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 & Cultural Tragedy Conference 18th April 2015

February 7, 2015 – 11:38 pm |

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 Johstone: 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).

Full fee £55

CPA Members £45

Concessions (unwaged) £35



The full brochure is here and a booking form can be found here.

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Radical Hope – approached through poetry and psychotherapy

February 7, 2015 – 11:32 pm |

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 | 6 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 |

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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