Category Archives: Human Climate Movement

Introducing Team Members! Fred Branfman: “Do Our Children Deserve to Live”

The best thing about having the blog The Climate Psychologist is all of the allies it has connected me to. Climate change is a global issue, and meeting activists (and thinktavists!) from around the world has been exhilarating and enriching.

Some of the people I have connected with deeply agree with my psychological, “person-to-person, Pledge based” approach to creating a Human Climate Movement, and have gotten intimately involved with its development, really creating a team. My next few posts will feature the writing of these team members.

Fred Branfman is an extremely accomplished, impressive writer and activist. (You can see his Wikipedia page here and his website “Truly Alive” Here). Among other achievements, in 1996 Fred authored the “Moral Call on Climate Change” which was signed by American religious leaders, Jimmy Carter, Eli Wiesel, and many others.

Today, I will post an article that Fred published in 2009, as the cover story of the Sacremento News and Review, “Do Our Children Deserve to Live.” Fred thinks very similar to me! As you will notice in this article, 4 years ago, Fred was calling for a “Human Movement” to fight climate change! Fred has enriched my thinking by emphasizing the inter-generational, moral, heroic elements to fighting climate change. Welcome Fred, and thank you for all you do!

Fred’s Introduction, for The Climate Psychologist:

We have today the opportunity to live lives of meaning of which no generation before us could even dream.  Our climate scientists, who alone have the authority to speak on the issue and who as rational adults we must believe, warn nearly unanimously that our present path will lead to the end of human civilization as we know it. But this also means that if we can create a movement that averts climate catastrophe we will have benefited not only billions now alive, but the many more billions who will live for the remainder of all human time. We can imagine no more heroic, meaningful or sacred mission to which to devote at least part of our lives.

As individuals, we each face a question that no individual before us has had to ask: ‘Can I live with myself if I do not at least try to save human civilization from climate catastrophe? How much do I really care, not only about the 7 billion human beings now alive, but the future generations, including my own flesh and blood, who will live or die at our mercy?” Many have decided that they  can only live with themselves if they  at least try to save humanity – whether or not it turns out to be eventually possible.

Given the fact that our current political leaders are beholden to a fossil fuel industry and corporate elite which are humanity’s enemy, a movement to save humanity will need to arise from the bottom-up, eventually incorporating tens of millions of people who love their young and humanity enough to demand a World War II-like mobilization that creates a renewable-energy economy before it is too late. The Human Climate Pledge, envisioning a one-on-one effort to enlist millions in this heroic effort, is precisely the kind of effort needed to save human civilization. We are fortunate indeed to be able to live lives of such enormous and transcendent meaning by joining this effort.

The article below, ‘Do Our Children Deserve to Live?’, helps  make the case for creating such a human movement. It ends by noting that “as we continue to mercilessly degrade our children’s future, we are each now faced with the toughest question of all: do we deserve to live?”

Do Our Children Deserve To Live?

clip_image002Copenhagen won’t be enough. Only a ‘human movement’ can save civilization from the climate crisis.

To be or not to be, that is the question.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet

A strange cloud envelops human civilization as its leaders fail to take the measures to protect it that they themselves endorsed just five months ago. It is oddly fitting that the latest act in humanity’s climate-crisis drama will occur next week in the city where history’s most famous Dane, brooding in his fog-enshrouded castle, failed to act decisively upon the very question hanging over the upcoming conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

 

It will not be on the agenda. But whether civilization is or is not to be will be the real question haunting the shadow play about to ensue at the United Nations-sponsored talks.

A child under 13 today can expect to live into the 2080s, by which time civilization as we know it will have disappeared if we continue to fail to reduce carbon emissions by 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050, according to our climate scientists. Although world leaders accept this recommendation, they are presently overseeing a steady increase projected to be more than double the maximum our climate scientists think safe.

The stark figures reveal just how much Copenhagen will fail our children, despite PR efforts to obscure them. The climate scientists’ minimal 25 percent cut would see the United States emitting 3.94 billion metric tons in 2020. President Barack Obama’s 2020 target is 4.99 bmt, only 5.5 percent lower than U.S. 1990 emissions of 5.26 bmt, or less than 1/4 of the minimum 25 percent cut urged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (The United States packages its nonreduction target as a 17 percent cut from the sky-high 2005 level of 5.99 bmt.) The Chinese, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Michael Levi, will increase their CO2 emissions by 72 to 88 percent by 2020, i.e., from 6 bmt today to more than 10 bmt. (The Chinese package their increase by pledging a 45 to 50 percent reduction in “carbon intensity,” or carbon per unit of gross domestic product, even though averting disastrous climate change requires reducing CO2 emissions, not just intensity.)

What will occur in Copenhagen thus continues a pattern seen since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Scientists I spoke with there were anguished that the treaty only sought to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2012. None foresaw that the treaty would be ignored and that world emissions would be 40.8 percent higher (and U.S. emissions 19.8 percent higher) in 2007 than in 1990.

Copenhagen will fail because the great publics of the world have not been involved in the great human questions underlying the technical issues the scientists discuss. It is not only that the conference will fail to protect our young, but that the rest of us will barely notice.

We live today as if in a trance, conducting business as usual in times so unusual that they pose an even greater threat than 20th-century wars that killed more than 100 million people. It seems incredible, for example, that nonscientists barely discuss how the human climate crisis undermines so many of their basic assumptions—in philosophy, law, psychology, sociology, economics, the arts and humanities, education and health—about human beings and their society.

If a new “human movement” working beside today’s environmentalists can help more people see that we are the first adults in history to pose the single greatest threat facing our children, however, there is much reason to believe that human civilization can still be saved.

When I would ask my father, a kind and gentle soul, what he saw as the meaning of his life, he would respond simply: “you boys,” referring to my three brothers and me. At the very end of his life, he asked me to interview him about his life. He wanted it to be remembered.

The deep human drive to nurture our young and live on in their memories and genes has been the basis of every human society since the beginning of time, and can serve today as the foundation of a new “human movement” that can save civilization from the climate threat.

People have always sacrificed daily for their children, saved for their futures and mobilized when facing existential threats to their welfare. As it becomes increasingly clear that our children today face a threat to their futures even greater than war, there is every reason to believe we will respond.

This requires, however, a major discussion of the real human (not only scientific) issues involved: life and death, not cap-and-trade; whether our children deserve to live, not CO2 emissions; whether we can prioritize long-term survival and a new clean-energy economy over short-term economic growth; whether we can cooperate and share as in the 1930s to make the transition to a new and better world for ourselves and all who will follow us.

Our basic problem is that the sudden advent of the human climate crisis invalidates our basic beliefs about humanity built up over millennia. We cannot yet see that we are no longer who we think we are. That today:

though we believe we care for our offspring we do not;

though we wish to be remembered well we will be cursed;

though we believe we love life we embrace death;

though we hope to make history we are annihilating it; and

though we seek to contribute to our communities we are destroying them.

Our greatest challenge is to adjust ancient belief systems to the new climate realities that have undone them. If we can break through our fog and clearly see the existential threat we pose to our children, presently unthinkable actions to save them may become possible. But if not, we will remain locked in our cognitive cattle cars, moving inexorably toward the loss of everything we hold dear.

The 20 billion ton gap

SNRpg25_120309   You cannot solve a problem from the same        consciousness that created it. You        must learn to see the world anew.
—Albert Einstein

 Early last month, former Vice President Al Gore          described the crisis we face in no uncertain terms on The  Charlie Rose Show. “Never before have we faced a  challenge that brings the potential for ending human  civilization as we know it,” he said. “And the time frame  with which we have to act is shockingly short. … The  source of energy for this transformation will come from  the people. What changed America on civil rights [were]  millions of people at the grassroots level.”

To quantify the challenge ahead, today’s climate crisis can be conveyed by two basic numbers:

• 16 billion: This is the 25 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 minimally recommended by climate scientists, so as to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius and CO2 parts per million in the atmosphere to 450. Most climate scientists actually support the 350 ppm level recommended by NASA scientist James Hansen and Bill McKibben’s 350.org group, but reluctantly accept 450 ppm as the most that can be hoped for at this point.

• 36 billion: The Energy Information Administration, a section of the U.S. Department of Energy, presently projects that CO2 emissions will be more than double 1990 levels by 2020.

This 20 billion metric ton gap between what is minimally safe (16 bmt) and what is projected to occur (36 bmt) is a concrete measure of how much we are failing our children and future. And its human meaning is stark: The climate crisis has made children of us all.

Somewhere, somehow, someplace, forces have suddenly been unleashed which we do not fully understand. Humans have never faced the possibility that they could so degrade the biosphere as to make Earth uninhabitable for them. Our inner psychology has thus far been unable to even absorb this possibility, let alone mobilize to avoid it. Like children, we live in a world we cannot control, as we helplessly face existential questions which none before have even had to ask, let alone answer.

Although we know intellectually we will die, we largely live denying the painful feelings this knowledge evokes. Now, however, our individual denials of painful death feelings have for the first time coalesced into a trancelike societal denial of the death of all civilization looming over our children’s future.

People have faced local “environmental” problems before. But none even imagined the possibility of actually destroying the complex biospheric conditions upon which all humanity depends for life itself. The “environment,” “planet Earth,” “Mother Nature” will continue whatever we do, though somewhat hotter. It is we, not the planet, who are at risk. We do not really face a “climate crisis,” but rather a “human climate crisis” that threatens the continuation of human civilization.

Elie Wiesel began Night by describing how his neighbor Moishe the Beadle saw the Germans killing Jews, how the villagers shunned him when he warned them of the need to mobilize, and how they were eventually sent to Auschwitz. “Most people thought that we could remain in the ghetto until the end of the war. Everything would be as before. The ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion,” Wiesel explained. The lesson is clear: delusion—and denial—can kill, and have throughout history.

It may be too much to expect each of us to say, “I am threatening my children unless I push our leaders to end the human climate crisis.” But ending our denial of the threat we pose to our offspring is a necessary first step to accepting the short-term sacrifice and societal shifts necessary for them to survive.

Right now the ideas of “nurturing our children” and “solving the climate crisis” exist in separate compartments of our brain. We care deeply about our kids. The “climate crisis” seems far more abstract. A new “human movement” would seek to collapse the walls between the two, helping us see that nurturing our children requires doing whatever is necessary to avert our human climate crisis.

The environmental movement and world’s climate scientists have done a magnificent job in bringing the world to Copenhagen. But its likely failure to produce a viable treaty speaks for itself. Only if their work is supplemented by a “human movement” can we hope for civilization to survive.

Towards a ‘human movement’

SNRpg26_120309

  [Man] is capable of the highest generosity and self-sacrifice.    But he has to feel and believe that what he is doing is truly  heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful.
—Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

Some years ago, I took a taxi to the airport and was surprised to   note that the cab driver was in his late 70s. “Why do you drive a   cab?” I asked. I will never forget the joy in his voice and look of    love in his eyes: “My granddaughter!” he exclaimed. “I use the    money I get cabbing to buy her things. Right now, I am saving to  buy her a computer!” He spent the rest of the ride lovingly  describing his granddaughter, showing me pictures of her,      telling me about the various purchases he had made for her.

Few people’s cognitive frameworks include concern about “the  environment,” let alone its future impacts. It is indeed an  “abstraction,” as Gore has said. But most people’s cognitive maps do include a deep concern for their children’s future, a concern expressed in the present, not future. Thus they begin saving after their children are born for their college education, or thus an aged grandfather works 40 hours a week to buy a computer for his 4-year-old granddaughter’s future which he will never see. A “human movement” would focus on people’s very real and tangible concerns not only for their kids’ future, but that of their nation and world.

The scientific and environmental debates are critical, and must continue. But we also need a far more profound human and existential conversation that engages philosophers, poets, writers, thinkers, artists, songwriters, moviemakers, church leaders, spiritual teachers, academics, students and the great publics of the world in deciding the life or death of our species.

In an ideal world, we might hope that a President Obama, who has not yet leveled with Americans about the existential issues they face, would hold a series of “fireside chats” explaining how we are threatened even more by climate change than terrorism or war, and—in the mode of a wartime leader—seek to mobilize our nation to confront it.

It is likely, however, that only if those outside the system act first will our leaders respond with the tough measures we need. Gore’s reference to the civil-rights movement is apt.

We have somehow managed thus far to avoid using nuclear weapons since Hiroshima without changing the consciousness that produced them. But Einstein’s insight has now become the organizing principle for solving the human climate crisis. Only if we can literally “see the world anew” will our civilization survive.

Although so-called climate-change alarmists are often accused of pessimism, they are in fact hopeful, believing that once they know the truth, people will sacrifice today so their kids can live tomorrow. Those who deny the crisis, or who understand it but propose half-measures, are the pessimists. They operate within the consciousness that has produced the problem.

But they are likely selling human beings short. Women and men have responded since the beginning of time to heroic missions, and the greatest irony of our time is that what we most fear today can be our greatest salvation. Moving to avert climate change is America’s only serious hope for creating a new clean-energy economy which can, after a period of short-term sacrifice, produce unprecedented wealth and dramatically extend life spans. It will also require the kind of unprecedented global cooperation of which humans have long dreamed, and that can then be extended to promote peace and reduce poverty.

And, perhaps most significantly, making climate change a human issue will provide unprecedented opportunities to find meaning in life. Precisely because we are the first generation to so threaten the future, we are also the first who can take actions that will live on in the hearts of our descendants for all human time to come. Though we will neither hear their voices nor see their faces, we will find deep meaning now in knowing that all who follow us later will owe their lives to our wisdom and mercy, and celebrate us for having acted in their moment of greatest need.

Some object that facing today’s grim climate realities will only increase “psychic numbing” and denial. But present approaches are not succeeding, and if telling the truth fails, we are doomed anyway. And most people usually do act to save themselves once they acknowledge the threat they face. We will only know if humanity will choose life over death when it understands that this is its choice.

The successful nuclear freeze campaign of the 1980s provides important lessons for today. What motivated it and reached so many people were openly discussed life-and-death concerns. The campaign’s central document was Carl Sagan’s “nuclear winter” article in Foreign Affairs, which clearly described the horrific impacts of nuclear war. The campaign also teaches that while it is necessary to reach the general public, human issues are the key to mobilizing those who accept the science, and upon whose action our salvation will depend.

It may be that if our civilization does survive, future historians will see similarities between these years and the “phony war” period in the 1930s. Then, too, isolationist nationalists prevented their society from meeting a growing threat; then, too, a divided America saw enormous numbers of citizens faced unprecedented joblessness and lowered living standards; then, too, the wealthy and powerful initially resisted the very idea that fair and shared sacrifice was necessary to save their nation.

But reality rules and, as McKibben has rightly noted, “You can’t negotiate with the planet.” Sooner or later, Americans and their leaders will be forced to take the human climate crisis seriously.

It may, tragically, be too late at that point. But if there is a chance to save human civilization, success then may well depend upon the groundwork we lay now—including planning for the transition to a clean-energy economy, preparing policies to meet growing human needs and, above all, helping people understand the real human stakes involved for themselves and their children.

We need now a great national conversation about the human implications of climate change, conducted across at least seven dimensions: (1) Hope: Is there a strategy that can avoid the death of our civilization? (2) Philosophical: Can humans value long-term survival over short-term economic growth? (3) Psychological: Do we care enough about our children to end our denial of the risk we pose to their future? (4) Economic and social: Can we sacrifice and share in the short run so as to create a strong, new clean-energy economy in the long run? (5) Spiritual and moral: Can we tap into our deep but presently latent spiritual concern for future generations? (6) Political: Is there a new human politics that can reach more people? (7) Global: Can a new consciousness create the new global climate governance institutions we need?

There is much reason to answer “yes” to each of these questions. A new “human movement” would take such issues directly to the people. Basing itself on climate science, it might, for example, sponsor university teach-ins and town halls around the general theme of “The Human Implications of the Climate Crisis,” posing such questions as “How must society change to prevent the end of civilization as we know it?” “What does it mean that we are the first generation in history to pose the single greatest threat facing our own children?” “How much are we willing to sacrifice so that civilization will not die in our children’s lifetimes?” If we would be willing to unite in times of war, how can we justify not doing so as to face a climate threat even greater than world war?

A “human movement” would see teach-ins on every campus and meetings in every town that discuss the human implications of climate change, as well as the science; an artistic and intellectual outpouring, with the imagery and imagination focused on people as well as melting glaciers, preserving human civilization as well as “the environment”; giant advertising campaigns focusing on existential issues, e.g., “If you would donate a kidney so your children could live today, would you not support a clean-energy tax so they can live tomorrow?”; and grassroots education and organizing campaigns that would take such questions into living rooms across our nation.

Accepting the climate threat

The biological mode of immortality is epitomized by family continuity. Living on through … one’s sons and daughters and their sons and daughters … has been the most fundamental and universal of all modes.
—Robert Jay Lifton, The Broken Connection

While corporate and conservative propaganda has played a major role in encouraging societal denial of the human climate crisis, the psychological roots of our cloud of unknowing lie far deeper.

Ernest Becker, Irvin Yalom and terror management theory social psychologists have explained how denial of death lies at the root of such societal issues as the human climate crisis. Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett’s new book Beyond Death Anxiety: Achieving Life-Affirming Death Awareness is perhaps the fullest description to date of how unconscious death anxiety negatively affects our day-to-day child rearing, relationships, sexuality, work and feelings about ourselves. But they also discuss an alternative: a life-affirming death awareness which can not only enrich individual lives but save civilization.

For though unconscious denial of death can kill, as Wiesel described, consciously facing it can spur us to action and more life. Is this not in fact what happens in everyday life? Don’t most of us, when consciously facing a life-threatening situation, react by seeking life? The key step is accepting that we face a threat.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has given perhaps the best-known description of the psychological process that will be required for humanity to save its civilization. For her famous five-stage paradigm applies to serious illnesses that can be cured as well as those that cannot. In the case of the former—such as the human climate crisis—the final stage involves acceptance of the treatment needed to live. America today is exhibiting all five of these stages:

Denial, as dozens of who have never studied climate science deny the research of those who have, and as many Americans recognize the problem but recently ranked it 20th among their 20 top voting concerns.

Anger, as when Rush Limbaugh viciously “jokes” that The New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin should kill himself for observing that population growth increases global warming, or when uninformed skeptics savagely attack those who accept the climate scientists’ findings.

Bargaining, as when the United States sets inadequate “targets” rather than legally agreeing to cut emissions to science-recommended levels at Copenhagen; or Freakonomics author Steven Levitt discusses “geoengineering” proposals—e.g., to pump sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere—which most scientists consider as dangerous as climate change.

Depression, perhaps our dominant response. The minor steps taken so far arise from a despairing belief that human beings cannot be roused to save themselves.

Acceptance, as tens of thousands of environmentalists, young people and aware adults around the globe courageously push for actions to save us.

A “human movement” would seek to vastly expand the latter’s numbers by helping people—as patiently and understandingly as possible—realize that denial, anger, bargaining and depression are unacceptable if we want our children to have the lives we wish for them.

There is every reason to believe that most of us will choose life once the life-and-death stakes are brought to our consciousness. After all, we choose life every day.

Humanity is today fighting against the millennia-long material development that has produced our human climate crisis. But it has as an ally an equally strong internal dynamic: the profound and powerful drive that has seen billions of people over the millennia decide, one by one, to give birth to their young, nurture and raise them, and hope to live on through them.

Are we really prepared to be the first humans in history to act as if our children do not deserve to live?

Are we really prepared to be the first humans to break a chain of life that stretches back into the primordial past and forward into the mysterious future, a sacred chain of life to which we owe our very existence?

Are we really prepared to continue acting against our children in ways that we formerly believed only monsters in human form could behave?

Asking these questions this way makes it hard to believe that we will continue to fail our children and ourselves. But in the end, we will answer such questions with our actions, not words.

And these actions will resolve an even more personal question. For as long as we continue to mercilessly degrade our children’s future, we are each now faced with the toughest question of all:

Do we deserve to live?

 

Revised Human Climate Pledge

Since publishing, “Answering the Question of our Time, Together,”  I have received lots of excellent feedback on  Human Climate Movement strategy, and on the Human Climate Pledge itself. I have revised the Pledge to incorporate this feedback. (And, in a week or so, I will release a revised version of the proposal.)

**This Pledge is for the United States; my  hope is that other democratic countries can adapt the Pledge, and the Pledge App, and utilize a parallel, allied organizing strategy. But since the Pledge relies primarily on an electoral mechanism, and electoral processes differ from country to country–such as in whether citizens vote for individuals or for parties– it seems that the Pledge needs to be country-specific.

As usual, let me know what you think 🙂

THE HUMAN CLIMATE PLEDGE

Humanity is at a crossroads. We are in grave danger.  Climate change threatens me, my family, my country, and civilization itself. Thus, fighting climate change is a moral and strategic imperative. It must be our top political and societal priority. Following the example of the American effort during World War II: we must act with common purpose, shared sacrifice, and steely resolve. The United States must mobilize all Americans, sectors of society, and international allies to fight this crisis.

We can be passive, helpless victims of climate change, or we can fight back, together.

I pledge to:

Vote for candidates in local, state, and national elections who have signed the Human Climate Pledge, whenever they are running against a candidate who has not.

Only give time or money to political candidates who sign the Human Climate Pledge.

Spread the truth of climate change to people I care about and respect, sharing the Human Climate Pledge with them.

Encourage academic, religious, environmental, political, professional and community organizations in your area to endorse the Pledge.

Contribute my unique skills, talents, and energy to the climate fight. This could be through local adaptation and mitigation projects, gardening or community agriculture, scientific or scholarly research, art, installing renewable energy sources, political activities, social movement strategizing, and myriad other possibilities.

Most importantly: I pledge bravely face the fearsome reality of climate change. I will forsake denial, and strive to live each day in climate truth.

Signed:

 

 

 

Creating the Human Climate Pledge App (and State of the Blog updates)

I apologize for my recent pause in posting! (Interrupted only by my recent post about Climate Collaborative’s outstanding video.)

My excuse is that I have been focused on creating the foundation for a person-to-person, pledge-based Human Climate Movement. Here is a brief report on my activities:

1) Moving Human Climate Movement strategy forward, by working and consulting with allies. I will discuss the current plans for the HCP App later in this post. (If you have not read “Answering the Question of Our Time, Together: Strategy Proposal and Call to Collaboration”, this post will not make much sense. Please read that first!)

2) Media possibilities A couple cool things have already happened: I was interviewed fairly extensively by an NPR reporter, so hopefully that will make its way onto the airwaves soon, and Emmett Rensin quoted me in a piece on the blog PolicyMic, a blog associated with Harvard’s Institute on Politics, in which he calls for a WWII-level government mobilization to fight climate change.

3) Making connections with allies. I have received a lot of great feedback on the recent proposal, and have been in touch with a lot of great people. In fact, something I want to do is assemble a directory of allies. This would be a list of people who have expressed a desire to get involved with the Human Climate Movement, along with their special skills, areas of knowledge and expertise. My hope would be that this would facilitate cross-pollination. I am meeting so many talented, dedicated people — I would love for you all to work with each other. If you would like to be included in such a directory (or if you would like to be involved in helping me set it up!), let me know in the comments section, or contact me directly.

4) Facilitating the Facebook Group, “Climate Change: It’s Personal.” If you have not joined yet, come check it out. It is a daily forum where people discuss their emotional, subjective responses to climate change. As a psychologist, I know that talking through personal issues can turn confusion and stagnation into clarity and energy!

5) Enjoying the holiday! Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for so many dedicated friends and allies; people looking to do whatever they can to fight for humanity, against climate change!

In terms of Human Climate Movement Strategy, one of the critical next steps is to get the Human Climate Pledge App designed and programmed. I would appreciate input about the concept for the App itself, as well as advice on how to accomplish this task.

App Features:

At present, here is what the HCP app will include (Comments and critiques are most welcome!)

1)    The text of the pledge itself (still in development; an early draft can be found here)

2)    An Impact Data Ticker: It would look something like this, and display the following information:

A) How many people have signed the Pledge, in total
B)   How many people you have recruited to sign the pledge
C)   How many people they (your recruits) have recruited to sign the pledge
D)   Your total impact (meaning, how many people your recruits, their recruits, their recruits, and their recruits, etc. have recruited to sign the pledge
E)    How many elected officials and political candidates have signed the pledge

3)    Information on which elected officials and political candidates have signed the Pledge. Perhaps videos from these candidates or information on their platforms?

4)    A Newsfeed-type feature (It should have a “Like” function, as on Facebook, but probably not allow comments, as that would become overwhelming) which displays:

A. New people who take the Pledge, and their dedication, message, or suggestions, in text (or maybe also audio, or video) form.
B.New elected officials who sign the pledge, and their message to the Human Climate Movement.
C. New environmental, political, community, and religious organizations that endorse the Pledge. (Example: Matt Damon and the Sierra club have signed on!)
D. People who reach landmarks in their recruitment (Like getting 10, 50 or 100 people to sign). Movement organizers will ask them to describe their experience and how they believe they have achieved their success in spreading the Pledge.
E. Organizational messages and updates.

5)  The capability to give the pledge to someone else, and to give him or her access to the Human Climate Pledge App. (Remember, you have to sign the pledge in person, and you need someone who has already signed it to give you the Pledge). Probably, everyone should be able to download the App, which would display the Pledge, but have no other functionality, until your App gets “unlocked” when you sign in person.  My hope is that this could be primarily accomplished through smartphones “beaming” the data to each other.  (See this type of technology.)   Otherwise perhaps each HCM member could have a unique password, and entering would unlock the pledge… (Though this would impair the “in-person” requirement, as it could theoretically be accomplished over the web.)

6) The ability for the Human Climate Movement central to give push notifications.

**As stated above, the Human Climate Pledge/Human Climate Movement’s website will have more features, such as forums to discuss movement strategy and policy options; maps of where community projects are happening in your area; directories featuring the profiles of HCM members who choose to create them; and a platform to donate money.

**Note that we not planning to include a donation tool on the App, hoping to emphasize the message that the primary way that Pledge signatories should engage is through truth spreading, pledge recruitment, and community projects.

Getting the App Developed: Questions and Action Steps

There are two choices for getting the HCP App developed: Find people to design and program the App for free, or raise money and then hire paid professionals to design and program the HCP App.

  • Are there any talented, dedicated App developers or designers out there who want to do this for free or for a reduced fee?
  • If not, I estimate this project would cost about $40,000. (This estimate was made in consultation with an ally in the field, and with the help of this site. If this seems expensive, remember that we need to develop it for both Android and IPhone.)
  • To raise this money, I am thinking of an Indiegogo Campaign, but I am open to other strategies if people have them!
  • I believe it is a good idea to create a non-profit organization, so that people can make tax-free donations.

So,  if you wish to help with either programming, creating an Indiegogo campaign, or other forms of fundraising (Grant writing?) making the Human Climate Movement a non-profit, or overall advice, suggestions and feedback, please get in touch with me immediately!

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.

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.

 

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!

 

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.

Fighting Climate Change is different than Fighting for Civil Rights: Part I, Strategy Analysis and Critique

Part I: A Psychologically and Technologically Informed Strategic Critique

Introduction:

The Human Climate Movement draws much of its strategy and tactics from the Civil Rights Movement; they engage in marches, demonstrations, and similar civil disobedience. For example, scientists and citizens handcuff themselves to the White House gates and face arrest, echoing the tactic of lunch counter sit-ins.

The Human Climate Movement is modeling itself on the Civil Rights Movement because it was dramatic, honorable, and highly successful. The success of the Civil Rights Movement was so inspired movements nationally and internationally to challenge the status quo, particularly through the collective action of civil disobedience  (Morris, 1999).

Further, the two movements have much in common. Both are fundamentally anti-denial movements, wielding the Truth as their greatest weapon. The two movements share several underlying goals, such as empowering their members, fighting cultural denial, and putting immense pressure on policy makers.

However, I argue that civil disobedience is the wrong approach for the Human Climate Movement. Though there are underlying similarities between the goals of the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Climate Movement, they face different barriers to spreading the truth. 

The key psychological challenge that the Civil Rights Movement faced was racism, and its tactics were perfectly tailored to combat racism. The fundamental psychological challenge of the Human Climate Movement is overwhelming anxiety; its tactics and strategy must be built to contain anxiety. In the Part II of this paper, I will propose an organizing strategy for the Human Climate Movement that is tailored to the specific psychological challenges of climate change.

The Shared Goals of the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Climate Movement

Successful social movements change the status quo radically. They create a reality that was not previously fathomable. They realign the stars. That the Civil Rights Movement did not accomplish all of its goals, or that much of its progress has been rolled back in recent years should not obscure the point that it achieved immense success. The Civil Rights movement rewrote the rules of morality and social acceptability. They made open racism anathema, and transformed “Whites Only” drinking fountains from a formidable systematic tool of oppression into an anachronistic embarrassment.

How did they accomplish this cultural and political shift? And what must the Human Climate Movement accomplish in order to create the radical change necessary to protect civilization from climate collapse?

I see three goals that are shared by both movements:

1) Empower members of the movement—give them an opportunity, and confidence to advocate for the truth and for themselves.

2) Fight denial and minimization of the problem; put the terrible reality of the status quo front and center of national attention. This removes the illusion of moral neutrality, showing people that they can either stand for change, or stand with the status quo.

3) Create immense social pressure, especially amongst elites, for drastic changes of attitudes, behavior, and policy.

Both the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Climate Movement are, fundamentally, anti-denial movements. They are messengers of the truth, standing against a system that is built on lies. The Civil Rights Movement fought the lie that black people are fundamentally inferior to white people and that their oppression was natural and benign. The Human Climate Movement must fight the lie that pollution is not causing our climate to collapse; that we can continue business as usual without horrific consequences. Both movements fight against widespread cultural denial that is fueled by vested interests and broad resistance to change.

To spread the truth, both movements must empower their member: Instill confidence that change is possible and that individuals can be agents of that change. Empowered participants become warriors of truth, carrying it with them, sharing it with others, fighting for it, fighting with it. Being a messenger of truth is an honorable undertaking, and empowered participants hold their heads high against fierce opposition.

Both movements need to capture sustained attention. Lies and atrocities are possible within  society because of peoples’ ability to ignore them, to focus on other things (Cohen, 2001). Both movements need to capture peoples’ full attention—to put the terrible, immoral reality of the status quo front and center in their minds. By doing this, the social movement forces a choice. The movement demonstrates that neutrality cannot exist; that you either stand for truth, or you are part of the lie.

Both movements need to fundamentally alter the culture so that there is tremendous social pressure to acknowledge the truth. The civil rights movement made open racism anathema—the Human Climate Movement must do the same for climate change denial and minimization. Such attitudes are rendered socially unacceptable, allowing ordinary people to take moral stands, “We don’t use that racist language in this house” or “We don’t deny climate change in this house.” Ideally, these changes happen throughout society. But their most important site is in the halls of power and policy making.

Both the Civil Rights Movement and Human Climate Movement appeal to the majority of Americans and policy makers, rather than appealing to the worst bigots or deniers. The goal of the movement is to create enough social pressure that the majority, and the government, turns against the worst offenders. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t make it a goal to show the Ku Klux Klan the error of their ways; it was to convince enough Americans, in the North and South, that intervention was necessary; that African Americans needed protection from the KKK and from Jim Crow. Similarly, the Human Climate Movement need not convince the executives of Exxon Mobile, Jim Inhofe, or other fanatical climate change deniers of anything. Rather, the Human Climate Movement must shift the national mood to the point where we realize that the government must protect its citizens against climate change, and those who seek to deny it.

Ultimately, a successful social movement exerts its power in government—pushing the government to publicly recognize the truth and govern accordingly. For the Civil Rights Movement this meant the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed the major forms of discrimination in the United States. For the Human Climate Movement, it will mean policies that respond to real scope and immediacy of the threat; policies that instigate a WWII- level mobilization to fight climate change.

Racism: Enemy of Truth, Barrier to Change

The Civil Rights Movement sought to expose the truth: that the United States, particularly the Jim Crow South, functioned through brutal oppression and exploitation. The evil of such a system should have been self-evident, but white Americans were able to escape this truth, through racism. The pervasive belief in black inferiority, especially black violence, immaturity, and impulsiveness allowed white Americans to rationalize the brutality of Jim Crow as responding to a need for order. This rationalization was something like, “Black people must be controlled by us, for they cannot control themselves.” Edmund Burke noted that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” racism  provided an ideological rationale for brutal oppression, a myth that appeased the consciences of good people, gave them an excuse not to act. Internalized racism also kept many black people passive and disempowered—believing that the system reflected some  natural order, and could not be changed, certainly not by them.

Tactics Built to Fight Racism and Demand Change

The Civil Rights Movement recognized that racism was the fundamental barrier to the spread of truth, and thus the fundamental barrier to their success. The leaders and participants in the movement responded to this knowledge by tailoring their tactics specifically to address and undo racism. The plethora of civil disobedience tactics; sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and protests were ingenious ways of doing this. The medium was the message. These tactics demonstrated the dignity, restraint, and fortitude of the protestors. Watching African Americans hold their heads high, resolute against white law enforcement or shop owners heaping abuse on them made huge inroads in dispelling the myth of black inferiority. To those watching from home, it didn’t seem like black protestors were primitive or violent. It seemed like they were standing with dignity against an unfair and brutal system. It was Jim Crow, and those who enforced it, that ended up looking primitive and violent.

Civil disobedience also accomplished the 3 psychological goals I have named as key to both the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Climate Movement. It 1) empowered its members, 2) fought denial and minimization, eliminating the refuge of “neutrality” and creating a forced choice 3) created tremendous social pressure, especially among elites, for cultural and policy shifts.

Empowerment was accomplished through 1) striking blows against internalized racism and 2) providing numerous opportunities for participation in collective protest.  The Civil Rights Movement provided countless examples of ordinary African Americans acting with extraordinary bravery and conviction. Civil disobedience gave black people and communities a tremendous source of pride. Through fighting racism, the Civil Rights Movement empowered African Americans, their core constituency for action. Civil disobedience invited all African Americans to take their stand, and provided myriad opportunities for African Americans to take part in boycotts, marches, and other civil disobedience. It was clear that all were welcome in the movement. More than “welcome” even, that the movement was waiting for you to muster your courage and take your place in line.

Utilizing Television to Fight Racism and Denial

Accomplishing the other 2 goals (Fighting denial and creating pressure, especially on policy makers) had much to do with television and tenacity. Civil disobedience was crafted with television in mind. (Thompson, 2004). The television was exploding in popularity. In 1945, there were only 10,000 television sets in the United States. But 1950, that number had reached 6 million, and by 1960, it had reached 52 million: 9 out of 10 homes had a television. Further, mobile video equipment was pioneered, allowing scenes from far-flung areas of the country to be broadcast nationally. New technologies always offer new possibilities for social movements to spread truth; They offer  ways for people to communicate (and thus interface and organize) which the establishment has not yet discovered how to co-opt. Consider the amount that in the Right has now mastered the television as a tool of control and disinformation. Would the Civil Rights Movement have succeeded if Fox News’ broadcasts of disinformation, reputation-destruction, and tokenism had competed for airtime with civil disobedience demonstrations? Or would it have allowed white Americans to stay in denial; to keep telling themselves that it wasn’t their issue? Because society had never been saturated with television sets before,  the Right had not yet mastered the art of televised disinformation. The truth, in the form of civil disobedience, was able to dominate the airwaves.

Martin Luther utilized the revolutionary truth-spreading potential of the new technology, the printing press, leading to the Protestant Reformation. Back in 1518, printing hundreds of copies of your political arguments and  distributing them was an innovation, and a very effective one. Luther’s namesake, centuries later, repeated the act of  harnessing a new technology’s change potential.

Civil disobedience created hundreds of dramatic, suspenseful scenes, such as confrontations during lunch counter sit-ins. The public was captivated. What would happen? How would this turn out? How would the owner and wait staff respond to this protest? How would the protestors respond to abuse? Would law enforcement get involved? Would there be violence? Would people die?

These scenes unfolding on the news, night after night was a spear in denial’s heart. Think the system isn’t so bad? Look at those who challenge it. The brutality and oppression of the Jim Crow system, as well as the dignity and humanity of African Americans, were brought front and center in the national mind.

The Civil Rights Movement gave white Americans a forced choice through their tenacity. Protests grew, and spread. It was clear that they would not be easily beaten. The government had a choice: either accede to protestors’ demands or respond with total brutality; fire on marchers; terrorize communities; assassinate leaders. And conduct this brutality with the world watching.

Similarly, civil disobedience created a forced choice within individual citizens. The confrontation between unfairness vs. equality; oppression vs. dignity; immorality vs morality, was stark. By creating evocative scenes that demonstrated the oppressiveness of the system, and sending those scenes into living rooms throughout the country, the Civil Rights Movement made people ask themselves: Where do I stand on this issue? Am I for the protestors, or the police? The tactics of the Civil Rights Movement left no room for neutrality and moral equivocation.

By fighting denial and creating this forced choice, the Civil Rights Movement created immense social pressure, including on policy makers and elites. The Civil Rights Movement was utterly tenacious in their mission, putting increasing pressure on Washington DC itself. 50 years ago, Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from our Nation’s capital. But pressure on legislators came from all directions: their voters, their social circles, even their families. Legislators are not immune to social pressure; indeed because they are elected, they are extremely vulnerable to it. Legislators were also given a forced choice: respond to the Civil Rights Movement and the changed national mood, or dig in their heels against ongoing, mounting protests and social pressure.  The Civil Rights Movement demonstrated that, though legislators have inherent biases against change, that conservatism can be overcome through changing the national mood and the application of immense pressure.

The truth, when mobilized skillfully, can move mountains.

Differences Between the Movements: Anxiety as the Barrier to Climate Truth

Given the overwhelming success of the Civil Rights Movement, and the many overlapping goals of the Human Climate Movement, it should not surprise us that the Human Climate Movement is utilizing Civil Rights tactics, relying heavily on civil disobedience. Surely, the reasoning goes, this will empower activists, fight denial and spur policy action, as it did before.

But the Human Climate Movement faces different psychological barriers to accepting the truth, and different technology to utilize in order to capture the Nation’s attention. The fundamental psychological barrier to fully accepting the truth of climate change is  anxiety. Climate change is a horrifying force that threatens civilization and each of us individually.  People protect themselves from this knowledge in different ways. Some deny the existence of climate change all together. Others intellectually “know” that climate change is real, but emotionally block off any reaction to this information. Others feel frightened of climate change, but engage in token environmental actions that help them cope.

I have elaborated in a different paper on the particular psychological barriers to accepting the truth of climate change, which are complex, individual, and frequently include a sense of guilt, (“I have sinned by over consumption and climate change in the punishment for my greed”) but the fundamental barrier is anxiety. The truth of climate change causes feelings of terror, helplessness in the face of grave danger. The normal human response to overwhelming anxiety is to deny, intellectualize, or utilize another psychological defense mechanism.

When people are acutely anxious, they cannot think rationally. This is a well established psychological fact, and has been shown to happen specifically in the case of climate change (Lertzman, 2013) This response to anxiety explains why, as climate change has become more and more apparent, Americans are less likely to be concerned about it (Leiserowitz et al, 2013) [2]. Its not that we aren’t afraid, it is that we are so afraid that we cannot cope, and thus turn to various forms of denial. It explains why some people become so enraged with climate scientists and activists—their message evokes terrible anxiety.

The Civil Rights Movement had to overcome racism in order to get people to accept the truth of oppression in the United States. The Human Climate Movement must overcome anxiety in order to get people to accept the truth of global climate change.

How to Overcome Anxiety

Anxiety is an extremely uncomfortable feeling, which humans go to great lengths to avoid, including (unconsciously) altering their cognition and mental states. Put another way: if people are too anxious, they will deny climate change, shoot the messenger, change the subject, or flail desperately to cope with their anxiety. This defensive response interferes, drastically, with actually confronting the problem. Thus, addressing anxiety must be a central feature of a climate change movement. But how can this be done?

Some scientists and advocates have attempted to “soften the blow” by minimizing the damage climate change will cause, or making the timeline seem longer than it is (Romm, 2012). This strategy is a devil’s bargain. It reduces anxiety, but also betrays the public trust, and understates the need for immediate, massive action. Knowing more about anxiety and how it functions shows us that altering the truth is not necessary. The Human Climate Movement can be messengers of the terrible truth, while making a central part of their strategy to help people contain and process the anxiety that the truth brings.

How? By understanding 2 basic psychological principles about humans and their experience of anxiety. First, humans are much more able to cope with fear if there is a plan to respond to the threat (Alford, 2001). People facing medical crises are comforted by diagnoses, even when the diagnosis is dire. Knowing the nature of the problem allows for a plan. It empowers the individual to understand what is happening to their body, and to respond accordingly—to fight the disease. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt helped Americans contained their anxiety at being attacked with a plan: the promise that we would fight back, and triumph. A threat without a plan causes people to feel confused, overwhelmed, and helpless. Their anxiety controls them. A plan changes that. To effectively contain anxiety, the plan must be a comprehensive; it must start right now and leads to victory; it must show people how they can take part in the plan. Having a plan allows people to respond to the threat bravely; to channel their anxiety into focused, productive action. To fight back.

The other crucial thing to know about how anxiety functions is that close, relationships have the power to greatly reduce anxiety in the face of a threat. Conversely, feeling alone or isolated makes threats terribly overwhelming. Anna Freud took children out of London into the safety of the countryside during WWII. She found, however, that they were more anxious and psychologically disturbed by being separated from their parents than they were by having bombs drop around them. When there is danger and anxiety, being together becomes more important. This is why, when someone faces a dangerous illness, it is important to have friends and family around them.  Or why soldiers operate in tightly knit units. We gain strength from each other. Very few people are brave by themselves—the anxiety is just too much.  Together, our fears, our anxiety, become manageable. Together, we find calmness and courage.

Evaluating the success of the Human Climate Movement

Taken from this perspective, it becomes clear that civil disobedience tactics are the wrong approach for the Human Climate Movement. When African Americans participated in civil disobedience, the medium was the message. They were demonstrating, through their actions, their dignity, restraint and courage. They were disproving racist ideas through their protests.  When environmental activists or scientists participate in civil disobedience protests, and face unfair arrest— it might increase their sense of dignity, or even the publics’ appraisal of environmental activists, and it might lower the publics’ opinion of the government or oil companies. But it doesn’t embody the message. It doesn’t dispel myths, create a forced choice, or create social pressure. Worst of all, it doesn’t help people contain their anxiety. Actually, protests raise the level of anxiety by highlighting the conflict between the protestors and the government. Further, protests likely make people feel guilty and worried, “are they protesting against me for owning a car?” Because the Human Climate Movement has thus far failed to make anxiety containment central to their strategy, they have not been able to find much success in accomplishing the 3 basic goals: of empowering members, fighting denial and removing the illusion of neutrality, and creating social and political pressure. Though marches, protests, and divestment campaigns give activists “something” to do, it does not appear that participants feel confident that their actions will create change. Thus, climate activists are not well empowered.

The movement has also been unsuccessful in focusing national attention on the problem. This is a striking failure, given the scope and immediacy of the threat from climate change. Climate change, by all rights, should be THE singular political focus, and a topic of worried and urgent conversation in every segment of society. There is plenty of blame to go around for the fact that climate change is hugely under discussed on the TV news. In 2012, climate change was discussed for only 60 minutes total during the nightly news across all networks. In 2011, the nightly news programs spent twice as many minutes reporting on Donald Trump as they did reported on climate change. Americans ranked climate change as dead last of 21 national priorities. In 2012 presidential election, not a single debate question addressed climate change. Of course, we can and should blame companies, politicians, and members of the media who willfully mislead and confuse the public for this shocking state of affairs.

However, we must also ask why the Human Climate Movement has thus far failed to effectively focus national attention on the problem. Looking at the strategy and tactics of the Human Climate Movement shows us multiple reasons: 1) the protest/ civil disobedience tactics fail to contain anxiety; 2) Recycling tactics from past social movements means that they are not novel. Indeed by using Civil Rights tactics, the Human Climate Movement becomes thought of as “one movement among many” just like women’s’ rights, LGBT rights, or the anti-nuclear movement. Instead, the Human Climate Movement must strive to be seen as a super ordinate movement, whose goal is the continuation of human civilization; without a successful social Human Climate Movement, and a livable climate—all social movements are effectively moot. 3) The Human Climate Movement has, thus far, not accounted in its strategy for the changes in technology between the 1960s and today. In the 1960s there were only 3 national networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC). When these networks broadcast protests, viewers across the country and world saw those protests. However, in today’s globalized, media saturated environment, we are bombarded by so much stimulation and choices in terms of media consumption that major protests—or other newsworthy climate events— are ignored by the vast majority of the population. A successful Human Climate Movement must not only get on TV, it must find a way to cut through the noise and focus national attention on the climate.

Because the Human Climate Movement has not attracted attention, it is no surprise that they have not been successful in creating social and political pressure for change. In certain regional and socio-economic groups there is pressure for action on an individual, consumption level such as recycling and buying relatively energy inefficient vehicles. But the pressure to take political action; to take a stand against climate change is virtually non-existent.

The Human Climate Movement is nowhere close to stopping climate change, or to igniting a social movement.  This is due, in large part, to their modeling strategy on the Civil Rights Movement, and failing to address the crippling anxiety that climate change evokes. Climate change is different from any problem humanity has ever faced. We won’t beat it with old tactics that were created with old technology in mind. Its time for something new.

Read Part II: A Psychologically Informed Strategy Proposal

 

 

 

[2] Yale’s yearly polling on climate change attitudes indicates that the percentage of Americans “Alarmed” or “Concerned” about Climate Change has fallen since 2008, and the percentage of Americans “Dismissive” and “Doubtful” have risen since 2008. In 2008, 51% of Americans were either “alarmed” or “concerned” and only 18% were “dismissive” or “doubtful.” In 2012, only 45% of Americans are “concerned” or “alarmed” and 21% are “dismissive” or “doubtful.”

Fighting Climate Change is Different From Fighting for Civil Rights Part II, Strategy Proposal

(Return to Part 1: Strategy Analysis and Critique)

 

Introduction

In the previous section, I have delineated the ways in which the Human Climate Movement shares goals with the Civil Rights Movement, but differs in the barriers to those goals, and the technological context.  I argue that both movements must 1) empower their membership, 2) place the truth front and center, forcing Americans out of denial and destroying the illusion of neutrality and 3) create massive social and political pressure, especially among elites and policy makers, for change.

I showed that the movements are distinct, however, the fundamental barrier to the goals of the Civil Rights Movement was racism, while the fundamental barrier to the Human Climate Movement is anxiety. Civil disobedience fought racism but does not fight anxiety. Anxiety is best contained through the existence of a comprehensive plan that starts right now to and leads to victory and through human relationships. I also discuss the different technological contexts that these movements occurred in: while the Civil Rights Movement could capture the national attention through civil disobedience, in today’s oversaturated media environment, protests do this extremely rarely. I argued that, for these reasons, civil disobedience will not succeed as a primary strategy for the Human Climate Party.

In this section I will propose an alternative strategy for the Human Climate Movement that makes containing anxiety its central feature, and also responds to our current technological and media age.

A Comprehensive Plan to Contain Anxiety and Fight Climate Change

I discussed previously how a plan is a fundamental tool to contain anxiety. To effectively contain anxiety, a plan must be believable and comprehensive. It must lead from right now to victory. In the case of climate change, this means that it must have two distinct parts: 1) A plan to ignite a social and political movement powerful enough to fundamentally change the national approach to climate change and 2) A plan for how to actually fight climate change, once the social movement has succeeded in creating the social and political will necessary to impel legislative action.

Many social movements, including the Civil Rights Movement, move forward step-by-step, gaining momentum from every small victory. They do not have a comprehensive plan at the beginning, but rather plan as they go. The Human Climate Movement is attempting this currently—hoping that victories such as university divestment or stopping the Keystone pipeline will lead to a larger movement and ever-larger victories. The problem with this stepwise approach is that it doesn’t contain anxiety. It doesn’t offer a path to victory—to a planet safe for humanity. This means that, while building gradually has worked for other social movements, the Human Climate Movement must start with an all-encompassing plan for success.

Luckily, a plan to fight climate change, once we recognize the depths of the crisis and muster the social and political will to fight back, already exists. Paul Gilding and Jorgen Randers prepared a “ One Degree War Plan” which approaches fighting climate change with the same zeal and urgency of purpose that the Allies fought WWII.  It is a plan to prevent further emissions as much as possible and remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, while also pursuing adaptation measures and low-risk, reversible geoengineering strategies. Their plan cuts emissions by 50% in the first 5 years, and to become entirely carbon neutral in 20 years. The next 80 years will be dedicated to recovering from the damage that has already been locked into the system. Their aggressive approach includes, during the first 5 years of the war:  closing 1000 coal plants, building wind farms and solar arrays in order to compensate for some of the lost energy and encouraging efficiency measures and electricity rationing for the rest of the energy losses; decreasing commercial flights by 10% a year; cutting deforestation by 50%; utilizing agricultural and forestry methods that bind 1 gigaton of carbon into the soil; and instituting a carbon tax of $20 a tonne, which increases by $20 a year until it reaches $100 per tonne of carbon. The entire plan is available here.

Gilding and Randers prepared their plan as an example of what could be accomplished with a war approach, the details were meant to be flexible, and should change according to cutting edge scientific understanding, technological breakthroughs, and new ideas I, for example, would advocate for the creation of a “Climate Corps” in which young people were drafted out of high school for 2 years of public service, fighting climate change. We could put the Climate Core to work on projects such as insulating homes, building sea walls and levies, and spreading agricultural techniques that bind carbon in the soil.

Though the details must continue to evolve, the point of the Gilding & Randers plan is that: if the United States came out of denial and waged a WWII Level War on Climate Change, civilization would have a good chance, a fighting chance, of continuation. We would need allies, of course, just like in any war. It wouldn’t be easy, or simple, or short. But it would be humanity’s chance to be active participants in our destiny, rather than sitting, passive victims, waiting for climate change to wreak its havoc. Thus, a WWII approach should be the plan with which the Human Climate Movement fights for.

But how do we get there? How can we possibly muster the political will to start fighting? Gilding believes that, once climate change gets bad enough, humanity will realize that we have to fight back. It will be a spontaneous, global awakening.

I disagree. Denial is an incredibly strong force. When animals, including humans are in existential danger they generally do one of three things: fight, flight, or freeze (Schmitt et al., 2008).  They play dead and hope the danger passes them by. As a species, we are paralyzed by fear and disbelief (Hamilton 2010). As climate change worsens, we very well could become more frozen and more deeply in denial.  To switch gears into fight-for-our-life mode, we need a social movement. We need the Human Climate Movement to focus national attention, to fight denial, spread the truth, and usher in that awakening. And to do that, it needs a new strategy; one that is built around the goal of containing anxiety and that is responsive to our current technological situation.

A Person-to-Person, Pledge Based Approach

Imagine: Your phone rings. It’s your old friend. (Or your cousin, neighbor, or former roommate). He says he would like to talk with you about climate change. Can he send you a few articles and then meet you for lunch on Wednesday to talk? He is going to have a small gathering at his house next week.  You are invited to that, too. You know climate change is a problem, but you haven’t read anything about it for a few years. (Who wants to read that depressing stuff? Plus, you have been so busy.) But you care about your friend, you are intrigued by his offer, and you realize that you probably should be more current on what is happening with our planet, anyway.

You accept. You make time. You read the most current assessment of how our climate has already changed, and where it is going. You realize that civilization will not be able to withstand this. Your mind is buzzing with questions, “What is going to happen? How can I protect my family? What should I do?”

You can hardly wait Wednesday—to talk over what you have read with your friend, to talk about options. He tells you that he shares your feelings. Climate change is a massively destructive force, which will wipe out human civilization if we let it. But, he tells you; we don’t have to be helpless. We can fight back. Your friend describes his recent signing the Human Climate Pledge. The Human Climate Pledge has the following components:

An acknowledgement that:

  • Climate change threatens civilization.
  • Fighting climate change it is an issue of survival and of morality. It must be our top political priority.
  • To preserve civilization, we must fight climate change like we fought WWII: with a government led, society-wide mobilization.
  • We must dedicate approximately the same amount of resources to fighting climate change as we did to fight the Axis powers: 36% of our GDP.  Or 5.6 trillion dollars, per year.

A pledge to:

  • Only give time or money to political candidates who also sign this pledge.
  • Vote for candidates who have signed the pledge in local, state, and national elections, when they are running against a candidate who has not signed.
  •  Live in Climate truth—to forsake denial, and face the frightening truth of climate change.
  • To spread the truth of climate change to people you know and love, and encourage them to sign the pledge also.

Your friend tells you how he learned about the Pledge, and why he decided to sign it two months ago. He shows you the Human Climate Pledge App on his phone, which displays the total number of signatories, and how many signatories he has brought on; the number of people he has given the pledge to, how many they have given the pledge to, how many they have given the pledge to, and so forth. It shows that, in total, 20,000 people have signed so far. And your friend has thus far given it to 8 people: his wife, brothers, and a small group of friends, and that they has so far given the ledge to 20 other people, mainly their family and friends.

He tells you that he asked you to talk because he cares about you, and respects you and knows that there are many people who would find your opinion influential. He tells you he hopes you join this effort; that you sign the pledge and spread it to other people. That you will join him in living in climate truth, and fighting this war of wars. He asks if you want some more reading, and recommends a few further books and articles, and gives you a written copy of the pledge for you to consider. He invites you, Sunday at 8:00, to come to his house to talk more, and to take the pledge, if you are ready to. Bring someone, if you like. Five other people, some of whom you know, are planning to attend, some may take the pledge at that time.

You part ways, your head spinning. Your friend has always been mild mannered and reasonable. Someone you have respected, and viewed as similar to yourself. This is unlike anything he has ever been involved with. Maybe he is onto something. And the articles you read were certainly upsetting. And the weather has been so strange…

Over the next few days, you read more and more. You knew the climate was changing, but you didn’t realize all of the different things that this would impact: Rising sea levels, damaged agricultural yield, vector borne disease, resource wars, climate refugees.  The information is hard. The whole world is changing, and it is happening very fast.

On Sunday, you arrive at 8:00 with some snacks and a bottle of wine. The atmosphere is somber, but friendly. You are happy to see some people you haven’t seen in a while, and meet some of your friend’s neighbors. You discuss the material you have read, and what has been happening in your area. Your friend puts on a 20-minute video from the organizers of the Human Climate Pledge. It’s a summary of the impacts of climate change, and a discussion of the Pledge. It’s a call to arms, an invitation to join.

Your friend asks if anyone is ready to take the pledge. 3 people say that they are. They stand. Your friend asks if they want to dedicate their pledge to anyone, or offer any comments to the group. A woman says she wants to dedicate her pledge to her children. She says she would do anything to protect them, and knows that fighting climate is something that we have to do, together. A man says his pledge is dedicated to his deceased mother, who always hated and feared pollution. After they have offered their comments, they stand and recite the pledge in unison. The rest of the group claps. People have tears in their eyes.

Your friend enters the new signatories information into the system, via his HCP App. The new signatories now download the HCP App themselves. They now have the capacity—and the responsibility—to give the pledge to others. To induct them into the Human Climate Movement. Your friend tells the new signatories that he has some buttons, armbands, and bumper stickers, if they want to broadcast their pledge visually.

He says he will be having people over to his house again in 2 weeks. All are invited back, and invited to bring others. Maybe people will feel ready to sign. People spend the rest of the evening eating and drinking together. There is a good atmosphere in the air. It feels like hope.

Specifics of a Person-to-Person, pledge based approach

As I have attempted to illustrate in the above narrative, this approach utilizes pledge-signing as a central tactic in the Human Climate Movement. The pledge specifies that the signer agrees that climate change is an immediate, existential threat to civilization, and that a WWII style response is called for. The signatory pledges only to donate money and time to candidates who have signed, and to vote for any candidate who has signed the pledge over any candidate who has not. In this way, the pledge functions as a reclamation of Democracy. The signatories recognize that the government is failing in its most important function: protecting its people. The signatories pledge to wield their power as citizens, and as humans, to push policy makers into action.

Signatories also pledge to “Live in Climate Truth,” meaning to actively commit to fighting their own tendencies to deny, minimize, and dissociate their knowledge and to share their knowledge with others. I have written elsewhere on the principle of Living in Climate Truth. The idea comes from Vaclav Havel, who noted that—when a system, such as the Soviet Union in the 1970s—was built on lies—that individual citizens disbelieved the regime’s lies, but acted compliant in order to avoid trouble. Havel saw revolutionary potential in this state of affairs. If a system is built on a lie, and people know it’s a lie but keep that opinion private, publicly demonstrating their allegiance to the system, then the system is ready to crumble. All it takes is for people to live in truth: to act on what they believe, to be open about it. This lessens the amount of pressure to conform other people feel, making it easier for them to live in truth, also. One of the ways we live within the Climate Lie is we don’t talk about it socially. Climate change makes people uncomfortable and anxious, so we don’t mention it. We may be depressed or terrified about the climate, but don’t want to be a downer or a drag. The Human Climate Pledge signatories promise to live in Climate Truth; to face the truth of climate change themselves, and to share their truth with others.

Specifically, signatories pledge to spread the Human Climate Pledge to others, especially people they know and love. One scenario for how signatories can recruit others was demonstrated in the narrative. But there are infinite ways that people can approach others with the Human Climate Pledge. They could give a special presentation in church or a community meeting; they can have informal conversations; they can invite friends to a recurring climate themed book-group; they can have conversations over the phone or through video-conferencing technology; they could convince existing environmental or political groups to take the pledge together. Getting people to sign the pledge will, in most cases, require a fair amount of education. Signatories can encourage friends and family to read books or articles about climate change, or attend presentations. Knowledge sharing and consciousness raising are central parts of a person-to-person approach.

Reaching out to people, personally, and sharing the reality of climate change, as well as the hope of the Human Climate Pledge, becomes the central organizing tactic of the Human Climate Movement; it becomes what civil disobedience was to civil rights. Pledge recruitment (like civil disobedience) allows activists to utilize their creativity, and adapt to specific situations. People are experts in their own networks. They know what might appeal to their family and friends. They speak their language, literally and metaphorically.

A mobile phone App should be developed to structure and track the progress of the Human Climate Pledge. The HCP App is received when someone takes the pledge, and it allows that person to give the pledge to others. This enforces a person-to-person structure. One cannot take the pledge online. (How many online pledges have you signed and then forgotten about?) They must receive the pledge from someone who has already taken it. They must take the pledge in person, ideally with others present. This reinforces the message that fighting climate change is a shared human endeavor; something we must pursue together and help each other with.

This person-to-person structure, and the utilization of a HCP App also allows for detailed tracking of pledges. It can track, and display: 1) How many people, total, have taken the pledge to date; 2) How many people you have given the pledge to 3) How many people those people have given the pledge to, how many those people have given the pledge to, and so on. In other words, the App will track a person’s total impact in terms of spreading the pledge. If I give it to 10 people, who each give it to 10 people, who each give it to 10 people, my actions have helped spread the pledge to 1000 people. This number will be continually available.

The use of an App also allows for coordination between individuals and the central Human Climate Pledge organizing committee. Potential uses include: HCP central can communicate with signatories via the App, for example, about political candidates who have signed the pledge; members could use their App to request buttons/ bumper stickers, other visuals that indicate support for the HCP; members can donate funds to HCP central through their app; HCP central can track Pledge progress and identify people who are particularly effective in spreading the message of Climate Change and the Human Climate Pledge, and ask them to share their best practices, or give trainings to teach others their techniques.

Recruiting people, including politicians, to sign the Human Climate Pledge should be the central tactic of the Human Climate Movement. But it does not necessarily have to be the only tactic. Indeed, a concerted recruitment effort that creates both community-level connections, and connections with a centralized Human Climate organization will make it easier to mobilize signatories for other types of action, all which share the same focus: raising awareness so that the United States can wake up to the threat of climate change, and respond with a WWII level approach.

Benefits of this approach

A person-to-person, pledge based approach offers myriad benefits as the central plank of the Human Climate Movement. Most importantly, it helps people contain their anxiety and channel it into action. By structuring the movement around existing human relationships, it allows people to support each other through their fear. An approach that unifies people allows them to gain strength from each other. The advocacy of a comprehensive plan contains anxiety further, and the recruitment-focus allows people to see their own role in the movements.  This is quite empowering, and the software that tracks how many people a member has given the pledge to, and how many people those individuals have given the pledge to serves as a constant, concrete reminder of a persons’ efficacy.

A person-to-person pledge based approach is an approach that is responsive to our current technological context. The Internet, social media, and ubiquitous smart phones are changing human behavior faster than politics can keep up with. The Obama campaign utilized the internet for coordinating meet-ups and volunteers in innovative ways and was richly rewarded for it. It should probably go without saying that a successful Human Climate Movement will have to use social media and technology in an innovative way if we are to find success. Social movements must leverage the technologies of their day; novel ways of using technology for and organizing and message-spreading provide a strategic advantage to movements, because the entrenched powers and vested interests do not have a counter-strategy available. (During the Civil Rights Movement, The Right did not have Fox News available to broadcast propaganda undermining the movement.)

A person-to-person approach utilizes technology in a novel way, but, perhaps more importantly, it is also built in response to a culture that is over saturated with media and technology. A 2009 Nielson study showed that Americans spend 8.5 hours per day looking at some type of screen. On those screens, we are bombarded by every type of information: news, advertisements, political messaging, infotainment, and updates on strangers lives. It is impossible to rationally process and filter this information; much of it is simply disregarded. Because of the cacophony, vested interests such as fossil fuel companies are easily able to warp the conversation by ginning up controversies and promoting phone “doubt” among scientists. Their arguments are paper thin, but because 1) the truth inspires anxiety and 2) most Americans don’t focus on the issue in a concerted way, but rather experience it as part of an over-stimulating barrage of information, they are effective.

A person-to-person approach cuts through the noise. It treats climate change as it should be treated: as critically important, deeply personal, yet inherently political. When a friend calls to talk about something important to them—a crisis they are facing— most people stop what they are doing and pay attention.

A person-to-person approach allows the medium to be a major part of the message. This approach emphasizes unity, learning, cooperation, and human relationships; some of the best aspects of humanity. It frames fighting climate change as a shared project, rather than a divisive protest. It recognizes that we are all in this together; climate change is bigger than any of us. Our best hope is to utilize thoughtful, coordinated, courageous action.

Conclusion

In the first section of this paper, I described ways that the Human Climate Movement is psychologically similar to, and different from, the Civil Rights Movement. I argue that, while the goals of fighting denial are the same, the fundamental barrier to fighting the Civil Rights Movement was racism, while the fundamental barrier to fighting climate change is anxiety.

In the second section of this paper, I applied this analysis by offering an organizing strategy that makes anxiety-containment the central goal. It is the best strategy that I can think of.  Perhaps a more effective strategy exists in someone else’s mind; certainly this approach can be improved and refined though collaboration with others. I encourage and welcome disagreement and constructive criticism, both on the psychological forces at play in the Civil Rights Movement, or the Human Climate Movement, and regarding the optimal strategy for organizing the Movement. Perhaps we can crowd-source strategy for the Human Climate Movement.

I encourage all who approach these questions to do so with a theoretical orientation guided by the history and theory of social movements, psychology, or anthropology rather than (just) an understanding of the current political situation. Aggressive action on climate change is not possible in today’s political climate. But social movements transform the political climate. They make us look at the past and ask, “How could things have ever been that way? How could we have been so ignorant?” They realign the stars. This is exactly the level of change that we need to fight Climate Change.  It’s a tall order, but the other option is passive suicide. Let’s put our heads together and get to work solving this. I hope you join me.

 

 

 

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Cohen, S. (2001). States of denial: Knowing about atrocities and suffering. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Hamilton, C. (2010). Requiem for a species: Why we resist the truth about climate change. London: Earthscan.

Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G. & Howe, P. (2013) Global Warming’s Six Americas. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. http://environment.yale.edu/climate/publications/Six-Americas-September-2012

Lertzman, 2013. The Myth of Apathy. In (S. Weintrobe) Engaging with climate change: Psychoanalytic and interdisciplinary perspectives. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Morris, A. D. (1999). A Retrospective on the Civil Rights Movement: Political and Intellectual Landmarks. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 517.

Romm, J., (2012) Hug the Monster: Why so many climate scientists have stopped downplaying the climate threat. Think Progres. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/05/07/478984/hug-the-monster-why-so-many-climate-scientists-have-stopped-downplaying-the-climate-threat/

Schmidt, N. B., Richey, J. A., Zvolensky, M. J., & Maner, J. K. (2008).Exploring human freeze responses to a threat stressor. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 39, 3, 292-304.

Thomas, 2004. Southern Spaces. Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle: The Views in Virginia and Mississippi. http://southernspaces.org/2004/television-news-and-civil-rights-struggle-views-virginia-and-mississippi#section10