CPA members challenge BBC - "The Cat is out of the Bag"
During August and September the CPA members have been engaged in a challenge to the BBC’s erroneous notion of balance CPA and BBC correspondence
In response to similar letters in the Guardian and Ecologist, the BBC has now reviewed
their instructions to journalists admitting that they got this wrong -
This role of public comment and engagement in which CPA’s voice makes a significant
contribution could become a key role for CPA.
Power of the Elementals
It’s no surprise that apocalyptic fantasies abound. Some of us suffered the unstoppable
power of the waters as our neighbourhoods were flooded. Others have been subject to a
reign of fire in the terrifying sweep through California, British Columbia, Spain’s Estrecho
natural park and Portugal’s Algarve. Locally it hit Saddleworth Moor in Greater
Manchester, which burnt seven square miles and was declared as the largest English
wildfire in living memory. Many of these wildfires were exacerbated by strong winds –
another elemental showing humans they are not so in control as they like to think. And the
earth element – it has been quaking with dire consequences in Japan (the 6.1 magnitude
quake in Osaka, strongest for 50 years and a 6.7 quake in Hokkaido) coupled with
heatwaves, floods and typhoon Jebi.
Although weather is not climate, everyone affected gets directly that something is
happening – it is not a vague statistic but a immediate experience. The concern about our
gardens drying out relates to the garden of ‘nature’ with which we have lost connection.
The balance is gone, the centre is not holding (Yeats). This goes for politics in which the
acrid atmosphere of contempt and denigration of opponents makes for shorter and
How to weather these cultural storms? David Fleming in his paradigm breaking book,
Surviving the Future, calls our situation Climateric – the coming together of several
tipping points such as mass refugee exodus, deficits in energy, water and food along with
sea level rise shrinking land area, acidic oceans, the failure of keystone species such as bees.
The potential social collapse of which Jem Bendell has warned – see later in this newsletter
– threatens the ability of a society to pass on both its basic technical competences in
services such as transport and water and as well as its cultural containers that provide
community cohesion and relational engagement.
The complexity of this crisis reflects the complexity of climate change in its difficulty to pin
down and give coherent, let alone simple accounts. The comprehending of complexity is
particularly difficult when anxiety is roused which typically it is when ‘normal service’
breaks down and everything becomes uncertain. Psychotherapists bring the skills of
containment and being able to sit with uncertain and threatening feelings. But these tend
to be in carefully managed situations such as consulting rooms. Working in the earlier days
of ‘Occupy’ in a tent with people coming and going, no clear context or even agreed ground
rules brought home to me how fragile are the presuppositions of classic psychotherapy.
There is no direct translation of skills from working with individuals in crisis to working
with a culture in crisis.
Understanding and dealing with our despair involves recognising how empty and
powerless we can feel. Paul Hoggett in Climate Change and the Apocalyptic Imagination
argues that dealing with despair involves facing the difficulty of not knowing what the
future holds and holding a balance between being justifiably alarmed and destructively
There are precedents for denial. There is the holocaust denial and there is denial of sexual
abuse. It is not just a matter of individual trauma but of a social trauma. The shift from
seeking blame and explanations to recognising complicity is a painful and salutary lesson.
In relation to climate change, the distance and alienation from natural affinities
exacerbates the challenge for taking responsibility. Sally Weintrobe writes,
"My current work is on the role our culture plays in shaping disavowal about climate
change. I call it the culture of uncare, and argue its aim is to alienate and distance us
from the part of us that cares about the effects of our actions.
To address climate change we need to care more. It’s as simple as that. Only felt
links with the part of us that cares will give us the inner strength and will to defend
the earth and life on earth at this time when both are so under attack".
The Cat is out of the Bag
The prospect of collapse – ecological, economic, civilizational – has haunted CPA’s
discourse from the word go. Our original statement of purpose asserted that the
preservation of a habitable Earth was contingent on a transformation of human existence
into ecologically-informed living. In the subsequent seven years there have been huge
efforts in some quarters and at some levels, but nothing approaching the rapid and
wholesale transformation that was needed. Indeed, the political climate has gone
backwards in many respects.
This realisation has been in the back of everyone’s minds as CPA has navigated a course
which seeks to connect what we can see happening at the planetary and human
levels. This course has included radical hope (what vision and motivation is there when
delusional hope is rejected?) also the question of our life and consciousness through the
stories we tell (can we create a story that grounds us in a wider reality?) and, most recently,
the Anthropocene – the story of ourselves as a potent force in the Earth System, but
lacking the power to direct the future in favour of our own or other life on Earth.
CPA is a broad church and this is particularly evident in the ways we seek to interpret our
task of facing difficult truths and combining this with a recognition of determined,
imaginative, even transformational work. Some members have accused us of lacking a
sufficiently positive voice; others have suggested that CPA may be a place of implicative
Leaving aside apocalyptic imaginings since time immemorial, warnings about collapse of
modern civilisation have been around for a while. Jared Diamond’s Collapse, James
Lovelock’s The Vanishing Face of Gaia and Oreskes and Conway’s The Collapse of
Western Civilisation come immediately to mind. The pace of this commentary is
quickening; in the last year or so, we have had David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable
Earth in New York Magazine, Roy Scranton’s collection of essays We’re Doomed. Now
What? Fund Manager Jeremy Grantham has declared that ‘capitalism is killing the planet
and needs to change’, albeit collapse is a clear inference rather than a stated
conclusion. There is a similar ‘Final Warning’ feel to the recent Hothouse Earth report
from Joachim Shellnhuber, Johan Rockstrom, Will Steffen et al.
Some of these writings, notably the Wallace-Wells article, have been aired in CPA
newsletters and discussion forum, so the cat was hardly confined to the bag. But there
seems to have been a tipping point for us over Professor Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation: A
Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. I recently visited CPA members David and Evelyn
Wasdell. There were two reasons for this: David, a specialist in complex systems, was one
of the authors mentioned on page 8 in the Bendell paper. (The reference was to David’s
long-standing assertion that the notion of a remaining carbon budget is a dangerous
miscalculation). I had also noticed a marked similarity between one of the diagrams in the
Hothouse Earth report and something that I’d seen in David’s work from around ten years
ago. I will only acknowledge in passing the strange and painful story here of work
acknowledged in private, ignored in public, only to surface years later under different
On the Bendell paper, our conversation broadly confirmed comments made in the CPA
members’ discussion forum – that it is a rich, thoughtful and sobering analysis. It is
particularly provocative on the question of pulling punches in public discussion of the
emergency. There are some questions about emphasis here and there, which may emerge
in later discussion. David came up with two interestingly contrasted comments. The first
concerned the paper “What Lies Beneath” by Dunlop and Spratt which has recently figured
in CPA discussion. He considers their work to be worryingly conservative and in need of
David’s second comment concerned Bendell’s inclusion of Guy McPherson’s thinking on
near-term human extinction. David felt that McPherson tends to collapse the time
dimension and project personal fears onto the global canvass. Whilst I too have been very
affected by the near-term extinction argument, I have harboured doubts about his
work since first encountering McPherson’s thinking. One reason for caution,
acknowledged by Bendell himself, is that the speed of methane release from clathrates is a
highly contested subject. McPherson may be right, but why is he so sure? Could he, as
some have suggested, be exhibiting the mirror opposite of climate denialism? The game is
up and it will all be over very soon indeed.
It looks as if CPA may need to reaffirm its commitment to holding the tension between
extreme positions and to resist the comforts (including perverse comforts) that those
positions deliver. An earlier paper by Rosemary Randal and Paul Hoggett speaks to this
middle ground: Sustainable activism: managing hope and despair in social movements
Adrian Tait 6/9/18
July 2018 Clive Hamilton made a presentation to CPA members and guests on
Facing the Anthropocene. Geology’s challenge to how we understand ourselves.
A recording of this evening with shortly be available on the CPA website
Psychology For A Sustainable Future Symposium – NZ Psychological Society
Annual Conference September 2018
Nadine Andrews presented a systemic approach to research with sustainability managers,
specifically findings relating to psychological threat coping strategies, their interactions
with other psychosocial factors, and the implications of these responses for proenvironmental
cognition and behaviour in organisational contexts.
The IPC Communications Handbook: Edinburgh. 25th September
Discussion Event: The IPCC Communications Handbook
Active Roots: Radical Activism with GLÒRIA GRANELL.
Thursday 27th September 7.30
Dollis Hill, London NW10: £6.00
A deeply personal story told by environmental campaigner GLÒRIA GRANELL. Gloria has
created Active Roots which advocates for the creation of new models of activism which
encourage personal transformation. She will tell her personal journey as an activist and
speak about the healing she experienced while crafting this story.
This is in a private house in NW10. The address and booking details from Sarah. Please
Cometh the Moment: A happening in the Woods October 20th
Sarah Deco and Chris Robertson. After their first venture into the woods last July
exploring Remorse, Re-storying and Re-enchantment, we will be making a second
adventure trip. This workshop seeks to open a space in the woods in which we can seek
guidance from the other-than-human as to how to bear the pain, grief and loss of a
coming storm. We will attend to that which the storm cannot take from us. For details:
Catastrophe or Transformation? Being a therapist in a time of climate change: science
meets psychology October 21 all day event at Bath Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling - Tree Staunton, Caroline Hickman, Peter Harper, Ruth Tudor and Kate Dufton.
More details on our events page as they come available
Edited by Chris Robertson on behalf of the Executive Committee