CPA Newsletter May 2016

Houston we have a problem

Images from the floods in Houston were as symbolic as they were startling - a horse being rescued and a driver in the same floods being coaxed away from his car by a reporter, just seconds before it disappeared beneath the flood water. This man, one of 1200 rescues, was more fortunate than some, as the city was hit by 13 inches of rain in six hours.

At the other extreme and affecting a vastly larger number of people is the widespread Indian drought. Around 250 districts and 330 million people are affected. At Cuttack, 44 degrees Centigrade was recorded recently, some 7 degrees above the seasonal norm. Are we able to imagine these temperatures, in which a girl died of heat stroke, queueing at a well just a few hundred yards from her home? Will the deaths and suffering stiffen resolve to curtail carbon-intensive activity in the USA, India or anywhere?

Meanwhile in Venezuela the low oil price has precipitated a severe economic crisis, whilst government employees are on a two-day week because the drought there has drastically curtailed hydro-electric generation. There is a lot of pain and no easy answers in a world that must decarbonise but in which the climate is already on the move. Climate psychology has a part to play in recognising complexity and, in this instance, the fact that switching to renewables can bring its own challenges and dilemmas.

All these events occurred in the same week that 150 countries signed the Paris deal. Then comes ratification, implementation and the essential “ratchet”. The BBC offered this sober assessment.

On the mental health aspects of flooding, Judith Anderson adds

We assume that experience of the floods in UK over the winter of 2015-6 will have had a psychological impact, impressing on our fellow psychotherapists that increasing awareness of this is necessary for effective and knowledgeable practice. What's the evidence for this?

After the floods of 2007 in England careful research was carried out on several whole communities affected in Yorkshire and Worcestershire. Mental health was adversely affected particularly when individuals suffered loss of essential service and financial difficulties. The strength of the research was its whole community approach. Missing was a more detailed biographical element. Given the increasing likelihood of flooding, it is important that this public health issue has been identified and further work done to identify who will be most likely to be affected and how communities can best build resilience both to prevent the flooding through natural flood defences if possible and where prevention is not possible to have structures in place to maintain essential services and protect the most vulnerable from financial devastation. There are strong implications for the training of psychotherapists and other mental health professionals involved.

NETS and BECCS: New Acronyms to Change the World?

Welcome to the world of NETS and BECCS. Carbon Brief ran a series of articles last month on Negative Emission Technologies and Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage, including this one listing a range of scientific opinions on their prospects, this on the history of a “saviour” technology. It’s tempting to dismiss this whole strategy as the emissions equivalent of a fanciful overdraft reduction plan offering an excuse for a very gentle decline in current spending. The mooted timescales and the lack of convincing plans or action on either bio-energy (using which land?!) or carbon capture and storage, give the whole concept a feel of virtual action. Alongside the whiff of escapism, there is surely a danger that what we have here is smoke-and-mirrors, coupled with technocratic language which helps to keep both politicians and their electorates at arm’s length from the need for drastically reduced consumption.

What Makes People Feel Good About Themselves

As in the last few newsletters, there is a range of items below, including topics that have been raised previously like shipping and aviation, both excluded from the Paris agreement. These articles demonstrate continuing concern and attention, with the usual caveat about words vs action. Before the spotlight moves onto more obviously psychological and CPA-related topics, there is one further item in this brief global review. In the Financial Times, Gillian Tett asks: Can China turn green? She focusses on the efforts of Hank Paulson, former US Treasury Secretary, to help mobilise the construction of more energy-efficient buildings in China. Whilst the article does not analyse his strategy or prospects of a telling intervention, the logic is clear and the stakes are vast. But Tett also alludes to an intriguing psychological point that could be decisive in the cultural and economic transformation which will be needed if humanity is to change its course of ecocide and self-destruction.

In Tett’s narrative, Paulson was depressed when he left office in 2008, facing much criticism of his policies during the financial crisis. Today, she says “he exudes the air of a man who is profoundly at ease with himself.” This brief snapshot from one journalist is of course open to interpretation, but it would be good to think of it as a litmus test of the wellbeing rewards of switching effort from bankrupt 20th century economics to something more in keeping with planetary balance. The other story here concerns Tett herself. She writes with intelligence about climate change from a bastion of capitalism.

Someone reminded us last month that, whilst only 2% of climate scientists dissent from the consensus, in the media this rises to 25%. ABC News reports that, in a letter to The Times, Lord Krebs of the Climate Change Committee and eleven other peers wrote to the paper’s editor castigating it for its reporting of climate science and palpable association with the denialist Global Warming Policy Foundation. CPA is fortunate to have Richard Black, former BBC environment correspondent, speaking at our climate leadership event on 19thNovember. Richard is one of a lineup of exciting speakers, discussants and workshop leaders at the event.

Quantity as well as quality of coverage is a vexed issue. Last week’s signing of the Paris accord managed a brief mention on BBC TV news. An example of deeper coverage is BBC Radio 4’s 24th March Something Understood a spiritually informed programme. In this edition devoted to climate change, one ovservation was that the need for lifestyle changes in the rich world was an absent topic at Paris, because political leaders didn’t feel that this would wash with their electorates. This is one of Kevin Anderson's many criticisms of the Paris accord and issue connects back to the question of what psychological function is served by talk of NET’s.

More CPA events

As mentioned last month, the Summer and Autumn of 2016 will bring a wealth of CPA events. Here is more detail about the first two.

Members Day:
Saturday 18th June - The Power of Restorative Narratives

Our Members’ Day is not just a day for members. They get it free, but non-members are very welcome too. CPA has gone a step beyond previous years’ offerings, with two guest contributions, under the heading The Power of Restorative Narratives.

The first is a talk by Marina Cantacuzino, founder of The Forgiveness Project who will speak about breaking cycles of vengeance and retaliation.

The second item is Breath[e]:LESS by Tessa Gordziejko – a specialist in poetical-musical story-telling.

Neither is directly about climate change, but both are profoundly relevant to the psychological and emotional processes which determine our responses, or failure to respond, to it. As we grapple intellectually with issues of information deficit, information surplus and information avoidance, these approaches promise a new vitality, by offering a constructive approach to the problems of anxiety and threat.                                                       This event has been organised by Sarah Deco and Julian Manley. Details here.

Searles Event:
Saturday 10th September - Facing Climate Change and Collective Anxiety
This event, taking place at the Institute of Psychoanalysis, is a tribute to the psychoanalytic thinker and clinician Harold Searles, who died last year. His wide-ranging work included a remarkable prescience about the issue of our relationship with the non-human world. It has been organised by Chris Robertson, with talks by Joseph Dodds, Renee Lertzman and Sally Weintrobe and workshops by Judith Anderson, Chris Robertson and Tree Staunton – all CPA members. Details here.

Other than Mother

Kamalamani’s book Other Than Mother - choosing childlessness with life in mind has attracted praise from Polly Higgins and others - details here. Hopefully, there will soon be a review of the book on CPA’s website. The cover design features a woman cradling the globe, an image on which to meditate if ever there was one. The strapline is “A private decision with global consequences”.

It is probably unwise to comment on a book as yet unread, particularly given the delicate interface of private and public realms, but the words and image are evocative and poignant enough to override caution. The inference drawn is that the author’s decision encompasses a compassion both for the human lives uncreated and for our suffering planet - our Mother Earth. It seems to cut across the contested terrains of population growth and migration, control over fertility, consumption and wealth, footprints and even restraint. It surely helps to open up a new perspective on the question: what do I have the power to do?


Adrian Tait

On behalf of the Executive Committee


Other stories from around the World

Guardian: 'A tipping point': record number of Americans see global warming as threat
Is it worth trying to "reframe" climate change? Probably not. - Vox
The Conversation: Airline emissions and the case for a carbon tax on flight tickets
Historic Victory in Court – Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions
Greenpeace: Analysis: Who killed the electric car (again)
The Hill: EPA faces lawsuit over airplane emissions
Politico: Italian referendum fails to restrict offshore drilling
Reuters: Climate change threatens hearts, lungs but also brains: U.S. study

Reuters: Rising tide of climate migrants spurs Dhaka to seek solutions


CPA website latest contributions 

Mark Brayne's 2007 paper in Therapy today, Climate change and a couple of needy clients

Mark's Climate reflections during a recent cycle trip to New Zealand.

Interesting events by other organisations


Coming soon on website

Envoys of Earth: What horses tell us now by Kelvin Hall

About Us

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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