Thoughtful Response on Climate Change from Mary-Jayne Rust

Very thoughtful reply – to which I shall also reply shortly – on climate change from the Grande Dame (sorry M-J – you’re not Grande at all, but very influential…) of Climate Change psychology, Mary-Jayne Rust.

(Picture here is this time of the most gorgeous hoarfrosted spider’s web seen this month in the Cotswolds.)

“I really enjoyed reading your piece. Here’s my rather long response! I think what you are pointing to is very important; it’s no good skirting around the facts that we must face. It’s what used to happen with terminal diagnoses – many of the older generation would rather not know the bad news. (My father still agrees with this).

Families, as well as doctors, would shield the patient from the grim facts. To some extent, this is quite a good metaphor for what we are seeing now – the fear of revealing the shocking facts in case the person, ie the collective, go into terminal decline/depression/chaos/ and are unable to function. “We must keep them optimistic at all costs, focussed on a positive future, and that means hiding the real scenario”.

However, diagnosis, prognosis, and then claims of certainty about the future are three very different things. I would agree with you wholeheartedly: that our diagnosis is very serious indeed – we are hanging by a thread; prognosis bad too – that if we continue with business as usual, we are very likely to be toast; and that when the time comes when death is certain, that one must surrender, otherwise a very extraordinary opportunity may be missed.

But where we disagree is that our future is certain and that we are at the stage of needing the hospice, that we must surrender to extinction, and prepare as best we can.

I don’t think we have reached certainty yet. The scientific facts are an essential part of the picture but they are just that – PART of the picture. While science may predict the death of an individual, and this may be correct some of the time, there are times when individuals miraculously recover.

Science is not all-knowing, it’s not omnipotent, it cannot explain everything that happens. For a system so vast and complex, we cannot possibly see the entire picture. I also think we do not know for sure precisely what stage we are at. Also, the scientists freely admit they cannot predict how this complex system will respond, especially once homo sapiens REALLY gets into gear and starts using our genius to think outside the box….and I do think this is just beginning to happen. It might be too late already, but I don’t agree we have certainty on that. Even Jim Hansen thinks there may be some leeway.

Back to where we agree: absolutely I think the seriousness of the situation needs communicating, for that shock of realisation of where we are engages us in a process. Hopefully we wake up bigtime and go on a journey. But the danger is that the shock pushes some people further into denial – either ‘fuck it, let’s just party’ or ‘we’re doomed I can’t think it’s all so depressing, apathy reigns’.

I think that the direction people might take in response to the shock depends to some extent on the skill of the communicator, and there are complex issues around where we locate hope, I think. (I don’t rely on the certainty of us getting through this. My hope lies in the possibility that we can engage with whatever is facing us now. It’s my experience that when we do that in a profound way, then extraordinary things happen).

I am feeling more optimistic than I was. Since 1992 most of the activists that I have been friends with have said privately that there is little chance, if any, that we will pull through – that it would take a miracle. Over the past few years I have begun to wonder what might happen when the human genius really turns its attention to our situation. This is only just beginning to happen.

I think that there may be things right outside the box of our thinking that may emerge. Not that I think we are omnipotent. I still hold as a possibility that we will become extinct. But I also hold the possibility that we may pull through, in the final second.

Staying in this not-knowing place is the hardest of all. Being overly optimistic is not helpful at all. But neither is being definitely pessimistic. And curiously, just as in our individual process, it is necessary to go through a (sometimes very long) phase of mourning and darkness, including great pessimism when all appears to be lost, before the new can emerge. I think we are in this liminal and very unknown dark place.

To create certainty at this point re-creates the defined box that we are caught in. Surrendering to the unknown allows the box to open and for limitless mind to pop out.”

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