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“There’s such a thing as too late”

obamaThis was one of the salient (and repeated) points in President Obama’s August speech about his measures to de-carbonise America’s power supplies. Psychologically, he struck a good balance between warning, encouragement and determination. He is working in a context where just insisting on going on talking about climate change is keeping up the fight in this part of America’s culture war. Naomi Klein’s assertion that it would have been a good speech if it had come at the start of his presidency lends irony to Obama’s “too late”. Her critique is, essentially, that the President’s actions (eg allowing Shell to drill in the Arctic) do not live up to his words and that his actions do not measure up to the severity and urgency of the situation, see interview in Democracy Now. A further critique is offered in The Conversation.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, in their booklet “The Collapse of Western Civilization - a view from the future” characterise the failure of climate change recognition and response as the Period of the Penumbra. Like Franny Armstrong in “The Age of Stupid”, they do so from a point in the future, in the hope of galvanising action now, before it is indeed too late. It is worth quoting their definition of this penumbra: “The shadow of anti-intellectualism that fell over the once-Enlightened techno-scientific nations of the Western world during the second half of the twentieth century, preventing them from acting on the scientific knowledge available at the time and condemning their successors to the inundation and desertification of the late twenty-first and twenty-second centuries.” Another key feature in the essay is the “carbon-combustion complex” – a network of powerful industries that is directly or indirectly interested in maintaining fossil fuel production. The eco-political analysis is robust, but it is light on psychology – the inference is that the general public is being duped, confused and manipulated, rather than playing a part in denial.

Articulating powerful elites and the populace is the media. BBC Radio 4’s “What’s the Point of the Met Office” was a depressing example of the institution’s propensity for giving a platform to denialists and implying that their standing and authenticity matches that of experts. Richard Black, former BBC Environment Correspondent, wrote an angry piece “What’s the point of BBC Guidelines?”

Just to remind you of a number of events that CPA is closely involved with in the coming period. On October 24th we are co-organisers of an all day seminar When the Heart Can’t Contain What the Mind Can See. This features findings from the latest qualitative and psycho-social research on human engagement (and non-engagement) with climate change. Between the 29th and 31st October Anglia Ruskin University will be holding a two-day workshop led by CPA member Renee Lertzman which will provide a detailed exploration of psycho-social approaches to researching sustainability and climate change, further details are (here). Finally on Saturday 21st November the CPA are partners in a conference organised by CONFER called the Psychology of Inspired Collective Action.

Adrian Tait
(On behalf of the Exec. Committee)