First, as mentioned lower down in this blog, John Ashton, senior adviser on climate change to Foreign Secretary David Miliband, has written what’s in my view one of the most powerful current messages on the urgency of a radical political awakening on the environment, and on the importance of science stating its message much more clearly. On Surviving the Collision. It’s short, cogent, and WELL worth reading in full.
(Reposting this with proper formatting and also correcting a fairly major Freudian slip, which suggested that flying and driving might be a meaningful contribution to combatting climate change…. A reminder that it’s best not to post things very late at night and in a hurry.)
In an earlier post, this blog tackled the challenge of whether someone who’s ecologically-aware can use a car, or even travel by plane, without needing to feel guilty or being judged by eco-peers.
My own view, while agreeing that it makes every bit of financial and social sense to use public transport, was thatrefraining from (!)driving or flying – within reason – is valuable more as a personal gesture than, sadly, as a meaningful contribution to stopping climate change.
Mary-Jayne Rust has come back with a very useful perspective, with which I entirely agree (although I would challenge the understanding of my own position as “depressive”, except in the paradoxically positive Freudian sense.)
Addressing our friend Martin, who is concerned about using his car to travel to a summer gathering of ecologically-engaged therapists, Mary-Jayne writes:
“Martin, I would feel sad if you didn’t come because of your fear of being judged for driving there. I agree we all struggle with our own constraints.
I’m also interested in your comments on nihilism, hopelessness, and Mark’s ‘depressive position.’
It is depressing to face the situation we are in. It looks increasingly likely that we are heading for unimaginable loss of life. And while I don’t believe this is “The End of the World” it does seems as though it’s “The End of the World as we know it”.
Nihilism seems rather different. For me it lies in the ‘f**k it’ mentality. This runs something like: “We can’t turn this around, therefore there’s no point in any action anymore, and we may as well fly as much as we like or do anything we like because ultimately nothing will make a difference.”
Ultimately this is “F**k Gaia”. It’s f**k life. That attitude is for me the most depressing and hopeless and hard to bear of all. And it’s entirely understandable…
I guess the question is about making a difference to what? Even when death is certain, there is still opportunity for extraordinary transformation which can make such a difference to both those who are on their way out as well as those who remain here.
So my way out of nihilism, of finding meaning at the end of the world as we know it, is to spend what time we have looking our Shadow in the eye, trying to see what we have been caught in, trying to repair the damage as far as we can. This, for me, is a question about how we make peace with Gaia.
Mark made a comment some time back that (for example) stopping flying now wouldn’t make a difference in terms of averting climate change. The only difference it would make is personal. I want to challenge that, to try and understand this on a relational level.
That’s because I think that all actions make a difference to my relationship with Gaia – which is my relationship with myself, with you, with all of life.
It makes a difference on a eco-spiritual level.”
Just back from seeingThe Age of Stupid,a new UK-produced film looking back from an imagined hot world in 2055 from on mankind’s failure to take the steps that would have saved our homo sapiens from catastrophe.
I guess I’d hoped for a repeat and equally inspirational experience of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth – a film that changed planetary thinking about climate change and the threat it presents to our survival.
That’s a very big ask, and although it’s a well-made, thoughtful movie with compelling individual narratives aimed to jolt Western viewers into protesting on the streets, accepting windfarms in their back yards and taking climate change seriously, Age of Stupid isn’t in the same league.
A Nigerian girl living close to a Shell oil facility wants to be a doctor and enjoy a life of Western-style luxury. An Indian budget airlines entrepreneur dreams of getting all India airborne. Iraqi children in Jordanian exile play soldiers-and-insurgents. A grizzled old Mont Blanc guide in France tearfully and movingly laments the disappearance of the glaciers and of autumns and springs in the mountains. A New Orleans oilman lost everything in Katrina and comments that this must indeed be the Age of Stupid.
The film had the very best scientific advice from climate change guru Mark Lynas, filmed explaining how CO2 emissions must peak in 2015 and then fall rapidly if there’s to be any chance of holding global temperature rise to an only minimally disastrous two degrees.
But, as a movie, Age of Stupid didn’t, I’m afraid, for me light the blue touchpaper.
Despite the film’s grim final countdown to global meltdown by 2055, it just underlines how hard it now is and will remain, until catastrophe gets truly personal, to bring home to ordinary Western folk in our comfortable fossil-fuelled comfort the reality of how we stand on the brink of the precipice.
Humankind with our current level of political and economic courage is like that addict, believing that we can keep using/abusing and somehow change at the same time. We can’t, and only very tough love will wake us up. The difference with the therapy analogy here being that it isn’t just the client who’s killing him/herself. Our own survival is also literally dependent on our clients’ ability to change. We are in this together, and don’t have the luxury of endless, slow-moving therapeutic work that gets there in the end.
Nick Totton asked the critical question in answer to my last blog, HOW should we begin preparing for the very worst.
The answer to that question is not at all clear to me either.
I am sure that Transition Towns, energy-saving, the work being done in spiritual communities and all the rest of which you all know so much more than me, and in which you have been engaged for aeons, is valuable, essential, and part of that preparation.
My concern is that the possibility/probability of potentially catastrophic breakdown, and how we approach that, needs to be made much more central and explicit.
As is done, evidently, in new movie The Age of Stupid. And as is terrifyingly NOT done in 99% of current media, political, cultural, economic discourse. Despite my hopes last weekend that we were possibly at last seeing a tipping point in how this is being understood and discussed. Another false dawn, though it’s just a question of time.
Once many more people begin engaging with/taking on board just what a challenge this is, I am confident that all kinds of options, approaches, possibly even (though I am not optimistic here) solutions will begin to emerge.
However, as long as we focus almost entirely on the likelihood/option of stopping climate change before it’s too late (and of course, it’s about so much more than CO2), we will never generate sufficient drive behind the need to change profoundly and rapidly. That was my personal disappointment with the Stern report and indeed with the IPCC conclusions of 2007 – mealy-mouthed, optimistic, lowest-common-denominator. And which is why the Copenhagen discussions last week were so very important – naming it more clearly than ever how it really is.
Two analogies. One our old friend the Titanic. The other picking up on therapy.
Let’s imagine we are indeed on the Titanic, steaming – indeed picking up speed – towards the scientifically-predicted collision with the iceberg. The chances of finding ourselves dying in the water are, let’s say, 98%. What do we, as passengers and crew, do?
- First, we seriously appraise the risk. And make sure everyone on board understands that this involves them too.
- Then, we bring together the best minds and souls on board to look at how we might avert the collision. Slowing down, changing course, all options. But that can be only a part of our work.
- At the same time, we have to prepare the ship as best we can for the actual collision. Reinforcing bulkheads, moving equipment and supplies to safer places, ensuring energy supplies for whatever and whoever survives the impact.
- Parallel to that, we appraise realistically what supplies we have on board, the state of the lifeboats, and how best to use them. Both now before we hit the iceberg, and on behalf of any likely survivors.
- This bit is really difficult – we have to start thinking about who is going to be on the lifeboats, and how to handle panic. We have to name the fact (as some are now beginning to do) that many, many will die. And that terrible choices will have to be made.
- We must do whatever we can to ensure that there ARE survivors of the impact itself and its immediate aftermath, who then carry with them what they need to keep surviving. We need to consider how any survivors of the likely collision are going to live in the world they reach beyond the immediate catastrophe. That will have to be very differently to how we/they have partied on the boat so far. Transition movements, meditation, discussions, realtionships, spiritual preparation, consideration and preparation of sustainable technologies and supplies and the rest. Absolutely essential, and all work done now can only benefit that future community.
In short, there’s a huge amount to be done – practically, emotionally, spiritually, politically. But, and here’s my second analogy, none of it will have the impact it needs to have if most of the planet doesn’t realise how urgent this task of preparation is, and somehow thinks it can continue with business-as-usual, with just a bit of tweaking.
- I don’t know about others in this conversation, but as therapist, I know that I cannot begin serious work with an addict until they have acknowledged what a mess they are in, and in AA terms climbed on the wagon. If the client continues to use drugs or get paralytic six nights a week, I can sit (and occasionally have sat) with them until blue in the face. And the therapy won’t work, full stop. As addict after addict has told me, until the wheels came off the wagon, they weren’t ready to change. THEN, we need to be here, and to help them pick up the pieces in a new way. So we have to sit with them, and keep talking and listening, until they’re ready to shift.
Your question How? is critically fair, Nick. What I do know is that I personally don’t believe I will serve anything or anyone by beating around what I see as a very clear bush. It’s damned uncomfortable, but I don’t see that any other approach than the bluntest of talking – let’s hope it comes very soon from our political leaders – will help.
The iceberg looms.
(A reminder first that climate change posts are now also going up at facingclimatechange.blogspot.com).