The Climate Emergency Deepens
What will it take in the way of climate disaster to mobilise determined action, to create a human tipping point?
Last month’s letter featured the deadly temperatures affecting a swathe of the Indian subcontinent, the Venezuelan drought and Houston’s floods. There has been a grim follow-up on the unrelenting situation in India, with efforts to stem an upsurge of farmer suicides – 400 in the Marathwada region alone, as this Indy article reports. Laurie Penny in the New Statesman brings in a bit of psychology, recognising the detachment in the term “scope insensitivity” – our inability to imagine or empathise with 73 million people in Rajasthan suffering in a 53 degree C oven. Now we are starting to hear about the widespread drought and food crisis affecting Southern Africa. The Guardian reports compassion fatigue and the prospect of aid responses coming too late. “Fatigue” in mobilising relief does not seem to bode well for sustained energy in addressing the causes.
Then there is Fort McMurray, discussed at some length in the CPA members’ google group early last month. At the time of writing, the fire there had consumed over 500,000 hectares and each hectare of burnt forest puts an estimated 170 tons CO2e of emissions into the atmosphere. Robert Scribbler’s coverage has been outstanding, as illustrated in this 3rd May article. He analyses the impacts of climate change on the boreal forest which render it more vulnerable to fire. He also homes in on what is surely the central question here - how large the writing on the wall about oil and climate change has to get. Mainstream media attention to the underlying issue, though predictably sparse, includes this New York Times article linking the Alberta fires to the destruction of 28 million hectares of Russian boreal forest in 2012. From a climate science or climate movement perspective the situation is screaming at us. But politicians and to some extent scientists too are subject to immense pressures to fudge reality. So they either dilute the inconvenient facts to make them seem more manageable or hold mutually contradictory positions. This was clearly evident at Paris and is starkly visible in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s support for both the tar sands industry and action on climate change. Obama performs the same trick vis-à-vis Arctic and offshore drilling. And American environmentalists must be fearing far worse to come at the end of his presidency.
This month’s photo, borrowed from Scribbler, is of the cloud caused by the Alberta fires. The pyrocumulus category includes nuclear mushroom clouds – enough said. But is Alberta at a tipping point with its Climate Leadership Implementation Act? Its proposals for taxing carbon appear to conform with carbon fee and dividend, an approach that has long been advocated by Jim Hansen.
Leadership, Radicalism and Revolution
Leadership is the subject of CPA’s November conference - early bird rate expires on 30th June! Viewing leadership in top-down political terms is currently a recipe for despair. Dire as the hard data and politics both are in their different ways, the CPA position is that leadership is complex and interactive, with everything to play for and nearly everything still to do in the mobilisation of civil society, post Paris. Carol Ride of Psychology for a Safe Climate in Melbourne forwarded us this manifesto of Margaret Klein Salaman: “Leading the Public into Emergency Mode”. Bill McKibben has been straining every sinew to achieve that for some while and he is behind a wide-ranging campaign of disobedience - part of May 2016’s Break Free campaign. The film Disobedience is a rallying call and features Ricken Patel of Avaaz on the discipline of effective strategy and the corporate capture of government, climate justice activist Tadzio Muller uttering the memorable words “What we’re seeing here is the future being eaten by the past” and McKibben himself declaring “No-one should have to go to prison over climate change but the way power is distributed in our world, sometimes you have to.” Perhaps the most stirring image of all is the flotilla of kayaks blockading the Shell drilling platform in Seattle harbour, May 2015. This was a moment of hope and inspiration.
Another psychologically pivotal moment in the film is when McKibben turns on its head the conventional view of who the fossil fuel radicals are. It is those who persist, knowingly, in doing massive and irreversible harm who are the radicals, he says. Here is a man talking perfect sense and, at the same time, by stepping outside the frame of our ecocidal culture, he is preaching revolution. Obama, by contrast, dismisses Bernie Sanders’ revolutionary ideas as doomed to failure, thereby revealing his own view that the way power is distributed is the only way it can be. Muller takes a contrasting position when he says: “The limits of the possible are there to be moved.” He has been instrumental in the 350.org backed action to disrupt the massive lignite mining operation in Germany’s Lusatia.
These actions may be pin pricks in the context of global fossil fuel extraction, but they keep a flame of hope alive if they are indeed moving those limits of the possible. This in turn raises a question about the relationship between hope and action. Lord Krebs, a member of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change [a body charged with the interesting task of trying to keep our government honest on the subject] spoke recently about climate change to an audience in Somerset, near the area affected by the 2013-14 floods. He voiced support for the view that it is not hope that leads to action but action that leads to hope. A behaviourist perspective perhaps that will not appeal to all, but one worth pondering. In the meantime the campaign to prevent fracking in England, which suffered a painful setback with North Yorkshire Council’s recent decision to permit drilling, has made it clear they are even more determined to stop fracking in the UK, through a campaign of non-violent direct action if necessary.
The rise of the joint stock company was often cited in the 20th century as a key reason why the view in the Communist Manifesto of society splitting into two great hostile camps has not come to pass. Universities, Trades Unions and employees through their investments become stakeholders in capitalism. In recent years, with the wealth gap widening dramatically, executive pay has become a matter of shareholder unrest and now we are beginning to see some tentative signs of concern amongst the shareholders (ie owners) of fossil fuel corporations about stranded assets, climate disinformation culpability and an unsustainable business model. This is a nodal point in, to again quote Naomi Klein, the collision of principles. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Here are two very recent articles about Exxon and Shell. At the moment, reliable dividend streams and the continuing demand for oil still hold sway, but the sands are shifting. Privately owned oil companies are of course eclipsed by sovereign wealth funds, but a hedging of bets on oil has also been a clear message in recent months from Saudi Arabia.
Climate Psychology Alliance – Members Day
A final mention of CPA’s Members’ Day in London on Saturday 18th June. Our theme is “The Power of Restorative Narratives” featuring Marina Catacuzino of The Forgiveness Project and Tessa Gordziejko – a specialist in poetical-musical story-telling. The AGM, though a relatively short affair, is an important opportunity for members to keep abreast of and have a say in all that is going on in CPA. The day is free to members, but also open to non-members, who are very welcome to attend.
Two other autumn CPA events;
September 10th Facing Climate Challenge and Collective Anxiety: event inspired by the Visionary work of Harold Searles (1918-2015)
September 30th in Bath Radical Climate Justice Donna Orange and Polly Higgins in Conversation (organised in conjunction with BCPC)
On behalf of the Executive Committee
Editorial support from Judith Anderson, Paul Hoggett and Chris Robertson
Image source; Sean Amito’s twitter feed
Latest Postings on website
Outriders of the Coming Adversity: How Climate Activists and Climate Scientists Keep Going Research by Rosemary Randall and Paul Hoggett
“But that’s illogical Captain!” Star Trek, ‘nudge’ and the climate change debate by Paul Hoggett
A Depth Psychology Exploration of Climate Change Video by Jungian Analyst and Climate Scientist Jeffrey Kiehl
Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’ The New York Times
Court ruling advances case for ecocide law Positive News
What Sir David King gets wrong about carbon pricing The Guardian
Southern hemisphere joins north in breaching carbon dioxide milestone The Conversation
Analysis and Activism Social and Political Contributions of Jungian Psychology
Uncertainty from Brexit would be 'massively damaging' to renewables industry, says Lord Bourne
Fracking is a futile betrayal of our national interest The Guardian