Living with the Climate Crisis

Any fans of Ro Randall and Andy Brown’s Carbon Conversations will be excited to learn that an updated version of this excellent initiative, named Living with the Climate Crisis, has been developed.

What is Living with the Climate Crisis?

Created by Ro, Andy, Rebecca Nestor and Daniela Fernandez-Catherall, Living with the Climate Crisis aims to help people find their place in the collective project of responding to climate change.  At its heart is a clear psychological approach, based on the following principles:

  • climate change is distressing: people need support in coping with the difficult feelings that sometimes overwhelm them, and to explore ways to feel joy and satisfaction in a precarious world
  • the best means to collective solutions is in supportive groups based in local communities
  • people need support in finding their way to a variety of personal, political and community actions
  • people need skills in communicating, both publicly and in personal situations.

The programme consists of seven meetings and is currently being piloted. Facilitator materials will be available in 2023 and the authors will offer introductory workshops to support people wishing to run the groups in their own localities.

A website dedicated to Living with the Climate Crisis is under production. In the meantime follow this link for more details.


Eco-anxiety: an African perspective from Shelot Masithi

“I think eco-anxiety is an understatement for what I feel in terms of climate-related emotions. It’s a range of emotions that I fail to either name or describe.”

CPA member, Shelot Masithi, recently gave an interview to Brighton based arts charity, ONCA, about eco-anxiety.

The quote above highlights how difficult it can be to pin the term eco-anxiety down as it is often used to encompass a wide range of emotions - including anger, helplessness, sadness, grief, depression, numbness and others.

Shelot offers many insights as she shares how her feelings are shaped by her immediate experience of the climate crisis living in South Africa, particularly in relation to water shortages.

‘… as someone who grew up in the face of water cuts and shortages, I was tired of being ‘fine’ with not having water whilst giant corporations like Coca-Cola and Nestle continue having abundant access to water which they steal and then sell to the people.'

To read the full interview follow this link.

Shelot also spoke about the climate crisis and thirst in an issue of our Climate Crisis Digest which you can read here.

This was taken from her powerful and moving keynote speech at the CPA/APS conference, “Six months after COP26; what have we learnt?”

mum and child

Motherhood and the Climate Crisis - new podcast episode

A new CPA podcast is now available on the topic of motherhood and the climate crisis, hosted by Judith Anderson and featuring Sophia Cheng and Emma Palmer.

Sophia is developing a collaborative creative project, Motherhood in a Time of Climate Crisis, involving personal stories from self-identifying women wrestling with these two topics at the same time.

She and her colleagues want to challenge the taboo and put this conversation on the map, not to position one woman against another but to explore all the nuances around how the climate crisis is shaping how (and if) we mother.

Emma's book Other Than Mother - Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind (Earth Books 2016) was groundbreaking in exploring the terrain of this decision-making process, including the cultural changes brought about by the rise in voluntary childlessness, ecological and environmental considerations and living with the decision.

You can listen to the conversation here. 

For our full podcast series follow this link. 

Podcast: Motherhood and the Climate Crisis


The Emotional Experience of Members of Scotland's Citizens' Assembly on Climate Change

What is the emotional experience of Scotland’s Citizen’s Assembly members as they learn about climate change? How does that compare with the general population?

These are two of the questions that CPA Scotland member, Nadine Andrews, explores in her recent paper.

“In facing up to the reality of the climate crisis and the risks it poses, people encounter powerful emotions that can be difficult to bear, Nadine writes. “Consequently, various defences and coping strategies may be used to suppress or avoid feeling these emotions. The way in which emotions are regulated has important implications for wellbeing and decision-making. In recent years there has been growing interest in using citizens' assemblies to inform government climate policy. Assembly members learn about and discuss the subject, and produce recommendations for action. Given this element of learning about climate change, it is likely that difficult emotions will come up for assembly members.”

As there is no published literature on this specific topic to date, this paper presents original research that can support organisers of future climate assemblies or other deliberative processes as well as be of practical use to policy makers and the therapeutic community.

Read the full article here.


What is it like working in organisations that engage the public on climate change? New Associations Article 2

Organisations that engage with the public – campaigning, educating - on this most overwhelming of problems are infused with the unbearable.

Elsewhere in this edition of New Associations, we are introduced to the growing body of psychoanalytically-informed scholarship on climate change. This work helps us to see the characteristic ways in which unbearable feelings (anger, grief, loss, shame, guilt and fear) evoke defences visible in human responses to climate change. My psychoanalytically-informed research suggests that organisations that engage with the public – campaigning, educating - on this most overwhelming of problems are infused with the unbearable at both individual and organisational level. In this article I use the systems-psychodynamic perspective to suggest aspects of the emotional experience of working in such organisations. 

Systems-psychodynamics draws on Kleinian object-relations theory, including splitting, projection and projective identification. It is influenced also by the work of Wilfred Bion and his successors on groups, and by the socio-technical framework originally developed by Miller and Rice. One useful concept is ‘organisation in the mind’: the mutually-interacting relationship between the individual’s internal psychic organisation and their experience of the organisation in which they work: their own particular response to an organisational dynamic. Within this concept, crucially, the working assumption is that the dynamics in a group reflect the dynamics in the wider organisation.

As part of my doctoral research, I am convening a small action-research group of people whose work involves public engagement on climate change. With members (including myself) from climate change charities both very large and very small, informal networks and local government, the group has been meeting regularly since January this year. We are trying to understand the emotional experience of our work as a group, in order to offer some insights into our organisations.

The first indication came with our difficulties in forming as a group. We have had confusions over location, two permanent departures, cancellations at short notice, differences over purpose and activities, and caring responsibilities felt as in opposition to joining the group. Despite these difficulties, and the pain and bad feeling they are associated with, we are still persevering, still meeting and interacting. I have proposed to the group that what we are experiencing may reflect the difficulties of co-operation and trust on this ‘wicked problem’ of climate change. I wonder too if it indicates splitting and projection: note the opposition between caring and being in the group, and the perseverance, which reminds me of the way tenacity gets located in environmentalists while apathy is located in ‘the public’.

A second indication derives from my attempt to structure one of our early meetings as a ‘social photo matrix’. Intended in theory as a form of containing space, this design also arose from my own anxiety-fuelled wish for a short-cut to the group’s unconscious. And it led in practice to an exercise in loss and broken connections – waiting for Skype to work, losing someone’s photos, feelings of being kept at a distance by the technology and losing our human connections and therefore our ability to think. Rosemary Randall argues that in public discussion in the UK, the losses associated with the impacts of climate change are characterised as ‘terrifying but far away’, while the losses associated with technological solutions to climate change are ‘completely excised’. It seems interesting that in our group, it was precisely at the moment of trying to use the technology of the social photo matrix as a quick fix that something was excised.

One further indication is to do with need, desire and judgement. As our group develops we have become more aware of the desire (which moves between us) for more care, connection and fellow-feeling than is available, of often feeling isolated and lonely and as if it is not possible both to be in the group and to have caring responsibilities; and of the feelings of judgement that come up, that others in the group (and oneself) are not doing enough, not giving enough, they (we) don’t care enough for us, they (we) are inadequate. In our early discussions we acknowledged that our emotional experience of engaging the public on climate involves quite a primitive wish to move others, to get them to act. If getting them has a double meaning here it may relate to getting our basic needs met.

Over the years, organisations trying to engage the public on climate change have been characterised as getting people to change, and also as denying people basic needs (warm houses, hot water, plentiful food). The desperation evoked by this dynamic is there in our group.

There is more to our organisation in the mind than I have space for here. We have much to do to deepen our understandings of it, too, and to validate the connections between our group experience and what our organisations are bringing to us, and we to them. But I hope the characteristics sketched out here – splitting care and uncare, splitting tenacity and apathy, technology as a defence, desperation and judgement – are recognisable to others, as they are to me, as features of public discussions of the climate emergency.

This article by CPA member Rebecca Nestor was part of a special issue focusing on the climate emergency of New Associations, the magazine of the British Psychoanalytic Council. Helen Morgan, a Jungian analyst and former Chair of the BPC commissioned the articles that comprised this autumn 2019 issue. (British Psychoanalytic Council Illustrator: Allen Fatimaharan.

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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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