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Welcome to Climate Psychology Alliance - facing difficult truths about climate change and ecological crisis

This month, for the first time, CPA’s own news comes first, though there is no shortage of global climate events posing psychological questions.

October2017An Eye to our Future

Since its beginning five years ago, CPA has been in the main an English organisation, with a fairly stable team planning and organising its activities. This has provided strength and continuity at our core, but it has become clear that new scope, new ideas and energy are called for if we are to go on flourishing and developing. The only question has been how best to invite and enable that development.

In July, the Executive Committee and members of the Advisory Group met for an ‘away weekend’ of experiential, brainstorming and strategic work. Much came out of it, but two salient topics were, firstly starting to envisage what it will mean for CPA to become a more international network, now that groups are taking shape in N. America and Scotland, secondly how to open up our thinking and activities by more effectively harnessing the energy and interest of our membership.

A letter was sent to the membership in September inviting offers of help and leadership across the whole range of CPA’s work, actual and potential. The response was very encouraging, with expressions of interest covering most of our field including event organisation, researching children’s attitudes to climate change, collaboration with faith groups, communications and public engagement, publications and administration. These offers bode well for the future. We will be following them up in the coming months.

Looking beyond England, the development of CPA Scotland has had prominent exposure; it is an impressively dynamic and focused group. The Climate Change Committee has just acknowledged how well Scotland is doing compared with the rest of the UK in implementing its commitment to tackle climate change. The fact that the CCC declares Scotland to still have a long way to go serves to underline how far short we are falling in England, as Sir David King has just observed.

Less publicised has been CPA – N. America, which has a steering group membership located in NYC, Washington, Boulder (Colorado), Portland, Seattle and Hawaii. The N. America group is comprised of mental health professionals, a writer and trainer, a researcher and a non-clinical specialist in depth psychology. All of them have activist involvements. A virtual meeting is being planned for the near future, to liaise on building an international membership that draws on and contributes to our ‘core’ resources, with autonomous national / continental networks, linked through some sort of supra-national identity. It is very much hoped that other regions of the world, perhaps starting with continental Europe, will become involved.

Winter Events in England

Most of CPA’s organisational energy in recent months has been taken up with the work outlined above, but we have two interesting events coming up, in December and in February. The first of these, a one day event: Agency in Individual and Collective Change, will be taking place in Oxford on 2nd December. This is a collaboration between CPA and Living Witness, at the Friends Meeting House. The Oxford Quakers have generously offered the venue free of charge. CPA member Laurie Michaelis is the lead organiser. With so many changes for the worse happening on our planet as a result of human activity, it is critically important that we examine our beliefs and observations as well as experiences of the ways in which ecologically informed change can take place. This question has deep connections with CPA’s interest in the radical hope theme. It will be a participatory day with a series of brief presentations and small group workshops.

On 10th February 2017, CPA will be staging an event in Bath ‘Staying with the Trouble’ which looks at the role of resentment in our culture. The Bath Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling (BCPC) is hosting this event. Chris Robertson, co-organiser and speaker, will be writing more about this in November’s newsletter.

Grant awarded to CPA

Our website needs an upgrade and, thanks to the efforts of Judith Anderson and Paul Hoggett, a £3000 grant has been obtained. This will enable us, amongst other improvements, to streamline our receiving and servicing of CPA members.

CPA’s Hon. Treasurer, Nick Davis, is taking forward our plan to become a registered charity, which will increase our scope for future grants in support of our work and to obtain gift aid on private donations.

Meanwhile, Back in the Wider World…

We on the outside have looked on with a range of feelings as successive hurricanes and superstorms have devastated the Caribbean, Texas and Florida. At the time of writing, Puerto Rico, which only half of Americans realise is part of their country, is in dire straits and receiving far below adequate assistance. It has at least received a lot more media attention than the floods in Nepal, India and Bangladesh, which have cost far more in lives and disruption than all the American hurricanes combined. As the weather hots up, so has the intensity of the denialism that has the US Republican party in its vice-like grip. It is a grip that, we are forced to fear, will crush the remaining prospects for an Earth that has been so hospitable throughout the Holocene era. Honourable exceptions like Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain seem as powerless to dent this perversity as republican grandees Baker, Paulson and Shultz have been, in advocating the carbon fee and dividend.

Recent weeks have served up further evidence of the administration’s suppression not just of action, but also references to climate change:

Daily Kos, an admittedly partisan online journal, reported on 22nd September that Bart Bibler, a government employee in Florida, has been ordered to take medical leave for daring to mention climate change in a conference call. He will only be allowed to return to work on psychiatric approval. (One wonders who selects the psychiatrist). This incident illustrates governor Rick Scott’s directive that the terms ‘climate change’, ‘global warming’ and ‘sea level rise’ be expunged from the utterances of state employees. Another recent example of the Orwellian purge of references to climate change taking place across government was reported by the Guardian late in August. In this instance, the National Institutes of Health were the target.

There has been gossip, wishful thinking and speculation that in a Trump administration in which Ivanka and Jarred have won a battle against Steve Bannon there might be a volte face about leaving the Paris accord. It may prove to be more a case of Bannon and Breitbart News now being on the outside pissing in, as opposed to on the inside pissing out. The administration’s suppression of anything associated with liberal values, Obama, social justice, racial equality or climate change continues with undimmed resolve. According to Wenonah Hunter, Executive Director of Food &Water Watch, the president is pushing for Oklahoma congressman and known climate change denier Jim Bridenstine for the top job at NASA.

In a frame of rationality and enlightened self-interest, September’s devastating series of hurricanes would be taken as confirmation of the warnings from climate science and would concentrate minds on the urgency of both mitigation and adaptation. But it has to be said that only the naïve expected this. Sure, the climate aware are echoing Al Gore’s cry in ‘Truth to Power’ that Mother Nature is now shouting at us, but the response from denialism-in-power was utterly predictable. It can be summed up in Scott Pruitt’s reproach that to talk about climate change in these times of disaster is insensitive. It is a similar inversion of truth to the denialist complaint that climate science has become politicised by those seeking action. It is an effort these days to picture the time, only a couple of decades ago, before the Koch brothers and their ilk recognised the threat to their interests and set out to harness and manipulate free market ideology, in the process effectively buying the GOP.

No More Heroes

One of the more memorable pop songs of the late 1970’s, this title by The Stranglers noted the tendency of heroes to fall from grace, by one route or another. But the hero archetype is so powerful that it regenerates at speed. The climate movement is no exception, despite the fact that (as emphasised in the blurb for CPA’s Change event) we are all part of the problem. It is worth noting how politics creates and destroys heroic myths, within and without the climate struggle.

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded a Nobel peace prize for her long struggle to bring democracy and justice to the government of Myanmar. How many of us can claim not to have regarded her as a hero? Yet now, in the wake of genocide against the Rohingyas, her fabled integrity and courage seem to have evaporated, in the context of the Moslem ‘other’. Buddhism, a faith highly regarded for its integrity and psychological awareness , has also been revealed as not immune from evil being perpetrated in its name.

In the climate context, Angela Merkel (a scientist like Margaret Thatcher) has stood out amongst world leaders in her advocacy of climate action. Germany’s apparent commitment to the decarbonisation of its energy generation has gained wide acclaim. It does not seem clear whether Thatcher’s climate awareness fell foul of her political ideology, or was sabotaged by her political colleagues (Nigel Lawson still being a trumpet of denialism in the UK). Merkel, in the week preceding her re-election as German chancellor despite the upsurge in anti-immigration sentiment, was castigated in this article by George Monbiot, who concludes that, far from being a hero, she is one of the world’s leading eco-vandals. Perhaps what all three of these very different women have in common is the fact that politics exposes contradictions and political power has a way of testing values which conflict with the dominant currents.

Al Gore too is worth looking at in the light of what we know about heroism. There are hints in the Inconvenient Truth sequel that the slings and arrows of denialism have at times tested his endurance to the limit. There is something genuinely heroic about his stamina, determination and relentless hard work in providing climate education and promoting political action. But it is as if, in order to bolster himself in his exhausting and sometimes heart-breaking battle, he has in the film become over-identified with the hero myth, thereby weakening rather than strengthening his message. It is hard to know how to rise to what feels like a super-human challenge.

Sir David Attenborough is probably the closest we have in Britain to an eco-hero, at least amongst those who still subscribe to the BBC. He must score high on the ‘trusted messenger scale’. His most recent warning concerns the widespread ecological destruction of ocean life being caused by plastic pollution, climate change and overpopulation. We need Attenborough’s authoritative voice. We need environmental heroes. But a recent Greenpeace missive seems to suggest that Attenborough has fallen for the information deficit fallacy: “All we have to do is keep declaring the facts as we see the facts, and producing the evidence whenever we can.” Reassuringly, the Guardian article linked above reveals a much more sophisticated grasp of the problem: “He is spearheading an effort at Cambridge University to bring all academic disciplines – ‘not just other botanists, not just ecologists, but….international lawyers, psychologists, geographers, political scientists and so on’ – to bear on the pressing problems of the planet”.


And if it’s Not So Bad, Will That Make Things Worse?

The Sunday Times on 24th September illustrated the pitfalls of apparently good news. Nigel Hawkes comments on the report in Nature Geoscience by Myles Allen of Oxford and others, which indicates that global heating hasn’t proceeded as fast as the models predicted and that we may have longer than we thought to curb emissions and still hit the 1.5 degrees target. The article and comments elsewhere illustrate how climate discourse is a sort of Tower of Babel. Science is duty bound to report findings which might cause us to modify our picture. Those promoting urgent climate action rush to insist that, whilst this is welcome news it is contingent on successful mitigation. The denialists lick their lips and treat the news as proof that the forecasters got it wrong again so we shouldn’t be wasting money or energy dealing with climate change. Can climate psychology help, in understanding the dynamics involved and expose the hidden agendas of neoliberal newspapers?

Anyone who doubts the degree of distortion generated by this element in the media in this instance need only read Zeke Hausfather’s fact check in Carbon Brief.




Adrian Tait
On behalf of the Executive Committee

Editorial support from Judith Anderson, Adrian Tait and Chris Robertson

Image:© Bernardo De Niz (@bernardodeniz) for @EverydayClimateChange