Cracking Open – from Viola

I think it is very hard to know what to do to prepare. After all, we have never quite been in this situation before, so how can we know? And we may find that we are indeed already doing some of it, and finding that we may be able to do some of it more mindfully and therefore more… richly.

As an activist, I have felt shouting is sometimes an undervalued activity. Or at least that people don’t like you shouting unless you have the answer. Of course simply raising the alarm is sometimes good enough, and environmentalists spent much of the past 10 or 20 years doing this, alongside working out what the solutions to climate change could be.

So this is just to say I don’t think that the shouter does have to know what they’d like to see differently, although of course sometimes the shouting indicates that the shouter does know. But I do think it is good to begin having the discussion to sketch out what we might want to see happening, once enough people have started listening to the shouting.

I have been left with many thoughts since the Bristol conference. I thought it very interesting that as a group we managed to walk several tightropes between the many (sometimes overlapping) positions we can take up:

* There is enough time, we have to keep positive and hopeful (and not scare people or “make” them feel their guilt etc);
* We are all f***ed and there is nothing we can do except face up to the facts and prepare for the worst;
* We are committed already to so much devastation but we must do what we can in case it helps;
* We have the knowledge and the power, so we have the responsibility to act;
* There may be nothing we can do, but the task now is to honestly face the devastation, while staying with the not knowing and doing what we can.

There was some (although not much) discussion at the UWE conference about the dangers of saying we are f***ed, including the fear of aggressive scapegoating and blame (which we are already seeing to a certain extent in the more racist end of the population debate).


And then there is concern it will simply elicit greater defences, denial, despair and more eco-destructive behaviours, like flying to the Pacific islands before they become completely submerged.

I have to say, in some ways I would like to believe there is definitely nothing we can do, as I’d like to fly away to somewhere nice and sunny for a holiday, or visit my sister in north Africa (who also gave up flying many years ago and who I may never see again, as her overland journey takes her ever further from England).


And I would love to stop talking about all this difficult stuff and all this soul searching and live a life of delicious hedonism. Yes, really! …This hair shirt is ever so itchy… ☺

There was a study done (by someone, somewhere at sometime, apparently) on the mindsets of Nazi soldiers. It revealed that the soldiers were convinced they would each die a violent death and that this was key to having the psychological freedom to carry out the atrocities they each committed.


It is a short step to think about how people may respond to the traumatic realisation of just how bad the crisis of our industrial lifestyles is, without the resources – empowerment, psychoemotional literacy etc etc – to handle the knowledge.

I would like to talk some more about this, as there are a whole range of positions out there, including those who perhaps haven’t even woken up to the urgency and the enormity of the problem. And yet there are others who are already overwhelmed, dissociated and despairing.


It clearly is a very sharp knife edge that we must walk – with the power to cut us free, or cut our throats.

So where are we at? We have the technology to make a transition (although, yes, the Spiegel report is gloomy about that, and yes, somewhere far away, the other side of the world, China, threatens to make the UK’s actions irrelevant – an excuse for inaction that the politicians have delightedly publicised). But as individuals, as a global community, we seem unable to make this transition happen.

At the conference, we talked about the multitude of reasons why this is the case, and Mary-Jayne’s talk encapsulated much of that in outlining our social conditioning around what progress and being powerful means in Western, industrialised culture.


What is becoming clear to me is that climate change does not simply require transition. It requires transformation. It requires a physical transformation, for example, of the way we produce and use electricity. And it requires a personal, psychospiritual transformation of the way we understand ourselves to be part of a living planetary system.

We have long known the technologies (or at least the first models of the technologies) needed for maintaining our lifestyles while reducing CO2 emissions, and yet we haven’t made the transition.


This reminds me (as I know it does others) of times in therapy where it is essential to face the shit – where our own therapeutic process holds our face down in the shit, where the grief, the fear of failure, the shame of our actions and inactions, the guilt, the despair …all of it… cracks us open, and in doing so exposes the kernel of health within the experience to the sun, so that slowly it begins to uncurl and grow.

We do not have a crystal ball, and the scientists and the computer models have got it wrong before (although yes, they have generally underestimated quite how bad it is!) and we do not know everything there is to know about the Earth, human nature and the global climate.


What I am saying is we cannot know that our actions won’t make a difference, even though it looks in every way impossible. The situation – the process as it is – means we have no choice but not to know, even though clutching at the straws of certainty (that there is nothing we can do) may be easier.

And the heat of the not knowing, the very real possibility of failing, the grieving, the shame, the guilt, the fury …all of it… will be transformative.

I think no one will escape having to face this, whether that is the grief of losing loved ones in freak weather disasters or the fear of what the future will hold for their children or the realisation of what each of us has done in our ignorance and the dawning of the consequences of our inactions.

In the meantime, yes, there are things we need to put in place, alongside those needed for the technological transition. These things are processes and systems and knowledge and practices that will help us face the devastation we are already committed to, while dealing deal with the white heat of transformative experiences.


Preparation? We are in a changing climate, a changing ecosystem and a changing society already: it’s not about packing sandwiches, it’s about making them while we are on the journey, as best we can, with whatever ingredients we find on the way. Rocket anyone?

(Pun unintended, but I found it amusing)

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