CPA Newsletter July 2018 - What Kind of Hero?

How long have we got?

NOTE: Where a hyperlink seems to be reluctant to open I have added a footnote with the full link that can be copied and pasted into the address space of your browser (JM)

News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
We've got five years, that's all we've got

(David Bowie)

Five years is the time left in a young man’s calculations in Jeremy Deaton’s report [1] on Uncovering the mental health crisis of climate change on Nexus Media News. According to David Attenborough, we have four years left after the extinction of the bees. In reality we don't know how much time we have before it’s too late to make a difference to climate change, the moment when irreversible tipping points come into play, but there is a sense of growing urgency about the need to take rapid and effective action. The five years time span is interesting having been chosen instinctively by David Bowie as a crisis time span. It might make us wonder about the time span that is acceptable to most people in order to turn unpalatable facts into a crisis reality. Maybe this is what is behind the underwhelming ‘short answer’ in the following headline from The Guardian on the 18thJune:

Should we be worried about surging Antarctic ice melt and sea level rise?
Short answer: maybe

Note, from the same article, the ambivalence about whether we should be urgently worried or not, based in part on a notion of how much time the ice melt will take before it has disastrous consequences:

    It takes time for ice to melt. The question is, how fast will it happen? Sea level rise unquestionably poses a long-term threat, but how much of a short-term threat largely depends on just how stable the Antarctic ice sheet turns out to be. The recent acceleration of Antarctic ice loss, while not yet definitive, is certainly cause for concern.

Presumably, if some scientist could predict that this would happen in about five years from now, that might make our ‘brains hurt a lot’ and be more than just a ‘cause for concern’ or an inconvenient truth. It’s only when the danger is immanent or here right now that it counts for many of us. Back to Bowie, maybe it would take the newsreader breaking down and telling us ‘earth was really dying’ for there to be a general crisis consensus. This is what happened this month when Rachel Maddow broke down in tears upon reporting the Trump administration special measures for the caging of young children immigrants. It matters because it is happening now and it is communicated in this way.

We can be heroes… just for one day

And the shame, was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day

(David Bowie)

Returning to David Bowie and Deaton’s report, there is a question, therefore about how do we communicate the truth about climate crisis when this crisis is somehow watered down through the fact of its stretching out to an indefinable and more or less distant future horizon? Deaton quotes CPA North America members Renee Lertzman and Lise Van Susteren to support the idea that realisation of climate change through disaster events such as floods and hurricanes will cause profound anxiety and stress that will need treatment and care in the not so distant future. But it is CPA member Rosemary Randall [2] who brings to the fore an idea about mass communication that goes beyond the personal and intimate. As is well known In our community, Randall’s own work has pioneered a ‘carbon conversations’ approach to enabling people to take significant personal action in reducing their carbon footprints through a series of conversations designed to open up safe spaces for discussing the dilemmas of climate change in a way that could contain participants’ anxieties and guilt and lead to actual reductions in individuals’ carbon emissions. However, in an attempt to broaden the ‘safe space’ from the intimacy of the carbon conversation to a kind of general emotional safe space on a national scale as created through leadership and ‘psychological skill’. Randall points to the example of Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches and asks if we can apply these techniques to the communication of climate change. Churchill, says Randall

    manages to tell a very stark and frightening truth. He is blunt about the scale of the problem, refuses to blame, makes emotional connections with his audience, uses stories to make his points, expresses his confidence in the abilities of the population, is realistic about the difficulty of what he is demanding of people. The alarming information is there but it is offered in a way that allows people to think and offers them some agency.

This has caused a certain amount of debate in the CPA discussion group. To what extent is the context of the Second World War comparable to the situation we face today with climate change? Should we bring up the notion of war in the context of climate change? Is it possible to ignore the fact that Churchill was perhaps not a figure to be wholly admired and harboured some very unattractive imperial, racist and violent views and attitudes? Do we need and should we seek a hero, such as Churchill to lead us out of the abyss? In psychoanalytical terms, could we see this as a need to find a phantastical sanctuary in a desperate dependency on a heroic Saviour who will guide us magically out of this mess we’re in? Is Churchill the kind of ‘strong man’ we need to battle other ‘strong men’ such as Trump? These are on-going questions for the CPA community. In order to be a hero, for Bowie, the ‘shame’ is ‘on the other side’, but we know that blaming the other can lead to a kind of splitting position, which, in the case of Churchill, requires a clearly identifiable ‘not me’ enemy leading to an exultant cry for victory regardless of consequences: ‘Victory. “Victory. Victory at all costs…”’

From the macro to the micro and back

If Churchill was one kind of hero, then David Attenborough is another. I was struck this month how in two separate and unconnected social dreaming and climate change events the figure of David Attenborough came up. In these social dreaming events, it seems that Attenborough represented, in our social dreams, the great communicator that we need to spread the word of the reality of climate change. Far from the Churchillian stance, Attenborough nevertheless seems to present another way into the ‘safe space’. He is sometimes referred to as a ‘national treasure’. Perhaps from a psychoanalytical perspective he represents a Jungian Senex archetype figure, which is brought out in his general demeanour and grandfatherly-like tones as he explains with evident love and enthusiasm his knowledge to lesser mortals. Recently, therefore, Attenborough provides an alternative way of dealing with the ecological disaster that will accompany the extinction of bees. In his own inimitable way, Attenborough suggests that somehow we might save the bee by helping out any individual specimen we might encounter, who might be a little tired and in need of a helping hand:

    Bees can become tired and they simply don't have enough energy to return to the hive which can often result in being swept away. If you find a tired bee in your home, a simple solution of sugar and water will help revive an exhausted bee. Simply mix two tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water, and place on a spoon for the bee to reach. You can also help by sharing this post to raise awareness.

This is as symbolic, or more symbolic, as it is real and practical, of course. The key here is in the agency that is transmitted to the ‘ordinary person’, the idea that any action by anybody can somehow make a difference, and you can be a hero, even if it’s only for one day. This also illustrates a way of interconnecting the planet, how every little micro event is connected to the macro.

The ability to link micro to macro is maybe a childlike quality of the imagination that we need to reclaim as adults. This point was beautifully expressed by one of our speakers at the CPA (UK) Annual Conference, Caroline Hickman, in her description of raising awareness of whales in a school through the creation of an outline of a whale using flowers pushing through a grass patch. The growing flowers became, in the imagination, the growth and life of the whale, which was carefully guarded and protected by the schoolchildren.

Is there life on Mars?

It's on America's tortured brow

(David Bowie)

This month, we discovered organic matter on Mars. It seems that each minor discovery of this kind (this still does not prove that there was life on Mars, and if there was it was 3 billion years ago) brings with it a yearning for the kind of escape from our own planet that is encouraged by the likes of Elon Musk on the one hand and on the other, the late Stephen Hawking. To complete this Newsletter’s Bowie trilogy, we might ask ourselves if this desire is correlated with ‘America’s tortured brow’, and what kind of future might we wish for?

Certainly, it would seem impossible to ignore the torture that is America today, symbolised by the separation treatment of illegal immigrants, described as torture by the UN, and flaunted in the pro-active propagation of scandals and the running down of action on climate change by the Environmental Protection Agency. A recent news article describes the situation in the following terms:

    Even as Pruitt strives to tick off every conceivable ethical violation, the EPA administrator has still found time to peel back dozens of Obama-era rules aimed at reducing air and water pollution, as well as dismantle any vestige of action on climate change to the point where the very words have been scrubbed from the EPA website.

The links between Government policy in general and climate change is interesting to note because the link is an affective one. In the case of the USA, there is this negative affective link between the lack of care of illegal immigrant children and the lack of care of the planet. In the UK, we can see something similar in the use of language, such as ‘hostile environment’ to describe the treatment of immigrants and the politics of climate change:

    If anything, the country is beginning to introduce a ‘hostile environment’ for green investment for the future.
(Alan Whitehead [3] Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change)

It’s difficult to calculate the permanent damage that this will create, not only in actual terms (resulting in temperature increases way above 1.5-2%) but in what, returning to the opening of this Newsletter, is starting to be termed ‘ecological grief’ [4]. The article that discusses ‘ecological grief’ is an interesting and much needed piece, but hard to embrace. According to the authors, there is a need to go through such grief in order to ‘enhance our understanding of climate change impacts, and to expand discussions on what is to be done.’ That, of course, is the question: ‘What is to be done’?


Moving on from the small, personal act as suggested by David Attenborough, we have recently seen an interesting development in radical public action in the protesters against the building of a third runway for Heathrow airport. While the MPs in Westminster voted in favour of a third runway for purely economic reasons, totally ignoring the hideous consequences to climate change, protesters have undertaken a hunger strike. In a radio interview, one of the hunger strikers, Clare [5], explains the need to move from talk or simple protest to radical protest, in ways that might remind us of the radical protests of the past in the women’s movement or anti-racist campaigns. Maybe this signals a change in urgency that is necessary for supporting effective action for dealing with climate change. As Timothy Morton says in his various philosophical takes on the problem of global warming, climate change is a problem of such massive dimensions that it is almost impossible for humans to grasp. This impossibility he defines as the challenge of the hyperobject. It seems that if this problem were to be made available to us affectively, through the real life physical actions of people, which we can see and understand, then maybe we could empathise with that, and maybe this is an effective way forward.


June was a busy and exciting month for CPA activities and events. The Annual Conference (UK) (June 9th) was well attended and the theme of children and education, combined with Members’ own contributions provided a balanced approach which feedback tells us was much appreciated. In particular, it was noted that the format allowed for greater participation and inclusivity for members, so this is a framework we will be hoping to continue for future events. Our thanks go out to Candice Satchwell, Caroline Hickman, and Elizabeth Allured (beaming in from the USA), who presented a keynote conversation, beautifully facilitated by Jan Baker. Further thanks to our Member workshops, run by David Hicks, Steve Thorp, Nick Drew and Rebecca Nestor.

The Conference (UK) day was followed by the AGM, with the usual AGM business, including the election of new Members to the Executive Committee, Nadine Andrews and Kate Dufton, and our new Chair, Chris Robertson. Paul Hoggett and Adrian Tait have stood down from their posts but remain on the EC. We thank them most profusely for their contributions, dedication and commitment to the CPA in their posts since the beginning of the CPA.

The Conference day was followed up by another well attended event, at the same venue in London, Mythos, the Anthropocene in Stories, Symbols and Creative Imagination, (June 10th) where Sally Gillespie and Jonathan Marshall combined a thought provoking journey from theory to experiential practice in story making for our times. Thanks to Adrian Tait for facilitating this event.

We note too other Member events, such as the CPA Scotland EAUC collaboration, Disengagement and Climate Change, (June 19th), as part of the EAUC Annual Conference, introducing social dreaming to environmental activists and officers. This was run by John Thorne and Julian Manley. Also, a talk given in Edinburgh, Scotland, by CPA Advisory Group Member, Sarah Deco, (25th May) How much truth can we bear? on the role of storytelling in communicating climate change. And finally, an event on the 22nd June, Remorse, Re-storying & Re-enchantment: Lifting the veil that divides, facilitated by Sarah Deco, Katarina Gadjanski, Mario Jerome, Sophia Neville, Chris Robertson. We look forward to receiving reports of all these events.

Future Events

We have a fascinating presentation coming up by Clive Hamilton, author of Defiant Earth, on July 9th, 18.30-20.00, in London: Facing the Anthropocene. Geology’s challenge to how we understand ourselves. Details.
CPA Scotland is organising the following event in September: Engaging External communities and Communicating Climate Change: A two part event, 25 September 2018 10:00 - 17:00. Booking.
Save the date: Ecology, Psychoanalysis and Global Warming - Present and future traumas, Conference at The Tavistock and Portman Clinic, 8th & 9th December 2018, organized by the Tavistock with the support of the CPA.

News from Members

Denis Postle: Messages From The Blue Planet - The Climate Emergency or You tube version
Messages From The Blue Planet isn't a documentary, it's a combination of poetry and polemic; touching on politics, economics and psychology - no statistics, no talking heads, no celebrities, no air travel, just feeling and perspective on the unfolding Climate Emergency. The video may appeal to a psychology audience because it envisions what the planet might say if it could speak, a perspective that enables communication around some often taboo subjects.

Steve Thorp: Organises Unpsychology magazine. More details.

Ben Cuddon: Is currently in the process of setting up a charity called Climate Ed, along with a colleague in south London, where he works. The plan for the charity is to do the following:
- Act as depository for climate education resources.
- Act as a hub for best practice in climate change education.
- Produce new and engaging resources about climate change for teachers to use in the classroom.
- Deliver workshops in schools (across all Key Stages) addressing different aspects of climate change.
- Give young people training in how to become climate activists and get more involved in climate change education and activism in their communities.


Don’t forget to join in and participate in demonstrations against the Donald Trump’s visit to the UK on July 13th!


The July 2018 Newsletter was compiled by Julian Manley (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Climate Psychology Alliance.

Editorial support from Judith Anderson, Chris Robertson, Adrian Tait and Paul Hoggett


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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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