Extinction Rebellion Experiences: A Personal Perspective - New Associations Article 3

On the 31st October, 2018, Extinction Rebellion declared itself in uprising against the UK government over its failure to act on the climate emergency. I joined the rebellion ten days later and took an active role in the mass disruption that followed. We targeted government buildings, closed down six bridges over the Thames and, during the International Rebellion, occupied four major London sites. I was part of the first wave of rebels that closed down the roads around Marble Arch.

The rebellion has grown in size from a few hundred people in October to over ten thousand in April and continues to grow exponentially. We believe we are on the right side of history and are prepared to sacrifice our liberty in honour of our beliefs. During the International Rebellion, over one thousand ordinary people from all walks of life were arrested and jailed for their participation in non-violent direct action.

There was no trouble with the police. Indeed, Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, is on record as saying: "This is very, very difficult for us because my colleagues have never come across the situation that they are faced with at the moment. They are dealing with very, very passive people, probably quite nice people, who don't want confrontation whatsoever with the police or anyone else but are breaking the law."

We believe breaking the law is necessary to bring about change. We tried signing petitions, we tried writing to our MPs, we tried legal demonstrations – so far nothing has happened and we are now out of time. According to a recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have just eleven years to avoid social and ecological collapse. The IPCC represents the best minds in the field of climate science. Scientists are not generally known for their use of hyperbole. We are in a desperate situation.

I have been aware of climate change since I was a teenager. I remember the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997, and how hopeful I felt at that time. Everything changed in the new millennium. I remember the terrorist attacks, the long war, the failure of successive governments to listen to the people, the financial crash, austerity and then, in recent memory, the referendum on Europe. With every passing year, I lost a little more faith in the government’s ability to act in the best interests of the people and prevent catastrophic climate change.

It is not easy to live in a culture of denial. Before joining the rebellion, I frequently felt anxious, depressed, angry and occasionally desperate. I did not feel as though I could talk to anyone about how I was feeling, outside of a small circle of trusted friends, family and colleagues. I remember how people used to change the subject as soon as I mentioned the climate – as though the climate crisis was a taboo subject. All of that changed when I joined the rebellion and, for the first time, met others with whom I could identify.

I consider myself privileged to be able to speak openly and honestly about my feelings within a community that values empathy and respect above all else. We are developing an inclusive culture that welcomes every part of every person, including those parts that do not always seem coherent or cohesive. There are tensions and conflicts, of course, as one would expect in any mass movement with no obvious hierarchy. Nonetheless, we share a common goal and are committed to working through our differences together.

There is so much I would like to say about the rebellion, but I will end by sharing my experiences at Oxford Circus on the day the police confiscated our iconic pink boat. The boat had provided a striking visual focal point with the words “TELL THE TRUTH” emblazoned on its side. I loved that boat. In my mind, it came to represent love, inclusion, diversity, hope, defiance and, above all else, an unwavering commitment to the truth.

We had managed to hold the space for four days straight, reimagining the famous retail location as a place of celebration, with singing and dancing and music and play. Then, on the fifth day the police moved in, determined to reclaim the space. I remember arriving at the Circus to find a police cordon around the boat itself and the hundred or so rebels who had already ‘locked on’ for the duration. It had become impossible to get reinforcements to the boat.

I did not know what to do. I felt powerless to intervene. I desperately wanted to break the police lines, even though it would have meant certain arrest, but felt torn between my commitment to the rebellion and my commitment to my family, who had travelled with me that day. As I watched my five year old daughter draw chalk flowers on the road, to the sound of heavy cutting machinery, I feared for the future of the rebellion. More than that, I feared for my daughter’s future.

As I witnessed the boat being slowly dismantled, I felt almost overcome by grief. Then, in that moment of near despair, something beautiful happened. Two rebels – I do not know their names – invited us all to sit down together, several hundred rebels or more. They suggested we convene a ‘Peoples’ Assembly’, which is essentially a forum for sharing thoughts and feelings with a view to building consensus and commitment to a course of action.

We were invited to consider how we would help each other bear the grief of the coming climate crisis and build resilience within our communities. I knew immediately that everything we had been through so far – the struggle, the hardship, the discomfort, the pain, the sense of impotence in the face of state power, the conflict between responsibility to family and responsibility to the planet, the near overwhelming feelings of loss, grief and despair, the ability to support each other and make sacrifices for the greater good – I realised that these are the emotional experiences we must all work through together as a society, if we are to survive the climate emergency.

Please join us. The rebellion needs you.

Rob Stuart is a psychodynamic counsellor in private practice. He trained at Birkbeck College, University of London and is registered with the British Psychoanalytic Council and the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

 This article by CPA member Rob Stuart was part of a special issue focusing on the climate emergency of New Associations, the magazine of the British Psychoanalytic Council. Helen Morgan, a Jungian analyst and former Chair of the BPC commissioned the articles that comprised this autumn 2019 issue. (British Psychoanalytic Council Illustrator: Allen Fatimaharan.

Written by Rob Stuart


Getting Real - New Associations Article

A tragedy which is without precedent is unfolding in front of our eyes. We are witnessing catastrophic rates of species extinction and biodiversity loss, soil and ocean exhaustion and runaway climate change.

 I sit back and look at what I have just written. Somewhere inside me, someone is stifling a yawn. Blah de blah de blah. Perhaps I’m lapsing into hyperbole? I’m aware of a little voice in my head which says “Paul this is an exaggeration, you’re in danger of making a fool of yourself.” This little voice may be familiar to you, it’s a voice that says ‘don’t get yourself in a state’, it’s one of the ways we do disavowal being creatures who cannot bear very muchreality.

So I snap out of my dissociated state and go and look at the two recent UN reports warning me of this tragedy. Hmmm. Now someone else pops into my head, its Greta the pigtailed clarion from Stockholm and she’s saying “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future”. It takes an Asperger’s child to cut through the crap.

The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services tells me one million species are facing extinction. Nothing like this has happened since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. But wait a mo’, that eminent earth systems scientist Toby Young, writing in May’s Spectator, tells me that the conclusion of this report (compiled by 150 expert authors from reviews of over 15,000 scientific and governmental papers) “doesn’t add up”. That’s a relief then.

Now I remember John Steiner’s 1985 paper ‘Turning a Blind Eye’. Here he suggests that everyone knew who Oedipus really was from the start, the storyof Oedipus is actually the story of a cover up. He notes, “(C)hance seems to play an important role in this process, as it forms the vital flaw through which the truth can be attacked” (1985, 168). Of course! Isn’t there just a chance these ‘expert authors’ might be wrong? Nothing like this since the dinosaurs went? Come, come now. And I can hear someone telling me in a reassuring and fatherly way to get a grip on myself.

We need to find ways of encouraging these one-eyed ‘fathers’ of ours to read the two reports in question – the 39 page IPBES summary for policy makers and the summary of the IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C ( – and help them bear their reality. For they make for grim reading.

For almost 20 years now, Earth System Scientists have been deliberating on the emergence of the Anthropocene. This new geological epoch has three distinguishing characteristics. For the first time in the Earth’s 4.7 billion year history the imprint of a single species can be found everywhere; for better or worse this is the epoch of humankind. Secondly, and as a consequence of global heating, nature, for so long considered an object or resource for humankind to use, fights back. And as a consequence, the climatic conditions which appeared on Earth approximately 11,700 years ago and which have provided the basis for agriculture, settled life and human civilization are now being systematically destroyed (Lieberman & Gordon 2018).

The hidden hand of climate change, specifically drought and rural dislocation, has already been discerned behind the civil wars in Dafur and Syria, and the food price riots that kick started the Arab Spring were precipitated by the failure of the Russian wheat harvest in 2010. Social collapse has begun. Civilization itself is now on the endangered list.

Like an unconscious force, climate change begins to influence all aspects of global politics. Bruno Latour, the philosopher of science, insists that we can understand nothing about the politics of the last decades if we do not put climate change and its denial front and centre. Consider, for example, the riseof authoritarianism and nationalism. As Ian Angus notes, as early as 2003 a Pentagon report was envisaging a fortress-like retreat towards self sufficiency in the face of worsening climate change. Now the IPCC has included this strategy as one of its five Shared Socioeconomic Pathways, one which anticipates a rise of nationalism as “countries focus on achieving energy and food security goals within their own regions” (IPCC SSP for 2021 Sixth Assessment), a scenario which was anticipated a decade ago by the radical US journalist Christian Parenti who referred to it as ‘the politics of the armed lifeboat'.

As the liberal political order fractures everywhere it is as well to remind ourselves that whilst full of good intentions liberal democracy has never veered from a ‘business as usual’ trajectory. According to the latest projections being prepared for the 6th Assessment Report this trajectory, depending on the pathway pursued within it, would increase average global temperatures by between 3 and 5°C by 2100. This would make for an intolerable world for our grandchildren.

This is where our collective disavowal gets us. Our direction of travel is clear and it is one increasingly incompatible with the idea of human progress. We all want to carry on with our business as usual, busily not seeing that it is in crisis. When you come out of disavowal it’s usual to get swallowed up by anxiety, grief, guilt or anger and if this can’t be contained to then drop into despair. Even when these feelings can be contained they continue to trouble us. We have to learn to face these difficult truths and then stay with the trouble. There’s no cure for being human in these times. It’s like a chronic condition, it’s not going to get better and it may get worse; we’ll have to learn to live with it, we’ll have to learn how to flourish in spite of it.

How will we adapt to living in a society where spring has begun to fall silent, where climate refugees besiege the remaining temperate regions of the earth and where ecological austerity is no longer a matter of lifestyle choice but something forced upon us? In other words, how will we adapt to the kind of living that is likely in the Anthropocene if we continue on our ‘business as usual’ trajectory?

Since last summer’s heatwaves and the IPCC Report on 1.5°C a great fear has been gathering, manifest in public meetings and on social media, and beginning to percolate into our consulting rooms. It’s more than thirty years since Hannah Segal wrote her paper on the threat of nuclear war (Segal 1987). Rereading it I notice both similarities and differences to the predicament we are now in. The same mechanisms of denial and disavowal in relation to the danger are to the fore. But the threat then was one of instant annihilation, probably of all of humanity, whereas now the danger creeps insidiously but relentlessly upon us, and upon some more than others. Back then Segal felt that our own destructive impulses were denied and projected into the other group, the Russians, against whose hostile intent we sought an imaginary deterrence. Now, as we systematically vandalise the living systems upon which we all, humans and nonhumans, depend, there is no enemy ‘other’ to blame. Our destructiveness is exposed starkly before us. It would be tempting to speak of ‘species shame’ if only it weren’t for the inconvenient fact that those of us (white, middle class, western) who were and still are most responsible for this mess are those who, to begin with, will be least affected.

What part does the human condition play in this? We are a strange outgrowth of nature through which one part of nature has developed the capacity to become self aware, take itself as an object of contemplation and shape itself in a conscious way. And yet it is still of nature - human subjectivity remains trapped within the confines of the body, a body which suffers, ages and dies.

Perhaps only with the development of our modern civilization does humankind become partially aware of this tragic contradiction that inheres to being human. But we moderns seem to find this fact of life, our mortality, so difficult to bear. Our Promethean drive to master the universe appears like a manic defence against this knowledge and the annihilation anxiety that it elicits. We will become Gods. Progress, every extension of our control over the human and other-than-human, seems to be in part a flight from this unthought and unthinkable known

It is curious to observe how, in the years after their famous conversation on the subject of transience in 1913, Freud and Rilke almost appeared to change positions, Freud becoming more pessimistic and Rilke less despondent. In her preface to In Praise of Mortality, a collection of Rilke’s poetry, the great environmentalist Joanna Macy puts it thus: “Rilke’s is not a conditional courage, dependent on an afterlife. Nor is it a stoic courage, keeping a stiff upper lip when shattered by loss. It is courage born of the ever-unexpected discovery that acceptance of mortality yields an expansion of being. In naming what is doomed to disappear, naming the way it keeps streaming through our hands, we can hear the song that streaming makes”.

I think that ‘song’ is the pulse of life, Eros. Perhaps only if we are prepared to stay with the trouble, stay peering into that abyss, that a new spirit might arise. The new generation of activists, perhaps represented by those Extinction Rebellion activists who brought pot plants and bookshelves to the occupied bridges across the Thames earlier this year, seem prepared to do just this. We ridicule them for their idealism at our peril, it is us who need to ‘get real’ not them.

With civilization on the brink Segal called upon psychoanalysis to play its part in the mobilisation of life forces and warned how the attitude of analytic neutrality ‘can also become a shield of denial’. Speaking of those in the peace movement she argued ‘we must add our voice clearly to their voices’. She also felt psychoanalysis had a specific contribution to make. Because of its understanding of the psychic defences, she argued we should be able to ‘contribute something to the overcoming of apathy and self-deception in ourselves and others’.

Today there are many ways we can contribute to overcoming indifference to the climate emergency, from engaging with the media to support (if not active involvement) for campaigning groups, from life style choices which reduce our destructive imprint to developing new therapeutic practices which, for example, support climate distressed children and their parents. But the first step is to engage honestly with our own reactions to this unfolding tragedy. Today, in relation to the climate emergency, an increasing number of BPC registrants are making this contribution via involvement in the Climate Psychology Alliance, a network established by BPC and UKCP registrants a few years ago.

If the psychotherapy professions are to make the contribution that is so urgently needed they must wake up to the unprecedented nature of the time of the Anthropocene that we are now entering. As Naomi Klein put it, ‘this changes everything’. To carry on, business as usual, with our individual or group practices as if this darkening world didn’t exist will become increasingly irresponsible.

This article by CPA member Paul Hoggett was part of a special issue focusing on the climate emergency of New Associations, the magazine of the British Psychoanalytic Council. Helen Morgan, a Jungian analyst and former Chair of the BPC commissioned the articles that comprised this autumn 2019 issue. (British Psychoanalytic Council Illustrator: Allen Fatimaharan.


Angus, I. (2016) Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Barrows, A. & Macy, J. (2016) In Praise of Mortality: Selections From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus. Brattleboro, Vermont: Echo Point Books.

Latour, B. (2018) Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. Cambridge: Polity.

Lieberman, B. & Gordon, E. (2018). Climate change in human history: Prehistory to the present. London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Segal, H. ((1987) ‘Silence is the real crime’, Int. Rev. Psycho-Anal, 14: 3-12.

Steiner, J. (1985) ‘Turning a blind eye: Psychotic states and the cover-up for Oedipus’, Int. Rev. Psycho-Anal, 12: 161-7


What Psychotherapy Can Do for the Climate and Biodiversity Crisis

Apologies in advance, but I’m hoping that reading this will help you feel depressed – about biodiversity loss and our lack of progress over the climate crisis. The thing is, in these extreme circumstances, a bit of depression about the environment could be precisely what we need – it’s the only sane response.


Conscientious Protectors

As an increasing number of activists are prepared to risk arrest in order to defend the Earth against fossil fuel capitalism. What role might climate psychology play in their defence?

young people

Dos and Don'ts for Activists

Climate Trauma Survival Tips from Lise Van Susteren (psychiatrist)

The Dos

Take care of yourself physically and spiritually, through healthy living and maintaining a balance in your professional and personal life.

Physical exercise is essential -- endorphins, the body's natural pain killers, are secreted in response to exercise. Endorphins help fight psychic pain, too. Exercise also boots your immune system. If you are stressed out and getting sick a lot -- you need regular exercise. Swimming can be very soothing.

Get out of doors as much as possible -- connect with the forces that drive you and give yourself up to the beauty of nature in the present. Your energy to continue the battle will be rejuvenated.

Remember that you are not alone. There are lots of other people who may be just as traumatized as you are -- they just aren't talking about it. Some people are distracted by jobs that don't constantly expose them to the realities. Unlike you, they can get away from it for a while.

Diversify your work and your life: force yourself to participate in activities not related to climate.

Reinforce boundaries between professional work and personal life. It is very hard to switch from the riveting force of apocalyptic predictions at work to home where the problems are petty by comparison. If you haven't found another solution: Take 10 mins, close your eyes, shut your brain down. If you don't know how, Google "How to meditate."

Connect with your fellow climate warriors: Gather - Play games, dance, tell jokes. There is nothing like a laugh. Don't talk about climate!

Your fears are realistic. But what you can do, or what you expect you can do, may not be.

Personal therapy can help. You wouldn't be the first person to conflate some personal problems with what is happening to the planet. Find a climate crisis aware therapist.

The Don'ts 


Having trouble sleeping? Avoid climate related work at night. Make sure to cut off the computer at least 2 hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted by computers suppresses a hormone that triggers sleep more than light from other parts of the spectrum. Additionally, turning out lights is not only good for the planet -- the resulting incremental darkness sets the body up to sleep. Also, did you know that it can take as many as 9 hours for your body to completely break down caffeine?

Believe that you are invulnerable. In fact, admitting what you are going through makes you more resilient.

Ignore signs & symptoms of burnout. Like an overused muscle -- without some kind of rest or intervention burnout will only get worse.

Forget that understanding the material does not require that you actually experience what is being spoken about.

Lose focus on the essential tasks.

Don't give up! Despite the forecast -- we are working together like never before. 

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We are a diverse community of therapeutic practitioners, thinkers, researchers, artists and others. We believe that attending to the psychology and emotions of the climate and ecological crisis is at the heart of our work.


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