CPA Newsletter February 2019: A Psyche the Size of the Earth

What of greater-than-me awareness – the recognition that we are connected to and utterly dependent on the land, wood, air, water and energy balance of our planet?

A Psyche the Size of the Earth

This was the title of James Hillman’s foreword to Roszak et al’s 1995 book Ecopsychology - Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Hillman thereby announces the central and dual argument of the book. One half - restoring the greater-than-human element in our sense of self has become more desperately urgent in the subsequent 24 years. As for the other half of the picture, it is ever clearer that the human factor cannot be left out of any view of the Earth System. There is growing acceptance that we are living in the dawn of the Anthropocene, though it is questionable how far this concept reaches, outside specialist and environmentalist circles.

What of greater-than-me awareness – the recognition that we are connected to and utterly dependent on the land, wood, air, water and energy balance of our planet?
The big problem is in giving this line of thought new traction in a culture that is largely estranged from wider Nature - one whose core features are, for the rich, an illusion of separation and autonomy and for the poor a struggle for survival. If climate and Nature continue for most of us to be remote, luxury concerns, nothing much will change and the decline of the commons on which we depend will just go on getting steeper. So for those of us fortunate enough to have choices, it’s worth reflecting on the language and devices being used to tell this story of our time. How good a job is being done in getting people to picture and feel connected with this ailing home of ours?

Film has obvious advantages and, as mentioned here previously, CPA member Denis Postle has contributed in that medium. Below are some recent examples, most from the daily press of efforts to sustain our awareness of what is happening on a daily basis.

400,000 Hiroshima Bombs a Day

This, we are told, is the energy equivalent of our heat-trapping emissions released into the atmosphere. Joe Romm’s 2013 Think Progress Article discusses the psychological value of this metaphor. Though it is in some ways a crude comparison, the destructive association with Hiroshima gives the statistic more impact than figures like 40bn tons of CO2 annually. Damien Carrington uses the same metaphor in discussing ocean heating, where the figure comes out at 3-6 Hiroshimas bombs per second, depending on the model. One commentator in the article voices a preference for less scary and more literal metrics, which rather short-circuits the psychological issue of what metrics or imagery work best.

Loss of Arctic Land Ice

Since 1986 the rate of loss has increased threefold, from nearly 5000 tons of water per second to 14,000 tons per second. The methodology is a bit complicated, but a description of the calculation by Jason Box et al, is available in this short video abstract. Does the challenge of trying to picture 14,000 tons of meltwater a second stir our imaginations?

We have Wiped Out 60% of animal populations since 1970

Damien Carrington’s October 2018 article is based on the Living Planet Index, prepared for WWF by the Zoological Society of London. This one seems to illustrate the comprehension problem when the story is baldly stated, even when backed up with a lot of detail. Ghastly as it is, great as the need is for us to engage, a call this stupendous for our planetary psyche to awaken might be beyond us. Maybe the death of Sudan, the last Southern White rhino (story carried here last year) was more powerful. Hard to tell.

Carrington, again, covers the shocking report by Brad Lister that 98% of the insects in the Puerto Rico rainforest have disappeared in the past 35 years. The article uses the (to ecological thinkers) familiar term “life support system” to describe the planet’s intricate web of living things. It is a term that sits at the interface of medical metaphor and literal, biological reality. The state of the phytoplankton in Earth’s heating oceans, though more ambiguous at present, could be considered in the same way as insects - a layer of life upholding a vast system. The additional factor here is that phytoplankton produce about half of the planet’s photosynthesis and therefore oxygen production. (Another reprise on a previous newsletter here – Paul Watson’s comment: “If the oceans die, we die”).

The “Rotting Beam”

Here is another metaphor – this one used to describe the state of Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier. We are invited to visualise the decay process (with its colossal implications for sea level rise) as a house nearing irreversible collapse. This seems quite effective, though the story also requires that we visualise a Florida-sized chunk of ice. The article’s acknowledgement that the physics of glaciers is formidably complex introduces a touch of scientific rigour, but at the same time burdens the message. For good measure, the story has another twist – one that is laden with irony. It tells of plans to geoengineer the entire length of the glacier’s sea-edge in order to stave off the anticipated collapse, yielding a more gradual rise in seal level – one that we would have a better chance of adapting to in the coming decades.

What a Waste

Waste is a heading that encompasses so much of our field, including resources, consumption, human ingenuity and opportunity. This story about the septic tanks of Miami-Dade concerns the very literal problem of what happens when sea level rise undermines the disposal of human effluent on a large scale. Its very disgusting-ness makes it a potent example, a morality-tale perhaps, about mess of human making coming back to haunt us. Given what Florida tends to represent in many of our minds, a bit of schadenfreude is likely to be around. From there we can maybe move to regarding it as a striking symbol of unsustainable living everywhere.

Earth Trusteeship

In the same spirit as Roszak’s of broadening our sense of ourselves, but writing to inform us of psycho-socially informed action, CPA member Rembrandt Zegers in the Netherlands offers this piece for our website on the Hague Principles of Earth Trusteeship. Informed perhaps by the widespread failure of our institutions to protect the global commons from destructive human behaviour, this civil society initiative champions the rights of nature and seeks to utilise the knowledge and motivation of local stakeholders. It seems to resonate with the stories of indigenous people around the world, acting and giving voice to the central place of the natural world in their sense of identity and values.

CPA Member Lise Van Susteren has a paper just published on the website here on Conscientious Protectors outlining the role climate psychology might play in their defence as an increasing number of activists are prepared to risk arrest in order to defend the Earth against fossil fuel capitalism.

Clearly this links with Mission Life Force where Extinction Rebellion activists are singing up as Earth Protectors. The Mission Life Force website notes:
"if you are facing or likely to face legal action as a result of acting from your conscience to prevent ecocide, signing up as a legal Earth Protector will give you a straightforward way to present this in court. If you are in this position, please read on for more detail. We can also directly support you with assistance and document preparation for your court case - if you are in the UK please see our Ecological Justice Programme. If you are outside the UK we may still be able to assist, so do contact us."

Other CPA News

Handbook of Climate Psychology

We are really pleased to announce that the Handbook of Climate Psychology is finally beginning to make an appearance on the CPA website. An introduction to the Handbook and the first four entries are now accessible on the website – just go to the front page and click on the Handbook section which has been added to the headline sections near the top of the page or here.

We use the phrase ‘beginning to make an appearance’ because the idea from the start has been that this will be a rolling project, probably lasting several years, as more and more entries are posted. We have eight more entries in the immediate pipeline all of which have either been volunteered by CPA members or have been specifically commissioned by the Handbook editorial team.

Our aim is to give flesh to this term ‘climate psychology’ which otherwise can remain a bit abstract and mean all things to all people. We also hope that the concepts comprising the online Handbook will provide a valuable resource both for CPA members and for non-members who visit our website.

If you have thoughts about key ideas/concepts which you feel ought to figure in the Handbook do not hesitate to contact Paul Hoggett at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Through the Door

This day in Kilburn London on 19 Jan was the first in a series of workshops devised by Ro Randall and Chris Robertson

The threshold of the door symbolises our desire to bring therapeutic skills into the climate change ‘commons’. How can we use our understandings of trauma, grief and creativity to ease pain and midwife future potential? How can we cope with the loss of boundaries in more public settings? How can we introduce climate change to therapeutic work where it seems absent? These were some of the questions which we came together to explore.
The event was full (12 persons) with experienced and skilful practitioners from diverse backgrounds. Despite and because of the sense of urgency in a contracted time, we worked together intensely to explore our approaches to the challenges of working with emotional process outside of the consulting room. This included difficult conversations, issues of authority and our capacity to give permission for what is often disallowed.
Other workshops are planned for Bath (9 Feb), Bristol and Leeds. These seed workshops will hopefully develop underground spores to spring up in new locations.  Details on Events page

Future events in planning

Save the date: Saturday April 13th Social Collapse: Probability and Psychological Challenges with Jem Bendell and Ro Randall - a conversation and participatory workshop - further details for booking here

A reminder our CPA Members' Day and Annual Conference is on Saturday June 8th - we will in touch with members as part of our planning now very much in progress

Adrian Tait, with contributions by Kate Evans, Paul Hoggett and Chris Robertson.
Image: Ceridwen and Gwion Bach 2
By kind permission of the artist Tim Rossiter

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We are a diverse community of therapeutic practitioners, thinkers, researchers, artists and others. We believe that attending to the psychology and emotions of the climate and ecological crisis is at the heart of our work.


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