Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ready to Get Involved?

Over the past week I have been contacted by a few readers telling me that they are ready to take the next step and get involved in some way. This is fantastic and extremely encouraging.  I very much want to use this blog to foster and coordinate activism. I have a lot of ideas. To implement them, I need a lot of allies.

The posts  Strategy proposal and Ideas describe some of the things I hope to accomplish with additional reader involvement. Surely these ideas will grow and change, but they give you a sense of the type and direction of activity. Basically, the Human Climate Movement is an anti-denial  movement. The Truth is our weapon, and we must wield it skillfully, creatively, and courageously.

I created an Involvement Form that will help me best utilize your skills and dedication. It is not an application: anyone who wants to fight climate change is my ally, and I will utilize any commitment that is offered.

If you don’t feel the form conveys something adequately, please feel free to e-mail me more information or a CV.

We have so much to do. I look forward to working with you.

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State of the Blog Part 2: Ideas!

In the previous State of the Blog post, I discussed my goals for the Climate Psychologist; my hope that my writing can contribute to building, empowering, organizing, and uniting the Human Climate Movement in order to wake humanity up from denial and fight back. In this post, I will share my ideas for future writing and Movement activities.

I am sharing these ideas because I think scholarly engagement and collaboration on strategy planning is essential to HCM success. I have written that strategy discussions for the HCM should be open sourced, and that organizations and bloggers should “play their cards face up,” sharing and discussing with their membership and readers their comprehensive strategy for solving climate change, or having a frank discussion about their lack of a strategy and their plans to develop one.

Publishing my ideas is part of me taking my own advice. I am not going to guard my own ideas, reflexively advocating for them against competing ideas. I am not going to attempt to milk these ideas for maximal publicity or professional rewards. Rather, I offer them to the movement. Anyone who wants to use their intellect to fight climate change should be able to access my ideas. This way, people interested in collaborating can get in touch with me and people who have good recommendations for relevant sources can share them with me. Further, people should feel free to use these ideas themselves, to elaborate on them, hybridize them, or write about them. Share your work with me, so when I approach this topic, I can utilize your insights, and combine them with my own. We simply don’t have the time to waste on individual aggrandizement or stubbornness. We have to work together.

Posting my ideas like this also gives me a chance to get reader feedback before writing the whole article! Any ideas, comments, tips (on source material, topics, as well as places to publish), preferences, and so on are greatly appreciated!

 

Margaret’s Ideas for Articles:

*Ordered from most developed to least developed

1) Understanding, and Critiquing the Left’s Preoccupation with “Leaderlessness”

I will critique the HCM and especially 350’s “grass roots” and “leaderless” approach to organization. Leadership and centralized coordination is crucial for success. Occupy Wall Street is a prime example of a movement that sacrificed efficacy for the ideal of leaderlessness. I will argue that the right, with no similar psychological and cultural aversion to leadership, builds more efficient institutions (Corporations, militaries, think-tanks, etc).

I will argue that (good) leadership is a gift and essential for movement success. Good leaders inspire and unite a group, empowering people, helping them reach their full potential and achieve things that they had imagined were beyond their capabilities.  MLK is an example of this. (Alford, “Leadership as Interpretation and Holding,”). I will argue that leading is a highly risky and challenging task, and we should appreciate what leaders are sacrificing (Heifetz, “Leadership on the line).

I will also argue that “federated structures:” that have centralized planning and enough independence for individual groups to accommodate local concerns and allow for creativity is the ideal structure for the HCM. This structure allows many levels of leadership. (Ganz) Instead of thinking “no leader” we should think “many leaders.”

I will provide a historic analysis of why the left became so phobic of leaders:

The in the 1960s, 3 excellent leftist leaders—JFK, RFK, and MLK, were assassinated within years of each other, traumatizing the Left and causing them to avoid getting too attached to future leaders.

This, combined with:
*In the 1960s, Leftist leaders betrayed a generation of young men by sending them to fight in Vietnam

*The rise of feminism indicted the idea that men should be leaders of their families. This critique morphed into a general distrust of leaders and power.

*The raising of the Iron Curtain showed the peril of iron fisted “Leftist” leadership and government.

2) Climate Change and the Holocaust: Atrocities, Denial, and Moral Obligation

I will argue that the Holocaust is a recent, very vivid example of how a normal human response to atrocities is to deny them and avoid knowing about them. I will examine the concept of the “Ordinary German” who tried not to get involved, and claimed after the war that they “didn’t know” what was happening. I will discuss the moral duty to learn about and to know about climate change and to act on that knowledge.

I will interpret the phrase, “Never Again” to mean more than “No future genocides” but rather to mean “Never again should humanity turn its back on preventable horrors.”  Terrible things do happen, and we all have a moral obligation to stand against them.

I will discuss similarities between the US media’s coverage of the Holocaust and their coverage of climate change.  (The NYT buried the atrocities of the Holocaust in the middle of the paper, as it drastically understates and underreports the risk of climate change.)

I will utilize heavily Stanley Cohen’s  outstanding  book, “States of Denial.”

**It would be great to collaborate with a Holocaust scholar on this. If anyone is interested/ knows someone who has a good background in Holocaust studies or cultural denial.

 

3)  Climate Change as a Feminist Issue

Beyond the fact that climate change hurts women because it hurts everyone, I will argue that one of the most important, most cherished victories of feminism has been to give women drastically increased agency over their own bodies. This has been accomplished through criminalizing domestic violence and rape, and decriminalizing abortion.

I will argue that climate change threatens to steal away all of these gains. That the collapse of civilization and the rule of law would return the rule of physical strength; drastically increasing incidences of rape and domestic violence, and drastically decreasing women’s access to all medical services, including abortion. This will greatly reduce women’s ability to be independent; in a such a violent world, women will be in much greater need of protection from men.

I will point to regions of climate-change induced conflict, and demonstrate how this is already happening in those regions.

I will call on feminists to look towards the future, and the dangers for women that lie there if we do not take decisive action on climate change.

**It would be great to collaborate with a feminist writer or scholar on this article.

4) Climate Change and the Exodus Story

In the Spring, (as Passover nears), I will write about the similarities between climate change and the story of Moses leading the Jews from Egypt. I will make a Haggadah, so that people who want to give their Passover Seders a climate change theme will be able to do so.

Paralells:

*In the Exodus story, the Jews were slaves in Egypt, they provided the labor necessary to build great pyramids. Fossil fuels have acted as a labor-substitute, allowing us to build cities and the global economy.

*Moses told Pharoh to let his people go but Pharoh was hard of heart. He was unwilling to let his labor force go. Our society has been similarly stubborn, refusing to let go of the comfort and luxury that fossil fuel provide.

*God brought Egypt 10 Plagues: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and finally, the death of all first-born Egyptians. Only with the death of his son, and all of the first-borns of Egypt did Pharaoh let the Jews go. Climate change is similarly reigning down terror upon us. Floods, droughts, invasive species, vector-born disease, damaged crop yields, heat waves, climate refugees, and civil war. How bad will it need to get before we wake up and realize that we cannot cling to fossil fuels any longer?

**It would be great to collaborate on this with a Rabbi or an expert in Jewish studies.

5) Psychologists Psychoanalysts and Climate Change

I will argue that, though the cultural authority of psychologists and psychoanalysts has been eroded in recent decades, society does continue to hold us in high regard, and have generally positive, trusting transference to psychologists and therapists.

As seekers of truth and experts in denial and other psychological defense mechanisms, psychologists should have a unique ability to face the truth about climate change and to help other people do so, too.

I will call on psychologists and psychoanalysts to raise their awareness of climate change by creating study groups; to share their knowledge with the public through writing editorials, papers, and calls to action. Possibly also by hosting community meetings and helping people contain their anxiety about climate change.  To contribute to HCM strategy through scholarly collaboration.

** Hopefully I will be collaborating with psychoanalytic research and fellow Climate Psychologist Renee Lertzman, but other collaborators could be helpful, also.

6) The Role of Shame and Honor in Climate Change Activism

I will discuss the role of shame and honor in human evolution (using E.O Wilson’s “The social Conquest of Earth”) and in moral revolutions (Using Appiah’s “How Moral revolutions happen”).

I will discuss the barriers of modern society to utilizing shame and honor as effective change agents (Huge scale of society, the separation of the rich and powerful from “normal” people, the increasing narcissistic trends in American life).

I will discuss ways that shame and honor could be deployed more effectively, such as:

-Targeting people who are “honor  peers,” meaning that you can only challenge someone’s honor who recognizes your ability to do so. So working within networks, with people who you know and who care about your opinion provides much more leverage than working against strangers (i.e. protests).

-Emphasizing that the HCM works for humanity, and people who stand against it are hurting their human brothers and sisters

-Utilizing some kind of visual symbol (armband/ button/ t-shirt, etc) to indicate that one is with the HCM, so that people in the movement can recognize each other, and give each other honor and respect in daily life.

7) Grieving the Losses of Climate Change: Stability and Faith in Humanity

I will discuss how terribly sad climate change is for all of us, and what humanity has lost.

The fundamental loss, at least at this point, is stability. We cannot plan for the future the way previous generations could, because we know that the world will be radically different. Worse, we know that the climate will continue to change for a long time—it won’t make a big shift and then ready a new, stable state.

Further, climate change and other ecological destruction has made many people negative about humanity. How can we feel good about ourselves when our species is suicidal and ecocidal?

I will discuss the necessity of grief in order to work effectively. We have to mourn our losses, including the fact that previous environmental efforts have failed (Speth) in order to move forward.

8) I am very interested in the technique of Dynamic Facilitation, and the political model that utilizes it, Wise Democracy. I need to learn much more about this, but there is a lot of promising material here.

9) Applying psychological writing about suicide to humanity and climate change (also EO Wilson’s piece, “Is humanity suicidal?”)

10) Considering Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” to think about climate change activism. What needs do people need to have met, internally and externally, before they can acknowledge the horrifying truth of climate change?

11) Considering apocalyptic films, especially Zombie movies, as allegories for climate change. (Starvation and desperation make humans seem like zombies; when people are hungry and hopeless, they get that dead look in their eye, and can become highly destructive.) What can we learn if we think about Zombie’s as unconscious symbols of starving climate refugees?

Ideas for blog-based activities and activism.

These are ideas involve a higher level of reader/ activist participation.

1) Gathering the Best Writing About and Metaphors for Climate Change

Sharing my favorite passages of writing on climate, and asking readers to share their favorite passages. We can create a storehouse of clear, evocative writing. It will be a resource for writers, and all members of the Human Climate Movement who seek to articulate our situation to others.

2) Inviting Academics, Students, Environmental Organizations, and Concerned Citizens to Submit Proposals

I have written about the benefits of open-sourcing strategy for the Human Climate Movement. But I would like to (hopefully with some help) send out a “Call for Papers” on HCM strategy to academic departments, climate groups, and climate writers. Maybe there could be a prize fund for top submissions.  Maybe this could be undertaken with an organization who wanted to partner?

3) Creating a Social Media Climate Truth Squad

Inviting readers/ activists to become involved in spreading Climate Truth using social media.

Activities of this squad would include:

*Using twitter and Facebook to call out individual authors and editors of articles in the NYT and other mainstream news outlets (especially left-leaning ones) that publish articles that, omit climate change when it is highly relevant (such as when discussing extreme weather), minimize the threat (by using phrases like, “our grandchildren”), and otherwise feed the Climate Lie.

Journalists fear the wrath of deniers when they write about climate change, but the Human Climate Movement does not aggressively push them towards truth. We would try to change that.

*Speaking Climate Truth to friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. We could have coordinated messages… maybe a “Climate Crisis Wake Up Call of the Day” that people could share.

Speaking personally, I always feel anxious when I say something on FB about climate change to someone who I know from a different context. I worry that they will be angry at me for bringing up the terrible, horrifying news.  But, on the whole, I have been pleasantly surprised at how well my comments have been received! People want to talk about climate change, they just don’t know how.

4) Organizing Demonstrations After Severe Weather Events

I have written elsewhere about why civil disobedience and protest tactics do not address the fundamental psychological challenge of accepting climate change—people’s anxiety and terror— and thus should not be assumed to be the best tactics.

One of the reasons why I argue that these tactics will not be as effective as they were for the Civil Rights Movement is that the technology of the day is different. The 1960s was an era of the Television. Marches and sit-ins were televised to great effect. Now we live in the era of Facebook, Twitter, Memes and virality. Evocative images can spread extremely quickly. And extreme weather and its damage is highly evocative.

I envision a small group of demonstrators creating highly evocative, sharable images by going to flooded/ drought stricken areas holding signs/ banners that say, “Climate change keeps attacking us. When will we fight back?” Or, simply something like, “This is climate change.”

Sending the message, visually and repetitively, that climate change is already wreaking havoc on nature and humanity, could be highly effective in overcoming emotional denial.

5) Develop the Human Climate Pledge App

I have described the use of an App that would coordinate and track the taking of the Human Climate Pledge.  I have received offers from readers who are willing to develop this. I hope to work with them to make this a reality.

New Ads!

I thought that having some advertisements might help spread the word about this blog.  I had sharing on Facebook in mind when I made them, but they could be used elsewhere too. So, let me know what you think. And, as always, I  appreciate people posting and helping me grow!

**Also, if someone with tech knowledge can help me post these ads in a way that will make sharing on fb/ twitter easier, please let me know. I would love to do that.

 

Worried about

 

Feeling helpless

 

depressed about the future?

State of the Blog Part 1: Blog Goals and Strategy

Intro

Several commentators have noted recently that, while I have plenty of critique for 350, Klein, Romm, and the climate cynics who have given up hope, I have not taken aim at fossil fuel companies, climate change denying Congress people, corruption in the US political system, or the cancerous doctrine of eternal economic growth.

“Who is the enemy?” One commenter asked—it seems like you think it’s the cynics! Another agreed, “Evil ignored is evil condoned.”

Dear readers, there is a method to my madness. In this post, I will discuss the goals and strategy for this blog and my thoughts on where the movement is at.

Goals

This blog has a singular goal: to fight climate change. To my mind, the only way humanity will have a chance of continuation is if we build, very quickly, a Human Climate Movement that fundamentally alters the national mood, waking the public up from their denial of the imminent threat of climate change. This movement must gain the political clout to launch a WWII style and level response against climate change.

Though I remain open to (and highly desirous of) alternative strategy proposals, I have yet to hear one articulated which would give humanity a fighting chance. Most groups and writers do not articulate comprehensive plans, making it impossible to evaluate or collaborate on strategy proposals. Will 350’s efforts on Keystone and divestment solve climate change? Clearly not. They would argue that they are just getting started. But I think they have an obligation to their membership, and to humanity, to engage in an open conversation about strategy. The Citizen’s Climate Lobby does articulate their plan, which relies heavily on conventional lobbying tactics, and aims to institute a carbon tax and end fossil fuel subsidies. I have serious doubts about their ability to succeed with their tactics, even worse, doubts that their advocacy is too modest to stop climate change, even if they were to succeed. I am also skeptical of any effort that advertises its “grass roots participation” and “leaderlessness” as major benefits, without explaining why this lack of organization is strategically beneficial. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, until I hear a plan that gives humanity a better chance of survival, I’m sticking with a WWII advocacy. I think that I may not have articulated well how radical of an advocacy this is, or how significant the implications of a WWII advocacy are for capitalism, fossil fuel companies, and others who are willfully lying to humanity, leading us down the road to destruction.

Remember, before WWII, were the 1930s and the Great Depression, still the period in US history in which wealth was most unequally distributed (though we are getting ever closer to repeating it.) The New Deal helped, of course, but it was really WWII that turned conditions in the US around, ushering in a multi-decade era of relative equality (See table from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Wealth inequality

 

During some years in WWII, the United States devoted 36% of GDP (!) to the war effort, or the equivalent of 5.6 trillion dollars, per year. The highest income tax bracket rose to 94%. The government intervened in industry in a way that has never happened before or since in the United States. After Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, 1941, the United States focused with a singular purpose on winning the war. Economic concerns were secondary and consumer luxury was not considered at all. Shared sacrifice was assumed. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes:

In the summer of 1942, the accustomed rhythms of daily life were disrupted in every factory, business, and home by the institution of rationing and price control… By and large, American housewives accepted the system of rationing cheerfully. When butter became scarce, they added a yellow dye to margarine to make it look like butter. When sugar was cut back, they substituted corn syrup and saccharin in cakes and cookies. They planted Victory Gardens in their backyards. They saved kitchen fats and exchanged them at the butcher shop for points. …By the end of November, government regulations extended into almost every aspect of American life. Shortages of iron and steel prohibited the manufacture of a wide range of consumer items, including electric refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, electric ranges, washing machines and ironers, radios and phonographs, lawn mowers, waffle irons, and toasters. The use of stainless steel was prohibited in tableware. Shoe manufacturers were ordered to avoid double soles and overlapping tips; lingerie makers were limited to styles without ruffles, pleating, or full sleeves. (P 355, 394)

The war effort came first. Capitalism came second. Everything else came second. Citizens from across society were actively engaged in the war effort, and major steps in equality were made in multiple spheres racially, between the sexes, and economically. With the shameful exception of Japanese internment, it was a time of major progress on several fronts. 

So, a WWII advocacy has, nestled within it, an equality agenda, a citizen engagement agenda, an equality agenda and a very strong regulatory agenda.  There is also a justice agenda. During a war, people who side with the enemy or undermine the war effort are traitors. Which is a crime. Until a war is declared, their acts against humanity are not, technically, actionable crimes.

Strategy

I write for a singular purpose, to build a social movement that brings a Climate War about. To wake up humanity to the danger that we are in; to the fact that we are under attack, are in great danger, and desperately need to fight back. I will write scathing pieces about fossil fuel executives, crooked politicians, and other traitors to humanity if I viewed it as beneficial to this purpose. At the moment, however, I do not believe it is.  At the moment, the strategic imperative is to build the movement, to empower the movement, to organize the movement, and to unite the movement.

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. If I was writing in German in the 1930s and 40s, I wouldn’t target Nazi’s for criticism. I wouldn’t view that as productive. I would have made clear that I considered their actions evil, but I would aim my criticism at ordinary Germans, at complicity. I would attempt to rally a resistance.

In this case, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to continue their current protestations against evil. To continue talking about evil rather than organizing in order to effectively fight it.  The environmental movement has failed. Not to blame them for this failure: We have all failed, the environmentalists at least tried! Every political party, every organized religion, every corporation, and every individual has failed to stop our planet’s relentless march towards catastrophe. We need to recognize that failure, learn from it, and regroup. I doubt very much that I can change the minds of Rex Tiller, Exxon Mobile CEO or Jim Inhofe. But I do think I can contribute to planning, organizing, and growing the Human Climate Movement. Though I am predominantly addressing people already deeply concerned about climate change, I am not “preaching to the choir.” I am attempting to turn people who are deeply concerned into people who are deeply active.  I am attempting to help people who are already active think through their activities to achieve maximal results. I am attempting to unity disparate factions of the Human Climate Movement. I am trying to turn “the choir” into an army. I hope you join me.

 

Let’s Read Together: A Bridge at the End of the World

For almost a year, I have been in an intensive climate change book group. Maybe a “study group” is a better word for it. We  read a book a week, about climate change, social movements, denial, US politics, and so forth, and shared notes and discussion. It has been an enriching and enlightening experience for all participants, and the cornerstone of my climate change education. Thinking about these issues, together, fosters a sense of hope and fellowship. It also builds a repertoire of shared understanding that aid communication and collaboration.

Maybe a similar model could work for this blog? I would like to try.  I am going to now read Gus Speth’s  “The Bridge at the End of the World.” It looks fantastic, with important content and accessible writing. I will read it over the course of 2 weeks. I invite all blog readers to join me in reading and discussing this book. Or, if you have already read it, look over it again to remind yourself. My hope is that  sharing an intellectual focus and educational process will aid and bolster our collaborations.

Everyone, let me know what you think of this idea, and if you will join me in reading this or future books!

** Thank you to Lennart for calling my attention to Gus Speth by posting this outstanding article.

 

The Human Climate Movement: What’s in a Name

I have been using the term “Human Climate Movement” in my writing for several months now. I thought it would be good to clarify why I introduced this term, what it means, and why I think it is valuable strategically.

The short answer for why to introduce the phrase Human Climate Movement is that there was no appropriate word or phrase available to describe what I wanted to describe. 350, the most prominent group of the Human Climate Movement, doesn’t name the movement, but rather describes it:  “a global movement to solve the climate crisis”

There is, of course, the “Environmental movement” or various permutations of the term “Green.” However, I wanted a term that connotes a fight for the continuation of humanity, which relies on a stable climate, (as well as other environmental factors, such as freshwater). We need a Human Climate rather than, for example, the climate of Venus or Mars. Nature captured this idea in the article, “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity.”

Speaking personally, though I care a great deal about nature qua nature, its destruction is not what gets me out of bed in the morning; it has not motivated me to dedicate myself to fighting climate change. Rather, I am motivated by my love and loyalty for my species, my human brothers and sisters.  I think that there are many people who feel similarly. That though they find the destruction of nature deeply disturbing, they are willing to dedicate much more and fight much harder for humanity than for “the environment.”

So that is the short answer. But I will elaborate a bit more on why I think the term is a good one.

I think that putting “Human” first in the name emphasizes the universality of the movement. Everyone is welcome, and the Movement fights for everyone. Fighting climate change, in my mind, should be the most unifying undertaking in human history.

When people work to spread the climate lie, or oppose the HCM in other ways, they stand on the side of human destruction. This indicates a deep inner deadness and an alienation from their human brethren. Ideally, even those people will soon awaken to the climate threat, and to their own sense of humanity, and join our ranks. But until then, we should make it clear that they are working against humanity, against you and me and my family and your family and their own family. They are killing our species for short-term, individual gain; they are traitors to their kind. This is much more powerful, psychologically, than saying they are damaging “the climate” or “the environment.”

Further, the name “Human Climate Movement” creates a distinction between this movement and other movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement. This is important, because, currently, groups like 350 are relying heavily tactics from the Civil Rights Movement, such as protests and civil disobedience. This is a strategic mistake, and belies a misunderstanding of social movements. They do not all happen the same way! Each movement needs its own tactics, geared for its specific challenges and context. The Human Climate Movement must learn from history, but it should not attempt to repeat history. We need something new. Let’s find the best strategy for the HCM through open collaboration; let’s open-source Movement Strategy, proposing and discussing various strategy options.

I hope that “Human Climate Movement” calls to mind the best things about our species: our compassion, collaboration, ingenuity, and ability to change and grow. We are not static. We have accomplished great things together through movement, through moving forward.  150 years ago, Americans owned slaves, Chinese  bound their young girl’s feet, and the British gentry used duels to settle honor disputes. Humans change. We grow. We move forward. We need to do it again, very quickly.  I hope you join me.

 

Who Owns the Human Climate Movement? (In which I take another crack at the Romm-Klein spat)

(For the confused, new readers: Naomi Klein and Joe Romm got into a fracas last week over comments Naomi made in an interview, blaming “Big Green” environmental groups for the country’s sorry emissions record. I offered the couple some “couples therapy,” counseling the pair to move past blame and focus on solutions. Romm made me very proud by responding to my intervention, though he wasn’t totally convinced. In this article, I take another crack at it!)

Joe, during our session you made an interesting comment. You stated that your argument with Naomi Klein (no relation, by the way) was relevant because it was “really a proxy for who we should listen to going forward.”  And that Naomi was attempting to discredit Big Green/ old-guard environmentalists’ ability to lead the Human Climate Movement.

Ahhh I thought. They are not only a couple who is casting aspersions on each other, as they struggle to cope with the overwhelming pain of their child’s suicidality (or in this case, ecocidality) they are also having a power struggle.

Well, psychologists don’t like proxy arguments. We know that frank discussions, though they can be tough, yield better results. If you want to have an argument over leadership, let’s have it in broad daylight. Who should we listen to going forward? Klein? Romm? Big Green? New Green?

Naomi believes that the failure of the Big Green groups to effectively combat climate change, particularly due to corporate partnerships and an inside-the-beltway mentality,  necessitates radical changes in Human Climate Movement leadership and direction. The Human Climate Movement should reject the old guard environmentalists, ceding intellectual leadership to progressive intellectuals such as herself. She thinks that people should listen to her going forward because climate change is fundamentally a problem of global capitalism, about which she is an expert, and because she is a forceful speaker and writer who can captivate a crowd. Naomi is relatively new to working on climate change, but she views this as an asset. The movement needs revitalization and redirection!

Joe believes that we should listen to him because of his track record. Joe is a scientist, a PhD physicist. For more than 20 years, he has worked on energy and climate issues. Joe has served in government, and knows how politics works from the inside; he is a realist. He has nearly gone hoarse from all the shouting he has done, trying to raise awareness of the dire climate change scenarios facing us. Joe is proud of his career of service and of his current intellectual leadership position in the Human Climate Movement.

Its easy to imagine why Joe would feel angry at Naomi when she criticizes the environmental establishment and their handling of the climate crisis; that’s some pretty brazen Monday-morning quarterbacking! Naomi was virtually ignoring the climate for years while Romm and the leadership of “Big Green” were dedicating their careers to it. They made some mistakes, sure.  But only when climate change becomes tangibly acute does she comes waltzing onto Green turf and starts making pronouncements, criticizing past decisions. She is a new comer and a non-scientist, yet she has the gall to blame the environmental movement for the not averting the climate crisis!

Joe, it must feel like Naomi is wantonly disrespecting you, your career, and even your values.

This clash of values and personalities is occurring with increasing frequency in the Human Climate Movement. As climate change’s impacts become more palpable, more people, including scholars and activists, are waking up to its terrible threat. They are New Green; and they bring new perspectives and values to the climate fight.  They look at Big Green and see a failed strategy, and a need for change. Not surprisingly, the environmental establishment feels offended by that. The reward for all of their efforts, the reward for having been right is to be criticized for not have handled climate change better? Where do these Johnny-come-latelies get the nerve? They seem to have no concept of how difficult the fight has been, or how hard environmentalists have worked.

Now that we have ditched the proxy and addressed the heart of this conflict, we can address the real problems and look for real solutions.

The better angels of all participants of this debate: Romm, Klein, Big Green, New Green—know that they are all on the same side. We all want a climate that supports human civilization. We know that in order to get there, we need people get out of intellectual and emotional denial, to wake up to the terrible threat of climate change. We know that everyone is welcome in the Human Climate Movement, and that the more people making diverse contributions, the better. We know that climate change is not merely a scientific issue, but a human issue that involves every single one of us. We know we should relentlessly seek the best organizing strategy, no matter its source.

To be most effective, the movement must incorporate all comers, and to take their ideas seriously, while those new to the party should be appropriately respectful to those who came before. (Let he who has successfully solved climate change cast the first stone!)

A forum is needed to turn disagreements into collaborative discussions rather than disputes. We should open-source Human Climate Movement Strategy and undertake a process of considering, discussing, and evaluating Movement strategy proposals. This will allow for collaboration and hybridization of plans and will facilitate the formation of relationships and trust between Big Green and New Green. Most importantly, undertaking a process of reflection and collaboration around strategy will lead us to the most effective final plan.

Any social and political movement will have different factions, personality clashes, and territoriality. But we cannot let these differences derail us from out most critical mission. Let’s discuss strategy and leadership issues collaboratively, respectfully, and publicly. No more proxies.

OK. Times up, Good progress! I’ll see you guys next week.

Learning about Climate Change is a Revolutionary Act: Top 5 Books to Educate and Empower

You “know” that climate change exists. But how much do you really know? How current is your information? How deep is your understanding?

Because climate change is terrifying, we have the tendency to purposefully not learn more about it, to avoid new information. I believe it is a moral, and strategic, obligation to fight this tendency.

I highly recommend making learning about climate change a social endeavor. Ask friends or family to read and discuss a few books with you. Start a book group. Ask your current book group to focus on climate for a few books. Read alone, if you must, but be prepared for some sleepless nights.

What to read? Here are the top 5 books to become educated, empowered, and ready to fuel a social movement.

#1:             The Most Important Book on Climate Change:

The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding

Gilding manages a terrific feat: he is grimly realistic about the extent and immediacy of the climate crisis, while being optimistic about the outcome. Gilding’s hope comes from having a plan: the “One Degree War,” a WWII level effort, which requires a full societal mobilization.  This book is approachable yet comprehensive, well-argued and exciting.

I have only one major disagreement with Gilding: he believes humanity will have a great awakening, likely after a major climatic event, when humanity will, almost spontaneously, realize how much danger we are in, and engage a war-like response. Here, Gilding underestimates the power of individual and cultural denial– the forces that hold us back from living in climate truth. Though I believe that such an awakening can occur, it will only occur through a social movement that fights denial while containing anxiety.

You can read the One Degree War plan here, but the book is outstanding.  If you read one book about climate change, make it this one. And then join me in trying to build a social movement that brings the great awakening, and the Climate War about!

#2:             The best book on the societal affects of climate change

Eaarthby Bill McKibben

This book will stop you in your tracks. McKibben is a powerful writer, and he pulls no punches describing the ravages of climate change.

McKibben is particularly effective in discussing how climate change will affect American society. He argues that our new planet, cannot sustain the global capitalism that we have built— that sea level rise, and increasing severe weather and its damage to infrastructure, and other destabilizing forces simply will render it in-feasible: “It you get sucker-punched by one storm after another, you don’t have time to recover; you spend your insurance payout reproofing your house, and then the roof blows off again next year. Maybe your insurance company cancels your policy…after the next storm or two your town starts looking less like America and more like Haiti.” After 200 years of American expansion and grand projects, such as the interstate highways, its time to think about localization, durability, and community. Its time to about battening down the hatches, and weathering the storms, which will just keep getting bigger.

#3            The best Primer on climate change

The Rough Guide to Climate Change (3rd Edition), by Robert Henson

Rough Guide primarily makes travel guides; so they are used to distilling large amounts of information into readable, relatable reference books. The Rough Guide provides an overview of how climate change works (greenhouse gasses, particularly Co2 and Methane, trap heat in the very-thin atmosphere), and the many symptoms that climate change is already causing (heat waves, droughts, floods, glacial melt, sea level rise, damaged ecosystems, and threatened agriculture) resulting from climate change. Further, it discusses how this information is gathered and measured, and explores various controversies around climate change. Reading this book will make you feel climate change competent, empowering you for advocacy!

#4            The best book for understanding the psychology of the climate controversy

 States of Denial by Stanley Cohen

States of Denial is a  dense, academic read, but wow, it is worth it! You should definitely read this book if you have a background in psychology, sociology or other social science. Cohen analyzes the social and psychological processes that allow atrocities to happen; he details the variety of ways that people avert their eyes and ignore the horrors happening around them, and explores ways that deniers can be jolted into facing reality. Reading this book will greatly expand your understanding of climate change denial, even though Cohen doesn’t topic directly (it seems that the author himself was in denial about the scope, immediacy, and moral imperative of climate change!).

#5             The book that best illustrates how the US can mobilize and achieve victory

 No Ordinary Time  By Doris Kearns Goodwin

How is a biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during WWII relevant to climate change? Because this beautifully written book demonstrates what the United States is capable of when united by a common purpose. After Pearl Harbor, there was no denying that the United States had to fight with everything we had. We turned this country into a factory, producing more planes, tanks and ships than had previously been imaginable. Every citizen was involved in the war effort, often turning their lives upside down to go to war, or to go to work for the first time. Citizens also contributed tin and rubber and other necessary materials, accepted rations on gas, meat and sugar, and grew 40% of the Nations produce in “Victory gardens.”  Recommended by climate blogger Joe Romm, this book will raise your spirits, get your patriotic juices pumping, and remind you of what the United States, and humanity, is capable of!

 

Update: Romm Responds!

I am honored and thrilled to see that Joe Romm had responded to my “Couple’s Therapy” article!

Romm’s work has been very meaningful to me; his work has been a cornerstone of my climate education. So seeing my banner image with his byline was extremely exciting for me!

I am going to mull all this over and write a response this weekend 🙂

I also want to respond in-depth to some reader comments re: “who is the enemy?” So that’s on deck…

 

State of the Blog: Request for Reader Assistance!

The Climate Psychologist opened to the public one week ago  with the publication of my article  “Living in Climate Truth”/  (alternatively titled) “Our Society is Living in a Massive Lie about the Threat of Climate Change—Its time to Wake Up.”

It has been an exciting start. Living in Climate Truth has been shared on FB over 1000 times! I am very pleased to see the blog so alive with  insightful and kind discussion. I have enjoyed hearing personally from several readers, several of whom have expressed great enthusiasm for my message. It is invigorating to have so many allies.

So thank you for the participation, the engagement, and the warm welcome.

I have a favor to ask. (It will not be the last!)

Can you help me expand my readership?

Not surprisingly, I have found running this blog to be very time consuming. There are so many things to do: writing, editing, responding to reader comments and e-mails, staying current with the blogosphere, continuing to read and discuss psychological/ political/ theoretical work, and one of the most time-consuming tasks: sending pitches of stories to editors and publications, and otherwise trying to expand my readership.

If the readers of this blog could assist me with getting my pieces published and distributed, that would be tremendous. It would allow me to devote more time to research, writing, and all of the other blog tasks.

I want to spread my message as far as possible. Here are the actions that would be particularly helpful:

1) Utilize your personal or professional network in order to introduce my work (or me) to editors, bloggers, or others who may be interested in publishing my articles.

2) Or, submit my work for me! Several of my blog posts are freestanding articles, and anything is fair game to publish, for free.  No venue is too small, and certainly none is too large 😉   If possible, avoid venues that will send climate denying trolls this way. Though I expect that is inevitable at some point. Feel free, and encouraged, to post my work on the DailyKos or similar user-generated blogs.

Some venues where particularly I aspire to publish: Salon, Grist, Rolling Stone, The Nation, Climate Desk, The Atlantic, Think Progress, and the New York Times. Please let me know other places I should try to publish.

 3) Discuss and link to my work in Comments on other climate blogs/ articles. You can also request that the website publish my work.

4) Facebook and Twitter!

5) If you have other message-spreading ideas, I would love hearing them!

It has been great to connect with so many allies through this blog. There is a really lovely energy here. Please help me spread the word far and wide. I would greatly appreciate it.

Couple’s Therapy: Tough Love for the Feuding Naomi Klein and Joe Romm

Reading the recent acrimony between Naomi Klein and Joe Romm reminded me of conducting therapy with couples. Here is the scenario that it reminds me of:

A middle-aged married couple is distraught over their young adult son who seems relentlessly bent on self destruction. He abuses drugs and alcohol, is frequently involved in violent conflicts, can’t hold a job. The couple has tried different interventions, but nothing has worked. This week, he attempted suicide for the 2nd time this year.

In sessions, the couple tears into each other. Throwing blame around: “You were too hard on him! You never showed him love” “ Your family has always caused trouble.  He got it from you!”

The couple is devastated, understandably. They are full of grief, dread, anger helplessness, and guilt.  All of these feelings are expressed as rage against each other. Rather than tolerate their painful feelings, they channel their energy into assigning blame.

The therapist has several jobs in a situation like this.

First, she must point out that:

1) Being enraged makes it hard to think clearly. In an emergency as this one, it is crucial to think clearly.

2) You have important work to do. You will achieve more success if you collaborate with each other rather than turn against each other.

3) The past is the past.  The question of “Who is to blame” for our current situation may be fascinating, but it is irrelevant.  The past is over. The question of the hour is what to do now.

4) Though you feel very angry at the moment, you are fundamentally aligned in your goals. You are on the same team.

5) While many elements of the situation are out of your hands, you do have options; there are things that you can do in order to improve the situation. Dedicate yourself to accomplishing those tasks.

Of course Klein and Romm are upset. Our planet, our species, is self-destructing. That is hard  to tolerate pleasantly. And it can be very tempting to focus on assigning blame.

The substance of Klein and Romm’s disagreement is about capitalism, and about environmental groups’ acceptance of the capitalist system by making partnerships with corporations. Klein thinks that because “Big Green” groups partnered with corporations and supported cap and trade legislation, which she views as an abject failure, that these groups deserve a great deal of blame. Romm disagrees with this particular assignment of blame. Romm quantifies his blame assignments assigning, “60% right-wing deniers/disinformers (including politicians) and 30% the media.”

This is all very interesting. But it is irrelevant. The only relevant question is what to do, now. How can we effectively fight climate change? How do we build a social and political movement that wakes the population up from their denial? (Which has both intellectual and emotional components. One can intellectually “believe” in climate change and still live within the Climate Lie and thereby entrench the staus quo. This is a point Romm seems not to understand, or not take seriously.)  Once enough of the public is out of (intellection and emotional) denial, and the political will has been mustered, what policies should we implement?

This question: How can we most effectively fight climate change? Is the most important question of our time. Klein and Romm both are brilliant, talented, influential experts. They have much to contribute to answering this question.

Romm has a policy advocacy: a WWII style and level response to climate change. It happens to be the policy advocacy that I share. But Romm  has not presented or endorsed an organizing strategy. He has not laid out a plan for how to create a social and political movement that brings a WWII style response about. This is an important omission, because it disempowers readers. Readers of Romm’s blog who want to get involved in the climate fight do not have his guidance on how to harness their energies.

Klein has an organizing strategy, though it hasn’t been articulated fully yet. Hopefully, she will do this in her book. But she is on 350’s board, and clearly favors local, grassroots organizing and the implementation of protest/ civil disobedience tactics. I have argued elsewhere that: for psychological and historical reasons, protest and civil disobedience tactics will not be effective in fighting climate change denial. It would be beneficial to hear Klein describe the strategic benefits of the tactics she favors.  An open sourced discussion of strategy,   could be immensely helpful in developing the most effective possible social movement strategy.

Neither Klein, nor 350.org, have articulated, however, what policies they would advocate implementing when the social movement became powerful enough to exert major influence in policy making. They been terrifically successful in spreading awareness that 350 ppm is the highest safe concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. But they have not shown us a way; they have not provided a plan. Klein is rightly, very critical of capitalism.  But would she actually advocate a radical shift away from capitalism as the solution to climate change? If so, I want to read her explanation as of how this would unfold and why it would be successful!

Its time to collaborate on imagining, articulating, thinking through, evaluating, and implementing solutions.

As a therapist, I would help the previous, imagined couple plan out how they will work towards solutions. Who will call the Insurance company to see about rehabilitation options, who will coordinate taking their son home from the hospital later in the week, and so on.

In this case, Naomi, Joe, (if I may use your first names):

You are both fighting for humanity, for the continuance of civilization. You are both sources of light in a world often filled with darkness. You are teammates and allies. But you have allowed yourself to be distracted by assigning blame and quarreling amongst yourself. Worse, you have not sufficiently articulated your organizing strategy (Joe especially) and political advocacy (Naomi especially).

You both have so much to offer humanity. Enough blame, enough infighting. Its time to get to work.

 

 

 

 

Let’s Open Source Strategy for the Human Climate Movement

Humanity is at a crossroads. Will we go over the cliff of climate change? Will we stay asleep at the wheel, becoming the passive victims of floods, droughts, food insecurity, extreme weather, and disease? Or will we wake up to the terrible danger we are in, and fight back, together? Will we collectively rise to the challenge of our time, creating a social and political movement that demands an emergency, warlike response from policymakers?   The stakes are the highest they have ever been. The fate of our species, and our planet, hang in the balance.

After realizing the terrifying reality of our current situation, the next questions are about strategy: What should we do? What should I do? How can we fight this?

Or maybe, we should take a step back and ask a more meta-question:

How should we make the decision about how to fight climate change? What is the best process for choosing both 1) an advocacy and 2) a strategy/ organizing plan, for accomplishing that advocacy?

Where are the scholars? The absence of a social-science consensus (or conversation!) on organizing strategy.

 It strikes me that, while there has been a fair amount (though certainly not enough!) of media focus on the scientific consensus that human-induced climate change is real, and a real threat to humanity, there has been no consensus, or even discussion among social scientists and scholars about how humans should respond to the threat of climate change; how we should organize and fight back. Indeed, there has been no attempt to reach this consensus.

While there is certainly scholarship on climate change, from many social science disciplines, this scholarship virtually never is connected with an organizing plan or with a specific advocacy for the Human Climate Movement.

The lack of scholarly engagement is due to several factors: 1) The idea that climate change is a “scientific” problem, and thus all aspects of climate change should be handled by scientists. 2) The reticence of social scientists and scholars to be so practical and political. Its better career-wise, and safer, to dwell within the realm of ideas. Grand theories and out-of-the-box applied political work is regarded with suspicion in many academic fields 3) Society’s recent antipathy towards social scientists and scholars of the humanities. The focus on STEM education and the belittlement of “impractical fields” has demoralized many scholars, making them think (not without reason) that society doesn’t care about their ideas. 4) General societal denial about the severity and immediacy of climate change (The Climate Lie), which keeps many scholars and social scientists from making concerted study of climate change a focus.

The Benefits of Urgent, Collaborative, Applied Scholarship

During WWII, scientists and scholars were asked to put aside “real” science and scholarship, and to focus only on projects that would benefit the war effort. They could resume their “real” work after the war. The irony, of course, is that WWII was one of the most productive scientific and scholastic periods in human history. We imagine science and scholarship to be dispassionate. And yet, passionate, applied scientists and scholars, working collaboratively towards a common goal, appears to be even more productive.

The best known example urgent scientific collaboration during WWII is the Manhattan project. But during WWII there were major innovations in all types of weaponry, in communications technology and code breaking, medicine, and production methods. In the realm of social science, there were major advancements as well. WWII was the first instance that the military and public recognized that combat PTSD was not a defect of character. It became official understanding that “Every man has a breaking point” and psychological knowledge was applied to help soldiers cope with the trauma of combat.  Ruth Benedict researched and published the classic study of Japanese culture, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, without setting foot in Japan! Under normal circumstances, anthropologists study cultures by living within them. This was not possible during WWII, and the United States needed to understand the Japanese mentality, which was so different from our own. So she studied Japanese texts and films, interviewed Japanese people living within the United States, and produced a classic work.

A sense of moral urgency can trump other concerns, such as personal advancement or institutional territoriality. It can instigate a rich collaboration; an open sharing of data and ideas, and bring forth new discoveries in all participating fields.

Open Sourcing Human Climate Movement Strategy

Climate change poses an even greater threat to humanity than the Axis powers did. Scientists and engineers have been collaborating and contributing to the solution for years—making huge strides in climate modeling, renewable technology, agricultural techniques, adaptation measures and much more.

We are long on scientific understanding, and shockingly short on social engagement and political will.

Its time for social scientists and scholars to get in the game. Applying their knowledge and theory to the problem at hand.  To answer the questions: (most importantly): What is the best strategy to instigate and organize a social movement that will fundamentally alter the national and international mood, making the public recognize the emergent nature of climate change? and (also important, but more frequently addressed): What policies should be enacted, once citizens have mustered the political power to demand transformation?

I tackled these very questions in my article “Fighting Climate Change is Different from Fighting for Civil Rights”, published this week on AlterNet. I argue that civil disobedience/ protest tactics succeeded for the Civil Rights Movement because they countered racism; the movement’s biggest barrier to spreading the truth about African American’s oppression. I argue that they will not succeed for the Human Climate Movement, because the Human Climate Movement’s largest psychological barrier to spreading the truth about climate change is anxiety—people are too terrified of the truth to recognize it and act on it. In Part II of the article, I propose a person-to-person, pledge based” strategy, that utilizes a comprehensive plan (Gilding’s One Degree War Plan) and human relationships to contain anxiety.

Though I believe that my article offers an important analysis, and the strategy I propose is innovative and has real potential for efficacy, I am not egotistical enough to believe that it should be the last word in Human Climate Movement organizing. Quite the opposite. My hope is that for other scholars and social scientists to improve upon it, and offer their own organizing and advocacy ideas, which can be further refined and combined with each other.

Benefits of Open- Sourcing

Inclusion: Publishing strategy proposals in an open forum allows anyone to enter the conversation and contribute. Any scholar, graduate student, auto-didact, or concerned citizen can be involved. It allows for a public debate on what should be a public issue: how to proceed with fighting climate collapse. People can utilize and expand on each other’s ideas. Proposals can become hybrids. Humanity can function as a hive-mind, ultimately selecting the best plan.

Accountability: Open sourcing strategy also adds a level of accountability for Environmental organizations and advocates. Groups that ask for your support should tell you their strategy and their plans, and admit if they do not have a comprehensive plan for fighting climate change. What is 350’s long-term organizing strategy? What is their long-term plan for success? What policies would they implement if they succeed in creating a social movement?  How about the NRDC’s organizing strategy? How about the Sierra Club? The Democratic Party? The Green Party?

Similarly, well known movement leaders and commentators have generally not put forth specific plans. Joe Romm, for example has a WWII advocacy, which I share. But he does not have an organizing plan for bringing it about. This is disempowering to readers. Someone could read Joe Romm’s blog, completely agree with him, and not know what to do next; how to put his values into practice. Commentators and leaders should propose or endorse specific organizing strategies, and explain their choices.

Organizations, leaders, and commentators should play their cards face up. Don’t ask me to donate money or attend protests, and not tell me the rationale, the strategy behind the action.  Let the public in on the plan, or lack thereof. Let the plan improve and evolve through critique and hybridization. The stakes are too high for individuals or institutions to act in their own best interest, at the expense of frank and honest discussion about strategy.

Unification: Another major benefit is that a process of considering and evaluating open-sourced proposals would give the Human Climate Movement a greater sense of unity, which it sorely needs. Currently, every environmental group pursues their own agenda (coal, Keystone, fracking, renewables, etc). Hopefully, through a process of discussion and strategy proposals, a consensus can be reached on both organizing strategy and advocacy. Unification would help the movement tremendously.

Logistics

If we get a critical mass of proposals, they could be organized with a Reddit-style voting system.  The more people endorse a proposal, the higher it moves towards the top. Where it will be read by more people. If this idea really gets going, a voting system might be endangered by trolls, and different methods of curating proposals can be explored.

Until then, I can publish proposals on my blog. Perhaps a larger news organization or environmental group would like to partner with me on this open-sourcing project.

I call for 2 types of papers:

1) Comprehensive Proposals. These include both a political advocacy (how we should fight climate change once we muster the political will to do so) and an organizing strategy in order to create a social movement/ muster the political will in order to enact the advocacy.

2) Partial Proposals.  These approach one element of organizing strategy. This could include, for example, ideas for how to target certain groups or types of people. Pure-advocacy proposals (ie, we should institute a carbon tax, or we should cap emissions at 350) would not be accepted as these are commonly discussed in the environmental movement/ blogosphere. Advocacies must be proposed with organizing strategies behind them.

Both types of proposals should demonstrate why their approach will be effective. This can be done using the history or theory of social movements, politics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, economics, media studies, evolutionary biology… all perspectives are welcome, but proposals should be well researched and argued (Proposals should have a minimum of 5 cited sources). Proposals can, and should, build off of each other.

(My Person-to-person, pledge-based strategy is a comprehensive proposal, though I use Gilding’s One Degree War Plan for the advocacy portion. I demonstrate the efficacy of my plan through a mix of psychological, anthropological and historical arguments, largely based on an examination of the Civil Rights Movement.)

Participation will also occur through comments/ discussion.

Scientists and scholars during WWII were funded by the government. Fighting our current crisis does not have many economic incentives. But we can appeal to author’s sense of honor, scholarship and humanity. We can issue a call for papers that is open to anyone, as well as specific invitations to brilliant individuals. I, for example, would love to see proposals from scholars E.O Wilson, Tanya Luhrmann, Nancy McWilliams and Marshall Ganz, for example. As well as from activists and commentators including Bill McKibben and 350, Naomi Klein, Joe Romm, David Roberts, Jill Stein, and Al Gore.

Conclusion

Scientists have made it clear that we need to fight climate change with everything that we have. That question is answered.

The question that remains is HOW to do it. How to build a social movement. How to muster the political will. In my mind, this is the most important question in the world.

7 billion heads are better than one.

Let’s figure it out, together.

The Moral Imperative of Hope and the Wasteland of Climate Cynicism (W/ Glory Clip)

Since making The Climate Psychologist public a few days ago, and publishing my article on Living in Climate Truth on Alternet, I have been extremely pleased with readers’ responses. People have engaged in several ways: commenting, emailing me, and sharing articles on Facebook and Twitter. One reader even offered to help design the App that I describe as part of a strategy proposal! So thank you to everyone for that. It has been a lovely way to kick off.

So far, there is only one type of disturbing response I have received: cynicism. Several people have told me that I am naïve for thinking that climate change can possibly be solved; that there is no hope, and thus no point in trying. The climate is too damaged, the State too fascist, the problem too intractable. I am wasting my breath; the only thing to do now is count down to the apocalypse.

Climate cynicism is all too common.  In casual discussions about climate change with friends and acquaintances, cynicism is frequently expressed. “We are fucked,” people say, which pretty much ends the conversation, short-circuiting any discussion of organizing, or fighting back.

Climate cynicism is an extremely dangerous attitude (in part because is can be both seductive and contagious); it is important to understand how to evaluate cynical claims, what drives cynicism, and how we can fight it in ourselves and others.

Evaluating Cynical Claims

Are the cynics correct? Are we “fucked?”

The only honest answer is: I don’t know. No one knows. There is no way to know, with certainty, what the future holds.

Scientists offer a range of predictions about the impact of climate change. Some of them are incredibly bleak. The most horrifying prediction I have ever read is James Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia. Lovelock claims we have forced Gaia into a “hot state” in which the earth’s carrying capacity will be reduced to only a few hundred million people within decades.  That would mean the death of more than 5 billion humans. Its pretty horrific.

And it is possible that this damage is already locked in, and nothing that humans can do now can change it. This is a possibility that must be admitted.

But I fundamentally disagree that it is the only possibility, and that what humans do now will have no impact on our fate. Human induced climate change has never happened before; there is no test case. No one, not the IPCC, nor James Hansen nor a climate denier nor a climate cynic can know, with certainty, what the future holds. The future is unknown and unwritten.

This gives us a huge responsibility. In all likelihood (and according to most scientists), what we do now will have a fundamental impact on the fate of the climate, and on humanity. Though we cannot stop climate change in its tracks, if humanity acts with focus and urgency, we can prevent the worst damage, and thoughtfully respond to the changes in the climate we have already caused. The question is how to achieve the political will necessary to fight back. As David Roberts puts it, we are stuck between the impossible and the unthinkable. It seems impossible to muster the level of societal change that we need to protect our collapsing climate, but the alternative—the collapse of our climate and of human civilization— is unthinkably terrible, and must be avoided at all costs.

It is likely that a WWII level effort against climate change would save human civilization from chaos and ruin. This is a critical period. Our actions, and our attitudes, may be decisive in the scope of human history. That is a huge responsibility, and a terrific opportunity to do good in the world.

David Orr, discussing the climate crisis, said that “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”  Our situation is indeed grave, but the hopeful, moral response is to work, to fight, not to give up. Cynicism is a noun sitting on the couch. It is our moral responsibility to get off the couch, find hope, , and roll up our sleeves.

What Causes Climate Cynicism?

Cynicism is a defense mechanism. The cynic has been hurt, and is attempting to protect him or herself from further disappointment.  Do you know people who are cynical about romantic relationships? These people say, “All men are pigs” or “Women just cause trouble, who needs ‘em?” or something along those lines. People adopt this attitude make because they have been badly hurt, disappointed by love, and are afraid to risk having their hopes dashed once again. Instead of admitting their desire, and their vulnerability, (ie. “It would be great to meet someone new, but I’m frightened that it wouldn’t work out”) they pretend to have neither. Cynics are trying to pack their broken hearts with ice to numb their pain.

It is understandable that people would be cynical about climate change. The pain of reality is very great. It makes sense that people would pack their hearts with ice; numbing their fear and despair.

This also explains why climate cynics get angry at people, such as myself, who carry a message of hope. Hope threatens the defense. Some of the ice starts to melt, and raw emotions start to come through. “You are naïve!” They tell me, trying to maintain the safe, numb feeling “You are a fool.” People cynical of romance are similarly negative towards those in love; its painful to be reminded of what you have forsaken, so they attack the reminder.

The Moral Imperative of Hope

The terrific 1989 film Glory contains one of the greatest scenes I have ever watched, and an excellent lesson on hope and courage. Glory chronicles the 54th of Massachusetts, an all African American regimen that fought during the Civil War. The campfire scene takes place the night before the 54th was leading the charge on Fort Wagner, which was heavily defended. The men knew they would  likely die the next day. But tonight, they gathered around the campfire, singing, praying, sharing hope and mustering courage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzUUFwbPaE4

 

Our attitude and our actions are the only things that we can control.

When Denzel Washington’s character says, “Ain’t even much a matter what happens tomorrow, ’cause we men, ain’t we?” he is expressing a courageous moral stance. He is saying, “To fight with you all tomorrow, is the best that I can do. I am giving my all, risking my life, everything I have, for the cause I most believe in.  This is what gives me honor, what makes me a man.  The outcome, what happens tomorrow, is irrelevant, it is out of my hands.”

None of us caused climate change, none of us chose to be born into this world, or this era. But here we are. This is our challenge. We have a responsibility to fight back. Declaring defeat at this point is abdicating any and all responsibility. Climate cynicism violates the most basic of social contracts. It says, “Even though I recognize calamity is upon us, I will not fight back. I will not fight for myself, or my family, nor for you or your family. The odds are against us, and so, I will give up.”

A more moral, hopeful, honorable stance is one that says, that Morgan Freeman describes:

“(God, if we die tomorrow)… we want you to let our folks know that we died facing the enemy! We want ’em to know that we went down standing up! Amongst those that are fighting against our oppression. We want ’em to know, Heavenly Father, that we died for freedom!”

As we face the terrifying, unknown future, we have a moral imperative to maintain hope; to keep our sleeves rolled up and keep fighting. We might lose, that is true, and it would be a terrible thing. But if we should fail, let us die facing the enemy; let us go down standing up.

Some people call this naïve. I call it hope. And it takes plenty of courage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget your Footprint. Responsibility for Climate Change = Power + Resources + Talent. (W/ Schindler’s List Clip)

Climate change threatens to destroy the global climate and cause human civilization to collapse. Given this grave set of circumstances, what is my moral obligation? What is yours? How is it possible to live a moral life under these circumstances? When the systems we live within fail so terribly, how can we, as individuals succeed at living morally?

Deconstructing “Reduce your footprint”

The most common answer has long been to “reduce your carbon footprint!” We are exhorted by corporations, politicians, environmentalists, and the media. In the highly contentious arena of climate change, individuals reducing their impact may be the sentiment that has the most common ground.

Unfortunately, it is myopic and apolitical. Emphasizing individual emission reduction places the debate about climate change to the individual realm, rather than realm of societies, systems, and politics. This is why the carbon footprint  is a non-controversial approach to advocacy; it puts the onus of change onto the individual, freeing corporations, institutions, and governments from pressure to change.

Americans have, throughout our history, elevated the status of the individual. Individual freedom is paramount in our founding documents, and we generally esteem individual achievement above group achievement (Think sports stars or Steve Jobs; we love a hero).

Focusing on Systems and Systemic Change

We focus on the individual so much, that we can sometimes forget that we live within cultures, societies and governments; that our lives are governed by systems; that systems set the rules of the game. Governments, capitalism, the legal system, land-use schemes (zoning laws) and cultural norms—these systems structure and contain our lives.   These systems encourage consumption in thousands of ways. They make pollution free and reducing your carbon footprint expensive and difficult.

Our current systems—the ways we have structured and regulated human life, the way our civilization functions— is careening towards chaos. Our systems are destroying our climate, which has provided us humanity with stability and bounty, making human civilization possible for the last 10,000 years.

These systems are bigger than us. They comprise billions of people and trillions of dollars. Individual action is a speck of dust when compared to these systems. It will never succeed.

Our moral imperative, then, is not to reduce our carbon footprint. It is to change the systems. Though systems are daunting and powerful, they are developed and maintained by people, especially powerful people. We built them, we maintain them, and we can change them. Social movements have  done it many times before. We must create a social and political movement that fights denial and minimization and demands that the United States government respond to climate change as the existential threat it isto fight back with a WWII level mobilization.

Individual Responsibility, Reconceptualized.

When the systems have gone off the rails, then it is up to individuals to change those systems. A governments most basic responsibility is to keep its citizens safe. The climate crisis threatens all Americans and all humanity. Our government, as well as our culture, media, and economic system, have failed. Its up to us now.

Each of us must ask: what can I do to fight the culture climate change denial? How can I contribute to shifting the United States from passivity to action? How can I use my power, resources, talents, and connections to further the movement? Each person will have their own answer. Journalists can report on climate change; artists can create art about climate; religious leaders can preach about climate change in their sermons. Academics and students can apply their knowledge to helping the Human Climate Movement develop innovative strategies for success. Everyone can spread the truth of climate change amongst their family and friends.

Every person must give what they can to usher in the social movement. This means that the more power, resources, talent  you have, the greater your obligation. Perhaps Spiderman said it best: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

People often underestimate their power (and hence, their responsibility), thinking, “I’m only one person.” Or, “I’m just a student,” or “I’m not a politician or a scientist. What can I do?”

The truth is, if you are reading this, you probably have a good deal of power and privilege. You are literate, you speak English, you have access to the Internet, and you have the time available to read articles about climate change. Are you an American?  Than you are a voting member of the worlds most powerful nation. Do you have a college education? You are more powerful still. Globally, only 6.7% of people have a college degree. If you are one of the privileged, educated few, I believe you have a moral responsibility to use your knowledge to fight the climate crisis. Do you have money in your bank account? That’s a lot of power right there. Remember, 2.4 billion people live on less than $2 a day.  Are you talented? Do people respect you? Do you have a leadership position at work or in a community organization? These are assets that can be utilized for change, also.

Oscar Schindler: The Burden of Power in an Evil System

Oscar Schindler understood  that, in a crazed, immoral system such as Nazi Germany, powerful individuals bore a great burden of moral responsibility. Schindler was a rich German factory owner who, during the war, began to produce munitions and military supplies for the Nazis. As Schindler realized the evil of the Nazi system, he realized that he had to fight back. The situation was different in several ways than the climate crisis— the Nazi system was being challenged by the Allied forces, and open dissent was brutally suppressed. So Schindler did two things: 1) He began a mission to save as many Jews as he could, by employing them in his factory, relocating his factory to a safer area, and giving lavish bribes to officials and 2) He sabotaged his own factories operations. He never wanted to produce a working bullet; he knew that those bullets would be used to defend the Nazi cause.

Schindler understood that he had a moral obligation to stand against an evil system and that he had to use his power and privilege to do so. He undermined the system by providing it with faulty munitions, and shielded more than a thousand Jews from the system’s murderous intent.

So how did Oscar Schindler feel when the system was defeated—when Germany surrendered to the allies? Stephen Spielberg illustrates in the ending of his film Schindler’s List:

Schindler, rather than accepting the gratitude of his workers, is acutely aware of how much more he could have given—how much more his privilege and power required of him. And this was after the Allies had won. 

Imagine how you will feel as climate change continues to worsen, prompting resource wars, famines, and outbreaks of vector borne disease? Will you be able to hold your head high, confident that you did everything you could to contribute to the solution? Or will you live with the pain of knowing that you had power, resources, and talent, but failed to use it to change the system?