Imprisonment is this month’s headline theme because it has been proposed or threatened, virtually simultaneously, on both sides of the climate struggle.
It surely reflects Naomi Klein’s “collision” between fossil-fuelled economics and the climate movement which has been highlighted in previous newsletters as a central argument in This Changes Everything. It also connects with Clive Hamilton’s comment, near the end of Requiem for a Species (again previously mentioned) that civil disobedience was likely to become a necessary choice for some in the climate movement.
The recent news, discussed in The Independent that the Heathrow 13 have been spared jail albeit with suspended sentences, will be a source of relief and celebration for the defendants and many others. Comparisons with those who were acquitted for occupation of the Kingsnorth coal power station are inevitable. Evidence on aviation emissions was presented at the trial by climate scientist Alice Bows-Larkin.
Meanwhile, there are anecdotal reports that Klein herself has been advocating the imprisonment of 'climate criminals'. This comes against the backdrop of mounting calls for legal action against Exxon Mobil for its “crime of the (20th) century” in suppressing the findings of its own scientists back in the ‘80’s, then disseminating and funding what it clearly knew to be disinformation on man-made climate change and its consequences. The collision of principles is now gathering pace, despite those at the establishment end of the climate movement who are heavily invested in a vision of consensus rather than confrontation.
We may be entering a time when psychological and moral confusion becomes more manifest. Cultures with a conservative leaning and relatively stable history as in England are likely to buy into the view that the law generally upholds the greater good. That currently includes the perceived right of people to fly whenever and wherever they want and to pursue economic gain in any way that doesn’t grossly and obviously transgress that public good. But as with slavery, women’s suffrage, sexual diversity and numerous independence movements, determined environmental activists with good advocacy can bring about profound changes, through incremental gains. A common factor in all these movements is that the existing order comes to be seen as obstructing justice. The sense of entitlement of some is increasingly recognised as violating much more basic rights of many others. Given the multiple signs that climate disruption is accelerating, we can perhaps hold on to the hope that these human tipping points are also under way.
Climate Outreach, advising The Climate Coalition, has helped to mobilise the “For the Love of” theme, which cleverly combines the view that love is a better motivator than fear with a hint of the impatience that the situation demands. That strategy in no way contradicts the many arguments put forward by the Climate Psychology Alliance to make room for anger, grief, frustration, guilt, anxiety and sense of helplessness. These emotions ebb and flow in the pull of news, temperament and internal rhythms, but no wizardry can dispel them while our minds are even partly open to the massive and accelerating damage being perpetrated on our planet and to humanity. All the while, what has really been imprisoned is a wide enough sense of connection to the dying lands, oceans and glaciers, with all the human and ecological consequences which ensue.
More on Aviation
While climate psychology connects flying with sense of entitlement, media coverage of the problem of aviation emissions has until recently been very low, either because it is seen as too complex (much of it happening outside national borders) or because it colludes with commercial-consumer interests to maintain government inaction. There have been some interesting variations lately on this depressing theme. CPA member Martin Hempel posted this article in our google group recently by Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist who decided (like Kevin Anderson) to stop flying. He covers the familiar terrain: social pressure, self-deceptive offset gestures, addiction, internal conflict and struggle, the challenge of acting way ahead of public opinion and so on. He also brings in a Transition-style celebration of his carbon-reduced way of life, but it is the succinct, open and matter-of-fact way he covers all these facets and combines them with the sobering calculations that led to his decision, which marks out this article.
Perhaps it is a good sign that there have recently been a number of articles on aviation and shipping, some of which are listed below. Maybe the big question is whether this is talk in preparation for, or talk in place of, meaningful action.
Britain’s EU referendum hooks up environmental issues. With a small number of exceptions like Zac Goldsmith, environmentally-minded politicians are strongly in favour of retaining EU membership. The underlying narrative is probably captured well by this article by John Vidal in the Guardian titled “Brexit would return Britain to being the dirty man of Europe”. He briefly discusses the E4E campaign, led by the likes of Caroline Lucas MP, Craig Bennett of FOE and the Conservative environmentally-minded MP Richard Benyon. Environmentalists who favour exit presumably reckon that Britain, like Norway, could honour its eco-obligations without EU policing, whereas E4E sees it as obvious that we desperately need a continuity of external constraint and co-operation.
What of the underlying dynamics? Symbolically, the competing portrayals are of Europe (in Express-speak) as a meddling, parasitic and power-hungry intruder which needs to be seen off, as against a source of necessary overview and restraint, a quasi-parental presence, without which the “dirty man” will lapse into anti-social habits and be all the worse for his isolation and stigma. Nick Clegg, in his ill-fated 2014 TV debate with Nigel Farage, used elements of the latter argument. It may be that environmentally-minded politicians are, in a similar way, weaving a narrative which asks the public to identify with an unappealing image of ourselves - problematic, whatever its accuracy. Overcoming the inherent risks in that may depend on showing that free market fundamentalism and climate denialism are a prominent feature of the Brexit campaigners.
Via Bloomberg, Jessica Shankleberg warns that “Brexit may lose UK billions in funding for climate, renewables”. Alarming as that sounds to any of us supporting such expenditure, there will be a licking of lips in some quarters at the prospect. We need to hold in mind, however repugnant it feels, that sabotaging the green economics agenda is exactly what some of our politicians have in mind.
The US Supreme Court
The USA has served up a reminder of the political character of its legislature. First the Supreme Court, with its majority of conservative judges, upheld in a 5-4 vote a move to block the Obama administration’s clean power plan. Suzanne Goldenberg, in the Guardian, tells the story. There was celebration in coal-rich West Virginia. Dismay amongst supporters of the plan was no doubt fuelled by the New York Times warning that this setback could jeopardise the Paris accord. Then within days, one of the judges, Antonin Scalia, dropped dead, meaning that the political configuration of the court was tied. As Vox explains this was good news for Obama, because the matter would then pass to the DC circuit court, at which the outcome is likely to be much more favourable. Meanwhile, Republican Party leaders have sought to block Obama from appointing a new Supreme Court judge, which is his constitutional right and duty, but subject to Senate approval, because this would presumably result in a liberal majority, at least until another vacancy occurred. You couldn’t make it up.
CPA’s interest in the subject of loss and sacrifice is a recurring theme. Willing sacrifice requires some greater good being seen and felt to be at stake, like the wellbeing of a child, the family, one’s country. The seemingly abstract gains attending climate mitigation, distant in their benefit, won’t cut it in a market democracy, short of state intervention. Even the direct experience of extreme weather impacts is no guarantee of a change of heart, as George Marshall discusses in Don’t Even Think About It. This helps to make climate change a wicked problem. To many West Virginians, the loss of economic security, even identity, based on coal mining is presumably a more potent factor than the global climate benefits of decarbonising the power supply – a fact that can be readily exploited by politicians who are so minded. This contradiction between immediate and seemingly more distant interests looks even more stark in the case of Greenland, as portrayed in another John Vidal article. The Greenlanders are evidently determined to win independence from Denmark, but have concluded that the economic autonomy on which this depends hinges on a development of mining and oil drilling. This is despite the fact that Greenland is one of the most climate-impacted countries in the world. Maybe a deeper analysis would reveal Greenlanders feelings that de-icing wouldn’t be such a bad thing. The calculations may be genuinely complex but there is little doubt that our ability to calculate is impaired by denial.
Finally, it’s worth making more explicit that a useful ingredient in psychology is the capacity to look outwards and inwards from a range of perspectives. This is partly a matter of technique, but it can carry cognitive and emotional challenges. To illustrate the point this Guardian article by Damian Carrington concludes from the science that sea-level rise could last twice as long as human history. The Anthropocene is here to stay and within a few decades if not already we will have committed hundreds of future generations to a world in which many of our cities will have become uninhabitable, amongst a host of other devastating impacts. Guardian readers and everyone in the climate movement know this already, but is it so big and shocking that most or all of us cling to a degree of disavowal? Is there any way that a perspective can be found which uses this information to galvanise mass support for the climate movement? There may be some hints in the article below about 15 Florida mayors. Showing the love needs somehow to combine with imagining and feeling the terrible consequences of the future we are creating now and which has already begun. It remains both a tall order and a desperately urgent requirement.
"Wales pass bill to make environment central to all future legislation"
"China will “far surpass” 2020 climate target, says top envoy"
"CAFOD Action News"
"Half the price in half the time: solar storage innovation harnesses new energy frontier"
On behalf of the Executive Committee
P.S. If you have your own website please add a link to this website.