2016 will be remembered by progressives and environmentalists for the nasty sting in its tail.
This newsletter cannot encompass the mass of anxious speculation about how much harm the Donald Trump presidency will do to global action on climate change, let alone its impact on the many other issues which divide America. But the chilling truth is that it was already a massive challenge to convert the Paris accord into the level of action which the science tells us is necessary and now Trump has resolved to curtail or dismantle participation by the USA in those commitments. His aims may be hazy round the edges, even contradictory, but the team he is assembling is a demolition mob funded by vested interests which are implacably opposed to environmental protection.
Messages from, or around, COP 22 in Marrakesh included John Kerry’s assertion that technological change and the markets are now an unstoppable force in favour of decarbonisation, statements of renewed resolve from other nations, observations that Trump is a pragmatist not an ideologue and a declaration from China that it has now assumed global leadership on climate action. The article “Trumped!” reflects some of the intense distress and apprehension felt by many over what he represents, evokes and proposes to do, but also acknowledges the more sanguine views which stress the limits to his convictions, power and influence. Richard Black, Director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, is firmly in the latter camp, with his bullish “Donald So What – UN Trumps Trump”. Film-maker Nick Breeze, who was also at Marrakesh, takes a very different view, saying of the psychological process there:
There was an obvious punch drunk mood when I arrived but that started to morph into an “approved” rhetoric of defiance. Very likely because attendees had so much emotionally invested in the COP process and that this (Trump’s election) seemed to tear the fabric of “climate progress” to pieces .
Certainly, the optimistic views cannot be reconciled with either Bill McKibben’s position on the Keystone XL pipeline (where Trump says he will reverse Obama’s decision) or with the observation of George Marshall and others that, if fossil fuels are extracted, they will be burned.
Denial, Despair and Hope
The climate movement may need to beware a repeat of the psychological pitfalls of the post-Copenhagen period. Then, denial of shock and demoralisation impeded a sound recovery and delayed an effective re-grouping. Despair and resignation may be an equally inviting course. Radical hope, your hour is nigh!
The Second Coming Never Goes Away
As things fall apart, the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem is a creature of many names, ‘post truth politics’ being one, corporate capture of government another. Perhaps the most definitive feature is territorialism, a potentially lethal psycho-social phenomenon. Its pathogen, so gleefully exploited by the likes of Farage, Trump and Le Pen, is a populist repudiation of science-based policy and the imperative of a global, ecologically informed take on planetary systems. This article by Christian Schwagerl, first posted by Judith Anderson on the CPA members’ google group in October, sums it up brilliantly. Titled “How the Attack on Science is Becoming a Global Contagion”, it may prove to be a confirmatory footnote to Clive Hamilton’s Requiem for a Species or might conceivably be what Barack Obama has recently referred to as one of the zig-zags of history. None of us has a crystal ball; we will judge the situation according to our temperaments and our readings of the complex natural and human signals. It’s hard though not to think of the well-worn metaphor of humanity drinking in the last chance saloon. The Schwagerl article dovetails well with this George Monbiot one on systemic failures of democratic process.
The economist Lord Stern, marking the tenth anniversary of his famous report, warns that economic implosion is the likely result of continuing to burn fossil fuels – a direct rebuttal of the siren voices now led by Donald Trump. It will be interesting to see whether Trump’s much vaunted independence from corporate backers leads him to review the massive subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuel companies. Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists has reviewed the performance of several of the largest of these companies in their support for climate disinformation. Their performance ranges from “fair” (Shell) to “egregious” (Chevron and Exxon-Mobil). There is not room this month to say a lot more about the legal actions against Exxon, but a fascinating twist in the tale is that the Rockefeller Family Fund, having already divested from fossil fuels, has published an attack on the company for its “morally reprehensible conduct” in subjugating to profit what it knows to be truths about climate change. (Philip Delves Broughton in The Financial Times: 26/11/16). There is something powerful, even archetypal, about the co-descendants of a ruthless and fabulously wealthy oil tycoon being on opposite sides of a battle between oil profits and the interests of life on our planet.
Illustrating the point above about how difficult things already were pre-Trump, Mark Buchanan for Bloomberg uses a phrase that is common to the world of psychotherapy. “Magical thinking”, he says, won’t stop climate change. It is good to see others picking up the often ignored mantle of Kevin Anderson and the warnings he issued from Paris a year ago. The danger may be that leaders who are aware of the urgency of climate action will nevertheless be tempted to slacken their efforts, knowing that they occupy the relative high ground. The hope is that, on the contrary, resolve everywhere else will intensify, in the face of U.S. government recidivism. There may be something solid and positive in the announcement from Marrakesh that the world’s poorest countries are aiming for 100% renewable power. But what will the fate be of the USA’s contribution to funding that transition? The “polluter pays” principle, contentious from the outset, looks like being one of the first casualties in the coming policy shifts.
Monbiot’s reservations about democracy notwithstanding, it would appear that the public is able sometimes to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, given the news that support for fracking has hit a new low, following the overturning by the UK government of Lancashire Council’s rejection. The article deserves careful reading and it’s worth noting that nearly half of the survey’s respondents had no view on the matter. The same survey showed backing of 71% for onshore wind generation, 75% for offshore wind and 82% for solar. The government’s thinking is presumably that the public would soon change its tune (with some rabble rousing by the Daily Mail) if more renewables push energy prices up in the short term and is waiting to see how energy storage technology plays out. This looks very like Trump’s version of pragmatism and has little in common with science-informed or long view leadership. Greenpeace has exposed the cynicism and dishonesty with which our government suppresses information which might discredit its aims.
Towards a Climate-Friendly Trade System?
One issue for climate psychology and the wider climate movement is how people respond to a highly complex subject like climate change and the even more confusing questions about how human economics, macro and micro, interact with it. This almost certainly informs the observation by George Marshall and others that we’re more influenced by ideas circulating amongst our peers and reflecting our existing outlook than by serious, reliable sources of evidence. One of the core aims of this newsletter is to flag up thoughtful and informative articles on a host of climate-related matters - a carefully assembled (but by no means value-free) resource in a world full of wild and seductive ideas.
Trade is a key part of the economics-climate interface. It is, after all, as old as humanity itself and many would claim that it is a cornerstone of civilisation. Rob Hopkins, in the 2008 Transition Handbook, commented that local produce has become a luxury niche item whereas we often take it for granted that staples are freighted to us from all over the world. Hopkins suggested that this situation will need to be reversed and we will have to think of food miles or product miles as a luxury. Transitioners and others in many countries are working to develop this principle, but it is still a fringe effort. It is as valid an idea as ever, but we need a parallel and mainstream plan. Proposed trade agreements like TTIP have aroused much concern in environmental circles, largely because of the their tendency to favour corporate interests over the rights of countries, or groups of countries, to uphold environmental regulations. This Carbon Brief article asks “Are trade agreements good or bad for the climate?” and goes some way to charting the complexity of the interface. It pre-dates Trump’s election and it remains to be seen whether his protectionist instincts will have unintended environmental benefits along with their potential for economic disruption.
The framing of our subject in terms of climate justice is at the very heart of CPA’s ethos. The international, inter-generational, racial, wealth and gender dimensions of climate justice are massive. Donna Orange’s book Climate Crisis, Psychoanalysis, and Radical Ethics is a major step in creating a pathway to help us think about this. CPA is honoured to have Donna agree to become a member of our organisation. Much more work on this subject will surely follow. An example of its vast ramifications was, once again, posted by Judith Anderson in the CPA members’ google group. It concerns climate change and child marriage in Bangladesh. Funding by rich states to assist those most ravaged by climate-related events is a perennial issue, as highlighted by this Megan Rowling article. And the Standing Rock story, with its brutal suppression of the water protesters / protectors against the Dakota Access pipeline (NB still under Obama’s presidency) would justify a newsletter in its own right.
This newsletter is by definition using the medium of words. It’s a truism that pictures can be far more powerful. Adam Corner in Carbon Brief illustrates the point.
Meanwhile, in the Arctic…..
Amidst all the hullabaloo emanating from the world of human affairs, there has been a plethora of fresh and deeply worrying news about the arctic, amongst which this one from the Guardian is by no means the most disturbing.
CPA’s Climate Leadership Conference in London, 19th November
Our major event of 2016 was very well attended. The diverse audience matched the wide range of talks, assembled under the broad heading of leadership and the psychological strands which inform it. Feedback confirmed the conclusion of the organising group that many of these themes deserve deeper exploration. CPA’s plan for 2017 is therefore to begin a series of workshops and seminars, with a climate psychology take on topics such as human agency, clinical themes (eg “pre-traumatic stress disorder”), spirituality and climate change, also the tensions between attitudes to freedom and regulation.
We hope soon to have transcripts of at least some of the conference talks as well as the film made on the day.
New Postings On Website
We are also delighted to have some new writers for the website
Mark Leonard of www.mindfulnessconnected.com ; Can Mindfulness save us from ourselves?
Kelvin Hall reflects carefully on inter-species communication and Equine-Assisted Therapy in Envoys of the Earth: What Horses Tell us Now
Suzanne Chew writes about her own process in devising a book of cartoons to explain Climate Change From Climate Cartoons to Catharsis: How a Little Goes a Long Way
It’s not too late to book on Medact’s Annual Forum 9-10th December 2016 on
Healthy Planet, Better World Bringing the health community together to address our global ecological crises. CPA is hoping to make links at this event and Judith Anderson on the CPA executive, a longstanding member of Medact, is chairing a parallel session on Friday afternoon on Climate Change, Human Psychology and Mental Health at which Sally Weintrobe is one of the speakers (psychoanalyst and editor of Engaging with Climate Change: Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives). Also speaking are psychiatrists Hugh Grant-Peterkin and Lisa Page.
For your diaries in 2017
Next year's CPA AGM will be on June 10th 2017 - morning speaker still to be announced
Edge of the Wild Annual Ecopsychology gathering 13-16th July 2017 "Fraktured Psyche"
NB there will be no newsletter in January, so the next one will be in February 2017.
On behalf of the Executive Committee