Thirty years ago I wandered in a dazed state around Hampstead Heath London aghast at the devastation from what was called the Great Storm.
15 million trees were lost in that storm and it was shortly followed by Black Monday when stock markets around the world crashed. Almost to the day thirty years on, our Western coast was battered by another storm, strangely named Ophelia. Perhaps we are being driven crazy by the bizarre deceptions and denials of our Hamlet governments. Along with its exposure of Harvey Weinstein, the NY Times (Oct 15) revealed the Five Climate Truths that Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand. A new collection of work from 27 psychiatrists and analysts is called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump and warns that Trump's mental state presents a clear and present danger to the USA.
Others have asked if it is not more the madness that has produced him than his own pathology. A recent article by Jungian analyst Jerome Bernstein wonders about whether Trump is the manifestation of a collective madness of which he is a symptomatic channel. Bernstein quotes Hannah Arendt observing from the 1950’s that “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.” We may be in another cycle of cultural madness.
The tone from climate scientists is getting more urgent as that window of opportunity to change our behaviour narrows before the sixth mass extinction really kicks in. In a recent Yale talk entitled, Simply Too Hot: the Desperate Science and Politics of Climate" Bill McKibben asks why are responding so slowly despite the scientific argument having been made conclusively in the 1990s. The key point he makes is that we are in the first crisis with a time limit. He writes (theguardian.com)
We could do it. It’s not technologically impossible – study after study has shown we can get to 100% renewables at a manageable cost, more manageable all the time, since the price of solar panels and windmills keeps plummeting. Elon Musk is showing you can churn out electric cars with ever-lower sticker shock. In remote corners of Africa and Asia, peasants have begun leapfrogging past fossil fuel and going straight to the sun. The Danes just sold their last oil company and used the cash to build more windmills. There are just enough examples to make despair seem like the cowardly dodge it is. But everyone everywhere would have to move with similar speed, because
this is in fact a race against time. Global warming is the first crisis that comes with a limit – solve it soon or don’t solve it. Winning slowly is just a different way of losing.
David Wallace-Wells warns that the storms will get worse.
Perhaps because of the exhausting false debate about whether climate change is “real,” too many of us have developed a misleading impression that its effects are binary. But global warming is not “yes” or “no,” it is a function that gets worse over time as long as we continue to produce greenhouse gas. And so the experience of life in a climate transformed by human activity is not just a matter of stepping from one stable environment into another, somewhat worse one, no matter how degraded or destructive the transformed climate is. The effects will grow and build as the planet continues to warm: from one degree to one-point-five to almost certainly two degrees and beyond. The last few months of climate disasters may look like about as much as the planet can take. But things are only going to get worse.
If these dark truths leave us feeling helpless and depressed, finding a place for grieving is an important psychological mitigation. The collaboration between Kathleen Moore and pianist Rachelle McCabe is a beautiful exemplar of what can bring solace to hearts.
One approach is to Have a Climate Denier Over for Coffee? A researcher (Renee) explains the psychological foundation of climate scepticism.
Another, though very different approach to attending to our heart break is making kin with other species. This is brilliantly elaborated in Donna Haraway’s new book, Staying with the Trouble. In this she explores our intimate but often implicit communication with other species and how learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying together on a damaged earth could provide the means to building more viable futures. At the same moment of humanity’s belief in its specialness and domination over other species we are confronted with the unsustainability of this dominion. The idea of attending to the other-than-human as a means of decentring ourselves from our egocentric or anthropocentric perspective has been championed by David Abrams and other ecopsychology writers. This will be addressed at the Transpersonal Narratives in Eco-Psychology 24-26 November at the Eden centre.
By some strange coincidence, the theme title for the CPA’s spring conference is similar but with a different context of exploring grievance and resentment in the light of new work and how to support courage and resilience in facing into what sometimes feels overwhelming.
Staying with the Trouble:
Being Open to the Other in a Climate of Resentment
A One Day Conference: Saturday 10th February 2018
For details of this and other events see climatepsychologyalliance.org/events.
To link the importance of decentring with the start of this newsletter, it was Freud who claimed parity with Copernicus and Darwin for displacing humans from the centre of the universe. As well as not being masters of our psyche, we need to recognise that we are not masters of our planet – we can not even accurately predict the weather in Britain. The troubling matter for activists is also to recognise that there are unconscious dynamics that operate at collective levels as well as individuals ones and we may have to accept that there is a falling apart of our biosphere into a chaotic, disorganised state with terrible loss of life. To accept this heart breaking probability does not mean relinquishing agency but rather our cherished illusion of superior independence (the hero myth mentioned in the October newsletter) in favour of a humbling inter-dependence within an ecosystemic process.
As it happens, the CPA is sponsoring a day on:
AGENCY IN INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE CHANGE
Climate Psychology Alliance with Living Witness
DECEMBER 2nd 10.30 am to 5 pm
Friends Meeting House, 43 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LWA day for anyone who is interested in the psychological underpinnings of personal, social and political action – a chance for us to share our experiences of enabling positive responses to climate change. For further details see here.
CPA Scotland has produced a framework document for its own organisational structure and aims. This will provide the basis for on-going development to be discussed in our November 14th meeting in Glasgow. An important outcome of this meeting will be a decision on elected representation to governing roles for CPA Scotland.
Lastly interest is growing in a new project to develop a Handbook of Climate Psychology
The idea is for a collective project that would,
i) act as a vehicle for deepening our shared understanding of what we mean by ‘climate psychology’
ii) provide a valuable online resource for users of our website. Hopefully we might organise it along the lines of Wikipedia, a kind of work of ‘the commons’.
Entries would be one page max in size and include a definition, an explanation of its application to climate psychology, and wherever possible an illustration and links to relevant clinical/climate change literature. Illustrations can be drawn from politics/culture/media as well as from research data. Several CPA members have extensive, qualitative interview material drawn mostly from doctoral research. There is also interview material accumulated in the research on climate scientists and activists. There may also be material from the consulting room, which explicitly relates to the environment/ climate change.
Please address comments or suggestions on this project to CPA chair Paul Hoggett.
On behalf of the Executive Committee
Editorial support from Adrian Tait and Paul Hoggett