Category Archives: Emotional growth

Life in The Climate Crisis: A Discussion Series

Before starting The Climate Mobilization, I was training to become a clinical psychologist. Psychology was the first lens I used to examine my own and others’ responses to the climate crisis: grief, terror, denial, dissociation and more. My most impactful writing has been on the psychology of the climate crisis.

In January, I started a  psychological discussion series, with the goal of creating a fellowship with others who are grappling with climate truth as they go through their lives every day. The discussions will open to all Mobilizer Backers — The Climate Mobilization’s sustaining donors.

These 90 minute monthly calls will be a time to share and learn about the under-discussed personal, emotional side of the climate crisis. The format will vary, but the basic questions we will explore will include: What is it like to live in these times? How does it feel? How does the climate crisis affect your relationships? How does it affect your identity?? How does it affect how you plan your future and make major decisions?

On the next call, upcoming on 2.18, I will also share and discuss the step-by-step guide I am working on to “Go all in on the climate emergency,” intended to help people take responsibility for the climate crisis and leap into becoming climate warriors. Mobilizer Backers will be invited to read the (draft) guidebook chapters before the call. The topics we discuss will include “Build emotional muscle,” “Welcome all Thoughts and Feelings,” “Curiosity and Compassion,” “Grieve the life you thought you were living,” and “Fear: It’s there to help us.”

I will discuss these topics, share from the guide, and ask callers to share their thoughts and experiences. 

The Mobilizer Backer Program will also feature a monthly “Strategy and Politics” call, which will bring on leaders from within TCM, as well as esteemed guests, to talk about TCM’s strategy and the work they have been doing, comment on current events, the state of politics and the climate movement. Mobilizer Backers will ask questions and offer feedback. The next call is 2.22 and features John Mitchell, our lead engineer, explaining the brilliant implementation plans he has created for cities

Mobilizer Backers are the foundation of the Climate Mobilization. They provide us with reliable income and support the spreading of climate truth and the building power for emergency climate mobilization all over the country. Because we leverage a huge amount of volunteer capacity, your gift will have a much greater impact. Please become a Mobilizer Backer today. I hope to see you on the calls soon!

Margaret Klein Salamon, PhD

The Transformative Power of Climate Truth: Illustrated (and updated)

I am extremely pleased to announce The Transformative Power of Climate Truth, Illustrated Version!

The main addition here are the beautiful illustrations and formatting are by Katharine Woodman-Maynard, The Climate Mobilization’s lead graphic designer.

Transformative_Cover

This version is updated to reflect recent events in The Climate Mobilization and in the climate movement more generally. The main addition is the description of the recent formation of a new segment of the climate movement, call it the “Mobilization Coalition”—a group of scientists, activists, and religious and community leaders—who are calling for emergency climate action.

I am very proud and excited to say that this essay has helped incite transformation in some readers, helping them become more engaged, more active, more urgent, and more committed to the need for emergency mobilization.

My hope is that this beautiful formatting will draw more readers to this essay, and further spread these personal and political transformations! So please help by sharing with those you care about and respect.

The Transformative Power of Climate Truth

7/29/15  An updated version of this essay now exists! It includes material from Pope Francis’ Encyclical on our Common Home, Laudato Si, as well as updated news of The Climate Mobilization’s recent successes. I strongly recommend you read that version!


For those who prefer to read the original, Sans-Encyclical, out of date version: Enjoy 🙂

The Pledge to Mobilize: a Vehicle for Climate Truth

The Climate Mobilization launched seven months ago, when we began spreading the Pledge to Mobilize at the People’s Climate March in New York City. Our mission is to initiate a WWII-scale mobilization that protects civilization and the natural world from climate catastrophe. Climate truth is central to this mission. We believe that the climate movement’s greatest and most underutilized strategic asset is the truth: That we are now in a planet-wide climate crisis that threatens civilization and requires an immediate, all-out emergency response.

The Pledge to Mobilize, a one-page document that any American can sign, is our tool for spreading climate truth and channeling the emotions it inspires into political power. The Pledge is a public acknowledgment that the climate crisis threatens the collapse of civilization, as well as a call for the United States to initiate a World War II-scale mobilization to eliminate our national net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and enlist in an international effort to restore a safe global climate. (Please see The Case for Climate Mobilization, for a detailed scientific and economic explanation of our demands).

The Pledge also contains a set of political and personal commitments to build the social mobilization required to achieve these demands. When you sign the Pledge, you agree to:

  1. Vote for candidates who have also signed the Pledge to Mobilize over those who have not.
  2. Support candidates who have signed with time, money, or both.
  3. Spread the truth of climate change, and the Pledge to Mobilize, to others.

It is still early days for The Climate Mobilization, but our progress is quite promising. The Pledge to Mobilize has been signed by more than 1000 Americans, a number that is growing every day. We encourage people, once they have signed, to recruit friends and family, and to advocate for mobilization in public. Mobilizers have begun a variety of actions such as giving presentations on the climate crisis and need for mobilization, tabling, or holding discussions in their homes. In March, 375 people marched to the San Diego Federal Building, where they posted the Pledge to Mobilize. On June 14th, we will have our first National Climate Mobilization Day, holding rallies and other Pledge-spreading events across the country that will call on our fellow citizens, as well as national political representatives to mobilize in defense of civilization. Former congressman Jim Bates will kick off the day at Midnight, acting as a modern-day Paul Revere, riding horseback through the San Diego streets warning that “Climate change is coming, Mobilize!” and will conclude his ride at a nighttime rally for Mobilization.

The Climate Mobilization plans to be extremely active during the 2016 campaign season, using it as an opportunity to bring climate truth into the front of the public mind, and make every candidate answer whether they understand that climate change poses the greatest challenge we have ever faced, and whether they have the competence and strength of character to sign the Pledge and mobilize.

This paper explores the transformative power — and strategic necessity— of climate truth. It explains why we believe the Pledge to Mobilize approach contains such incredible potential for change. This paper will also address the concern that The Climate Mobilization should be less frank and frightening about the climate crisis, and push for a more appealing and “realistic,” though inadequate, solution.

The Power of Truth for Individuals

Humans have a remarkable capacity for imagination and fantasy. This is a precious gift, which allows us to create technological breakthroughs and captivating, brilliant works of fiction. Our imagination gives us the capacity to re-make the world, a uniquely powerful ability that no other animal can come close to rivaling. The downside, however, is that our minds are such powerful and flexible creative forces that they can also easily deceive us.

Socrates advocated that individuals must work to discover personal truth, encapsulated in his statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Guatama Buddha, a near contemporary of Socrates, created a spiritual system that also emphasizes seeking personal truth and staying in touch with reality. This is no easy task—distinguishing reality from fantasy is a life-long developmental challenge. The child, for example, must learn that monsters and fairies are not real. As the child grows, she must continue to determine what is real about herself, her family, and the world — including recognizing the truth of her capacities, or strengths, proclivities and limitations. She must also recognize what family stories have been distortions of reality, i.e. “In this family, everyone always gets along.”

There are two basic reasons why it is critically important that individuals separate truth from distortion and fantasy. The first is very practical. If someone does not adequately understand themselves and the world, they will have a very difficult time navigating it, or growing in response to it. For example, if a teenager believes himself to be invincible, he may break bones or worse before coming to terms with the reality of his vulnerability. Or if he has been told his entire life, and now believes, that he can accomplish any goal easily, he might be in for a rude awakening when he enrolls in advanced courses for which he is unprepared. If he can’t accurately evaluate his talents honestly, he denies himself the chance to utilize his strengths and bolster his weaknesses!

The second reason was discovered by Freud, and used during the past century by psychoanalysis and the related psychotherapies to relieve individual suffering and enhance individual lives. The truth is inherently energizing and enhancing to the individual because the truth is often known, but defended against—repressed, dissociated and denied. This avoidance of the truth takes continual effort and energy. Take, for example a woman who finally admits to herself that she is a lesbian after years of fighting this knowledge. When the truth is finally embraced, a weight is lifted and a new level of personal freedom is accessed. The woman feels as though she has a new lease on life, and indeed she does, because she has integrated an important truth, which is inherently invigorating and opens up new frontiers of possibility.

Sexual orientation is only one example. We all shield ourselves from unpleasant truths; it is a basic part of human mental functioning. That is why actively examining oneself is critical. Psychotherapy is one such process of active examination, and the results can be staggering. First the client’s depression lifts, then their interpersonal relationships improve, then they make a career change that is more rewarding. Increased understanding and honesty bear many fruits.

The Power of Truth in Social Movements

All of the great social movements throughout history have successfully applied the transformative power of truth en masse. The transformative truths of social movements are widely known before the emergence of the movement, but they are repressed, denied, and ignored. The institutions of society—the government, media, academy and religious institutions often collude in denying the truth, failing the people they are meant to serve. Successful social movements take the truth into their own hands and force individuals, institutions, and especially governments to reckon with, accept, and ultimately act on the truth.

Vaclav Havel championed “Living in Truth” rather than complying with the corrupt, repressive actions of the Soviet Union. His work helped cause the non-violent Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, after which he became the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia in 41 years. Havel described the strategic power of truth:

(The power of truth) does not reside in the strength of definable political or social groups, but chiefly in a potential, which is hidden throughout the whole of society, including the official power structures of that society. Therefore this power does not rely on soldiers of its own, but on soldiers of the enemy as it were—that is to say, on everyone who is living within the lie and who may be struck at any moment (in theory, at least) by the force of truth (or who, out of an instinctive desire to protect their position, may at least adapt to that force). It is a bacteriological weapon, so to speak, utilized when conditions are ripe by a single civilian to disarm an entire division…. This, too, is why the regime prosecutes, almost as a reflex action, preventatively, even modest attempts to live in truth. (1978, emphasis added.)

The lies of the Soviet state in Czechoslovakia collapsed when confronted with the force of the truth. This was possible because, as Havel describes, the power of truth exists in everyone, including the army, governmental leaders, and other elites—we all “know” the truth on some level—but it is buried under layers of defenses, fear, and doubt. However, when people advocate for the truth with clarity and moral certainty, the truth comes to the forefront of people’s minds; it cuts like a spear through layers of denial and self-deception.

Gandhi pioneered the movement strategy called “Satyagraha” which means “Truth force” and has connotations of love and inner strength. Rather than using violence to create change, practitioners of Satyagraha used their inner resources to march, fast, and otherwise demonstrate the truth of their message that colonialism was inherently degrading and that India needed to govern itself. Satyagraha was instrumental in helping India achieve independence.

Martin Luther King utilized Gandhi’s teachings and preached about the need for “soul force” in the struggle for racial equality. Before the civil rights movement, America rationalized, ignored, and passively accepted the brutal Jim Crow system. The civil rights movement brought the ugly truth of Jim Crow to the center of American life. When non-violent protesters were met with hateful violence, and these confrontations were broadcast into living rooms across America, the truth could no longer be denied and ignored: the status quo was seen as morally bankrupt. Major, immediate changes were plainly necessary. When a powerful truth is effectively communicated, change can happen very rapidly.

The Truth Allows Us to Grow

Grappling with the truth makes us, as individuals and societies, healthier and more resilient. It allows us to approach problems with rationality and creativity and energy that would otherwise be sapped by denial and avoidance. Social movements invite us to put truth into practice — to be changed by the truth and to share the truth with others. This takes dedication and courage. In successful social movements, these traits are found in abundance. When people become agents for truth and vital change, they are elevated, enlarged, and lit up. The truth, and their role in advancing it, affects how they view themselves, what occupies their mind, and how they conduct their affairs. The power of truth allows them to transcend their limitations and what they once thought possible for themselves. 

Psychologist and climate activist Mary Pipher puts it this way:

We cannot solve a problem that we will not face. With awareness, everything is possible. Once we stop denying the hard truths of our environmental collapse, we can embark on a journey of transformation that begins with the initial trauma —the ‘oh shit’ moment — and can end with transcendence. In fact, despair is often a crucible for growth. When our problems seem too big for us to tackle, there’s really only one solution, which is: We must grow bigger.

The Most Powerful Truth of All

We are living in a state of planetary emergency and must mobilize our society on the scale of World War II in order to rapidly bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in order to have a chance of averting the collapse of civilization and the destruction of the natural world. The fact that we have warmed the world this much, and show little sign of stopping, is evidence of widespread institutional failure. We cannot expect anyone else to save us. We must do it ourselves.

This truth, while deeply unwelcome, has the potential to be the most powerful, transformative truth of all. Climate truth has the potential to be more powerful than any country’s independence; more powerful that overthrowing authoritarian states; and more powerful than civil rights or any group’s struggle for safety, recognition and equality. Climate truth contains such superordinate power because all of those causes depend on a safe climate.

If we do not solve climate change, we will never be able to build a just, free, healthy, loving society. It will be “game over”— the experiment of humanity organizing into civilizations will have failed. This will mean the deaths of billions of people and the loss of safety and security for the rest. It will be a miserable, deplorable fate. If we accept climate truth, we can channel the enormous power of our values, passions, empathy and hopes for humanity towards our fight for a safe climate.

Some people will feel that the climate crisis is not ‘the most powerful truth of all,’ a distinction that should be reserved for the existence of God. Some even feel that the existence of God lessens or negates the need to act on the climate crisis. I am not a theological expert or religious person, so I can’t confidently speak to the matter. I can say that I have come across a good number of deeply religious climate activists who believe that separating God from creation is not possible, and to honor him, we must protect the planet and ourselves. Further, I know that every major religion considers both suicide and murder deeply wrong. Allowing climate change to unfold without mobilization is suicide, homicide, and ecocide on a massive scale. Though the intent to harm is lacking, passivity on climate is complicity with these deaths. As the growth of faith-based climate efforts grow, perhaps most notably the statements of Pope Francis, we see that there is no contradiction between religious faith and climate truth. Indeed, there is a contradiction between professed belief and passive acquiescence as humanity destroys itself and the natural world.

The fact that climate change threatens the collapse of civilization is not only known by scientists and experts. It is widely known—and defended against. Many Americans are willfully ignorant—they know that climate change, and the institutional failure it represents, is scary, so they keep it out of their focus. They never read about it, perhaps telling themselves that they aren’t interested. Another common defensive reaction is to intellectually accept the “facts” of climate change, but not to connect emotionally with its implications. This attitude can be seen by those who calmly, cynically state, “We are fucked,” and remain utterly passive.

Though climate change ranks low on most Americans’ lists of stated political priorities, our collective anxiety is apparent. Witness the popularity of learning survival skills and packing “go bags”—people harbor the fantasy that in a collapse scenario, they would be able to successfully take their safety into their own hands. Or look at the profusion of apocalyptic movies, TV shows and video games that have been popular in recent years.

If we look squarely at the climate crisis, we realize that these portrayals of destruction are not as fantastical as they seem; that they are imaginative forecasts of the climate ravaged planet that we are careening towards. This understanding can, to borrow Naomi Klein’s phrase, “change everything.” Letting climate truth in can affect not only your civic and political engagement, but also your priorities, goals, and sense of identity. You are not, as American culture has told you, an isolated actor, living in a stable country on a stable planet, whose main purpose in life is to pursue personal success and familial satisfaction. Rather, you are living in a country, and on a planet, in crisis. Your primary moral responsibility is to fight for your family, your species and all life on earth. You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t cause it, and you probably don’t like it. But here you are.

Here we all are, in personal and collective danger. Climate change is already killing 400,000 people a year, a number that we should expect to rise quickly and abruptly as climatic and civilizational tipping points (i.e. the breakout of water wars and food riots) are reached. Climate change is a matter of life and death for billions of people, and for civilization as a whole. If we allow ourselves to feel that reality, then our survival instincts can kick in. W­­e must be like the mother who lifts a truck to pull out her baby, or perhaps more aptly—a man who comes perilously close to drinking himself to death, but emerges from hitting rock bottom resolved to courageously face his problems rather than fleeing them. Our love for life and for each other can urge us to great feats.

The Pledge to Mobilize: Harnessing the Power of Climate Truth 

I have witnessed the transformative power of climate truth. I have seen people go from passive and disengaged to mobilized, working with dogged determination to fight climate change and spread climate truth to others. These transformations are vitally important, because only people who allow themselves to be transformed by climate truth can provide the fuel for a heroic, fully dedicated, and ultimately successful social movement.

The Pledge to Mobilize provides people with a point of entry into the global climate crisis—it provides a roadmap for how any one individual can build power and affect change in the arena of national politics. The knowledge that you can effect meaningful impact on the climate crisis—call it agency, empowerment, or active hope—is critical for accepting climate truth. Without agency, the scope of the crisis can cause despair, cynicism, or an obsessive focus on assigning and avoiding blame. Without the Pledge— or some other comprehensive political platform and social movement strategy that clearly and effectively tackle the climate emergency—people’s alarm and despair about climate change are largely inert. With the Pledge, this emotional energy can be channeled into dedicated, effective action.

Kat Baumgartner exemplifies this. Kat had been concerned about climate change for several years, but felt largely hopeless and was not engaged in any political or organizational work. After several months of increasing engagement and leadership, Kat described her experience of signing the Pledge and joining the Climate Mobilization in a letter to friends, asking them to sign:

After retiring from the fire department and being lost for awhile, I am so grateful to have found another purpose in life. I didn’t think it was possible for me to find anything that I could feel as passionate about as I did about being a firefighter…. Our Pledge calls on the Federal Government to respond to the crisis we are facing in a way very similar to the response to World War II. Experts agree that only this type of response will save civilization from collapse and we believe that the Pledge to Mobilize strategy can fundamentally alter what is politically feasible! 

Endemic Avoidance of Climate Truth

The Pledge to Mobilize is dedicated to bringing climate truth into the mainstream because, today it is difficult to find. As leading environmental analysts Jorgen Randers and Paul Gilding put it in 2009:

It’s like belonging to a secret society. Conversations held in quiet places, in cafes, bars and academic halls. Conversations held with furrowed brows and worried eyes. Conversations that sometimes give you goose bumps and shivers, and a sense of the surreal – is this conversation really happening? This is what it’s felt like over the past few years, to spend time with some of the world’s leading thinkers and scientists on issues around climate change and sustainability. In public this group generally puts a positive, while still urgent interpretation of their views... But in private, often late at night, when we reflect on what we really think and wonder if the battle is lost, it’s a different conversation. The talk goes to the potential for self-reinforcing runaway loops and for civilization’s collapse. We discuss geopolitical breakdown, mass starvation and what earth would be like with just a few hundred million people.

This is an incredible, crucial statement. Even leading scientists and thought leaders aren’t being totally candid. Instead of frank discussions of the crisis, conversations are awash in confusion, denial and fixation on irrelevancies. Much of this is due to the billion dollar misinformation campaign that the fossil fuel industry has waged to cast doubt upon settled science. Another substantial contribution comes from the media, particularly the American media, which has consistently misapplied the concept of “balance” to give rogue climate deniers a place at the discussion table, and underreported the extent to the crisis.

However, these are far from the only causes — climate truth is avoided by almost everyone. A recent Yale poll shows that only 16% of Americans hear discussion of climate change from people they know once a month or more, while 25% report never hear people they know talk about climate change! Even when climate change is discussed the full extent of the crisis, is avoided. Instead of being communicated truthfully, climate change is communicated with a huge variety of distortions that make the situation appear less dire, and the solution less drastic.

We are told that there is still carbon “in the budget,” even though the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today is enough to cause a climatic catastrophe, and eventually lead to global warming far above levels that could plausibly be considered safe.

We are told to worry for “our grandchildren,” implying that we, ourselves are not in danger. Sometimes we are given the baffling message that climate change is an acute, global crisis, but the solution is minimal! We are told that changing our individual consumer decisions is a meaningful response to the crisis, and that gradual carbon-pricing policies can solve climate change on their own while allowing business as usual to continue. David Spratt elaborates on these obfuscations in his very worthwhile paper, “Always look on the bright side of life: bright siding climate advocacy and its consequences.”

That we are in an acute crisis, and need an emergency response, similar to how we mobilized to meet the emergency of World War II — is considered too hot to handle. Americans are considered too weak, ignorant, and ideologically rigid to be able to deal with it. Instead, messages are tested on focus groups and refined in order to achieve a desired level of comfortable acceptance. A cottage industry of climate psychology warns of the danger of apocalyptic rhetoric and implores climate communicators to “focus on solutions” (without honestly confronting the problem) to avoid “turning people off.”

The fact that this communications approach has become normative in American politics does not make it less harmful. Philosopher Harry G Frankfurt, describes this way of relating to the truth, which is the premise of his book, “On Bullshit”:

Bullshitters, although they represent themselves as being engaged simply in conveying information, are not engaged in that enterprise at all. Instead, and most essentially, they are fakers and phonies who are attempting by what they say to manipulate the opinions and the attitudes of those to whom they speak.  What they care about primarily, therefore, is whether what they say is effective in accomplishing this manipulation.  Correspondingly, they are more or less indifferent to whether what they say is true or whether it is false.

This patronizing approach is doomed for failure. While acknowledging that people who discuss climate change in this truth-bending style mean well, we must also realize that they are making a critical error. We are in an emergency. We need an emergency response. We cannot possibly hope to achieve one without frank and brutal honesty. If there is a fire, should we coax people to leave the building through euphemistic half-truths?—“Its getting hot in here, let’s go outside where its nice and cool?”—Or should we tell them the truth, and direct them to safety?

Further, there is a fundamental difference between telling the truth and distorting it. The difference can be heard and felt by the listener. Even if one’s intentions in bending or avoiding the truth are good—subtle dishonesty is perceived by the recipient, whose “bullshit detector” goes off.

Considering that most of what Americans are told about climate change is either euphemistic understatement or outright lies, is widespread apathy really surprising? Is it any wonder that so many Americans conclude that everyone has an agenda and choose not to engage with the climate crisis?

The Pledge to Mobilize, rather than assuming that people “can’t handle” the truth of climate change, attempts to help people handle and process that truth. The Pledge challenges them to grow, cope with the truth, and become active agents for effective change, spreading climate truth and the Pledge to Mobilize to others. Using the World War II metaphor, we provide an example of a time in which the United States successfully mobilized against an existential crisis; it provides hope without denying the severity of the situation; it invites Americans to look at the climate crisis squarely and rise to the challenge of their time.

The most common criticism we have received about the Pledge’s demands is that it is not “politically realistic” to demand a 100% reduction of US net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Some believe that this timeline is too rapid to possibly be achieved, even in the context of a full-scale climate mobilization. These critics recommend that we should weaken our demands in order to be more mainstream. Of course, anyone who has studied climate change knows that these emissions cuts will give us our best possible chance of saving civilization. People don’t argue that the Pledge doesn’t state the truth; they argue that the truth needs to be avoided! Stating the truth plainly—both of the extent and immediacy of the crisis and the enormous scale of the needed solution—makes them too uncomfortable. 

Popular climate blogger David Roberts characterized humanity as “stuck between the impossible and the unthinkable.” Our job is therefore to achieve the ‘impossible’! As Joe Uehlein, Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability put it recently in a Facebook discussion of the Pledge’s ambitious timeline and the need for a WWII-scale Mobilization:

It may or may not be possible, but that is what the timeline science tells us we’re on requires…I totally understand your criticism (that the Pledge’s emissions timeline is unrealistic). It’s just that 30 years of realism, realistic approaches, reaching for what’s achievable got us exactly nowhere. Even if all the countries do what they pledge to do in terms of carbon emissions, we still fail. That reality has to be emphasized so people will reach beyond realistic. I believe this is the only path to winning the war. At least that’s what my experience tells me — 15 years on the UN Commission on Global Warming, and 40 years in the labor movement. We’re losing the climate fight, and we’re losing the workplace justice and income inequality fight. This is why “that’s not realistic” does not resonate with me any longer.

Joe has given up on political “realism” that cannot deliver protection from climate change, and embraced climate truth. We need a massive solution to a massive problem, and to accomplish it we need to reach beyond defeatist “realism” and reclaim our institutions. We need to unleash the transformative power of truth.

Martin Luther King confronted a similar challenge when leading non-violent direct action to expose and challenge the brutal truth of segregation. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was a response to the white religious leaders who called on him to go slower and tone it down. King answered,

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Similarly, we must realize that it is not merely “deniers” who distort climate truth and stand in the way of the climate mobilization that we need, but anyone who privileges political “realism” over scientific realism and moral responsibility, clings to false-optimism, or advocates “politically fashionable carbon gradualism.[1] 

The Challenges of Climate Truth

Climate truth is rare because it is hard. It makes us feel immense fear, grief, and anger. It has radical implications, for our society and for us as individuals. Personal change, psychotherapists know, should ideally come gradually, so a stable sense of identity and safety can be maintained. Climate truth challenges us to our core— we worry how we can maintain who we are after taking it in! Should we change careers? Move to the country and start a farm? Climate truth makes us doubt ourselves: We worry that we don’t have it in us; that we won’t measure up; that we will lose.

Fighting climate change requires deep, sustained commitment, rather than a brief burst of passion. We would like to make it our absolute top priority. Yet we also need to pay our bills and raise our families. There are only so many hours in the day – how many should be spent fighting climate change? Mobilizers report that this problem —balancing the workload of their personal mobilization with life’s other demands — is the hardest part of participating. Every person, every Mobilizer, must find their own solutions to these issues; their own balance.

Climate truth also offers interpersonal challenges. We are messengers of painful, challenging news. It elicits fear—even terror, grief, and a crisis of conscience. When we speak climate truth, we convey to others, “The life you thought you were living, with big plans and a bright future, a life in which your main responsibility is to pursue your own satisfaction, is over, or at least on hold until the climate crisis is solved. We are in a global crisis, and to live a moral life, you must respond.”

When we speak climate truth, we are sometimes met with blank stares, palpable recoiling, or even outright hostility. The people we are speaking to might become anxious, which makes us feel guilty—as though the painful feelings the listener is experiencing are our fault, as though speaking climate truth is mean-spirited, rather than absolutely necessary. In order to stay in denial, some people might prefer to avoid us or ridicule what we are saying. We may find ourselves feeling alone.

The Rewards of Climate Truth: We Must be Heroes

Climate truth is not easy news to receive or deliver, and it takes fortitude to spread it. However, it is a message that people are increasingly ready to hear. Mobilizers are often surprised by how well people respond to discussions of climate truth, especially when structured through the lens of the Pledge to Mobilize. People are often grateful and relieved to talk—climate anxiety had been weighing on them— and they had found little opportunity to discuss it with others. People also express gratitude and respect for our efforts. Nothing is more gratifying, or more strengthening to a relationship, than when someone joins you in climate truth, as a champion of civilization and the natural world.

Further, taking on the mantle of climate truth gives individuals a strong, clear sense of meaning in life. It expands who we are and how we think about ourselves. Ranae Hansen, took on the role of “Point Person” for Minnesota, wrote this introducing herself to Minnesota Mobilizers:

Because I am convinced that the US has to step up boldly, I agreed to this role a month ago. And then, I was hospitalized for sudden adult onset Type I diabetes. Rather a set back for my organizing! However, once it was clear that I would survive this shock, I realized even more deeply that working to preserve the planet for plants, animals, and humans was the way I wanted to pay back the gift of a continued personal life.

Fred Branfman spent his life dedicated to humanity, and to truth. As a young man he exposed America’s secret bombing campaign of Laos during the Vietnam War. Decades later, he helped develop the Climate Mobilization concept, and would have been one of our co-founders had he not become terminally ill and passed away a few days after the People’s Climate March. The other co-founders of The Climate Mobilization, including myself, are in our twenties. We feel viscerally afraid of how climate will wreak havoc in the coming decades — we fight not only for “future generations” or for the natural world, but also for our own safety and security. Fred, in a totally different stage of life, did not worry about his own safety in regards to climate change. Rather, he spoke about the opportunity for great and enduring heroism: 

We have clearly arrived at an evolutionary watershed: the first time that our species is heading toward species-suicide by its own hand. If we act politically to try and save it we will know a heroism that none before us have experienced. Our inner desire to live lives of meaning will be remembered for all time to come, as long as humans in whatever number still walk this earth….We have thus been offered the most sublime human opportunity of all: To participate in an heroic movement to preserve all human achievement and make possible its continuation for all human time to come…We are clearly in the early stages of the worst and most prolonged crisis humanity has ever faced. It can only be met if millions of us…decide that we cannot live with ourselves if we do not act politically to try and avert this crisis.

Our “sublime opportunity” for heroism faces its next great phase in the run-up to the 2016 elections, in which we will elect a new President and much of a new Congress. Let all of our motivating desires — to be safe, to protect our loved ones and the extended human family, now and in the future, to protect the glorious natural world, and to be remembered — push us to sustained, heroic activism for the next 19 months. The Pledge to Mobilize can channel this energy into a transformation of the campaign and national discourse on climate change. Rather than discussing whether candidates “believe in” climate change, we must make them answer whether they understand that climate change poses the greatest challenge we have ever faced, and whether they have the competence and strength of character to mobilize against it. We will make them confront climate truth directly, and judge them by their response. This is what The Climate Mobilization is dedicated to achieving. Our goals reach beyond the “realistic” to what is necessary and true. We hope you join us.

[1] Phrase coined by Michael Hoexter

Impressive self-reflection from a young climate activist

I just read the article  “A Young Climate Activist Reflects on Lessons Learned” by Chloe Maxmin, the student leader of Divest Harvard, and I am so impressed!
Chloe clearly thinks deeply about herself and her activism.

My favorite of her points are #2, 3, and 6.

#2 Being thoughtful, even in a terrifying crisis, I have also written about, utilizing the example of  the famous “marshmellow experiment”

#3 “Creating choice points” is also very true– and at the heart of the Pledge to Mobilize idea. Offering someone the Pledge creates a choice point, a clear and bright line: You either sign, or you don’t.

But I especially like # 6, “Don’t be afraid to evolve.”

Allowing myself to evolve has been central to my effectiveness as an activist. There have been times when I felt myself becoming ideologically attached to a certain theory of change. This made me reluctant to explore alternative avenues and perspectives. Now I try to remember that evolution is a necessary and natural part of life, including activism. It’s a process to embrace. I’ve felt frustrated and angry at the ideological rigidity of some activists’ and their refusal to entertain new ideas and strategies. Open and ever-evolving dialogue is necessary to grow a movement.

Being open to changing and growing, to constantly refining and improving one’s ideas– is critical for climate change activism, as in all life. In order to be as effective as possible, we must keep this in mind. We must push ourselves to question our beliefs and actions and relentlessly ask, “How can I be more effective? How can I do more? What am I doing or thinking that is holding me back from realizing my maximum potential to fight climate change?” Questioning oneself like that can be difficult, but it is so worth it! When one i open to evolving, ones mistakes become lessons and successes become stepping stones… An example of this in my life right now is that The Climate Mobilization has received some really excellent, challenging feedback about the emissions targets that the Pledge calls for. So, we are thinking about changing them.  Its so important to stay open and flexible, even as we stay focused and dedicated.

Anyway, thanks to Chloe for the excellent article, and her excellent work at Harvard. Such reflection and growth has clearly paid off 🙂 Onward!

Physical vs. Psychological Growth: The Teenage Dilemma!

It has been interesting to read political and environmental critiques of economic growth, coming from a psychology background. Gus Speth, for example, devotes a good portion of “Bridge at the End of the World” to arguing against the doctrine of infinite economic growth.

Environmentalists and progressives decry the evil of economic growth, often calling it a “cancer.” This attitude towards growth was very striking to me because in psychology, growth is great! It is no exaggeration to say that growth is the primary goal of therapy.

Of course, it’s a different kind of growth—when psychologists speak of growth, we mean emotional growth: the expansion or enhancement of capacities such as self-reflection, affect tolerance, empathy and agency. To have better, richer relationships; to be more realistic about oneself and ones circumstances; to not be burdened by guilt, anger, depression or narcissism.  Therapy helps patients build their “emotional muscles,” and grow as people. This is why some people stay in therapy for many years; not necessarily because they are terribly troubled, but is often out of a dedication to growth: the continued desire to get healthier, stronger and more self-aware.

So we have two very different types of growth. Economic growth is a type of physical, literal growth. When the economy grows, we extract more resources, process them, consume them, and dispose of them. Emotional growth happens internally.

What is the relationship between these two types of growth? Between physical growth and psychological growth? Does economic growth encourage or discourage emotional growth among nations and the individuals that comprise them?

To consider this question from an experiential, psychological viewpoint, we can examine the human life cycle. There are two periods of rapid physical growth for humans: infancy and puberty. In both of these periods, the project of growth virtually consumes the organism. In their first year, infants normally sleep 14-20 hours a day! When they are not sleeping, often, they are eating. Babies are quite focused on their physical growth-project.

And what of puberty? What does the process of changing, growing bodies do to teenagers? It consumes them. Obsesses them. Adolescents orient their whole lives around their bodies and the bodies of others. They adorn, display, and reveal their bodies; they evaluate their own and each others’ bodies, carefully and mercilessly, measuring, ranking and critiquing; they pierce and tattoo their bodies; they test their bodies limits through extreme sports, fist fights or risky behavior; they mutilate their bodies in myriad ways, such as cutting, huffing, and eating disorders. They talk endlessly about body parts and body functions. I haven’t even gotten to sex, yet! Needless to say, teenagers also spend countless hours, masturbating, watching pornography, sexting, having sexual fantasies, having or seeking sex, gossiping about who had sex with who and wondering which of their peers are gay.

 

Teenagers are obsessed with bodies. But its not their fault! Their bodies are going through rapid changes, which is confusing and destabilizing.  Teenagers often appear awkward or strange; they are the novice captains of large ships! Teenagers devote a huge amount of effort to getting a grip, a sense of mastery for their new bodies.

And how about teenagers’ emotional growth? Its….. limited. During times of rapid physical growth, the organism devotes huge amounts of mental and physical energy to reacting, adapting, understanding and coping with that growth.  Young adults, once their bodies have reached settled into a more homeostatic state, can start to tackle questions like, “Who am I?” “What do I want from life and how should I go about getting it? Or even, “How can I do good in the world, improving the lives of people I care about?” Adults’ bodies change, of course, and the changes occupy some of our attention. But the relative stability of our bodies allows us to shift our focus to develop mental and emotional capacities.

So does physical growth trade-off for emotional growth in the economy in a similar way? Indeed it does; our spurring the economy towards constant growth affects us on every level of society—causing  group and individual preoccupations; like teenagers, mooning over their bodies, American adults obsess to no end about money. Russel Collins (2000) points out “the pursuit of economic growth became the defining feature of U.S. public policy in the half-century after the end of World War II. Commentators in the 1950S coined the term `growthmanship’ to describe the seemingly single-minded pursuit of exuberant economic growth that was then appearing to dominate the political agenda and the public dialogue throughout the Western industrialized world, nowhere more dramatically than in that bastion of materialistic excess, the United States.” Individually, we devote a huge portion of our lives to earning money, often more than we devote to our families, to our communities, to our education, or to causes we believe in. We compete with our friends and neighbors based on who earns more. We read in the media about high fashion, luxury cars, and multi-million dollar real estate.

All the time, attention, and investment we spend on the spurring growth and adapting to its changes and effects takes time, attention, and investment that we are NOT spent on making our society better. It is not spent on education, on reflection, discussion and collaboration, on improving our governments and schools, on pursuing scientific and scholarly research, on building meaningful relationships with others, or on community projects. Annie Leonard, author of “The Story of Stuff” articulates the same concept in this 9-minute video: The Story of Solutions in which she argues that our economy’s goal is “more” and we need to change it to “better.”

Our obsession with economic growth is harming our country’s emotional maturity, keeping us emotionally adolescent! Ask yourself: Do most Americans spend more energy on growing financially, or on growing personally? Do our elected leaders act like mature adults, or do they act like babies and teenagers, trying to cope with a rapid physical expansion?

The most common metaphor environmental and political writers use for growth is a “cancer.” This metaphor clearly fits; unconstrained growth that can have devastating consequences. I think the metaphor of adolescence is more illuminating, however. We can all remember adolescence: how insecure, confused, and body-obsessed we were. As adults, we can appreciate the gift of relative physical stability; that things stay the basically the same in our bodies from day to day, allowing us to develop other, more internal, parts of ourselves. When you are a teenager, you cannot imagine what it is like to be an adult; it is impossible to comprehend what it feels like to be more mature and less body obsessed. Likely, something similar is true of economic growth. If we brought our economy to a steady-state, we would have more energy to developing our civil society, our institutions, our communities, our discourse, and our governance.

Highlighting the inverse connection between economic and emotional growth is not intended to excuse us from pursuing dedicated efforts to grow emotionally, even as our economy continues to expand. Though it happens more slowly, emotional growth is possible during periods physical growth. Though teens aren’t generally considered bastions of stability, insight, empathy and wisdom, they do move forward. A national-level example: Germany, matured greatly as a country in the decades after WWII, even as their economy grew quickly. To their credit, Germans were able to mourn their huge losses of 2 world wars, and to (to some degree) face the evil of what their nation had done. (The United States and the Marshall plan also deserve credit for helping Germans to feel safe and secure enough to grow emotionally).   Germany demonstrated their maturity through their leadership the EU, especially in sustainability: Germany has become Europe’s leader in greening their economy.

We must dedicate ourselves to growing emotionally, even though we live in a growth-obsessed world. Challenges and loss can be precursors of emotional growth for individuals and groups—they can encourage reflection, reevaluation, and empathy and push people and groups to higher levels of functioning.  Climate change poses the worst threat humanity has ever faced and is already creating widespread disruptions. We must attempt to channel the pain and stresses that arise from climate change into wise action rather than regression and panic. We must push ourselves to new levels insight, empathy, dedication, and maturity. Only by utilizing mature emotional and intellectual capacities will we have a fighting chance of building a social movement that faces the horrifying truth of climate change, giving us a fighting chance of solving the climate crisis. The time for adolescence is over, we cannot afford immaturity any longer, it’s time to grow up.