An Effective Counter Response in Desparate Times
These are desperate times, but are we seeing signs, both within and outside the USA, that the very insult of its anti-science, anti-environment and anti-justice administration is giving rise to an effective counter-response?
This month’s newsletter looks at mood and mobilisation – with the paradoxical observation that a savagely destructive government, for all the harm it is doing, is actually helping to mobilise the people, organisations and communities willing to shoulder responsibility for safeguarding the future of life on Earth.
What is sure is that this response is a narrative thread, reinvigorating and channelling action as well as denouncing cynicism and irresponsibility. That thread interweaves with the argument that renewables, solar in particular, are now in an unstoppable ascendancy which no politician can delay for long. In a Financial Times article Green Streets on 10th June, Pilita Clark reviewed four books which celebrate this interweave. One, Burnout: The Endgame for Fossil Fuels is by Dieter Helm, a very influential Oxford economist who has hitherto been known for his scepticism about renewables. He now sees an alignment of forces, with technology facilitating international determination to deliver on the Paris accord. But Clark, at the end of her article, cautions against being swept away by the optimism of these books. Here is where climate psychology’s role is clear and critical: the human tendency to split and polarise is a psycho-social fact. It is true that both technical and political mobilisation is occurring. AND it is true not only that this continues to be resisted by powerful vested interests but that we live in a beleaguered world – one in which the climate and ecological emergencies continue to escalate. Our job is to hold the tension between these two realities, not to be seduced by one into dismissing the other.
A Message from the USA
CPA – North America is taking shape, exploring ways to collaborate across great distances - from Hawaii to the USA East coast, from Colorado to Toronto. Of the nine people so far involved, one is Susan Spieler. Her article below gives us an insight into what it has been like for Americans who care about climate change, during the first months of the current US government. It is the main item in this month’s newsletter and we use the image she sent us of her part in the People’s Climate March in NYC, 2014.
Other news, including pieces collected over the past month, is listed briefly below Susan’s piece, with many themes connecting strongly with her comments. There is a perceptible increase in references to the psychological dimension of the climate crisis and of climate engagement. Perhaps we are at last beginning to see a wider recognition that psychology is a central ingredient, informing the communication of science and ecology as well as the economic, policy, and social justice elements in climate change.
Here is Susan’s article:
PSYCHOANALYST/ACTIVIST/PARENT AGHAST AT DESTRUCTIVE US ACTIONS IN THE FACE OF CLIMATE CRISIS
Susan Spieler, PsyD
Coordinator, NYC Grassroots Alliance
These comments are my response to an invitation by Paul Hoggett and Adrian Tait to share what it has been like for Americans who care about climate change and social justice since Trump became our President. Given limited space, I will focus on my personal response as a psychoanalyst, a climate change activist in NYC and a parent.
Though the mainstream media in the US has been shining a light on Trump’s lies, its failure to concurrently cover urgent climate, environmental, and justice issues enables many to believe that the habitability of our planet is less important than the daily drama that Trump creates. This picture supports the notion that climate change is a hoax.
Trump’s attitude toward climate change reveals the corruption and collusion between my country’s government and the greed of those who are THE FOSSIL FUEL AND NUCLEAR POWER INDUSTRIES. The origins of the corruption and collusion predate Trump’s election, his presidency, and his pro-“denial” appointees (e.g., Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson and Rick Perry) and his efforts to unravel our environmental protections and our commitments to the Paris accord. These factors, along with his enormous personality, provide additional cover for industry representatives who largely go unnoticed as they quietly acquire more pieces on the global Monopoly board.
During the past 8 years I have chosen to include pro-bono activism in my workweek and to surround myself with a passionate informed activist community that I have grown to value enormously. Members of this community implore each other daily to take action on numerous issues, both local and national, which have considerable importance for the habitability of NYC and its surrounds, my country and our planet. These requests include signing petitions, writing letters, calling elected officials, donating money, attending demonstrations, and marches and testifying at public hearings.
Having no choice but to select among so many requests forces me to confront my limitations. In the background, I think of my 25-year-old daughter’s future. I try to reassure myself that I am doing all that I can while consuming and wasting less and hosting events aimed at engaging increasing numbers of people who are seeking to become involved in the climate crisis. I am encouraged that the activist community has grown rapidly since Trump’s election.
In contrast with a depressive view that denies that humans have had power to influence or even cause climate change and who believe instead that climate change is caused by forces beyond their control, the activist view allows for human causes beneath the surface, recognizes the power of activist solidarity and therefore seeks active solutions to reduce the human causes. While human causes include excess consumption and overpopulation, another major cause is the role of billionaires (supported by politicians) who quietly work to prevent their oil, gas, coal and uranium assets from becoming stranded.
Activism and solidarity among activist groups* are threats to those powerful industries. An industry tactic is to undermine that solidarity with disinformation. I ask myself what role a psychoanalyst should play in promoting awareness of this tactic though I am well aware that many unanalyzed activists are aware of such things. I often wonder why more of my analyzed colleagues don’t seem to see the importance of activism and/or aren’t being drawn to activism.
Because solidarity is the main source of power that activists have in an otherwise unequal fight, I find myself protectively observing the ways that the various activist groups are getting along, or not, and how members are managing the stress as if my psychoanalytic insight may be needed at any moment.
I also monitor the ever-changing levels of anxiety that I feel about all of this and often pause to calm myself. One method that has been helpful recently is reading about the actions being taken by American leaders at the levels of states, cities and towns that oppose Trump’s efforts to undo the hard-won Paris accord and our friendships with allies around the world. I take considerable comfort in being part of a community that takes action to “put out fires when we smell smoke”. By standing together, activists have won important fights such as convincing President Obama to veto the Keystone Pipeline; but we remain vigilant because we also know that the current administration is fiercely focused on undoing our efforts.
When our president manages to upstage the global climate crisis with his huge personality and his threats to our fragile health care system, moments of despair are balanced by inspiration when I stand with people who remain fully engaged in preserving the future of our endangered species, as Rebecca Solnit describes. I trust that my colleagues from around the world understand that the majority of Americans are not feeling represented by that man.
*Examples of this kind of solidarity are: collaborations between those who work to halt metastatic pipeline development and those who work to close a fragile local nuclear power plant, or between those whose concerns are to have clean air in neighborhoods that have always been selected as sites for polluting diesel bus stations and those whose areas have never been selected for such sites.
The “aghast” article itself and the Rebecca Solnit piece linked in it recognise the dangers, losses and feelings of despair which come in the wake of the US government’s agenda. Susan is clearly aware of the importance of solidarity and how vulnerable this can be. This resonates subtly with some of the fractious comments below the Solnit article. We are seeing not just an age-old battle between political juggernauts but of tensions amongst those who identify as ‘progressive’ just as deep as those among conservatives. How these will play out and how the result will affect environmental protection remains to be seen. In the meantime, the United States Climate Alliance of states, cities and companies is leading the way, its pledges accounting for an estimated 60% retrieval of what has been lost at the federal level.
Helping to substantiate the declarations, California’s senate has passed a bill aiming for 100% renewable energy by 2045 and Hawaii became the first state to pass a law committing to the Paris accord.
At the international level, reactions to US withdrawal from the Paris accord have also been strong. We have Macron’s “Make the Planet Great Again”, India’s Narendra Modi vowing to go beyond the Paris deal and confirmation that China is leading the world in solar power production. Global demand for coal has fallen for the second consecutive year. Germany, Denmark and Belgium have pledged a 60gw five-fold increase in the world’s offshore wind capacity. The point here is not that anyone should kid themselves this is remotely close to enough as the IEA confirms, but that it is a narrative of commitment and substance, honouring the psychology of the ‘ratchet’ and promising a recovery of sorts from setbacks to united action which 2016 brought.
“The government is Letting us Burn”
This comment by CPA’s Sarah Deco, in the wake of the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in London, brings together climate change and more palpably fatal derelictions of health and safety. Human sacrifices on the altar of de-regulation are abhorrent, but it is possible that Grenfell will contribute to a long overdue cultural and political shift in the UK, back towards respect for necessary regulation. But as in the USA, the free market creed does not appear to be in imminent danger of collapse, with sections of the UK press seeking to exploit the fact that dangerous cladding (along with a range of other neglects) was implicated and to point the finger of blame at ‘green targets’. There is no guarantee either that increased alertness to domestic issues will translate into concern for those elsewhere and in the future who will be killed by extreme weather.
Mad to be Normal
This was a core theme of June’s newsletter. In a recent talk “Climate Change and the New Imagination” at Dartington, Devon, Sally Weintrobe discussed ‘normalisation’, a version of disavowal in which we fail to acknowledge ways that climate change already impacts on everyday lives. Food items suddenly not available in the shops are a ‘shopping inconvenience’ and increased heavy turbulence when flying is seen as the latest ‘hassle’ with air travel. The ‘prompt’ to engage is thereby avoided by making the situation seem ordinary and normal.
On a lighter note but very relevantly, Andrew Simms at CPA’s Members Day quoted a comment that the famous ‘boiled frog’ scenario is an insult to frogs, who would be sure to get out if the water became uncomfortably hot. Perhaps the moral here is that our species’ version of adaptability actually makes us more stupid in some key respects than the rest of the animal kingdom.
Many of our problems can be laid at the door of dissociation. Ketan Joshi in the Guardian picks up on the need for a bridge between data and emotion.
CPA’s Members Day June 10th 2017
Julian Manley and Sarah Deco who organised the day write:
We had a gathering of 26 people for Members Day.
During Andrew Simms' talk on Telling Better Stories, he told us of his journey from involvement in climate change policy and dealing with facts and figures to a realisation that it was the stories told and that we tell ourselves that have the power to change attitudes.
Andrew had included mention of coming to speak to The CPA in an article for The Guardian on June 9th. He said our invitation had triggered an idea about exposing ‘everyday climate denial’ and starting a campaign similar to the campaign against everyday sexism which has so successfully exposed discriminatory actions in daily life. He invited us to contribute by tweeting examples of climate denial under the hashtag #DailyClimateDenial to Twitter account @EverydayDenial.
See a link to more information on this here
He also invited us to experience the power of story by creating them in 6 words giving as an example of flash-fiction "For sale, babies shoes, never worn."
A number of stories emerged and were shared and clearly showed the power of narrative to engage people deeply, even when the story is only six words long.
In the afternoon we had five presentations from CPA members
Tony Cartwright brought our attention to the story of 'The Blind Men and the Elephant' which was discussed in the context of integrative thinking and action. Caroline Hickman initiated a discussion of her research 'Conversations with children about climate change'. Nicole Manley asked the question ‘how can scientists communicate hard scientific facts in a way that resonates with non-scientists?’ Laurie Michaelis shared his thoughts on 15 years working with Quakers on sustainability, and Colin Shaw explored the way in which visual images are used to produce an idealised view of rural Britain.
Member presentations made clear how much important thinking and work is being done in this area and what rich resources for collaboration are there amongst CPA’s membership.
We were also able for the first time to include some members who couldn't attend via Skype. Kate Power who works for the KR Foundation, an organisation committed to addressing the root causes of climate change and environmental degradation, spoke to us from Denmark and invited CPA members to take part in the Hot or Cool project: a collaboration for 1.5 degC living run jointly by the KR Foundation and the Institute for Global Environmental Studies. (Laurie Michaelis, one of our speakers on the day, is also involved in this)
The CPA newsletter will take a break in August. September’s letter will be composed by Paul Hoggett.
Recent website articles
Paul Hoggett writes after the election in There is an Alternative
See report from first meeting
Meetings will take place monthly between Glasgow and Edinburgh with Skype links to the highlands and Islands. The first of these was held on 27th June and the next will be July 20th. Check out the Events page of the CPA website for details
Planning for a proposed conference on Resentiment is in its early stages.
making connections: a journey of transformation There is still time to see the beautiful exhibition of paintings by Jill Green at Friends House, Euston Road, London
There are still spaces on the 2017 Edge of the Wild event Fraktured Psyche Kamalamani writes about the history of the Event and invites CPA members
On behalf of the Executive Committee
Editorial support from Judith Anderson, Paul Hoggett and Chris Robertson