destructiveness, cruelty and abuse. Facing into denial is what our egos fear but it might be the tool of redemption. Death is the precursor of rebirth and the collapse phase of an adaptive cycle can lead to renewal. Such thresholds for humans are initiatory in that they break open our hearts to a sacred dimension.

Therapists could be the catalysts of such transformation in having practice with facing their own personal darkness and that of their clients. They may have learnt how to manage the anxiety generated by such crises of identity. Left uncontained, the anxiety leads to blame, denial and escapism. When things fall apart, being a container is a vital social function. This holding function could lead to distinguishing between genuine hope and what TS Elliot entitled, hope for the wrong thing – hope to be rescued from having to face into the painful consequences of our actions.

Orestes in the dilemma of avenging his father by killing his mothers says,

Nothing forces us to know

What we do not want to know

Except pain.

And this is how the gods declare their love

Truth comes with pain.

 So the gods are declaring their love for us through the planetary crisis we are facing! That’s a radically different frame. It’s not so much a disaster scenario as a challenge to face into what we do not want to know. And to paraphrase Hillman and Ventura’s book, ‘We’ve had a hundred years of ecological warnings and the world is getting worse’. Clearly we need to change the frame, including our approach to climate change. Here is a story Jung told about a ‘rainmaker’: one of the first climate change interventions.

“A certain province in China was suffering a terrible drought. They had tried all the usual magical charms and rites to produce rain but to no avail. Then someone said there was a rainmaker in a distant province who had a good reputation. The local dignitaries invited him and sent a carriage to bring him to the drought area. In time the rainmaker arrived and on alighting from the carriage was greeted by the local officials who beseeched him to produce rain. The rainmaker sniffed the air, looked around and pointed to a small cottage on a hill just outside the village. He asked if he could reside there for three days and see if he could do anything. The officials all agreed and he went up and locked himself into the cottage.

Three days later storm clouds gathered and there was a torrential downpour of rain. The villagers were jubilant and a delegation, led by the officials went up to the cottage to thank the rainmaker. But the rainmaker shook his head and replied “But I didn’t make it rain”. The officials said he must have done as three days had passed and rain had been produced. The rainmaker replied, “No, you don’t understand. When I alighted from the carriage in your province I recognised at once that you are all out of harmony and so it was no wonder it did not rain when it is supposed to. Being here myself I became infected by your disharmony and I became out of sorts. I knew if anything could be done then I would have to put ‘my own house in order’ first. And that is all I have been doing for the past three days!”

Within the story the rainmaker is clear that there is no causal link between what he did and the rain coming. He did not claim to make the rain come. He did recognise that he had been infected by the disorder of the parched society he had entered and that he needed to rebalance or re-attune himself. The rain came by itself. For the rainmaker, there was no dualistic distinction between inner and outer – both are contained within the same wholeness.

We belong in this world. The soul and the world are interdependent; my soul and the world’s are co-created. The ecological unconscious is operating through us. The world knows me – even if I have forgotten it. David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous[iv], reminds us

We’re immersed in the mystery… our body is continuous with Earth’s body and our psyche is continuous with the larger collective Psyche’ which includes the more-than-human as well as the human. We live within the Psyche of the world.

The psyche of the world is also the psyche of our consulting-room. There is a reciprocal affinity between inner and outer. We may sense that the local field constellated within the consulting room is interconnected with the collective field. We are infected by the turmoil in the world however insulated our walls. Bernstein’s environmental sensitivity allowed him to recognise that the animal of which the client spoke was the actual creature not an internal symbol. Just as the local field alerts us to what may be emerging within the client, we can learn to read the disturbance as also related to the collective. We could attune to a Gaian frequency rather than the egoic frame of personal history.  A client’s mis-attunement or insecure attachment maybe as much to do with alienation from the Earth’s body as from their mother. In this way we can work more with the ecological unconscious as our guide to a re-attunement or a re-enchantment. To start to do this we can, like the rainmaker, we put our own house in order.

Putting our house in order may be the greatest challenge for those wanting to include ecopsychology in their work. What would this mean?  We could take it quite literally to give attention to the green aspects of everyday living; recognising the extent to which we are in thrall to the gods of consumerism – even green consumerism – and practicing living within limits. Good enough could be the new plenty. But this translation, ‘putting our house in order’ into idiomatic English is suspect and the original rainmaker would have spoken more about coming into balance with the Tao.

And professionally, what might this balance mean? It could mean:

  • looking at our therapy organisations and practices. To what extent is psychotherapy colluding with a dualistic fault line and the illusion of independence? Are we propping up a dysfunctional system while thinking that we are healing? Are we, as Hillman has suggested, collaborators with an ideology of individualism that focuses the wide needs of the soul into the impossible expectation of a significant other?[v]
  • bringing a green eye to bear on our therapeutic practice. Are we infected by the cultural obsession with growth? Can we recognise collapse as part of an ecopsychological cycle? Might scarcity and sacrifice be values we support? What would interventions aimed at sustainability look like?
  • looking more carefully at our claims to be doing relationship therapy when this is understood as only human relationships. Getting a balance with our inter-species relating and our wider relating to the more-than-human would become integral.
  • following Jung’s visionary perspective on recognising dreams as harbingers of possible collective futures. The powerful process afforded by dream matrices that shift dreaming communities into altered states of imaginal perception that give access to the ecological unconscious.

If psychotherapy were to integrate an ecopsychology perspective, what might the consequences be? It could mean recovering a radical edge challenging the unsustainability of present society and exploring how they can live within the ‘psyche of the world’.


[i] Kanner, Roszak, & Gomes. Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. 1995 Sierra Club

[ii] Bernstein, Jerome  Living in the Borderlands: the evolution of consciousness and the challenge of healing trauma. 2005 Routledge

[iii] Rust, Mary-Jayne Consuming the Earth: Unconscious Processes in Relation to Our Environmental Crisis Lecture given to CAPPP Conference, Bristol September 2008

[iv] Abram, David The Spell of the Sensuous: perception and language in a more-than-human world. 1997 Vintage

[v]  Hillman & Ventura We’ve had a hundred years of psychotherapy and the world is getting worse. 1993 Harper

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Cape Farewell

January 31, 2013 – 3:06 pm |

“Working internationally, Cape Farewell brings artists, scientists and communicators together to stimulate the production of art founded in scientific research. Using creativity to innovate, the program engages artists for their ability to evolve and amplify a creative language, communicating on a human scale the urgency of the global climate challenge.

In 2001 the artist David Buckland created the Cape Farewell project to instigate a cultural response to climate change. Cape Farewell is now an international not-for-profit programme based in the Science Museum’s Dana Centre in London and with a North American foundation based at the MaRS centre in Toronto. ”

(Cape Farewell website January 2013)


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Arts-based Environmental Education and the Ecological Crisis by van Boeckel

January 31, 2013 – 11:07 am |

Arts-based Environmental Education and the Ecological Crisis: Between Opening the Senses and Coping with Psychic Numbing

by Jan van Boeckel

In Metamorphoses in children’s literature and culture (Eds.) Drillsma-Milgrom, B. & Kirstinä, L. (2009). Turku, Finland: Enostone, pp. 145-164.

Jan van Boeckel is a Dutch anthropologist, visual artist, art teacher and filmmaker. One of Jan’s areas of interest and concern are the worldviews and environmental philosophies of indigenous peoples. Together with film-making group ReRun Productions, he produced a series of documentaries on this subject, as well as films on philosophers such as Jacques Ellul and Arne Naess, who provide a critical analysis of the Western way of life. These films include, among others: The Earth is Crying (1987), It’s Killing the Clouds (1992), The Betrayal by Technology (1992), and The Call of the Mountain (1997). Currently Jan van Boeckel is research fellow at Aalto University in Helsinki, where he is focusing on the added value of art practice in the context of nature and environmental education. Inspired by indigenous peoples’ cultures, his own engagement in art and art teaching practices, and his experiences of living close to wilderness areas of Sweden, Jan’s interest has moved to art as a means to connect to what David Abram aptly called ‘the more-than-human-world’. One of Jan’s research interests is the tension between trying to ‘open the senses’ whilst coping with the current ecological crisis. An issue all the more pressing when working with children.


When educators try to encourage children to establish a bond between them and nature, they are faced with a major challenge. In general, many children seem to have lost interest in nature because it is less exciting than the world of electronic illusions. Educators seem badly in need of innovative ways to awaken and nourish the sensibility of children to the natural world. Art, through engaging the senses, can be a unique catalyst in developing a “sense of wonder” about nature. Art practice encourages us to see the world again afresh, as if we see it for the first time. This state of mind and sensitivity enhances the ability to tune in with the slower rhythms of the “more-than-human-world.”Children are often rather aware of the ecological crisis that is taking place and that manifests itself most dramatically right now through global warming. A common response to this is psychic numbing, a mild form of cognitive dissociation. Art as a therapeutic practice – without being labeled as such – can help children cope with the “idea of crisis”, e.g. through the expression of (often suppressed) inner images and the subsequent discussion of these. In my paper I discuss how arts-based environmental education can both facilitate children in the opening of their senses to nature, and provide them space for coming to terms with their fears about the ecological crisis.

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Book Review: Flight Behaviour by Kingsolver

January 31, 2013 – 10:48 am | One Comment

Flight Behaviour

by Barbara Kingsolver

Faber & Faber 2012  ISBN: 978-0-571-29077-2

Reviewed by Adrian Tait, psychoanalytic psychotherapist and on the Steering Group of Climate Psychology Alliance.

When the artist David Buckland launched the Cape Farewell project in 2001 to encourage cultural responses to climate change, one of the highest profile contributions was Ian McEwan’s novel Solar.  Readers of that book could have been forgiven for thinking that the main theme was one of human frailty and self-destructiveness, with the quest for a source of abundant renewable energy merely a backdrop.

Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 novel Flight Behaviour could hardly be more different. Its central character, Dellarobia Turnbow, lives on a struggling Kentucky sheep farm.  Her life falls sadly short of fulfilling its potential, a tragic thread that runs through the book.  But Kingsolver’s genius is evident in the intricate and exquisite way that human-scale heartbreak and struggle interweaves with the global climate and biological disaster that is currently unfolding.  The book engages our feelings; in fact it is full of passion, but its gritty narrative style helps to ensure that we remember the wider point.  No sentimental side alleys are on offer.

Dellarobia’s relationships with her husband, children, mother-in-law, and her one close friend are the spokes of a wheel on which the story turns.  And at the hub  are other life forms, disturbed and endangered by human activity. Linking these is her interaction with the biologist who comes to investigate what is happening.  Their discourse is the vibrant medium which carries the weighty environmental subject in a way that is never laboured.

That weight, and depth, of subject stem from the many layers of the problem which Kingsolver addresses.  We have the biological and meteorological evidence of climate disruption.  She reminds us in a narrative that is both calm and forceful that this is happening now, here; it is largely or wholly of our doing; it is massive and it is very bad.  But the impact of the book hinges on the way this analysis is linked to an exploration of denial.  In her author’s note, Kingsolver includes Clive Hamilton’s Requiem for a Species amongst the acknowledgements.  She has made good use of the material provided by Hamilton and others, outlining the mechanisms and forms of denial.  Once again, her narrative takes us through this difficult material in a reader-friendly, indeed compelling way.  With forensic economy, she exposes the aspects of our mass media that serve this subject so poorly: obsessed with wordbites and popular entertainment, beholden to sponsors, profoundly confused, if not disdainful, about the workings of science and the boundaries between fact and opinion.  At the more malign end of the spectrum, she addresses what Hamilton calls denialism (and Monbiot refers to as the denial industry): the cynical and self-interested use of disinformation by those with most to lose from a wider understanding of the truth.  Then there is the dimension of human susceptibility, both to these distorted messages and to our own fears, anxieties and desires.

Flight Behaviour is not breaking new ground in outlining these findings of natural or human science.  The book’s value lies in the skill and compassion with which it narrates them, which will surely assist in the vital task of extending public knowledge and engagement.  There is also a morale-booster here for all the scientists, activists and communicators who, as climate psychologist Ro Randall has commented, have had difficulty facing their sense of defeat since Copenhagen 2009.

Kingsolver’s project reminds me of the age-old quest of psychotherapy, finding ways to make the unbearable bearable and the unthinkable thinkable.  At the poetic heart of the book and in its conclusion is a paradox: We are in a dire situation.  And we need to face it in order for there to be genuine hope.  The act of facing up to what seems hopeless can be the very thing that instigates change.  In Dellarobia’s own words:

“You did well, though…..Explaining it to me.  I’m not saying I don’t believe you.  I’m saying I can’t.”

The anguish distilled in her “can’t” is the essential ingredient in her struggle to reconcile internal and external realities, her quest to be fully alive.  Barbara Kingsolver manages to convey this, in a thoroughly readable book.  So she entertains us and at the same time links one of the most profound truths of human existence to the biggest challenge that humanity has ever faced.

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GLOBE Climate Legislation Study, 14 January 2013

January 31, 2013 – 7:25 am |

GLOBE International launched their 3rd research study which audits climate legislation across the world’s major developed and emerging economies, produced with Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics. 33 countries were included.

They highlight the following results:

  • 32 of 33 major economies have progressed or are progressing significant climate and/or energy-related legislation.
  • Much of the substantive progress on legislative activity on climate change in 2012 took place in emerging economies, including China, which will provide the motor of global economic growth in coming decades.
  • This progress will deliver real benefits to national economies and, ultimately, give world leaders the political space to go further and faster in the UN negotiations, helping provide a foundation for a comprehensive, global deal by 2015.

Download study from here

Roger Harrabin report for BBC here

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Quote: from Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Jung

January 30, 2013 – 8:23 am |

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

by C. G. Jung

Random House April 1989  ISBN: 0-679-72395-1


Qupte from the final page:

“Yet there is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, and the eternal in man.  The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things.  In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”










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Following the Raven by Perluss

January 30, 2013 – 7:52 am |

Following the Raven: The Paradoxical Path Toward a Depth Ecopsychology

by Betsy Perluss

Betsy Perluss Ph.D. has a doctoral degree in depth psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Her dissertation on landscape archetypes weaves together insights from Jungian depth psychology, nature literature, and wilderness experiences. She is Director of Education and Outreach at the School of Lost Borders and also Assistant Professor of Counseling at California State University, Los Angeles.

In Ecopsychology. September 2012, 4(3): 181-186. doi:10.1089/eco.2012.0045


Comparing two very different genres of writing, Richard Nelson’s nature writing about his experiences among the Koyukon tribe in northern Alaska and Carl Jung’s work on the primitive psyche, this article highlights the need for modern, Western people to recover an indigenous relationship with the natural world. Jung declares that one of the biggest tragedies of Western civilization is the loss of the numinous that has resulted in the dehumanizing of the natural world. Examining Jung’s controversial use of the terms “primitive” and participation mystique, we discover that what modern man has considered to be a more “civilized” higher state of consciousness has been wrongly equated with ego-consciousness, thus resulting in a limited understanding of the unconscious psyche. This article points out that the way beyond the “cult of consciousnesses” is to attend to that which the rational mind does not understand: dreams, symptoms, and the presence of archetypes. By doing so, the Western heroic ego, along with its need to dominate and control nature, is dismantled, opening the door for a participatory relationship with both psyche and nature. Whereas Jung’s work is highly theoretical, Richard Nelson’s writing provides insight into the lived experience of these ideas. The aim here is not for Western people to appropriate that which belongs to native people but rather to learn that there is more mystery to the world than ego-consciousness is able to contain. This, says Jung, is the goal of individuation.

Full article can be obtained here

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Book Review: Out of the Shadow by West

January 30, 2013 – 7:08 am |

Out of the Shadow: Ecopsychology, Story and Encounters with the Land

by Rinda West

University of Virginia Press November 2007

ISBN-10: 0813926564

Reviewed by Tom J. Hillard

Hillard introduces his review by commenting that much ecocriticism romanticises nature and downplays “representations of nature as threatening or fearful”. He appreciates, rather, that “[o]ne of West’s goals is to investigate stories about humans and nature that offer ‘a powerful alternative to despair,’ which she does; but just as importantly, she also argues that in order to do so one must directly confront that despair (161).”

He goes on to provide a full and insightful review.

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A Jungian Perspective on the Most Important Issue of our Time – Climate Change by Merritt

January 30, 2013 – 6:28 am |

A Jungian Perspective on the Most Important Issue of our Time – Climate Change

by Dennis L. Merritt Ph.D.

Dennis Merritt, Ph.D., is a Jungian psychoanalyst and ecopsychologist in private practice in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA.  He is the author of ‘Jung, Hermes, and Ecopsychology: The Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe Volumes 1 – 4′ and other books exploring humanity’s relationship with nature through a Jungian lens.   Over twenty-five years of participation in Lakota Sioux ceremonies has strongly influenced his worldview.

“This talk was given at the Fordham conference, Jung in the Academy and Beyond: The Fordham Lectures 100 Years Later, held at Fordham University on October 26 and 27, 2012. It will be published in the Proceedings.”

Published on on 29th November 2012

Introduced by Sandra White, Jungian ecopsychologist.

Merritt analyses our contemporary interlocking crises within a Jungian ecopsychological frame, drawing on modern fathers of ecophilosophy and ecopsychology like Thomas Berry and Aldo Leopold alongside archetypal figures, principally Hermes, and modern science.  Calling for an integrated, interdisciplinary approach, he signals the evolutionary nature of the archetypes, which in itself provides a source of hope, while not flinching from naming  shadow archetypal energies equally at play.  Reading this connected me with a statement made about our ecological precipice by one of my Jungian teachers during questions after a lecture:  “Where there is the greatest risk is the greatest potential.”

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The Myth of Apathy by Lertzman

January 29, 2013 – 4:59 pm | One Comment

The Myth of Apathy by Renee Lertzman

Renee Lertzman is a psychoanalytically informed social science researcher, writer and strategic consultant, concerning sustainability and climate change related issues. She is based in Portland, Oregon. 

In The Ecologist 18th June 2008.

Lertzman was among the first to challenge the idea that people were not responding to the environmental and climate threats out of not caring enough – rather, she proposed, they care too much.

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BBC News: Artist makes music with bird droppings October 2012

January 29, 2013 – 10:38 am |

BBC News online: Colin Paterson reports on 14th October 2012

Featured under News/Entertainment-Arts, the short video shows Liverpool artist Kerry Morrison’s methods and the people collaborating with her.

Kerry Morrison laid out large sheets of blank sheet music in different parts of Liverpool between May and November. The droppings were then interpreted as musical notes and a small symphony, which were to be prepared for a concert.

View report

On 20th January 2013 the publication of “Bird Sheet Music” was announced on the BBC Today programme and BBC World Service Newshour gave a more in-depth interview with Morrison:

Listen here 48.10 into the programme



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Moyers and Company: Ending the Silence on Climate Change January 2013

January 29, 2013 – 8:39 am | One Comment

Moyers and Company: Bill Moyers interviews Anthony Leiserowitz about climate change communication.

4th January 2013

Programme description:  “American climate change communication expert Anthony Leiserowitz explains why climate change gets the silent treatment, and what we should do about it.”  48 minutes

Leiserowitz uses cognitive/behavioural approaches to discuss how to engage the “Six Americas”.

Watch here

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BBC Radio 3 Night Waves October 2012

January 29, 2013 – 7:00 am |

Night Waves: Philip Dodd interview with Sally Weintrobe and Rosemary Randall about Engaging with Climate Change, published Autumn 2012

17th October 2012

Programme description: “Engaging with climate change is something the psychoanalytic community is attempting to do in a collection of essays edited by the analyst Sally Weintrobe – what is the contribution that psychoanalysis can make to possibly the most traumatic issue facing humanity and yet one which the vast majority of us simply ignore?”

Listen here – 30.47 into the programme

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BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed January 2013

January 29, 2013 – 5:55 am | 2 Comments

Thinking Allowed: Laurie Taylor interview with Sally Weintrobe and Paul Hoggett about Engaging with Climate Change, published Autumn 2012

23rd January 2013

Programme description:  “Climate change – what lies beneath its widespread denial? Laurie Taylor talks to Sally Weintrobe, the editor of the first book of its kind which explores, from a multi disciplinary perspective, what the ecological crisis actually means to people. In spite of a scientific consensus, many continue to resist or ignore the message of climate communicators – but why? What are the social and emotional explanations for this reaction? They’re joined by the Professor of Social Policy, Paul Hoggett.”

Listen here – 16.00 into the programme


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Book Review: Engaging with Climate Change ed Weintrobe

January 28, 2013 – 9:28 am |

Engaging with Climate Change, Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Ed. Sally Weintrobe

Sally Weintrobe is a practising psychoanalyst and a Fellow of the Institute of Psychoanalysis in London.

Routledge 2012  ISBN: 978-0-415-66762-3 (pb)

Reviewed by Anne Karpf

On 30th November 2012, The Guardian featured a review of this book by Anne Karpf, in which she described herself as not a climate denier, but a “climate ignorer”.  Exploring her own ambivalent reactions to the mounting evidence of serious climate disturbance before turning to the book, Karpf sets out the ways in which most of us are implicated in the destructive impacts of modern civilisation.

Read the full article here:

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The Nature Relatedness Scale by Nisbet et al

January 27, 2013 – 5:42 pm |

The Nature Relatedness Scale: Linking Individuals’ Connection with Nature to Environmental Concern and Behavior

by Elizabeth K. Nisbet, John M. Zelenski and Steven A. Murphy

Elizabeth K. Nisbet is a PhD student in the Psychology Department at Carleton University. Her research encompasses personality, social, health, and environmental psychology, exploring how individual differences in human-nature relationships contribute to well-being and environmental behavior, as well as linking health theory to environmental actions.
John M. Zelenski is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University. He studies individual differences in happiness, and how personality manifests itself “in the moment” as emotional and cognitive processes.
Steven A. Murphy is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Sprott School of Business, Carleton University. Dr. Murphy’s research principally involves extending trait and state emotional theory and practice into leadership, computer mediated communication, senior management dynamics and governance issues.

In Environment and Behavior 2009; 41; 715 August 2008  DOI: 10.1177/0013916508318748


Disconnection from the natural world may be contributing to our planet’s destruction. The authors propose a new construct, Nature Relatedness (NR), and a scale that assesses the affective, cognitive, and experiential aspects of
individuals’ connection to nature. In Study 1, the authors explored the internal structure of the NR item responses in a sample of 831 participants using factor analysis. They tested the construct validity of NR with respect to an
assortment of environmental and personality measures. In Study 2, they employed experience sampling methodology examining if NR people spend more time outdoors, in nature. Across studies, NR correlated with environmental
scales, behavior, and frequency of time in nature, supporting the reliability and validity of NR, as well as the contribution of NR (over and above other measures) to environmental concern and behavior. The potential of NR
as a useful method for investigating human-nature relationships and the processes underlying environmental concern and behaviors are discussed.

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Why Is Nature Beneficial? by Mayer et al

January 27, 2013 – 5:30 pm |

Why Is Nature Beneficial? The Role of Connectedness to Nature

by F. Stephan Mayer, Cynthia McPherson Frantz, Emma Bruehlman-Senecal & Kyffin Dolliver

F. Stephan Mayer is a professor in the psychology department at Oberlin College. His research interests focus on issues related to connectedness to nature and environmental sustainability.
Cynthia McPherson Frantz is an associate professor in the psychology department at Oberlin College. She conducts research on humans’ psychological relationship to the natural world and on the benefits of exposure to nature.
Emma Bruehlman-Senecal is a graduate student in the landscape and human health laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Her current research focuses on the effects of natural environments on psychological and social functioning.
Kyffin Dolliver is a graduate of Oberlin College where he majored in psychology.

In Environment and Behavior 2009; 41; 607 September 2008  DOI: 10.1177/0013916508319745


Three studies examine the effects of exposure to nature on positive affect and ability to reflect on a life problem. Participants spent 15 min walking in a natural setting (Studies 1, 2, & 3), an urban setting (Study 1), or watching videos of natural and urban settings (Studies 2 & 3). In all three studies, exposure to nature increased connectedness to nature, attentional capacity, positive emotions, and ability to reflect on a life problem; these effects are more dramatic for actual nature than for virtual nature. Mediational analyses indicate that the positive effects of exposure to nature are partially mediated by increases in connectedness to nature and are not mediated by increases in attentional capacity. The discussion focuses on the mechanisms that underlie the exposure to nature/well-being effects.

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Development And Initial Validation Of A Measure Of Ecopsychological Self by St John and MacDonald

January 27, 2013 – 5:16 pm |

Development And Initial Validation Of A Measure Of Ecopsychological Self

by David St John Ph.D and Douglas A MacDonald Ph.D

David St. John, Ph.D., is a staff psychologist at Ann Arbor Rehabilitation Centers in Ann Arbor, MI. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Detroit-Mercy. His primary research interest involves the dynamic relationship between humans and nature.

Douglas A. MacDonald, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Clinical Psychology MA program at the University of Detroit-Mercy as well as a licensed psychologist. He has an active research program
relating to the assessment of spirituality and examination of its relation to psychological functioning. He is Research Editor for the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and Associate Editor for the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.

In Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2007, Vol. 39, No. 1


This paper reports on a study involving the development and initial validation of a scale designed to assess the concept of ecopsychological self. This concept can be defined as the extent to which individuals identify with nature. Using a sample of 150 university students, an 11 item instrument, comprised of two subscales (nature inclusive self-concept and nature stewardship) was constructed through both exploratory and confirmatory factor analytic techniques. The
instrument was found to have adequate inter-item reliability and satisfactory convergent, discriminant, and criterion validity. Correlational and regression analyses found that the two subscales were significant predictors of mental and spiritual well-being. The study concludes with a discussion of the findings, limitations of the study, and directions for future research.

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Social Theory and Climate Change by Shove

January 27, 2013 – 4:29 pm |

Social Theory and Climate Change – Questions Often, Not Yet and Sometimes Asked

by Elizabeth Shove

Elizabeth Shove is Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University. She currently holds an ESRC climate change leadership fellowship entitled ‘Transitions in Practice: Climate Change and Everyday Life’. Recent books include Time, Consumption and Everyday Life (Berg, 2009), edited with Frank Trentmann and Rick Wilk, and The Design of Everyday Life (Berg,
2007), with Matt Watson and Jack Ingram.

In Theory, Culture & Society, March/May 2010 27: 277-288

Social theorists have been dealing with issues of environment and climate change for quite some years, but on which topics have they focused and with whom have they been talking? Many of the articles included in this special issue exemplify a tendency to frame problems of climate change in terms of existing concerns, including the character of capitalism, the relation between nature and culture, or the social process of problem definition. Other forms of conceptual development are much more obviously driven by the challenge of understanding and perhaps fostering societal transformation in response to climate change. Meanwhile, policy proceeds on the basis of a characteristically thin account of the social world. In this short article I highlight differences in how these agendas unfold and comment on what this means for types of questions that social theorists have often, sometimes and not yet asked about climate change. I conclude that social theory – broadly defined – has much to offer but that realizing this potential will
require concerted effort and active engagement with new and unfamiliar audiences.

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Modern Institutions, Phenomenal Dissociations, and Destructiveness by Worthy

January 27, 2013 – 4:18 pm |

Modern Institutions, Phenomenal Dissociations, and Destructiveness toward Humans and the Environment

by Kenneth Worthy

Kenneth Worthy studies the phenomenological origins of modern environmental crisis using an interdisciplinary
approach that integrates history, philosophy, psychology, phenomenology, and cultural studies. He received his PhD in critical environmental theory at the University of California, Berkeley, and currently researches and teaches independently.

In Organization & Environment 2008; 21; 148  DOI: 10.1177/1086026608318987


Environmental theorists frequently argue that human–nature alienations are to blame for the increasingly severe global environmental crisis. This article offers empirical evidence that supports such claims. Data and theory presented here show that phenomenal dissociation— defined as the lack of immediate, sensual engagement with the consequences of our everyday actions and with the human and nonhuman others that we affect with our actions—increases destructive tendency and that awareness is not enough to curb destructiveness. This study begins to reveal some of the psychodynamics by which phenomenal dissociations lead to destructive tendency; discusses how modern institutions, organizational structures, and technologies propagate harms by mediating between actor and consequences; and argues that environmental psychology, which commonly focuses on attitudinal variables such as awareness and concern, must expand its reach to account for the pervasive phenomenal dissociations of contemporary life.

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Who will build the Ark? by Davis

January 27, 2013 – 4:05 pm |

Who will build the Ark?

by Mike Davis

In New Left Review, 61 Jan/Feb 2010, pp. 29-46

What follows is rather like the famous courtroom scene in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947).(1)
In that noir allegory of proletarian virtue in the embrace of ruling-class decadence, Welles plays a leftwing sailor named Michael O’Hara who rolls in the hay with femme fatale Rita Hayworth, and then gets framed for murder. Her husband, Arthur Bannister, the most celebrated criminal lawyer in America, played by Everett Sloane, convinces O’Hara to appoint him as his defence, all the better to ensure his rival’s conviction and execution. At the turning point in the trial, decried by the prosecution as ‘yet another of the great Bannister’s famous tricks’, Bannister the attorney calls Bannister the aggrieved husband to the witness stand and interrogates himself in rapid schizoid volleys, to the mirth of the jury. In the spirit of Lady from Shanghai, this essay is organized as a debate with myself, a mental tournament between analytic despair and utopian possibility that is personally, and probably objectively, irresolvable.

In the first section, ‘Pessimism of the Intellect’, I adduce arguments for believing that we have already lost the first, epochal stage of the battle against global warming. The Kyoto Protocol, in the smug but sadly accurate words of one of its chief opponents, has done ‘nothing measurable’ about climate change. Global carbon dioxide emissions rose by the same amount they were supposed to fall because of it.(2) It is highly unlikely that greenhouse gas accumulation can be stabilized this side of the famous ‘red line’ of 450 ppm by 2020. If this is the case, the most heroic efforts of our children’s generation will be unable to forestall a radical reshaping of ecologies, water resources and agricultural
systems. In a warmer world, moreover, socio-economic inequality will have a meteorological mandate, and there will be little incentive for the rich northern hemisphere countries, whose carbon emissions have destroyed the climate equilibrium of the Holocene, to share resources for adaptation with those poor subtropical countries most vulnerable to droughts and floods.

The second part of the essay, ‘Optimism of the Imagination’, is my self rebuttal. I appeal to the paradox that the single most important cause of global warming—the urbanization of humanity—is also potentially the principal solution to the problem of human survival in the later twentyfirst century. Left to the dismal politics of the present, of course, cities of poverty will almost certainly become the coffins of hope; but all the more reason that we must start thinking like Noah. Since most of history’s giant trees have already been cut down, a new Ark will have to be constructed out of the materials that a desperate humanity finds at hand in insurgent communities, pirate technologies, bootlegged media, rebel science and forgotten utopias.

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Ecological Habitus by Kasper

January 26, 2013 – 12:17 pm |

Ecological Habitus: Toward a Better Understanding of Socioecological Relations

by Debbie V. S. Kasper

Published in Organization Environment OnlineFirst, on August 20, 2009  DOI:10.1177/1086026609343098

There is a clear need to better understand the interdependent relationships between people and the biophysical world. Social science research is essential for such efforts but is not yet widely viewed as relevant to ecological research. Impeding its advancement in this direction are the characteristics of a modern Western worldview exhibited by, and problematic for, much of social scientific research, especially emphases on mechanism, dualism, and prediction. I offer environmental behavior research as an area in which these are apparent. I discuss the need to better account for the relations and processes that characterize human social life and suggest an alternative approach for doing so. Drawing on complementary works in sociological theory, I develop the notion of ecological habitus and propose it as a practical tool for more adequately thinking about and studying socioecological phenomena. I conclude with brief speculation about the possible empirical uses of the ecological habitus concept.

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A Social Engagement by Adams

January 26, 2013 – 11:09 am |

A Social Engagement: How Ecopsychology Can Benefit From Dialogue with the Social Sciences

by Dr Matthew Adams CPsychol
School of Applied Social Science, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK.

Published in Ecopsychology September 2012, 4(3): 216-222.  DOI:10.1089/eco.2012.0037

The argument put forward in this paper is that ecopsychology would
benefit from engaging in more dialogue with developments in the
social sciences. The benefits are predominantly in terms of enriching
ecopsychological understandings of how we might encourage connectedness
to nature and environmental advocacy and discourage
environmentally distructive behaviors. More particularly, recent
work in the social sciences asserts that existing models of behavior
are unlikely to lead to changes on the scale necessary to create
something akin to genuinely sustainable societies. The article draws
on theory and research emphasizing the irreducible relationship
between the psychological and the social, as a basis for better
understanding the apparent obstinacy of environmentally destructive
behavior and for interventions that offer the hope of change.

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Book Review: The Ecocritical Psyche by Rowland

January 20, 2013 – 6:45 pm |

The Ecocritical Psyche: Literature, Evolutionary Complexity and Jung

by Susan Rowland

New York: Routledge, 2012 ISBN: 978-0-415-55094-9

Reviewed by James Barrett, who practises, supervises and teaches Jungian psychotherapy and has done so for over 25 years.

Review first published in Transformations the Journal of Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility (PCSR) Autumn 2012.

A major part of Jung’s project was to restore meaning to life to the world, an experience that for him had been lost because of the degradation of formal religions. Jung’s work as a psychologist asserted that matter, psyche and spirit were differing expressions of energy. This perspective led to a fruitful cross-disciplinary correspondence with Wolfgang Pauli – a physicist interested in quantum field theory – and the conclusion that energy was intrinsically meaning-making and intelligent.

Jung held the view that dreams are phenomena of the energy field of the universe, rather than simply possessions of the individual that we might experience; an approach expressed by Wilfred Bion in his phrase, ‘dreams in search of a dreamer’ and picked up by the practice of social dreaming, in which dreams are regarded as belonging to a matrix.

Also Jung would ordinarily include material and physical phenomena as potentially meaningful into his explorations in analytic relationships. ‘….in the course of a disagreement with Henry Fierz Jung noticed that his watch had stopped. Checking the correct time with Fierz, Jung concluded ‘You have the right time and I the wrong one. Let us discuss the thing again’.’ (Quoted in Colman, 2011)

Susan Rowland is an academic literary critic and a poet. In her capacity for reading Jung’s writing she has, in her writings, made an extraordinary contribution to enlivening his gifts to us. With great vigour and intelligence her book The Ecocritical Psyche strengthens the perspective of the universe as meaningful and meaning-making, if only we as human kind will listen. One of the ways the book does this is to contribute to dethroning human kind as the centre-piece of nature and discover itself as part of nature and one expression of nature. This, it seems to me, is potentially helpful to the ecopsychology project of raising consciousness of human kind’s suicidal trajectory because it unloosens our inflation, a dynamic generating impotence.

In her opening chapter Rowland writes, ‘An argument that will become crucial to The Ecocritical Psyche is that for Jung something extraordinary happens to writing and images that evoke the deep unconscious. Such cultural signs – Jung calls them symbols – are so imbued with psychic energy that they burn through the systems of communication we believe keep human language separate from nature. Rather that the Jungian symbol gestures towards ecocritical and scientific theories that nature speaks to us through the body and the imagination. This book is dedicated to showing how Jung’s work can aid a revisioning of human creativity as coeval with non-human reality.’

In response to the environmental crises occurring and coming, many argue for paths back to nature. The Ecocritical Psyche provides a deep confirmation of human kind as a branch of nature, not its apotheosis.

Through the book she positions literature as having imaginal presence grounded in nature. One strand (1) of her argument uses the biologist Wendy Wheeler’s book The Whole Creature Complexity, Biosemiosis, and the Evolution of Culture. In this book Rowland argues for relationality and communicativeness and hence the creation of meaning as characteristic of life in all its forms. ‘By drawing on developments in the sciences, particularly complexity science, I hope to show that sociality can be seen as firmly rooted in an account of evolution that sees it as a process of symbiogenetic co-operative communication (from the cells all the way up), with the consequent emergence of more complex levels of life.’

Using Wheeler, Rowland roots human culture in nature and makes reading literature a contribution to the presence and energy of a collective wisdom mind (as conceived in Buddhism, perhaps), to make real our ability to respond to the depths of life’s processes of evolution ‘. . . . literature is part of psychic evolution at the edge of chaos. To write and/or read is to participate in nature’s evolution. In the literature of the last hundred years is to be found attempts to reconnect deeply and lastingly with nature’s voices’. (p.99)

As an adolescent I fell in love with literature, with the romantic poets; part of a traditional syllabus. I also wanted to study biology at ‘A’ level but this was not possible, the school timetable could not accommodate a science and arts combination. The gulf was a trauma between the arts and sciences, present to us all: teachers, pupils, parents, as well as relevant to the prospects of university and jobs. With hindsight it is possible to see this trauma as an encounter with an enormous unstoried gulf between the ‘real’ and the ‘non-real’; an emptiness present but not understood. As Wordsworth put it in Intimations of Immortality ‘Blank misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realised’. The Romantic poets gave me words for my experience, brought me into the world, yet the genre of literature and the arts was relegated to the ‘non-real’.

Times and my understandings have since come a long way. The subject of the gulf in personal, cultural and mythological dimensions has been at the centre of becoming and practising as a psychotherapist, where the work is in asserting and witnessing subjective experience to be as real as matter.

But of course the gulf is still there, which is why so many disciplines are in effect working at it. Physicists theorise how non-being comes into being in equations of quantum mechanics. Psychotherapists work at putting words to experience so that patients’ experience come to matter to them, in effect working as poets in the service of their clients. This takes courage if I am working well; on the edge of my own learning in the present moment with the patient.

It often seems to me that I piggy-back on the courage of leading theoreticians. Their thinking enables my courage to be present, without knowing beforehand, to my patients. It is clear to me that Rowland’s work is the result of both personal and professional courage. I imagine this book is the fruit of a transformative journey undertaken in illuminating Jung’s writing. It is a given in our field that any paper worth its salt has come into being through a tripartite process involving the therapist’s personal insight, his work with patients and theory. Here the patient is Jung’s text.

The presence of my thought process, infinitely small, is made firmer through Rowland’s articulation of language as one tendril of nature’s plenitude.

‘My argument about metaphor and metonym is merely a way of realising language as a nature that includes human beings. That is, to see humans as one way that nature speaks. In particular, symbols to Jung are fragments of language charged with a peculiar depth of psychic energy. They partake of the intrinsically creative and partially unknowable collective unconscious. They are embodied and liminal to non-human nature. So symbols are messages from the underworld of the psyche. They are not decipherable in ego terms. Symbols are a way we perceive the multiplicity of nature’s animistic voices’. (p.158)

She successfully opens sight so that stories, books, children’s literature, and detective novels populate the mind as surely as do animals in dreams speaking to us in response to our noticing of them, effectively showing up absurd anthropomorphism which has been and is a kind of autistic unrelational enclosure; a psychological colonialism in which life and literature become partitioned off as other.

In this context I have one cavil, which is the use in her writing of the phrase ‘the unconscious’. It is common parlance and I want to question it. It seems to me inconsistent with her thesis because it attributes unconsciousness to life-of-which-we-are-unconscious. The devotion of her text is, with Jung, to make evident the autonomous life of what Jung called the objective psyche and the necessity of relationship and conversation with the images, dreams, symbols, stories and impressions. In a colonial metaphor the use of the phrase ‘the unconscious’ forestalls potential meeting, rather as the use of the word ‘native’ does (2).

It seems to me we are being forced by the crises that beset us, human kind, to realise, make real, living as being, participation in a flux of relating, as opposed to culturally determined enclosures.

Susan Rowland’s book is courageous and encouraging in the project of living participation. She concludes The Ecocritical Psyche with her poetry and dares to assert the potency and relevance of literary criticism (reframed as ecocriticism) to ecological crisis.


Colman, W. (2011) Synchronicity and the Meaning Making Psyche Journal of Analytical Psychology (Volume 56, No. 4)

Martinez, I. (2011) Journal of Jungian Scholarly Studies (Volume 7, No. 5), 2011 Rowland, Susan. ‘The Ecocritical Psyche: Literature, Evolutionary Complexity and Jung’. New York: Routledge, 2012.

McGilchrist, I. (2009) The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale.


(1) Rowland is a gifted teacher and this shows in her capacity to present arguments from many different sources with clarity, and to weave them together. Inez Martinez expresses this in a beautiful sentence I’d like to share with you:

‘The Ecocritical Psyche is, itself, a model illustrating the intellectually fecund power of reading. Rowland uses as frames for her explorations of literature the research of biological theorists including Charles Darwin, James Lovelock, Roger Wescott, and Carol Yoon; materials from the works of historians from fields as diverse as mythology, medieval studies, renaissance studies, and Native American history; positions of cultural critics on complex adaptive systems and on the political sources of understandings of nature; expositions by psychological literary critics on the gothic and the trickster; new perspectives by Jungian theorists such as Jerome Bernstein on Borderlanders, Andrew Samuels on political forms, and David L. Miller on the symbolic meanings of descent into hell; and numerous concepts from philosophers—including meanings of nature analyzed by Kate Soper, the ‘field’ as elaborated by N. Katherine Hayles, a phenomenological approach to reading and nature described by David Abram, tacit knowing proposed by Michael Polanyi, imagined vs. perceived images as distinguished and evaluated by Gaston Bachelard, alterity as critiqued by Luce Irigaray, dialogics of language as theorized by Mikhail Bakhtin, discourse and power as articulated by Michel Foucault, and evolution as reformulated by Henri Bergson. If that last sentence seemed dense, may it have succeeded in suggesting the complex interweavings this book achieves between the thoughts of many thinkers in their fields, those of Carl Jung with regard to psyche, and Rowland’s concerning ecocritical readings of literature’ (Martinez 20011)


(2) In Iain McGilchrist’s thesis in The Master and his Emissary it is a left brain-hemisphere’s inflation that keeps the mind closed to the right hemisphere’s dreaming.


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Will 2013 shift people’s indifference to climate change? by Randall

January 20, 2013 – 5:26 pm |

Will 2013 shift peoples indifference to climate change?

by Rosemary Randall

Rosemary Randall is a psychoanalytically trained psychotherapist researching, writing and blogging on climate change.

In December, The Guardian asked Rosemary Randall to write a short piece predicting what she thought 2013 might bring in regard to sustainability and business. She wrote on her blog:  “My feeling is that we face a much more difficult situation than we did 3 years ago and that we need to examine what lies behind the feelings of indifference we encounter so strongly.”

Read the full piece here:



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Dangerous Margins by Robertson

January 20, 2013 – 4:52 pm |

Dangerous Margins: recovering the stem cells of the psyche

by Chris Robertson

This is a version of Chapter 20 in Vital Signs, psychological responses to ecological crisis eds Rust & Totton, Karnac 2012 (reviewed here)

Chris Robertson has been a psychotherapist and trainer since 1978 working in several European countries. His training background includes Psychosynthesis, Child Psychotherapy, Family Therapy and Archetypal Psychology. He is co-author of Emotions and Needs (OUP) and author of several articles including ‘The Numinous Psyche’ in International Journal of Psychotherapy (Vol. 18, no2). He is co-creator of the workshop Borderlands and the Wisdom of Uncertainty, which in 1989 became the subject of a BBC documentary. He is a co-founder and director of training at Re•Vision, an integrative and transpersonal psychotherapy training centre. He works in London at Re•Vision where he also sees individuals, couples and supervisees. 


The dual problem addressed here is the increasing egocentric individualism in the Western world and the blind avoidance of facing the ecological crisis. This article uses ecosystemic thinking to explore the margins of our collective predicament. It posits a critical phase transition in the co-evolution of humans and the other-than human world that constellates a rite of passage. While telling a story, it utilises story as both the conveyor of past constraints and the creative medium of transformation. This transformation entails loosening our attachment to conscious control and judgement and instead re-visioning problems as adaptations to an emergent paradigm including the need for self-regulation. The story entails an evolutionary trajectory that revisits our marginalised dangerous potency and challenges us to a reciprocal relationship with the other-than-human.

It draws implications for both psychotherapeutic practice and for our responsibility to the ecosystems of our planet.

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Climate on the Couch by Rust

January 20, 2013 – 4:44 pm |

Climate on the Couch: unconscious processes in relation to our environmental crisis

by Mary-Jayne Rust

Mary-Jayne Rust is an art therapist and Jungian analyst in private practice in North London.  Alongside this,  she lectures and facilitates workshops on Ecopsychology in a wide range of settings.

Guild of Psychotherapists Annual Lecture, London, November 17th 2007.

Published in Psychotherapy and Politics International  6(3): 157-170 2008


“This revised lecture is an exploration of our psychological attitudes underlying climate change and ecological crisis. The central question is whether psychological insights can contribute to the collective change we need to make towards sustainable living. Part One explores two major myths that underpin western culture: The Myth of the Fall and The Myth of Progress. Our readings of these stories keep us trapped in destructive ways of living. In particular, western culture has developed a long-held fear of wild nature, both inner and outer. Civilisation is experienced as a defence against nature. This stands in contrast to an indigenous worldview, where humans respect the balance that needs to be kept between humans and the rest of nature. How do we find a way of working with nature in this modern age? Part Two explores our personal responses to, and fantasies about, sustainable living. Consumerism has become an opiate of the people, in order to subdue our wild internal nature. Such an addictive relationship blocks us from thinking, and prevents us from taking action. Recovery involves re-inhabiting our bodies, developing what Naess describes as an Ecological Identity. Part Three explores how these issues might enter into our work as therapists, and how we might respond.”

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Book Review: Vital Signs eds Rust & Totton

January 20, 2013 – 4:21 pm |

Vital Signs, psychological responses to ecological crisis

eds.  Mary-Jayne Rust and Nick Totton

Karnac Books Ltd (2012) ISBN:  13 978-1-78049-048-9

Reviewed by Mara Senese for HOPE

“I never expected this professional book to be so engaging — a real page turner of  little known research and discoveries.  With a holistic and systemic lens these essays reveal layer upon layer of insight into causes, effects and connections between earth challenges and human challenges. Especially interesting are the discussions about the embeddedness of humanity within the planet’s systems.”

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The Melting Polar Ice by Romanyshyn

January 19, 2013 – 2:10 pm |

The Melting Polar Ice: Revisiting Technology as Symptom and Dream

by Robert D. Romanyshyn

Robert D. Romanyshyn is a Senior Core Faculty member of the Clinical Psychology department at Pacifica Graduate Institute and an Affiliate Member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. Other books include The Soul in Grief, Love, Death and Transformation with Thomas Merton and The Wounded Researcher: Doing Research with Soul in Mind.

In Technology, Cyberspace, and Psyche, Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Vol. 80, Fall 2008

Introduced here by Sandra White, Jungian ecopsychologist.

This chapter explores anxieties underlying the relationship between the modern human being and larger nature, through the lens of the the arctic poles, as:

‘The polar ice caps are the Axis Mundi of the world and the Polar Regions of the soul. When the early explorers of these regions at the top and bottom of the world went in search of its mysteries, charms, and terrors, they were also exploring the mysteries, charms, and depths of the soul. It is no accident, I believe, that Ernest Shackleton, one of
the earliest and most famous of the explorers, said that his draw to the ice began with a dream:

“But strangely enough, the circumstances which actually
determined me to become an explorer was a dream I had when
I was twenty-two. We were beating out of New York from
Gibraltar, and I dreamt I was standing on the bridge in mid-
Atlantic and looking northward. It was a simple dream. I seemed
to vow to myself that some day I would go to the region of ice
and snow and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the
earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns.(21)”

Nor is it an accident that Helen Thayer, the first woman to reach the Arctic Circle on her own, entitled her book, Polar Dream,(22) or that my explorations of the Spectator Mind for Technology as Symptom and Dream was preceded by dreams of the polar ice. The Axis Mundi is a vocation. The journey to the lands of ice and snow are journeys to the heights and depths of soul.’ (p.15)

Soon after, quoting from Eric Wilson’s ‘The Spiritual History of Ice’ which references Percy Shelley’s poem ‘Mont Blanc’, he emphasises the following tension:

“Going to one extreme of self-admiration, the poet severs his mind
from the nourishing flows of things and thus undergoes
disorientation and despair; pushing to the other extreme by
focusing on natural processes devoid of human significance, he
feels diminished as a creative agent, afraid of an environment
over which he has no control.(29)” (p.17)

Romanyshyn recalls his exploration of the Spectator Mind in his earlier book Technology as Symptom and Dream and offers ‘four literary amplifications’ of it:  Shelley’s Mont Blanc, Lord Byron’s poem Manfred, Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, and Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  In this way, he spirals round the relationship between the ego and the Self, the difficulties in maintaining connection with the collective unconscious, and how these tensions and realities underpin our twin contemporary crises of religious feeling and ecology.

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Is it time to stop talking about behaviour change? by Randall

January 18, 2013 – 9:27 am |

Is it time to stop talking about behaviour change?

by Rosemary Randall

Rosemary Randall is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and founder of Carbon Conversations.

Lecture to conference ‘Future Climate 2’, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, September 23rd 2011.

In her introduction, Rosemary comments, “Behaviour change is increasingly the goal of those working on climate change mitigation.  While it is encouraging to see people as well as technology and policy brought into play
are we right to make this the central approach for involving individuals and families?”

She goes on to compare contemporary approaches in 2011 to influencing the public’s behaviour towards climate change and adds psychoanalytic insights drawn from her experience of Carbon Conversations.

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Book Review: Radical Ecopsychology by Fisher

January 16, 2013 – 6:46 pm |

Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life
By Andy Fisher

Andy Fisher works as a psychotherapist and ecopsychologist in eastern Ontario.

Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2002 ISBN: 0-7914-5304-9

Reviewed by Almut Beringer, Dept. of Outdoor Education and Nature Tourism, La Trobe University

In Human Ecology Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2003

Andy Fisher’s book, published in the SUNY series in Radical Social and Political Theory, is to me the most comprehensive and compelling conceptual-theoretical contribution to ecopsychology to date. At the same time, the book is highly practical: one of Fisher’s objectives is to propose (eco)psychology as a foundation for a critical theory of modern society. Conceived of as an original introduction to ecopsychology, Fisher argues that ecopsychology has to be a force for social change. In his foreword, David Abram praises it as “the most important work yet written on ecopsychology from a clinical perspective.” Fisher’s book — the published version of his doctoral dissertation, Nature and Experience: A Radical Approach to Ecopsychology (York University 2001) — gives the field of ecopsychology a necessary and very welcome theoretical foundation. From this foundation, further conceptual work and empirical studies can proceed, perhaps now with more credibility and subject
to less criticism from the mainstream that the field lacks academic rigor.

Throughout the book, Fisher describes ecopsychology as a project, rather than as a field or discipline — yet his substantial, rich, and in-depth account of what he calls a ‘psychology in the service of life’ could well be the treatise which the field has needed to move forward to become a respected subdiscipline within psychology. In Part I of the book, Fisher lays the groundwork by describing this ‘project of ecopsychology’ and identifying the ‘problem with normal,’ meaning the dualism of outer, objective, and inner, subjective reality which has become part of ‘normal’ mainstream psychological discourse but which ecopsychology seeks to transcend. Further, Fisher critiques the economic and technocratic discourses within psychology and other sciences that prevent a true and radical ‘greening’ of the disciplines. He outlines four interrelated tasks to define his version of ecopsychology:
the psychological task — “to acknowledge and better understand the human-nature relationship as a relationship”
(emphasis added); the philosophical task — “to place psyche (soul) back into the natural world;” the practical task — “to develop therapeutic and recollective practices toward an ecological society,” in the sense of remembering how the human psyche is embedded in the larger psyche of nature and of relearning how to live well within animate, and perhaps sacred, natural worlds; and last, the critical task — “to engage in ecospychologically-based criticism,” i.e., to challenge the widespread and pervasive anthropocentrism in modern western society.

In ‘the problem with normal,’ Fisher makes the case for his methods to move from dualistic understandings
(human/nature, inner/outer, subjective/objective) which characterize mainstream psychology, to hermeneutics, which, as he claims, “can work in the difficult space between the ‘human’ and the ‘natural,’” which can bring to light as yet undisclosed aspects of the human-nature relationship. The rhetorical method allows Fisher to investigate and understand the symbolic and metaphorical nature of reality. Both methods, he argues, “can speak to the felt reality of our alienated relationship with the life process and then say something critical that might help move our society forward…”

In Part II, titled Nature and Experience, Fisher details this version of ecopsychology. He proposes a three-pronged
approach to ecopsychology: 1) naturalistic, which “aims to link claims and limits of human nature to the claims and limits of the natural world,” 2) experiential, which “uses bodilyfelt meaning as its touchstone and makes thematic the natural ordering of our experience,” and 3) radical, which “locates itself within critical currents within both psychology and ecology.” Departing from humanistic psychology, and to highlight the interconnection between humans and nature which mainstream psychology has so often overlooked, Fisher sketches a ‘naturalistic psychology’ — a psychology which places the human mind back into the natural world and which accepts the demands, constraints, and opportunities the natural order places on human experience. In his own words,
“[n]aturalistic psychology pays attention both to our experience of nature and to the nature in our experience; and suggests that to recover our experiencing is to better hear the voice of the life process.” The emphasis on bodily-felt-lived experience and its interpretation via phenomenology is at the center of Fisher’s analysis. By acknowledging and analyzing how human and ‘more-than-human’ nature continues to be mistreated — mistreatment which is the source of much (arguably unnecessary) suffering — the book receives a very
practical touch.

The last chapter, Making Sense of Suffering in a Technological World, asks us to recognize the suffering intrinsic to the modern technologized and economized society, caused by technology not fulfilling (human) nature but instead violating it and impoverishing human-(natural) world relations. The chapter also calls for creating loving conditions to help bear this pain and suffering. In doing so, says Fisher, “we may both discover what our suffering means and work toward a society more congruent with and respectful of our nature and our experience.”

Fisher draws on an extensive range of material from humanistic psychology, hermeneutics, phenomenology, radical ecology, nature writing, and critical theory. The one conceptual critique I have of Fisher’s analysis is that to me, he misses the spiritual dimension of the human psyche-nature connection. In his analysis, the internal realm is that of the mind, the mental life, and the ‘anima.’ Yet soul and the spiritual life can be understood in non-psychological or religious ways, which would give rise to a more holistic analysis. Further, in Fisher’s interpretation, experience is bodily-felt, rather than more encompassing to go beyond the physical realm. The book’s style has been described as ‘personal’ and ‘dense.’ Although advertised as ‘an original introduction to
ecopsychology,’ it is probably best suited for graduate study and beyond.

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Climate Change and the Apocalyptic Imagination by Hoggett

January 16, 2013 – 6:03 pm |

Climate Change and the Apocalyptic Imagination

by Paul Hoggett

Paul Hoggett is a therapist, researcher and teacher. He is Professor of Social Policy at the University of the West of England and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and member of the Severnside Institute for Psychotherapy.

In Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (2011) 16, 261–275.  DOI:10.1057/pcs.2011.1


Climate change faces us with yet another in a long line of actual or potential disasters that have occurred over the last century. One powerful and recurring response to such events frames them as catastrophe from which either
physical or spiritual escape is imagined. This article attempts a psycho-social analysis of this apocalyptic response to actual or imagined disasters and traces two variants of this response – the redemptive and the survivalist. Whilst such responses appear radical, I argue that they are essentially a defence in the face of despair that has already found expression within climate change science and activism. In contrast, I suggest that what is required is a realistic response to the possibility of climatic disaster, a possibility the probability of which cannot be known. The quandary we face is how to sound the alarm without being alarmist.

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Climate Change and Human Flourishing by Hoggett

January 16, 2013 – 5:20 pm |

Climate Change and Human Flourishing

by Paul Hoggett

Paul Hoggett is a therapist, researcher and teacher. He is Professor of Social Policy at the University of the West of England and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and member of the Severnside Institute for Psychotherapy.

This is a previously unpublished record of a meeting:

It is often argued that those concerned about motivating ambitious and proportional responses to profound environmental challenges, such as climate change, must construct a compelling and inspiring vision of an alternative future. Many environmentalists seek to build this vision upon an understanding of well being: particularly the recognition that increased material consumption, at least in rich countries, does not equate with increased happiness and wellbeing. Nevertheless it could be argued that there is something missing in the vision being offered. A society where there was more time, more community and more allotments is not likely to mobilize the movement for change that the present crisis requires.  We need a vision which reaches more deeply into the human condition and is able to face more troubling sets of concerns.

On January 15th 2010 an invited group of philosophers, social theorists, psychotherapists and climate change activists met to explore this issue at the University of the West of England.

Human Wellbeing – is it all relative?

There is no universal model of wellbeing and therefore no ‘objective’ way of measuring it. But whilst it may not be possible to find a model of wellbeing which equally suits British and, say, Kenyan society this is not to say that we cannot develop agreement about a model of wellbeing appropriate for our own society, that is, the UK.

We need political and cultural spaces in which alternative visions of wellbeing can be discussed and elaborated. Whilst we should be cautious about prematurely pushing certain viewpoints the urgency of climate change requires proactivity. Governments are terrified of upsetting people by drawing attention to the difficult actions required to tackle the problem we face. It is easy for debate to become polarized between a laissez faire approach which argues that the market will solve things and a form of green authoritarianism. What is needed is a government which can act with authority on this issue without being authoritarian. It can do this by:

  • addressing its citizens honestly as adults,
  • having the courage to risk short term electoral popularity by spelling out that there is no painless way of achieving the necessary change,
  • recognizing and containing the anxieties and resentments that responding to climate change entails

Why Aristotle?

In Western thought, outside of religion, there is a surprisingly weak tradition of thinking about what constitutes the good life.

Utilitarianism: This gives emphasis to human happiness, and specifically the greatest happiness of the greatest number. But happiness is a poor guide to the good society. Long ago Aristotle argued that the gratification of appetite and the pursuit of pleasure stood opposed to human virtue and, in the long run, the desire for more leaves the individual with feelings of regret, dissatisfaction and self-hatred. The utilitarian approach is often connected to Quality of Life approaches that emphasise subjective well-being.

The Capabilities Approach: This approach, linked to the work of Amartya Sen[1] and Martha Nussbaum[2], draws on Aristotle’s thinking about human flourishing or eudaimonia. The Capabilities Approach is critical of utilitarian approaches to happiness arguing that ‘subjective states are not the only things that matter’ and that such approaches give support to economic models which emphasise self-interest maximization heedless of human relations and emotions. The Capabilities Approach argues that social diversity draws attention to the ‘role played by ethical principles in the design of the ‘good’ society’. It is an approach which stresses positive freedom, that is, our ‘freedom to’ achieve valuable functioning. Whilst Sen argues that what constitutes valuable functioning will vary from one culture to another, Nussbaum has argued that there is a set of broad capacities which apply to individuals in all societies. Her list comprises


Bodily Health

Bodily Integrity

Sense, Imagination, Thought


Practical Reason


Other Species


Political and Material Control over one’s Environment

Thus, for example, Nussbaum argues that the right to bodily integrity is a basic human right which is contradicted by practices such as physical and sexual abuse, female circumcision, etc[3].

But Aristotle’s approach is rationalist. For example, he saw reason standing in opposition to emotion. In Western thought it tended to be religion which was more comfortable in talking about human passion. As a result we lack a tradition of secular humanism with moral and psychological depth.

After Aristotle

The purpose of the seminar was to explore ways of thinking about human flourishing which could build upon the Aristotelian tradition or offer new departures from it. Some of the lines of thought that emerged were these:


Rather than imagining Utopias in the abstract we can ‘imagine otherwise’ by collectively improvising new ways of living

Such ‘prefiguration’ of possible futures is a core value in the Transition movement. Prefiguration is the practice of political imagination and for many involved in Transition initiatives acting together is a way of recovering agency


 Doesn’t shy away from addressing the negative as well as the positive in humanity

Offers helpful ideas such as the ‘containment’ of anxiety, and the containing function of groups and institutions; negative capability – that is, the capacity to be in doubt and uncertainty; the recovery of projections which have led, for example,  to the creation of enemies; ‘depressive openness’, that is, the capacity to remain receptive to the other rather than construe them as threat.

Intrinsic Value

The intrinsic value of things and people stands in opposition to instrumental value. The latter construes the other as a means to an end, the former sees the other, including nature, as an end in itself.

An intrinsic approach derives pleasure from the activity itself, from the journey rather than from the destination. If you have to ask ‘am I happy?’ then you can not be happy.


A concept from Erich Fromm and E.O.Wilson, a love of all living things, an intrinsic connectedness to other animals, a deep affiliation to nature.

New Humanisms

Martin Buber, Emanuel Levinas stress the depth of our relation and our responsibility to the other

Moral Imagination

 Our moral imagination – our capacity to imagine the other, to act reparatively towards the other where relations have broken down, our capacity to recognize other peoples’ rights and entitlements (including the rights of future generations) – appears to have grown over the last century, giving grounds for hope..

Central to mediation, restorative justice


 Recognition that we live in an interconnected world society, that social diversity as opposed to social homogeneity promotes human flourishing and collective resilience, and that inclusive relations between peoples is to be preferred to the creation of excluding communities whether at national or local level.

Look towards the development of forms of global governance – the International Criminal Court at the Hague, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, would be examples.

 Redefining production and consumption

 What gets excluded from conventional measures of GDP? How is the wealth of a nation measured? This is a major area of rethinking at national and international level, the latest evidence of which is the Sarkozy Report[4].  Among other things this report notes that GDP mainly measures market production rather than government or household provision of goods and services. This links to longstanding feminist critiques of the concepts of work and production for the way in which they ignore domestic labour. The New Economic Foundation’s Happy Planet Index argues that a “successful society is one that can support good lives that don’t cost the earth”. The New Economics Foundation has also been influenced by the Capabilities Approach. In their National Accounts of Wellbeing[5] they distinguish between Personal and Social Well-being in the following way:

Personal Well-being                                      Social Well-being

Emotional well-being                                      Supportive relationships

Satisfying life                                                      Trust and belonging


Resilience and self esteem

Positive functioning

They define vitality as ‘how far people have energy, feel well-rested and healthy and are physically active’. They see ‘resilience and self esteeem’ as measuring ‘individuals’ psychological resources and mental capital’. They see ‘positive functioning’ comprising autonomy, competence, engagement, meaning and purpose. Putting these together the authors define well-being as “a dynamic process that gives people a sense of how their lives are going, through the interaction between their circumstances, activities and ‘psychological resources’ or ‘mental capital’”.

So, a society might have a thriving civil society (religious and spiritual practices, cultural festivals and rituals, etc) and dense and extensive household, kinship and neighbourly networks, a close and symbiotic relationship to surrounding eco-systems and yet have a low GDP. Hence the appearance of the concept of Gross National Happiness linked to the Centre for Bhutan Studies. Even in the UK there are a vast range of activities that contribute to the collective good that do not count in terms of GDP. For example, on any given night there are literally thousands of music gigs occurring throughout the country, mostly in non-commercial venues. This crucial dimension of British cultural life which stretches back over 40 years only ‘counts’ when it produces exchangeable commodities – likewise for organised sport, hobbies, the arts, and so on.

GDP is based on the exchange value of commodities not on their use value, hence the recent comment by Adair Turner, the Chair of the Financial Services Authority, that much of the banking sector was engaged in ‘socially useless’ forms of production. The use value or social value of an activity or product depends on its intrinsic worth rather than its price. In many Western societies there appears to be an inverse relation between value and price – most graphically illustrated by the scandalously low wages earned by those in the care sector. So ‘care work’ doesn’t count at all in the calculation of GDP (because it is done in the home, by voluntary organizations or by government) and yet it is absolutely central to human flourishing. There seems to be considerable potential here for connections to be made between the concerns of the climate change movement, the social policy/welfare lobby and contemporary feminism.

We also need to rethink what we mean by consumption. What if we separate consumption from material goods? Arguably in a good society there would be greater consumption of public services – education, health, social care, transport – where by ‘public’ is meant funded by national or local taxes, communal levies or mutual societies. The production of services appears to be less resource intensive than the production of goods and services. Human services are central to the development of human capacities (see Nussbaum’s list). In Europe the concept of Caritas, the roots of the word are in the Latin for ‘love’, is central to the ethic of service.

 Is this an opportune moment?

Beneath the surface of British society a new structure of feeling is emerging which is beginning to doubt the link between wealth and happiness[6]. This has been fueled by growing evidence[7], including widely reported research by Unicef[8], which indicates that, for example, despite belonging to the fifth largest economy in the world British children are among the most unhappy in OECD countries.

Moreover, as the British economy pulls out of recession more slowly than most others the prospect of continued growth of the type we experienced over the previous decade looks increasingly improbable. Indeed the coming public expenditure cuts, which are the price of digging our banks out of their crisis, will further constrain the possibilities for economic growth.

It follows that irrespective of the climate change argument British political culture is likely to be more receptive to finding ways of uncoupling wellbeing from growth.

Politics, Utopia and Dystopia

The final theme that was around during the seminar could be summed up in terms of “human flourishing versus Mad Max”.  In the shadow of the failed Copenhagen talks some participants felt that any talk of human flourishing had to be emotionally resonant. When you feel like you might be on the road to apocalypse this might not be the place and time to engage with well-being.

We can learn to ‘imagine otherwise’ by glimpsing dystopia as well as utopia, the former can be an effective vehicle for social criticism. The psychoanalyst W.R.Bion noted that when groups become suffused with anxiety they resort to splitting and paranoia, they are simultaneously frightened and frightening. Some likened the impact of climate change to a kind of collective PTSD and Transition can play a key role in providing relief from isolation and a working through of toxic feelings. Some in Transition speak of ‘dark optimism’. There can be no participation in projects of political change without hope/optimism. What spirit/ethic needs to inform the politics of climate change? Experimentation, learning (try everything, see what works), discursive elaboration (talk, argue), toleration of uncertainty, holding the space between denial and despair.

[1] Sen, Amartya K. (1985), Commodities and Capabilities, Oxford: Elsevier Science


[2] Nussbaum, Martha C. (2000), Women and Human Development: the Capabilities

Approach, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Nussbaum, M. C. (2005b), .Women.s Bodies: Violence, Security, Capabilities.,

Journal of Human Development, 6(2), 167-83.

[4] Stiglitz, J., Sen, A. & Fitoussi, J-P (2009) Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.

[5] Michaelson, J. (2009) National Accounts of Well-being: Bringing Real Wealth onto the Balance Sheet. London: nef.

[6] R. Layard (2005) Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. Penguin.

[7] M.Rutter & D.Smith (eds) Psychosocial Disorders in Young People: Time Trends and their Causes. Russell Sage Foundation.

[8] Unicef (2007) Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries.

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Psychoanalysis and Climate Change by Hoggett

January 16, 2013 – 5:01 pm |

Psychoanalysis and Climate Change

by Paul Hoggett

Paul Hoggett is a therapist, researcher and teacher. He is Professor of Social Policy at the University of the West of England and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and member of the Severnside Institute for Psychotherapy.

In New Associations, the magazine of the British Psychoanalytic Council, Autumn 2012.

We seem to be sleep walking towards disaster. Global temperatures have risen 0.8°C in the last century and are now set to rise well beyond 2°C by 2060, a figure universally regarded by scientists as the safe limit. The estimates provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which have been derided by climate change skeptics as scaremongering, now look as if they will turn out to have been surprisingly conservative as the world warms faster then anyone anticipated. Only this summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean retreated to a point that climate science had earlier thought would not be reached until 2030.

As the temperature gradient between Arctic and temperate regions diminishes the Jet Stream slackens and our weather is thrown into chaos – unprecedented heatwaves and droughts in the American Midwest and eastern Europe, prolonged wet summers in the UK and north west Europe. The impact of bad weather on food prices was last felt just two years ago when the failure of the Russian wheat harvest provided the trigger for food riots from the Indian subcontinent to North Africa, the latter acting as a catalyst for the ‘Arab Spring’. So we can see the way in which climate chaos quickly transforms into social chaos and also the connection to a series of other predicaments – overpopulation, the depletion of natural resources, the destruction of bio-diversity, etc.

And yet, faced with accumulating crises, international agreement on action to mitigate climate change seems further away than ever and, once we have them, none of us seem to be able to give up our energy intensive lifestyles. To repeat, we seem to be sleep walking towards disaster. The last time this happened, when the USA and USSR threatened each other (and the rest of us) with mutually assured (nuclear) destruction (MAD), psychoanalysts spoke out (Segal 1987). This time the threat is greater because its nature makes it more difficult to respond to – it is distant rather than immediate, it will affect others first rather than ourselves, and the threat is not embodied in an obvious ‘other’ for we (in the West) are all implicated through our lifestyles.

How might psychoanalysis contribute to understanding the predicament we now face? Well this time, as before, some members of the psychoanalytic community, analysts and therapists, have begun working and organizing on this issue. One of the first fruits of this activity was realized on September 27th when the book Engaging with Climate Change, published by Routledge as part of the New Library of Psychoanalysis series, was launched at the Institute of Psychoanalysis. Edited by Sally Weintrobe, former Chair of the Institute’s Scientific Committee, Engaging with Climate Change develops an interdisciplinary dialogue involving analysts, therapists, climate scientists and social scientists.

In this book and a number of other recent publications we can see how the psychoanalytic perspective contributes to several core questions. What has happened to our relation to nature to let such a crisis come to pass? What feelings does climate change arouse in us, how do we defend ourselves against these feelings and how do these defences undermine our capacity to engage with this new reality?

With the exception of Harold Searles (1960, 1972) psychoanalysis has had little to say directly about the first question. For Searles, our relation to the non-human environment was a crucial factor in our development from birth onwards.  Against the fetish of the independent self which has been central to Western individualism psychoanalysis has emphasized the interdependent self. But Searles argued we must go further to a transpersonal notion of self which located the human being in a web of both human and non-human relations.

I think psychoanalysis approaches a more transpersonal perspective when it focuses on our relation to the nature within us, that is, our nature as physical beings and the frailty which accompanies this. This ‘fact of life’ is one we find very hard to accept and our flight from physical vulnerability and mortality seems to have much to do with our illusions of omnipotent control over nature and our search for (consumer) distractions.

Both for the individual self and for society the issue involves the acceptance of limits and therefore the questioning of entitlement. And of course this means we are in the territory of depressive anxiety and ownership of responsibility for the damage we have done and will continue to do. Loss also makes its appearance. As we see the Amazon destroyed or  coral reefs die out one by one this feeling can become so powerful it can lead to despair. Emotional numbing is one response to such despair and some research on the experience of those living in damaged natural environments suggests that apathy, far from being a sign that people care very little, arises because they care too much. Of course another defence against depressive anxiety is the manic defence, we take flight from despair by throwing ourselves back into the state of mind that ship-wrecked us in the first place, joining the frenzied partying on the Titanic.

More worrying still is what might be called the pre-depressive response to climate change and other crises. Concern, guilt and despair are pre-empted by terror and fear for which fight, based on splitting and projection, is the natural response rather than flight. Nature is seen as something vengeful and hateful that must be tamed and controlled. As Clive Hamilton points out in his book Requiem for a Species some businessmen and scientists, having ignored or scorned climate science, are now saying that if there is a problem then business and technology can solve it through geoengineering solutions such as the creation of sulphur dioxide aerosols to deflect the sun’s radiation in the upper atmosphere. Such ‘solutions’ remind Hamilton of the verse “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…”. Or we might think of a patient who, faced with the chaos that omnipotent control has wrought upon his life, lurches intoxicated towards the control buttons once more.

Another form of fight locates all the badness in the other – the Chinese and Indians, the Africans with their large families, the rich and complacent West, and so on. Instead of the much needed cooperation our situation requires splits emerge between developed and developing countries, and between trading blocs and regions. Competition for scarce water resources already fuels conflicts in the Sudan, Mali, Israel and elsewhere. Boundaries soon become barriers which are anxiously patrolled to keep out the ‘losers’ as desertification and hunger results in mass migrations.

If this sounds gloomy then psychoanalysis also indicates how denial can be replaced by a growing capacity to face reality, and despair can change into hope. We also know how, in individuals and groups, powerful feelings can be contained thus lessening the need for destructive defences and conflict. Good work is getting done, not just by those involved in the Engaging with Climate Change volume but also by ecopsychologists and others. And here I would mention two other books published in 2012, Vital Signs edited by Mary Jane Rust and Nick Totten, and Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos by Joseph Dodds. Finally, and also in 2012, the Climate Psychology Alliance has been launched which seeks to provide a forum for dialogue and collaboration between different psychological approaches, initiated by psychoanalytically-oriented practitioners.


Searles, H (1960) The Nonhuman Environment in Normal Development and in Schizophrenia. International Universities Press.

Searles, H (1972) ‘Unconscious processes in relation to the environmental crisis’, Psychoanalytic Review, 59, 3: 361-374.

Segal, H. ( 1987) ‘ Silence is the real crime’, International Review of Psychoanalysis, 14: 3-12.

Weintrobe, S. (2012) (ed) Engaging with Climate Change: Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Routledge and New Library of Psychoanalysis Beyond the Couch Series.


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Absorbing the Implications of Climate Change for Health by Anderson

July 24, 2012 – 5:16 pm |

Absorbing the Implications of Climate Change for Health: too much to bear?

by Judith Anderson

Judith Anderson is a Jungian Psychotherapist with a background in psychiatry. She is also on the steering group of Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility.

This short paper was presented by Judith Anderson at an evening conference 28th September 2011 organised by the Catastrophes and Conflict Committee of the Royal Society of Medicine: Health information & climate change: getting the message across

Professor Hugh Montgomery began the evening with an absorbing, cogent presentation on The Predicted Consequences for Health. I started this contribution by asking the audience to sit quietly and breathe and become aware of the reactions they had to Professor Montgomerey’s paper, whether bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings and then to tell the person next to the about their experiences. A brief group discussion followed, naming fear, despair, frustration and motivation to act.

In the paper I draw on research from Attachment Theory to develop a theme about the need for narrative in the context of inevitable traumatic reactions to Climate Change.

This is a painful subject; human-generated climate change and biodiversity loss are manifestations of the increasing threat our species pose to the planetary ecosystem, and therefore to ourselves, and because there is threat I think we have to factor in the effect of trauma on our capacity for thought. It is certainly painful for me in trying to think about climate change. I have been working in this area for some years, organising conferences, and many meetings, and I noticed in the process of preparing for this event a tendency for my mind to jump around, I found it difficult to concentrate, I kept hoping someone else had the answer, I found distractions to take me from the task.

One way of thinking about trauma is that it is a state in which the person affected by something that is too much to bear can’t tell a clear story. Parts are blocked out, other parts of the story intrude in a way that is out of control, so the person is both fully in the grip of being affected, but finds it difficult to understand process, and reflect on those effects.

Environmental activists, people who are well informed about climate change and its consequences, sometimes, unless they have good self care techniques, describe symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with intrusive thoughts, and nightmares. For an account of this see Gilliam Caldwell’s blog[i]. A colleague of mine adapted the Impact of Events Scale (a rating scale used to evaluate PTSD) to look at feelings about climate change.  I have used it in discussion groups of psychotherapists as a starter to conversations about the emotional impact of climate change. What emerges is that not uncommonly, individuals report:

Intrusion – e.g. I think about climate change when I don’t mean to, pictures of climate change pop into my mind, I’ve been having waves of strong feelings about climate change.

They identify with the following:

Avoidance – I’ve been actively trying not to think about climate change, I have a lot of feelings about climate change, but I haven’t been dealing with them, I feel as if climate change isn’t happening, or is unreal.

Hyperarousal – feeling irritable or angry, jumpy, having problems sleeping.

Clearly, those living with the threat of climate change at close hand, e.g. low islanders or even more importantly those affected NOW by extreme weather events, in part driven by climate change, are certain to be devastated and already overwhelmed by impending threat. Meanwhile witnesses to this, such as ourselves, are likely to be defending ourselves against the presence of this suffering to us.

I’d like to approach the subject further by way of an analogy from my work as an expert witness in Children Act proceedings. I am asked to assess parents, and the questions are broadly along the lines of – what’s wrong, why can’t they parent and what can be done to help, can they change?

Of course many of the parents whose children have been removed have very deprived backgrounds themselves, with neglect and abuse at home and in the care system. They have been in conditions where emotions have not been contained and need to recover the capacity to think, when it’s not been fostered, modelled, or in some cases even permitted.

In making an assessment, one of the things I am looking for is what is called narrative competence. This concept derives from attachment theory….where the nature of someone’s attachment style can be inferred not only from the content of what they say but from their way of talking about their history. As Sue Gerhardt[ii] points out, Mary Main discovered that when adults talked about their emotional lives and their important relationships in growing up, their current emotional security depended much more on having an internally coherent and consistent narrative than on the actual story they had to tell. It didn’t seem to matter so much for their current emotional security whether they had a happy childhood or not.

The question I am holding in my mind then, is – can the parent give an account of their difficult past in a way that shows reflection and meaning making? Or at the very least, do they show some signs of being able to use a process that will help them do this? So I may make a comment, feeding back a way in which their story might make sense to me to see if they respond. I have also had the experience of writing a report where children are removed and then seeing a parent a couple of years later when the next child is born. Sometime the parent will say ‘it really helped to see the story about me written down, it all began to make sense’, and they’ve used the process to begin to make positive changes.

What does not bode well is a dismissive avoidant style of narrative, dismissive of feelings, the child’s and their own, dismissive of the concerns of others and any attempts to make meaning. Neither is the converse helpful, an enmeshed, pre-occupied and disordered narrative, where the listener is unclear who is being described or when, and the parent is resistant to attempts to help with standing back and reflection.

The capacity to reflect on the past meaningfully in this way is one good prognostic sign as to whether the parent can think about the child, and care for them; this then becomes useful evidence for the Court in deciding whether rehabilitation of the child may be possible.

I guess it’s clear where my thinking is going.

The question for me is can we as individuals and collectively develop a coherent ecological narrative account of our own lives including our blindness about climate change. The story is complex one for each of us, involving not just the psychological but the economic, ethical, and in the broadest sense, spiritual. It’s a tall order; can we include in that account an understanding of the personal and societal dynamics that have pressed on us that have made us unable to think and feel; can we include how individually and collectively we have lived in ways that aren’t consistent with love for the future of our children, and our children’s children.

Our capacity to care for the future and take action may depend on this.  Of course, there is no value in staying stuck with self-recrimination, but our capacity to think depends on our recognition and containment of our history.

We cannot look after our children, the world’s children, and I mean this symbolically, as well as literally, unless we do this.

As my work with parents shows we can’t do this on our own, the ability to tell the story is relational and constructed in conversation.

A psychotherapy colleague, Rosemary Randall, developed a methodology called Carbon Conversations[iii]. This was driven by her appreciation of the vital part that psychology can play in bringing about social change. Carbon Conversations Groups offer a supportive group experience that enables people, in practical terms, to halve their personal carbon footprint. In the process of these groups they deal with the difficulties of change by connecting to values, emotions and identity. The method was selected by the Guardian as one of the 20 most promising solutions to climate change and featured at the 2009 Manchester Festival.

The importance of addressing the area of values, emotions and identity is also why the first strand of the climate change policy that psychotherapy colleagues and I are developing for the UK Council for Psychotherapy is to promote conversations amongst our colleagues, to raise awareness, to plan that every psychotherapy training includes a consideration not just of human relations but our relationship with the environment.

That seemed to us to come before our next 3 priorities, however vital, namely:-

2. Developing Links with other organisations and campaigning

3. Walking the talk by reducing our environmental footprint

4. Risk assessment for the organisation

Psychotherapists and psychologists have also contributed to Common Cause: The case for Working with Values and Frames[iv], an important work which recognises that to facilitate change we need to understand the values and frames that individuals live by, in other words, what lies behind observable behaviours.

Creating a clear reflective narrative to take us forward to action is of course work in progress, perhaps the direction and intention is as, if not more, important than the end point.  As Clive Hamilton[v] says at the end of his book, Requiem for a Species, Despair then Accept then Act and each of these stages involves a complex process.

What if we can’t do this? Unfortunately there are competing stories and here psychotherapy can contribute in identifying familiar ways in which we defend ourselves about what is unbearable, the ‘defences’ we work with every day in our shared attempts with clients/patients to change. Into the place of thought incapacitated by trauma, psychology can help to put words to ways we may be protecting ourselves from trauma – overt mechanisms such as denial and projection.

We notice subtle, powerful resistances to change.

It’s not safe…

It’s not safe to think about climate change, what will I feel, can I bear the grief, the guilt?

I’ll lose my identity…

I’ll lose my identity if I think about climate change, I love my lifestyle my cars, I won’t be the same person.

It won’t benefit me…

It won’t benefit me to think about climate change, I’ll have to give up so much, I’ll lose my business, what about our lovely holidays, my parents in India, my kids in Australia, collectively what about economic growth.

I’m too angry and hurt…

I’m too angry and hurt to think about climate change; notice that hurt and anger are always two sides of a coin

Consumerism is an area where I suggest we can see that our capacity for thought has been degraded.  The narrative goes: ‘I/we can’t manage without stuff, (in the developed world) we can have it when we want it, and as much as we want and not think about the consequences’.

I would like to suggest that what we really need is a different kind of materialism in the sense of valuing, honouring and respecting what sustains us; an embodied mattering of ourselves and the ecosystems we depend on, instead of displacing our preoccupation with matter into consumerism.

In one of the more thoughtful debates about the recent riots, there was a recognition that we all shared in the materialism of the looters. The UNICEF report on the welfare of UK children[vi] is damning of the way goods are substituted for time and love, with no return in the way of happiness. In Clive Hamilton’s book Requiem for a Species (ibid), he notes that even if in this generation we can curb our consumerism, ‘the market has planted a poison pill deep within affluent society – a generation of children consciously moulded into hyper-consumers.  In 1983 US companies spent $100 million annually advertising to children.  By the end of the boom they were spending more than $17 billion.  ……..  A British study found that for 1 in 4 children the first recognisable word they utter is a brand name.’

Mary-Jayne Rust is a Jungian Psychotherapist who draws on her experience from the consulting room.  In her paper ‘Consuming the Earth’[vii] she draws parallels between our over consumption and eating disorders.

It’s as if we are stuck in a giant eating problem.  We’ve trashed the family home and we’ve binged on all the reserves; oil and gas may well have peaked already, we overfish, clear-cut forests, and extract everything that can be sold for profit. Then we throw it up, undigested, into landfill sites.

 Now we must rein ourselves in, go on a green diet, measure our ecological footprints, count our carbon calories, and watch carefully how much we consume. But this green diet won’t work (she says) unless we also address the emotional hunger underneath the drive to consume.

She is addressing our dissociation from our sense of being part of a complex ecosystem on which we depend and which depends on us. We may know this but all too often we behave individually and collectively as if it were not the case.

So, in getting the message across we need to recognise that this may be traumatising, that the reactions in individuals and groups will be very varied and we are more likely to convey reality with compassion and understanding, and in a way that does not trigger others into reactivity if we have processed some of these issues ourselves.

*    *     *     *    *

28th September 2011

Judith Anderson MB ChB MRCPsych MA

Jungian Analytical Psychotherapist

Consultant Psychiatrist



[ii] Gerhardt S (2003) Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain Brunner- Routledge UK


[v] Hamilton C (2010) Requiem for a Species: Why we Resist the Truth about Climate Change Earthscan UK

[vi] Our children need time not stuff



Other reading


Roszak T, Gomes ME and Kanner AD (1995) Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind Sierra Club Books The Religious Education and Environment Programme


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