Therapists, especially of the psychoanalytic persuasion, love using metaphors in therapy. Metaphors are vivid, creative interpretations of reality that communicate on multiple levels. Like dreams, metaphors integrate rational thought with fantasy, imagery and emotion; they are simultaneously rational and irrational. Therapists use metaphors to explain psychological concepts, like, “You can’t go over, under, or around grief, the only way out of grief is through it.” We also help patient’s elaborate metaphors for their struggles or their own lives. Patients may say, “I’m a wolf in a trap,” “I feel like the bases are always loaded,” evocatively conveying their internal state.
Unfortunately, climate writing, including scientific reports and news stories often avoid metaphors, in an effort to preserve scientific objectivity and rationality. However, this also robs the report of their emotional power and communicative potential. Speaking metaphorically, I could say that scientific discussions of climate change are often dry, while metaphoric communication can be lush. Plus, fascinating recent research shows how metaphor is also central to scientific thought.
I would like to collect the best, most evocative writing on the climate crisis, and how society is responding to it. These will surely contain metaphors! Collecting rich, powerful writing on climate can serve as a reference for writers and people looking to enhance their ability to conceptualize and communicate about the climate crisis. And, it will be enjoyable 🙂
Here are four of my favorites. I think they all illustrate elements of the crisis beautifully and powerfully. Please send in more!
Imagine a gigantic banquet. Hundreds of millions of people come to eat. They eat and drink to their hearts’ content—eating food that is better and more abundant than at the finest tables in ancient Athens or Rome, or even in the palaces of medieval Europe. Then, one day, a man arrives, wearing a white dinner jacket. He says he is holding the bill. Not surprisingly, the diners are in shock. Some begin to deny that this is their bill. Others deny that there even is a bill. Still others deny that they partook of the meal. One diner suggests that the man is not really a waiter, but is only trying to get attention for himself or to raise money for his own projects. Finally, the group concludes that if they simply ignore the waiter, he will go away. This is where we stand today on the subject of global warming. For the past 150 years, industrial civilization has been dining on the energy stored in fossil fuels, and the bill has come due. Yet, we have sat around the dinner table denying that it is our bill, and doubting the credibility of the man who delivered it.
–-Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt
The currents of change are so powerful that some have long since taken their oars out of the water, having decided that it is better to surrender, enjoy the ride, and hope for the best—even as those currents sweep us along faster and faster toward the rapids ahead that are roaring so deafeningly we can hardly hear ourselves. “Rapids?” they shout above the din. “What rapids? Don’t be ridiculous; there are no rapids. Everything is fine!” There is anger in the shouting, and some who are intimidated by the anger learn never to mention the topic that triggers it. They are browbeaten into keeping the peace by avoiding any mention of the forbidden subject.
— Al Gore, Six Drivers of the Future
We’ve foreclosed lots of options; as the founder of the Club of Rome put it, “The future is no longer what it was thought to be, or what it might have been if humans had known how to use their brains and their opportunities more effectively.” But we’re not entirely out of possibilities. Like someone lost in the woods, we need to stop running, sit down, see what’s in our pockets that might be of use, and start figuring out what steps to take.
— Bill McKibben, Eaarth
After a long period of frenetic growth, we’re suddenly older. Old, even. And old people worry less about getting more; they care more about hanging on to what they have, or losing it as slowly as possible. That’s why old people are supposed to keep their money in bonds, not stocks. Growth doesn’t matter. Security and stability count more than dynamism.
–Bill McKibben, Eaarth