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New Year Issue: “Apres moi le deluge

Nature has obliged with post-Paris deluges in the British Isles, the Missouri region and a large tract of South America.

floods So the Marquise de Pompadour’s infamous words have taken on a literal meaning, beyond their original callous intent.

We are reminded too that speculation as to whether catastrophic climate change sets in at 1.5 or 2 degrees is a touch academic for those who are suffering single or repeated catastrophes, even as we approach 1 degree of warming.

What seems now like a rear guard action by climate denialists might, for those of them feigning rationality, draw on the complexities of El Nino and the polar vortex. But it was interesting in BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 28th December to note a lack of “if’s” and “but’s” in an EA interview with David Rooke, deputy head of the Environment Agency. As he noted extreme weather is becoming more extreme, more frequent and flood defences will require a “complete rethink”. Time for the UK government to shake off its amnesia about Lord Stern’s stitch-in-time warnings on mitigation?

Climate Outreach’s haunting slogan-question “Can we talk about Climate Change Now?” was followed by their highlighting of 9 principles for communicating about flooding in a changing climate. This document is the result of a collaboration between Climate Outreach and Cardiff University and draws on multi-disciplinary inputs. The principles include the issue of when it is appropriate, for those traumatised by flooding, to discuss the links between climate change and extreme weather. In that 28th December interview, it was as if such sensibilities had been swept away in the torrent of physical events. Climate Psychology is evolving on a daily basis, in an effort to keep pace with de facto reality. When the current El Nino subsides, the backdrop to our work will have shifted again.

Pompadour’s “deluge” was a metaphor, a byword for indifference about ills to which the speaker feels immune. It seems so applicable to the short-termism of consumerism, of market democracies and of the obscene myopia of economics in which ecological harm is externalised. But Climate Outreach’s “Now?” quoted above, Jeb Sano’s still-echoing words from Doha 2012 “If not now, then when?” the terrible now-ness of gathering climate disasters, the voices of leaders who speak out and ask “How will we be judged?” Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” and so on and so on…. could these cries amount to a critical mass with the power to pull humanity out of its sleepwalk to utter disaster? This is surely the biggest question for 2016.

Discussions of COP 21 abound, although the subject continues to be of fleeting if any interest to the majority of people. Changing that will depend partly on the speed and effectiveness of joining the dots between climate change and extreme weather. Resistance on that score is still loud, but may be softening. One article that might be of particular interest to CPA participants is this, from The Economist. With its headline juxtaposing of hopelessness and determination, advocacy of holding opposing ideas in mind at the same time and its argument that the Paris deal was a demonstration of collective intelligence, there is much to ponder. Is there a hint here the new economics which we so desperately need starting to emerge into the mainstream? Thinking in the Economist that is both ecologically and psychologically informed may offer a sign of hope.

At Paris in the collective process, those deserving most credit for intelligence were Figueres, Fabius and co for their stamina and organisational brilliance (having learned well from the shambles of Copenhagen). Determination was grounded at this level, but was energised by the high ambition coalition - those countries which pressed for a 1.5 degree target. Figueres herself, quoted in this piece of Avaaz triumphalism, attributes much to people power, a view she shares with President Obama and British ex-PM Gordon Brown. Those of us who march and sign endless online petitions take note; those of us who search for the wellsprings of hope and leadership, likewise. Interestingly, Avaaz reserves its greatest pride for the money it raised to enable a strong delegation from the Marshall Islands to attend at Paris. The point here is not the weighing of one factor against another, but the force of things and people coalescing. And for those of us who fear an unhelpful polarization in Klein’s “Capitalism vs the Climate”, there is perhaps more hope in the prospect, which she also visualises, of a multi-layered, mutually supportive transformation.

In contrast to the post Paris euphoria of Avaaz were those, from Monbiot to Hansen, stressing how far short of what is needed the deal falls. Aviation and shipping are excluded and we are not within sight of effective carbon pricing, to give but two examples. The glass is cracked and at least half empty, but is it filling faster than it’s leaking? So much depends on whether all who want to can achieve both inner and active empowerment in a human sea-change. At the level of political mechanisms, much will hinge on the efficacy of the so-called “ratchet”, the 5-year review process which requires countries to up their game until the value of their intentions matches the objectives underpinned by science. We need the scepticism of Monbiot as well as the intense urgency of McKibben, but we need them as part of a large and interactive gestalt. The realpolitik of Paris had no choice but to adapt to the recidivism of the US Congress and that is a major obstacle to both ratification and the ratchet, but perhaps what we can all agree is that Paris gave us the best chance that was available and a far better one than many of us dared to hope.

A timely reminder that one of CPA’s objectives is to promote a climate and ecological component in psychotherapy trainings comes from Judith Anderson in this renewed challenge to UKCP. It was originally posted to UKCP’s Linked In group and has been forwarded to CPA’s Google group. Its importance justifies repetition here.

May all alliances that are founded on the goal of ecologically informed living progress in 2016! And the CPA's work too. 

Adrian Tait
On behalf of the CPA Management Committee