The Climate Psychologist

The Human Climate Pledge

I understand that climate change is an immensely powerful, dangerous force. Climate change threatens me, my family and friends, and civilization itself. Though this knowledge is terrifying, I will bravely face reality. I forsake denial, and will always strive to live in climate truth.

I understand that fighting climate change is both a moral and strategic imperative. It must be our top political priority.

I understand that humanity has a choice. We can be passive, helpless victims of the ravages of climate change. Or we can fight back, together.

I know that we must fight climate change the same way we fought WWII— with a government led, full-scale societal mobilization. Paul Gilding and Jorgen Randers provide a “1 Degree War Plan” which offers a viable model for how a War on Climate Change could unfold.

We must bring all of our resources to bear. In WWII, we invested approximately 36% of our GDP or $5.6 trillion dollars in today’s dollars. This is a good approximation for what we should invest  our War on Climate Change.

Because fighting climate change is a strategic and moral imperative;  the most important  issue of our time, I pledge:

  1. To only support political candidates with my time or money who have also signed this pledge.
  2.  To always vote for candidates who have signed this pledge over candidates who have not.
  3. To live in climate truth—to forsake denial, and courageously face the  truth of climate change.
  4. To spread climate truth, and this pledge, to people I know and love. I will help others overcome denial and live in climate truth. We will fight back, together.

5 thoughts on “The Human Climate Pledge

  1. John McMahon

    Climate Psychologist,
    I saw a post or two by you on Slate, and was interested in what you might have to say. I find your site interesting and entertaining, but probably not in the ways you intended. Your approach is interesting in that you are the first person in the mental health field, and yes I have worked in it, whose main goal seems to be to INCREASE people’s anxiety. Certainly some anxiety is appropriate for anyone, particularly if anxieties related to certain behaviors that have dire existential consequences for an individual like substance abuse or negative social behaviors are lacking. But when the first link on your website is “The Threat” one of your main goals obviously seems to be to scare the sh!t out of people, and thus increase their anxiety. I really don’t know how appropriate that is for a psychologist.
    Speaking of behavior, The Human Climate Pledge is some pretty weak sauce. Other than pulling a lever, hitting a touch screen, or pencilling in a circle on a card every two years, no other behavior changes are required by the pledge signer. The most effective card that “deniers” or people who are ambivalent to AWG have to play, is that the people who think it is a real problem aren’t acting on a personal level like it is. They just want the government to FORCE people to change their lives in a radical way, without making serious efforts to do so voluntarily themselves. Where is the part of the pledge where people swear that they will not use air conditioning, fly, eat meat, or use a car anymore? That they will consciously consume less, and thus burn less carbon? Until people concerned with AWG take that moral high ground, particularly high profile people, others are right to scoff at them at worst, or ignore them at best.
    As far as the WWII comparison to fighting AWG is concerned, I think you need to learn more about World War II. The government spent a third of GNP on the war effort because a lot of folks had sons lying dead on the bottom of Pearl Harbor or bayoneted on the Bataan Death March. There was also the prevalent attitude that the USA just had to go all out and get this thing over with, even if it meant losing thousands of American boys, and killing millions of Axis civilians to do it..Nobody thought that the war and the changes it would bring would go on forever, and they didn’t. Can you convince people that they would only have to change their entire lifestyle, and undergo privations for five years to end AWG, and then go back to living exactly as they had before? If you can’t, then that whole idea is a fantasy. The Climate Change Corps made me blow a drink out of my nose by the way. Nothing that you mentioned the teenaged slave labor doing, couldn’t be accomplished with less of a carbon footprint by machinery. Moving, training, feeding, and housing a hundred kids burns up a whole lot more carbon fuels than a single bulldozer and operator, which will work about a hundred times faster by the way. That whole plan sounds like something Mao Tse Tung or Pol Pot cooked up.
    Anyway, good luck with your academic endeavors, and have a nice day!

    1. Margaret Klein Post author

      I understand you disagree with many of my ideas, but I think we would have a more productive conversation if we did so calmly. So let me clarify: Do you believe that climate change poses an imminent threat to civilization? Because if not, it makes sense that you would find my rhetoric unnecessarily anxiety inducing and my advocacies overly extreme. But I would suggest that you educate yourself further on the subject. Unfortunately for all of us, science and social science, are speaking loud and clear. Climate change is a much greater threat than the Axis powers ever were. I know my writing can be upsetting and scary; I intend to accurately represent Climate Truth, which is upsetting and scary! Psychologists have a responsibility to face the truth, even when it is painful. To help people accept reality without distortion.

      As for the “weak sauce” of the pledge; I have written about why I find individual action to be tokenism, why I think collective action is the only action to aim for. I am interested in your disagreement, and will consider it. If you think that the pledge would be improved by adding commitments to individually reduce emissions, I am interested to hear more about your your reasons. Maybe you could elaborate them into a proposal? Your thoughts would be appreciated. But in the future, I ask you for a more collaborative attitude.

  2. John McMahon

    Ms. Klein,
    When you say “Climate change is a much greater threat than the Axis powers ever were.” I think you are going to start losing a lot of people who might otherwise be sympathetic to listening to what you have to say. Something like 50,000,000 people were killed in World War II, a number mind you, that is much lower than what it would have been if the Axis powers had successfully achieved their stated aims of World domination and racial purity. World War II actually happened, and its horrors are well documented. Cataclysmic climate change is still in the conjecture stage, no matter how many 2,500 page papers are published about it. And by the way, to the average person, reports like that have about as much meaning as an untranslated ancient Sanskrit manuscript. Personally, I KNOW that the climate is always changing, and has been since the forming of this planet. I also know that humans are pretty clever when it comes to staying alive in all kinds of climates, not as clever certainly, as staying alive when a 2 ton blockbuster hits the building you are living in from 3 miles up.
    Collective action is a total illusion, which is why I suggested that you learn more about WWII. There was rationing in the USA during the war, but people were always trying to cut corners, and there was a thriving black market. Corporations involved in the war effort made huge profits, fueled to a great degree by war bonds voluntarily bought by people who expected to have that money returned to them after the war. Minorities and women had the opportunity to get high paying industrial jobs that they never could have dreamed of before the war. The young men that went to Europe and the Pacific to fight, went because they HAD to go. They were either drafted, or they simply would have been ashamed to stay behind if they were able to serve. And people worked harder and sacrificed more because virtually everyone had someone that they knew PERSONALLY that was in the fighting. And by the way, habeas corpus basically went out the window. Ask the surviving Nissei about that. Individual self interest drives people to do most of what they do, even in a situation like WWII. When the war ended, they dug up their Victory Gardens and put the lawns back in.
    Look at our present Congress. Don’t look too hard, it’s ugly! It has a 10% approval rating. But of people who can actually name their congressional representative, 62% approve of the job they are doing! That’s self interest, and it is also Federalism, which is the way our government is supposed to work. Don’t let Apps and social networking fool you. It is very easy to hit a send button, but getting people to get together to plant trees or pull trash out of the river is whole other deal. I know that from experience. And getting them to change their lives because some scientists, no matter how right they might be, said so is on a whole other level from that. People by nature are wrapped up in their own narrow lives, and could care less about the “collective”. But they can still be persuaded. Madison Avenue invented the soft sell for just that purpose.

    I drive very little, and walk, cycle, or use public transportation whenever possible. I use fans in the summer, and wear sweaters in the winter. I’ve volunteered in community gardens, and conservation programs. I buy as little as possible, and most of my furniture came off the curbside, and most of my clothes are from Goodwill. I live that way because I think it is the right way to live for myself and the Earth. Do I encourage others to live that way? I sure do, but I don’t try to scare them into it because that is completely counterproductive. Would I invite them to my house for a “special meeting” to talk about being environmentally responsible? No, because I try to lead by example, and besides, doing something like that sounds like forming a religious cult or recruiting for Amway or Avon. Use your psychology skills to figure out a way to get people to burn less carbon voluntarily, and I am down with you 100%. Right now, your blog sounds like belief driven anxiety is more important than actually doing things to help make a better Earth. All the Best.

    1. Margaret Klein Post author

      Hi John. We’re going to have to agree to disagree about the destructive onslaught of climate change. As I tried to explain in “the threat,” I have every reason to believe that climate change threatens far more than 50 million people, but rather every human alive. The Lancet calls climate change and “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” and mainstream politicians such as John Kerry say that it threatens civilization itself. I hope that you are right and I am wrong. But I don’t think so and I think it is worthwhile when the stakes are so high to error on the side of caution.

      I applaud that individual actions you have taken in your own life to reduce your impact on the Earth. Though I do not think that voluntary action is a scalable model that can confront the systemic problems that are causing climate change, I do think that people like you have a very important role to play in the necessary social movement and the future. If a social movement succeeds in enacting policies that fight climate change and drastically reduce the amount of fossil fuel consumed, people will be very unsure of how to proceed and live their lives. As another commenter mentioned “Most of us have never seen a fossil-free human.” People such as yourself who have voluntarily drastically reduce their emissions will need to show the rest of us what that life can be like. Ultimately, I think we have the same goals. A livable earth with a stable climate, the continuity of human civilization, and respect for all.

      I hope you keep reading and sharing your perspective.

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