Some resistant cultural complexes are themed in this newsletter:
- Nature as a threat to human control
- Terror of change - the bunker of life as usual, normal service & take back control
- Inertia, helplessness & avoidance combining in disavowal of the need to change
Read on to get to the transformational parts!
A cascade of reports last month, coupled with unprecedented climate protest, has achieved a shift in awareness of climate crisis. A British poll at the end of April found that two thirds of Britons recognise that there is a climate emergency and 76% say they would cast their vote differently to protect the planet. The motion in parliament was moved by Labour that a climate emergency should be declared was passed, with support on all sides. Nations, cities and councils across the world are making such declarations. As for the school climate strikes on Friday 24th May, according to event organisers Fridays for Future, over 1664 cities across 125 countries registered strike actions, with more expected to report turnouts.
Two reports were ready for the climate emergency declaration: Greenpeace unveiled a detailed “climate manifesto”, listing 134 key actions they say the government should take immediately to ensure the UK hits zero carbon emissions as soon as possible. On 2nd May the independent Climate Change Committee published a report in response to government’s commission: a detailed analysis of how it is realistically achievable to get to net zero emissions by 2050. Suddenly the debate was about whether it was necessary to bring forward the target date (as XR demands).
But whether this shift is a sea change is a different question. In the case of a new Heathrow runway, we saw the fundamental conflict between business as usual (and vested interests) play out against what recognition of an emergency would entail. Soon after, in response to a challenge on the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, the Department for Transport replied in cautious non-committal terms that belied the idea of emergency. Tim Crosland, director of Plan B’s response was succinct: “The government can either take the necessary action to avoid climate breakdown or it can stick to business as usual and expand aviation, but it can’t have it both ways”.
There is increasing consensus on what needs to change
The UN Secretary General, speaking from the Pacific, had three demands to protect the world against catastrophic sea level rise: tax carbon not people; stop subsidising fossil fuels, close coal plants. We know that the interest groups that lobby parliament will keep their pressure up; the voices of citizens must do likewise – citizens who are addressed as if their consumer choices bear all the responsibility for carbon emissions. What does it require to get a government to take decisive action in the face of a hard-to-grasp future event such as sea-level rise? Whatever it is, the Indonesian government has responded decisively by announcing it is relocating the capital city Jakarta. Many, many world cities are in at-risk coastal locations but this is the first major relocation. Jakarta itself will have a massive sea wall at the cost of $40 billion and blocking access to the sea.
However, this tension between business as usual and timely response to incontrovertible climate predictions keeps getting repeated. We learned that the human species ‘now extracts 60bn tons of resources each year, almost double the amount in 1980, though the world population has grown by only 66% in that time’. The OECD report on biodiversity found that ‘finance flows for biodiversity are just a tenth of subsidies paid to fossil fuel companies and agribusiness’. Remarkably, the authors concluded that, having considered a variety of scenarios, the only one likely to be effective in protecting biodiversity is the “transformative change” economic model. They predicted a confrontation over the remedial policies that this model would require. Presumably this is code for saying that all those global companies extracting 60 billion tons of natural resources without paying a cost for the resources themselves will resist any change with all the considerable power at their disposal. This is what fossil fuel companies have been doing since the first (1970s) predictions of global heating. Every instance is an example of the well-embedded capitalist model of infinite growth colliding with further evidence that planet earth cannot sustain this violent appropriation of its resources and destruction of its balance.
‘Business as usual’
Business as usual relies on the desires of subjects produced by marketing and consumer capitalism, a worldview which then pervades the news media. For example, another important report was published during May: The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) predicted the death of a million species. BBC Radio 4 morning news 7th (May) interviewed Bob Watson, the Chair. He seemed to be keen to stop listeners worrying about any adverse consequences for their lifestyle: ‘we can have our cake and eat it’, he said, trying to explain that if we (humanity) looked after the species we rely on, we can maintain current lifestyles. Another interviewee baulked at the presenter’s use of the word ‘sacrifice’, wishing instead to talk about different satisfactions. How are we to understand this? It is the terror of upsetting the listener – paternalistic at the best of times and potentially tragic in times of emergency.
The report’s principle is a crucial one, namely the interconnectedness of species life on planet earth: ‘without the fabric of life, humans have no future’. However there was no thinking outside the box that is defined by the idea that ‘we’ humans have a right to exploit ‘nature’. This binary that puts humans outside nature now looks like the most fateful thread of the Enlightenment world view. It forms the link between climate catastrophe and ecology: nature is a threat to human control; farmers insist on needing glyphosate for short term gains; disavowal of longer term soil exhaustion; government can declare an emergency but normal life must not be disturbed.
Anxiety and the Unspeakable
Worry about adverse consequences? In BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth on Eco Anxiety, feeling devastated at the loss of earth’s species at human hands was a strong theme in people’s recognition of the climate threat. CPA’s Caroline Hickman featured, giving practical community-based ideas and providing the recognition that we all need to protect the ordinary spaces of our lives from climate anxiety – the ‘what shall I cook for tea’ side to everyday life. And the need to find support, join actions that are community based. Another participant conveyed viscerally how much better in himself he felt when he went on his first XR action. It probably helps to take a step back from the guilty feeling that our consumer choices are what is killing the planet and see the reality that financial structures must change on a global scale.
A CPA day on Social Collapse with Jem Bendell and Ro Randall was about giving and taking permission to speak about what has felt to be unspeakable - what Jem has named near-term social collapse. Conversations were initiated by Jem and Ro exploring such questions as: What might this social collapse mean for us personally and collectively? and What are the likely challenges that activists face in bearing the emotional costs of engagement? Some of their intense conversation is available here. Further details on CPA website here.
Don’t mistake reduced ‘living standards’ for reduced ‘quality of life’
No wonder that concerned debate is getting more overtly critical of capitalism. An XR blog by Adam Stark, based on an interview with one of XR’s founders, Roger Hallam, emphasises the failure of the (British) Left, so entrenched in a neoliberal worldview that they are unable to think ‘in anything other than cost-benefit, materialistic terms’. We need to accept – embrace - lower standards of living, withdraw from the expectation that every generation has a better standard of living than the previous. ‘It’s a faulty contract’. For climate psychology, this highlights the question not only of how culture is changed but how subjectivity and desire are changed, how we unhook from the pursuits of consumption, possession and perfection. Must I now stop eating fish too, as George Monbiot advises? Depletion of oceans is, like air pollution and so much else, tied up with the dominant economic model. An investigation by Greenpeace last year revealed that 29% of the UK’s fishing quota is owned by five families. The smallest boats – less than 10 metres long – comprise 79% of the fleet, but are entitled to catch just 2% of the fish.
Furthermore, an open letter written to XR by ‘wretched of the earth’ draws out the global inequality likely to characterise climate politics. It is a worldwide coalition of groups and networks working with frontline communities, ‘united in the spirit of building a climate justice movement that does not make the poorest in the rich countries pay the price for tackling the climate crisis, and refuses to sacrifice the people of the global South to protect the citizens of the global North’, with a list of six clear far-reaching demands.
Language and creative truth telling
Throughout the writing of this piece, I have reflected anew on my usage of climate vocabulary. The Guardian has announced a change in its usage. Global warming is too cosy an idea, while global heating is more accurate. The phrase climate crisis is more accurate than climate change, which is too neutral. Climate threat, climate catastrophe, climate emergency, existential threat; such phrases face the more difficult, but also more real truths. They are part of telling the truth about the climate threat to the human species and many other species too. Language is a key intervention in refusing to collude with ‘business as usual’; the old terms were – or had become – part of the inertia.
As we are faced with the tendency for politicians and the purveyors of news to hold unintegrated perspectives, and if the tendency to avoid grasping the nettle wins the day, as it recently has in the Australian election, the quality of integrating the truth about climate crisis in our tellings and actions appears ever more important; that and finding ever more creative ways to do so. XR and many other initiatives are demonstrating this creative truth-telling with a carnivalistic feel, as in the London protests – the pink boat and the plants on Waterloo Bridge; the Water pilgrimage and a Musical Extinction of nightingales in Berkeley Square.
All the above – evidence of rapid but uncertain change – remind me of the timeliness of CPA’s annual conference theme: How do we work at a time of rapid change, development and potential tipping points? See below for links.
Annual Conference/Members Day followed by AGM
8th June 9:30am to 5:00pm
The CPA book Climate Psychology: On Indifference to Disaster will be introduced by Paul Hoggett, the book’s editor, and there will be short contributions from several of the authors. We will follow with an afternoon of connection and sharing of experience and inspiration as we think how CPA will navigate these turbulent times.
Venue: The Guild of Psychotherapists, 47 Nelson Square, London SE1 0QA
For booking direct please go to the Eventbrite page, or for more details about the event on our website here.
Deep Adapation Dialogue
15th June Edinburgh
Co-hosted by Climate Psychology Alliance Scotland, Green House think tank and Extinction Rebellion Edinburgh, with support from Deep Adaptation Forum.
Details on website here.
Without Growth or Progress: Adapting Our Culture to the New Climate Reality
Saturday 22nd June, 2.00 – 5.00 pm
A Conversation and Exploration.
Rupert Read, Chair, Green House think tank
Paul Hoggett, Co-Founder, Climate Psychology Alliance
Venue: Horfield Quaker Meeting, 300 Gloucester Rd, Bristol BS7 8PD
For booking please go to the Eventbrite page or for more details our website here.
Through the Door: a Yorkshire workshop and a follow-up workshop in Oxford
5th October; 12th October
Three meetings have taken place for members who are developing ways to work with local communities to support their thinking about and living with climate change. A fourth one is planned for October 5th in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire (contact
A follow-up for those who have already attended a ‘Through the Door’ workshop will be held in Oxford on Saturday 12th October, an opportunity to share what we've been doing and where we have got to. Further details later.
As noted above the videos of the Social Collapse conversation between Ro Randall and Jem Bendell are available here and here with the event information under past events on the website.
This month we aim to have the new development of a CPA podcast series up on the website and we also have some interesting book reviews in the pipeline.
See also the update on CPA goes international.