Climate Change

Lyon Nuclear

I’m passionate about how and why we as the human species are still failing fully to engage with the meaning of climate change and our unsustainable relationship with the planet that supports us.

There’s much about how my own thinking has developed elsewhere on this blog, going back to 2008 when I travelled solo, with a lot of time to think, 4000 miles to Budapest and back by bicycle.

I have also just (in March 2016) posted further reflections, rather gloomy I’m afraid, after a six-week tandem journey through New Zealand/Aotearoa, from the very top to the very bottom.

I’ve written specifically here for Greenpeace on the media and climate change, and here for the British Association for Psychotherapy and Counselling, a front-page article for Therapy Today as long ago, I fear, as 2007.

However, as I’m sometimes asked during my trainings with therapists and with journalists how I’ve come to this position of urgency, here briefly, (with a view right  of early morning steam rising from the cooling towers of a French nuclear power plant seen on that trip near Lyon in April 2008) let me set out my views, embedding links as I go to some writings and websites which I hope might be useful.

The bottom line, sadly and starkly put, (and this merits a book, not a brief website entry) is that I no longer believe that we humans are capable of turning things round in time to avert the collapse of our present civilisation and the loss of most of the world’s population, very probably by the end of this century.

I know there are many who deny the urgency of the issue.

There are many more who, while accepting  the science, say we shouldn’t sound the alarm bells too urgently as that will demotivate people from taking steps that might head off the worst.

For my part, after much passionate and indeed obsessive discussion with colleagues and friends in recent years, and as a relative late-comer to this debate, I know that the truth of what we face has to be named – loudly, courageously, honestly, fearfully – so that we can all begin to prepare.

Both practically (sea defences? new power sources? food provision? repositories of knowledge and wisdom that will survive the cataclysm) but especially psychologically.

As I understand the science, (see especially James Hansen and Mark Lynas), we are heading for a rise in average global temperatures in this century of well over 4 degrees Centigrade, and very probably six degrees.

As a species, however much we might wish to, we are quite simply unable to roll back the population numbers, the energy use and our globalised way of life that are leading us towards civilisational collapse.

That, as one environmental tipping point after another is crossed, will mean rising sea levels that wipe out most of the world’s main coastal and low-lying cities; drought; famine; floods and much more.

And that in turn will bring – if this doesn’t happen earlier, under the weight of its own contradictions – the collapse of a global economy we already know to be unsustainable, and the end indeed of pretty much everything our fossil-fuelled present takes for granted.

It’s much, much worse than the media and the politicians and even many environmentalists are publicly telling us – although in private, as I’m sure you know from your own conversations, many more know that the game is over than will admit to that openly.

That doesn’t mean that trying to bring down CO2 emissions, to prepare for a carbon-free future and prevent the worst is a waste of effort.

But I find myself (forgive the cliche) thinking Titanic.

Yes, it might just yet be possible to avoid hitting the iceberg and saving all the ship’s/planet’s passengers.

But a far greater likelihood is that we will indeed be holed by the climate/sustainability iceberg, and that, as with the Titanic, only a minority of those on board will survive.

There will be communities and groups who emerge to build some form of new world – but theirs will be radically different from the one we know now.

So, as well as trying to prevent the collision, we must in my view begin to prepare for the overwhelming likelihood of catastrophe .

How, in detail?

I don’t know.

No-one can draw up a reliable master-plan. But surely we should at least start thinking about and having the courage to name the unthinkable about how to preserve the best that our species has brought about during the last 10,000 years of exploration, science, learning and evolving consciousness.

With James Lovelock, I see a post-transition world where there are pockets of humanity, possibly clustered in what Lovelock calls lifeboat nations such as our own British Isles, Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand…

Life will be very tough, but it would be a tragedy if, along with so much of the world’s populations and its other non-human inhabitants, our current knowledge was also lost.

There will also be profound opportunities for good, although I do fear that the transition will be brutish, but  not short. Our children possibly, and I fear almost certainly our grandchildren, may not die peacefully in their beds.

If you’ve read this far, you may wonder why and how I continue to believe in the value of psychotherapy and of what might be termed emotional or even spiritual healing (spiritual not in the sense for me of religious faith but of finding meaning beyond one’s own immediate self.)

The reason why I do believe in that value, and will continue to speak and write about these things, is that until the very end, and whatever happens, it does matter, and has always mattered, how we live our lives and ultimately die our deaths. Collectively as well as individually.

Even in the concentration camps; even as Jews in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe knew they were almost certainly going to die (as Soviet novelist and journalist Vasily Grossman brilliantly describes in Life and Fate, living their ordinary lives to the very last); even as we as a species head – in whatever time-frame – towards our demise (and don’t forget that 99% of all species that have ever lived on earth ultimately ended up extinct, so the only thing that’s new is that we are doing this to ourselves), human beings are called to meaning and to purpose.

There’s much, much more to say, and no doubt I will say some of it in my various continuing blogs and pages on this and other websites. I hope you have found this interesting and stimulating – I would love to hear from you.

4 thoughts on “Climate Change

  1. Maybe it would be better to put your understanding of psychotherapy to use in trying to understand what we could do to get the message of urgency across to the public.

    There is some interesting research being done in this area:

    Thinking Aloud – Class and Commuting; Engaging with Climate Change
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pzv2n

    Living in denial – climate change, emotions and everyday life

  2. Hi – thanks for those good links. I’ve been talking with Sally Weintrobe and colleagues, in the http://www.ecopsychology.org.uk group, for some time, and we have struggled with many conflicting approaches.

    Ro Randall’s Carbon Conversations fell apart in Cambridge, sunk by the usual conflict between individuals in groups. I’m not sure psychoanalysis is the most useful frame for shifting attitudes, and find evolutionary biology perhaps more useful.

    I’ve personally tried many different approaches in ordinary conversations, and sadly have concluded that people in the mass will not be moved in a way that will make the necessary difference in time. Where the real effort will need to go is into adaptation, and that’s where human beings DO rise to the challenge when survival is under threat.

    But yes, giving up is a bad idea, especially as a psychotherapist.

  3. By the time things begin to be majorly impacted we will still be committed to much more warming, I fear that unless action is taken soon that many of the changes will be unadaptable.

    The world bank in their report “Turn down the heat why a four degrees C world must be avoided” concluded that:

    “…there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible. A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur”

    Similarly, an expert on climate adaption form the University of Exeter, Prof. Neil Adger has said that “Thinking through the implications of 4°C of warming shows that the impacts are so significant that the only real adaptation strategy is to avoid that at all cost because of the pain and suffering that is going to cost”

    And Prof. Kevin Anderson, former director of the Tyndall Centre for climate change research, has often said that “There is a widespread view that a 4°C future is incompatible with an organised global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of eco-systems & has a high probability of not being stable”

    Adaption isn’t enough, we must also find some way to begin mitigating now.

    Prof. Steven Schneider once said that ““The bottom line is that you’ve got to adapt to what won’t get mitigated… and mitigate what you can’t adapt to”

    Putting it more bluntly Gen. Anthony Zinni (Ret.), Former Commander in Chief
    U.S. Central Command as pointed out that:
    “We will pay to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions today, and we’ll take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives.”

    Many climate scientists I’ve met feel similar, and when speaking frankly will exclaim (as Prof. WIll Steffan, Director ANU Climate Change Institute, did in public recently) that “There is a growing sense of panic in those who really understand what a 4°C world might be like”

    I think that’s why so much of this course focused on the supposed techno-fix of geo-engineering.

    1. I do very much agree. But serious mitigation won’t happen until public opinion feels the emotional fear of the otherwise inevitable alternative.

      The challenge is how to alarm without paralysing, and I fear the Exeter course with its left brain scientific focus misses the need for felt and not just known urgency.

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