Fertile and Sterile Conversations was the theme of CPA’s 2013 Members Day.
The theme points up a set of questions underpinning all our work, for instance how can we contribute to fruitful conversation? What can be done to challenge the forces in our culture which reinforce our destructive path, blind us to real choices and encourage sterile, polarised communication? Where is it possible to open up new ground? How can thought and emotion stay connected, when the subject is so threatening? This month’s newsletter takes a fresh look at some of these questions. It describes an experimental and homespun effort to engage friends and acquaintances in thinking about our relationship to the climate emergency. It moves on to look at a very recent example of how anger and distress at the consequences of sick elements in our culture can, when effectively channelled, be extremely powerful. There is a list of articles which serve as an update on the fight to preserve life on our planet. We link to a review on our website by a CPA member, of one of the most important books in our field during the past year. There is a passing celebration of our recent event ‘Staying with the Trouble’. Finally, we announce CPA’s Members Day on 9th June, which will focus on how we teach children about climate change and, indeed, what we can learn from them.
First, a brief pause to look at ourselves. Someone challenged us recently, suggesting that we might to some degree be operating as an echo chamber. The idea was not elucidated, but the Exec. Committee discussed it anyway. Some of the thoughts evoked were: We must always aim to build rather than block, in the face of uncomfortable questions. We stand of fall by our ability to listen. Do we have a tendency to be ‘under-challenging’ of each other? The difference between opponents and enemies is important. This seems to tally with George Marshall’s caveats on enemy narratives. But we do really have enemies! We shouldn’t feel apologetic about taking firm positions.
In a later conversation we were reminded about the ‘enemy within’ (nearly all of us in the rich world are part of the problem). One person said he didn’t contribute to our google group because it is mostly the negatives which reverberate there. A counterpoint to this was that our USA colleagues have repeatedly voiced their appreciation of the attention and support that has been on offer during the past fifteen months of adversity and cultural strife.
A tentative verdict might be that CPA does indeed have features of a cultural tribe and this may or may not be a concern. No-one however has suggested that we operate as a closed system, which is the other main element of an echo chamber. Let us know via the CPA webmail if you have any comments to share.
Wider Conversations – and a Resource You Might Like to Use
Fertile conversation happens when there is a mix of common ground and difference, plus a subject of shared interest. Talking in any depth about climate with people who have not made serious prior effort to navigate the subject is liable to be tricky because of the cultural minefield which underlies it. But the potential rewards are great. One venture into this terrain by the writer took the form of a brief survey, sent last year to a small number of people known personally but also (with one exception) known not to share the sender’s strongly-held views on climate change.
The responses were both interesting and broadly confirmatory of larger studies. Climate science was accepted as sound, but people underestimate the degree of consensus amongst scientists. Optimism vs pessimism seems to be determined more by temperament than data though there were also hints of ‘optimism bias’ at work. (The latter can be distinguished from denial in that it is a generic, cognitive concept and in many ways a useful feature of mental functioning, though it has unfortunate consequences in the climate context). The recipients were hand-picked, which afforded prior knowledge of the people concerned. This provided a longitudinal element which revealed a marked shift towards recognition of the climate threat. Personal responsibility was generally acknowledged, but accompanied by an unwillingness to deprive self or family of desired consumption. There was a strong emphasis on government policy as the key determinant of change. The main surprise concerned an article, a link to which was included with the survey. This was David Wallace-Wells’ October 2017 item This is Not the New Normal in New York magazine. It is hard-hitting on the escalating impacts of climate change, but was not acknowledged by any of the respondents as altering their views. One person noted that it was only about America, another said he wouldn’t base anything on a single article. Without in-depth follow-up, one can only speculate on the reason for these rather dismissive comments, but it’s easy to suppose that a rationalising defence kicks in, when something so stark and alarming is presented.
The survey was not purely a survey. Folded into it was an element of motivational interviewing – a psychotherapy technique aimed at helping people move from a state of uncertainty and indecision to one of greater clarity, coherence and purpose.
Should any reader want to try out this exercise themselves, they would be welcome to do so. Feel free to modify the content if you wish. There is no copyright or acknowledgement required. Feedback on results to
So Where Are the Positives?
The survey, whilst no claim of statistical validity is being made for it, indicates a shift in awareness and attitude towards climate change. This can be seen either as a positive or a case of too little, too late – and example of Bill McKibben’s observation that if we’re winning slowly, we’re losing. But if we leave aside the knotty question of what we still have time to do and shift out attention to the cultural forces that are propelling us over the Earth systems cliff or pulling us away from it, we may get a different picture. The weirding of weather, the march of the Anthropocene, is more evident than ever but something appears to be disrupting the political culture, at least in the USA.
The most promising recent example of this comes not from climate activism but on US gun law. The NRA has long been recognised as the most powerful lobby group in the world and enough has been said about their greasing of political palms and attacks on those who undermine their stance, the use of the second amendment to justify America’s unique gun carnage and the cultural vicious circle arising from the argued ‘right to defend oneself’. Many voices have been raised in protest at all this, but rendered impotent by political polarization and corrupt advocacy. What is so strikingly different about the action stirred by the massacre in one of Florida’s high schools is that the youthful activists (gathering behind the Twitter hashtag #NeverAgain), at least for now, they have the NRA, its paid mouthpieces in politics and enthusiastic media supporters on the back foot. Their outrage is powerful; they are media savvy, well organised and know the weak spots of their enemies. All the familiar arguments being mobilised against them they dismiss with withering simplicity as BS. At the time of writing, even the President claims to be questioning the NRA’s stance.
So here is agency, open and authentic power grounded in anger and grief and giving rise to a voice that knows how to be heard. This is one of those moments when we’re reminded that political tipping points do happen, even when the forces designed to suppress change seem overwhelming. It remains to be seen whether the phenomenon translates, whether the cultural sickness that is killing life on our planet can be mobilised to equal effect. But it is the kind of situation that the Bill McKibbens and Naomi Kleins of this world are urging each of us to help create.
There is no credible gainsaying of the Anthropocene’s arrival, as was argued in the February newsletter. Nor do we know how much it can be moderated, or what degree of adaption will be possible in the face of what cannot be avoided. But the struggle on many fronts goes on, as the articles below remind us:
*Is 100% renewable energy realistic?
*EU refusal to sign trade deals with countries that refuse to abide by the Paris accord
*German cities to trial free public transport
*Newest Youth Climate Lawsuit
*The Status of Climate Change Litigation
*The Climate Rulebook
*’Sloppy and Careless’ verdict on Trump Administration’s efforts to destroy environmental legislation
*BP significantly upgrades its renewables projection
*Tesla Battery ‘taking a straw off the camel’s back’
*Seychelles protects a large expanse of ocean
*After years of fighting, Idaho upholds climate education in schools
Book Review by Tony Cartwright
CPA has been quiet on this front during the past year. The first instalment of Tony Cartwright’s two-part review of three books is therefore doubly welcome. Tony’s rich exploration contains many thoughtful cross-references but majors on Naomi Klein’s latest book No is Not Enough. Well worth the read.
Staying with the Trouble
Our event in Bath on 10th March achieved a capacity attendance and intense engagement by those present. The text of Paul Hoggett’s and Sally Weintrobe’s talks will be available very soon on the website. We hope that this will go some way to making up for the technical problem which scuppered our first ever attempt at in house live-streaming and video recording. Thank you again to The Bath Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy, who were wonderful hosts.
CPA Members Day: Saturday 9th June (London) – A date for your diary and invitation to contribute.
Julian Manley, CPA’s membership development lead, informs us that the Members Day this year will feature a keynote conversation between experts in children’s education and climate change. The emphasis here is very much on two-way learning and we pose the question how can we as adults face up to the feelings that accompany us as we hand over the legacy of a planet heading for climate disaster of our own making?
We plan something similar to the successful structure of our Members Day in 2017. The intention is to organise the event around keynote speakers in the morning with a response from a CPA colleague in New York. This will be followed by member presentations / workshops in the afternoon. The event will be held at The Guild of Psychotherapists and is provisionally scheduled to run from 10am – 5pm (including AGM at the end). Timetable to be circulated later.
NB We invite members to submit presentation proposals, either on the theme of the day or an area of interest, study or research in the field of climate psychology. Please send ideas (150-250 words) to Julian Manley and/or Jan Baker:
On behalf of the Executive Committee
Editorial support from Chris Robertson and Paul Hoggett
Photo source: RitaE pixabay