Category Archives: Living in Climate Truth

We Marched Together in Climate Truth, Together: Now We Mobilize

Attending the People’s Climate March was exhilarating for many reasons. In the coming months, we must not let the feeling dissipate, as media attention languishes, and the memory of the march slips away. The question is how.

I was there with a small team from The Climate Mobilization—a grassroots organization or “social movement start-up”—and we were handing out fliers and talking to marchers about our strategy for initiating a robust American response to climate change, the Pledge to Mobilize.  I had some definite trepidation, going in.  A shy person by nature, I found the idea of approaching strangers and discussing the need for a WWII-scale intervention on climate change quite daunting. I feared rejection and territoriality—that people would feel bothered by us or angry if The Climate Mobilization’s advocacy was different from their own.

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Liam was our most effective and enthusiastic flyer-distributer.

My fears were totally unfounded. Talking with strangers has never been easier or more enjoyable than it was at the March. People were kind, interested, and thoughtful. Several took the Pledge right then and there! Of course not everyone liked the idea, and people had questions and concerns.  But many people reached for fliers, many people wanted to know more, and many people said, “thank you!” when I approached them with the idea.

This crowd, because of its sheer enormity, had to start and stop and start again frequently, leaving marchers toward the back motionless for hours. But the mood stayed buoyant for the duration.

How can we understand these high spirits and buoyant camaraderie? Why was it that this  crowd was so unusually delightful? Together, we were all living in climate truth—coming together to acknowledge the terrible reality of our situation and to demand dramatic, heroic action on climate change.

To be in a group of people like this was a tremendous relief—a dramatic departure from the everyday experience of living in a culture where climate change goes largely undiscussed. Civilization is in imminent peril, but our culture is mired in denial, willful ignorance, and passivity. Feelings of fear, helplessness, and conformity generally silence discussions of climate change.

But at the People’s Climate March, we, together, overcame those barriers to facing the stark truth of climate change. People wore t-shirts saying “Save the Humans!” and held cardboard cut outs of life-preservers. The marchers got it: climate change is life versus death, collapse versus continuation of our civilization. Climate change is about me and you and my family and your family.

 

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More of the TCM team, surrounded by a throng of allies living in climate truth!

Two events in the march highlight this emphasis on truth—the minute of silence followed by the minute of noise. These moments expressed both our grief about the devastation of climate change—the millions of people already killed, the damage we have wrought to the natural world—and also the need to move from silence to noise. We, the people, have been silent far too long. It is time to make noise, to raise our voices, together, to acknowledge the danger of our situation and demand dramatic political action.

The other moment happened when we marched past Fox News’s headquarters on 6th Avenue. The chant erupted, “Fox News, Tell the Truth!” This news channel and its affiliates have spread more lies and misinformation that any other single source. In doing this they have betrayed their fellow Americans, and put us all in danger.

It was painful, then, to leave the march and walk through Times Square. where tourists, shoppers, and playgoers buzzed with energy and huge advertisements telling people what to wear, drive, and eat towered above me.  Business as usual was in full swing and its participants appeared either indifferent or oblivious to the danger all around us. A woman had changed her mind about seeing a show, and was was yelling, “Who needs Pippen tickets? I’ve got Pippen tickets!” It felt so odd, to be raising her voice for such a mundane purpose. I felt like responding, “The Climate is changing! We are in danger! Who cares about Pippen?” Instead, I quickly made my way back to the marchers, and let the shared understanding of climate change wash over me.

The Way Forward: Amplifying Climate Truth, Adding Bold Demands

If we are going to build a social movement to save civilization from collapse, we have to spread the climate truth that the march exemplified across the entire country and world. The march was the largest climate march of all time, but now we have to grow exponentially. We will have to reach out to everyone—including people who aren’t political, who don’t understand climate change, and who try to avoid uncomfortable information.

We will also need to be very clear about what we, as a movement, are demanding. It is clear that the March succeeded tremendously in its aims of movement building and message spreading, even without demands. Yet much has been made of the fact that the People’s Climate March lacked demands beyond the slogan “Climate Action” now.  To elevate the movement to a position of overwhelming political power and strength, we need to unite behind concrete demands.

The Pledge to Mobilize

The Pledge to Mobilize is a political platform and social movement strategy. It can allow us to spread the truth of climate change that the March featured far and wide, while providing the clear-eyed demands that the March lacked.  The Pledge is a tool to help people overcome denial and effectively fight for civilization. It is a one-page document that every American can sign. The Pledge is an unblinking declaration of reality — a chance to take a stand against the great evil of our time.

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When you sign this Pledge, you commit your support to political candidates who have also signed it, on the local, state, and national level. The Pledge calls on the federal government to immediately:

1) Commence a social and economic mobilization to restore a climate that is safe, stable, and supportive of human civilization. This heroic campaign shall be carried out in the spirit of the American World War II home front mobilization. As in WWII, this mobilization will require hard work and shared sacrifice from all Americans.

2) Reduce our country’s net greenhouse gas emissions one hundred percent by 2025 and deploy a national system that removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at emergency speed.

3) Enlist tens of millions of Americans in efforts to rapidly expand our carbon-neutral energy and agricultural systems, conduct groundbreaking research, and implement large-scale adaptation measures.

4) Conduct this mobilization in accordance with the Constitution and ensure that the essential needs of the civilian economy are met during this time of transition.

5) Establish the following imperatives as our nation’s top foreign policy priorities: A one hundred percent reduction of global net greenhouse gas emissions at wartime speed, and the deployment of a comprehensive international system that removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere until a safe climate is restored.

In signing the Pledge, you join forces with other mobilized Americans in an urgent campaign to save civilization. You agree to spread the Pledge to people you respect and care about — such as your friends, family, neighbors, and political candidates.

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This Pledge has a unique structure. It is not another example of alienating Internet “clicktivism.” It is designed to be a significant event in the lives of signers. One cannot just “take” the Pledge. This Pledge must be given by someone who has already taken it. This person vouches for you, affirming that you will spread the pledge with respect, focus, truth, and courage. They also agree to support you in your efforts to mobilize yourself.

Because of this person-to-person structure, the Pledge has the ability to focus dinner table discussions, and the national conversation at large, on the near-term threat of a civilization collapse as well as the massive, concerted effort needed to prevent it. Variations of the Pledge are set to launch in other countries, providing a bridge between the hyper-local, the national and the international. The Pledge to Mobilize empowers each of us to reject denial and passivity in favor of effective political and social action. It allows us to rise to the challenge of our time, together.

The Pledge and the Climate Movement

The Pledge to Mobilize allows us to stand firm on what is non-negotiable while engaging a wide variety of people and perspectives. What is non-negotiable is written into the text of the Pledge: We must commence an all-out effort to eliminate net GHG emissions as quickly as possible, and continue to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. If we are to restore a climate that is safe for humanity, this is what science and ethics demands. It is our only moral option.

While the demands of the Pledge are unshakeable commitments, there is much room for discussion and debate. Issues that have historically divided the environmental movement such as nuclear power, capitalism, and reformism vs. radicalism—cannot divide and hobble us any longer. If we agree that a climate mobilization is necessary to save civilization, then we must work together towards that goal, as we discuss and debate how precisely the mobilization will unfold. Mobilizers also have the flexibility to spread the Pledge their way. People are experts in their own communities and social networks, and can appeal to them in whatever way they think will be most effective– as long as it is respectful, truthful, focused, and courageous.

 

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Mobilized nuns, Ayya Santussikka and Ayya Santacitta , will spread the Pledge using Buddhist traditions and emphasizing Buddhist values.

The scale of the Pledge’s demands is commonly recognized as necessary among the leading lights of the environmental movement, as well as prominent economists. A WWII-scale mobilization against climate change is not a new concept—it has been and continues to be advocated by Joe RommPaul Gilding and James K. Galbraith, among others.

In 2011, a host of leading environmentalists signed an open letter to Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, calling for the United States and China to reduce their emissions 80% by 2020 through a “wartime-like mobilization.” Signatories included: Bill McKibben of 350.org, Lester BrownRoss Gelbspan, as well as the executive directors of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, and Friends of the Earth—all groups that were out in force at the People’s Climate March.

But the Pledge’s demands, as well as its tone, have broad appeal far outside of the environmental movement. Most Americans, even many of those acutely aware of the threat of global warming, remain unaware that such a comprehensive plan exists. We have witnessed a wide variety of Americans react positively to the Pledge, including people who are politically disengaged, deeply religious, and politically conservative. This crossover appeal is vital in achieving the kind of supermajority necessary to call forth a WWII-scale climate mobilization. We expect that, as the brutal reality of global warming becomes increasingly impossible for Americans across the political spectrum to avoid, a critical mass in our nation will react with great relief to the existence of a political platform that reframes the problem as the emergency that it is.

We understand that this platform will be perceived as unrealistic in our current political climate of paralysis and despair. That’s why the Pledge to Mobilize is also a social movement strategy, designed to quickly overcome our culture’s widespread denial and passivity and leverage massive public support for these scientifically necessary demands.

The Pledge is a psychological tool that allows individuals, and our culture at large, to overcome the denial, dissociation, and passivity that keep most Americans from truly taking in the scope of the climate threat. The basic psychological premise is that the experience of helplessness is a key factor in denial and inaction. If we are to get millions of people to grasp the horror of the threat, and to demand an emergency climate response, we need to truthfully tell individuals that 1) a comprehensive response exists, and 2) they are an essential part of that response. In order to get people to face the truth of the crisis, we need to quickly empower them to participate in the solution.

Signing the Pledge does not preclude the use of many other tactics that have been used to great effect, including demonstrations, lawsuits, internet memes and local transitional measures. On the contrary, signing the Pledge can synergistically enhance the use of other tactics.

Imagine, for example, if media reports of direct action at the UN or White House contained a paragraph reading: “The protesters demanded that the United States government immediately initiate a WWII-scale mobilization to halt climate change. This 21st-century economic mobilization, organizers said, would enlist tens of millions of Americans in efforts to overhaul the nation’s energy infrastructure, and would reduce net greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent in ten years.”

The Pledge strategy is not dependent on election cycles, because sitting politicians are also invited— and can be pressured— to sign. Mobilizers will call their Representatives to say, “I have supported you for 10 years with my vote, time, and money. But I recently signed the Pledge to Mobilize and I will no longer do so unless you sign it also.”

 

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More of the team posing in front of the WWII aircraft carrier, the Intrepid.

However, elections are the most basic and forceful instrument of democracy. We must focus our strategy on the huge national election 2 years away. If we elect a Mobilization Government in 2016, then our next President will have eight years to lead the mobilization and bring the United States to carbon neutrality. This gives us two years to build a momentous social movement, to spread the Pledge far and wide, and to place relentless pressure on political candidates to step up. This will take a tremendous amount of effort, to be sure. Armed with the truth, the Pledge, and the spur of dire necessity, we can transform our culture and reclaim our democracy.

Onward!

The Peoples Climate March was a day full of togetherness, dedication, and hope. It powerfully demonstrated that those of us who grasp the awful truth of climate change are not alone. Now, let us take that energy and passion and channel it into a comprehensive social and political strategy. Let us mobilize, and rise to the challenge of our time, together.

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Are You in Climate Change Denial? Three Signs to Look For

A slightly shorter version of this post was published yesterday on the Psychology Today blog, “Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Action” 

It is easy to scoff at climate change “deniers”—people who refuse to believe the scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions are causing global warming and a host of disastrous impacts, including intensified drought, flooding and severe weather. We can even feel smug that we believe in the science, unlike those ridiculous deniers.

Not so fast. Is it possible to acknowledge that climate change is real and man-made, while still being in denial about the gravity of the situation? Check out this list. You may recognize yourself.

1)    You think climate change is bad, but not that bad.

Do you think that climate change is mostly damaging “the environment” and Arctic wildlife? Do you view climate change as a problem for “our grandchildren?” Do you feel badly for people in far away countries who will be hurt by climate change, but unconcerned about yourself and your community? Do you consider climate change just one among many equally difficult problems in the world today?

If so, you could be vastly underestimating the scope and urgency of the threat. Climatologist and NASA scientist James Hansen describes the climate crisis in the starkest terms:

Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization developed, the world with climate patterns that we know and stable shorelines, is in imminent peril. The urgency of the situation crystallized only in the past few years…The startling conclusion is that continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet, but also the survival of humanity itself — and the timetable is shorter than we thought.

Climate change threatens the lives of billions of people, as well as the collapse of civilization, democracy, and the rule of law. Climate change is already causing severe weather, droughts, floods, food shortages, the spread of tropical diseases and invasive species, and mass migrations of people. These conditions are contributing to political instability and civil war across the planet, and they are getting worse every day. Climate change is not one problem among many — it is the defining problem of our time, and our reaction to it will affect the lives of all humanity for centuries to come, since the climatic changes we are setting in motion are not reversible, even after we stop emitting fossil fuels.

2)    You don’t have an emotional reaction to climate change.

Perhaps you know all this. Maybe you are well aware of the planetary emergency we are facing. But does this knowledge stay in the intellectual realm? Have you cried about climate change? Do you have nightmares about it? Do you feel differently about your future, knowing that it will unfold amid constant ecological calamity?

You should. Keeping your knowledge of climate change purely intellectual is a psychological defense mechanism that we use to cope with overwhelming feelings. This is a type of denial. The truth is recognized, but the feelings that should accompany this knowledge–namely, terror, grief, anger and regret–are banished and denied. When I am trying to help people get in touch with their emotions about climate change, I remind them that “Climate change is unfolding in your life.” Climate change is happening to you, to me, and everyone we know. You are intimately involved in it. You should know it in your gut and in your heart–not just in your head.

3)    You aren’t getting political.

You recycle. You drive a hybrid. You turn off your lights when you leave a room. Haven’t you done your part?

Unfortunately, you haven’t. Individual actions to reduce emissions cannot possibly solve this immense, global problem. The United States must respond to climate change like we responded to the threat of the Axis powers during WWII — by mobilizing our entire society for the fight. During WWII all Americans worked in service of the war effort: Factories produced huge numbers of tanks planes and ships, universities focused on war research, ordinary citizens conserved resources and planted Victory Gardens. All hands were on deck, all Americans working towards a common purpose.

To achieve this level of coordinated response to climate change, we need a social movement that wakes Americans up to the immanent threat we are facing. Organizations such as 350.org and Citizens Climate Lobby are attempting to build that movement. The Climate Mobilization advocates for a WWII level mobilization, using the Pledge to Mobilize to as an organizing tool. Signers pledge to only give donations to political candidates who have also signed the Pledge, to vote for candidates who have signed over those who have not, and to spread the Pledge to Mobilize to others, especially people respect and care about. This process of spreading the Pledge will strike blows against denial, and empower individual citizens to make a meaningful difference in this global crisis.

There is a Chinese proverb: To know and not act is not to know. The greatest catastrophe in history is happening on our watch. We can either be bystanders and passive victims, letting climate change happen to us, standing by as it horrifically unfolds, or we can actively fight for what we hold dear. We can muster our individual skills, talents, relationships, and resources to fight climate change with moral strength and creativity. We can truly abandon denial and rise to the challenge of our time, together.

“Moral Power for Climate Action” Video from Climate Collaborative

This is a Climate Psychologist milestone! While I have, until now, posted only original content, this video, by Climate Collaborative provides a fantastic reason to change it up.

Moral Power for Climate Action

From the video:

“When I look at my own 3-year old daughter, I almost never allow myself to think about climate change and her future. I don’t dare. It’s too hard. But many of the scholars looking at the psychological dimensions climate change are actually suggesting that we talk about it more, talk about  the seriousness of it, the emotional parts of it. This is important not only for our own mental health, but also because what drives social change isn’t necessarily broad-based support,  but the intensity of the minority. An intensely committed minority can act as a lever that can move larger populations. So what we need is a core group of people who feel climate change in their bones.  But the feeling part is really hard.”

I agree with this statement absolutely, and I think that the person-to-person, pledge based approach can be the tool that creates that turn a committed minority into a social consensus and drastic political action.

The creators of this video are  beautiful, courageous examples of people living in, and spreading, climate truth. I plan on getting in touch with each of them to express my gratitude and to talk strategy.

Hooray for new allies!

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!

 

Living in Climate Truth, Sections I-V

 I Introduction

Our society is living within a massive lie. The lie says, “Everything is fine and we should proceed with business as usual. We are not destroying our climate and, with it, our stability and our civilization. We are not committing passive suicide.”

The lie says we are fine—that climate change isn’t real, or is uncertain, or is far away, or won’t be bad enough to threaten humanity. The lie says that small changes will solve the problem. That recycling, bicycling, or closing the Keystone Pipeline will solve the problem. The lie allows people to put climate change in the back of their minds. To view it as someone else’s issue—the domain of scientists or activists. The lie allows us to focus on other things. To proceed with business as usual. To be calm and complacent while our planet burns.

And what is the truth? I will not go into the specifics, or the science, of what is happening to our planet or how it threatens to throw civilization into chaos.  For a thorough discussion, I will refer you to: The IPCC’ 4th report,Paul Gilding’s “The Great Disruption,” Bill McKibben’s, “Eaarth” and James Hansen’s “Storms of my Grandchildren.”

James Hansen, recently left his long career as a NASA scientist so that he could more effectively live in climate truth. He is now by pursuing full-time climate change advocacy. Here is how he describes the scope of the problem:

Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization developed, the world with climate patterns that we know and stable shorelines, is in imminent peril. The urgency of the situation crystallized only in the past few years… The startling conclusion is that continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet, but also the survival of humanity itself—and the timetable is shorter than we thought.

I wish to emphasize two issues that are often misunderstood.  First: the time line. Many refer to climate change as a problem for our grandchildren—as occurring sometime in the future. But climate change is happening right now. Storms are becoming more  extreme. Droughts are damaging crop yields, and contributing to civil wars, especially in Africa and in the Middle East. Fish and birds are migrating north. Humans are starting to follow. These problems will get worse and worse. They will combine with each other to create large-scale disruptions, disruptions that could overwhelm us, causing the breakdown of the social order and the rule of law. These catastrophic scenarios are decades, not centuries, away.

The other issue is uncertainty and how we should incorporate it into our thinking and plans. Our climate and ecosystems are dynamic, non-linear systems. It is therefore hard to predict precisely what will happen and when as the Earth’s climate changes. Scientists don’t have a test case from which to derive predictions. We are the test case.

Shall we make “Scientists don’t know everything! They aren’t sure!” our anthem and take this uncertainty as license to continue business as usual? No. Actually, the opposite. We know that carbon and greenhouse gasses will cause catastrophic impacts for humanity, but we don’t precisely how and when—they will unfold. This uncertainty must therefore reinforce our urgency to make major, systemic changes as rapidly as possible.   By delaying action, we are playing round after round of Russian Roulette. Instead of recognizing the gruesome danger and inevitable outcome, we comfort ourselves with the fact that the bullet might not be in the chamber this time.

The lie says that there is no crisis. That business as usual is fine. That our species is not marching towards its doom. The lie is our enemy, and our survival depends on fighting it. But knowing the truth isn’t enough. To beat the lie, we have to do more than know the truth. We have to live the truth. We have to act on what we know to be true. We must spread our truth to our friends, family, community, and networks. By openly discussing climate change whenever it is relevant (and it is relevant to most things). We must confront the lie wherever we see it. We must honor our truth by becoming politically and socially engaged.  We must organize ourselves, to fight first the lie, then the forces that threaten our climate.

By living in climate truth, we dismantle the lie. Once the lie is exposed, the severity and immediacy of the climate crisis will be broadly accepted.  As people throughout all segments and levels of society wake up to the truth, we will gain political and social power. We will embark on a coordinated crisis response to climate change. We will act with the precision, dedication, and resolve. We will mobilize society like our country last did during WWII, when we transformed ourselves in order to win the war.  There will be exhausting work. There will be shared sacrifice. And there will be losses. But if we, together, live in climate truth and fight back, then humanity can prevail.

II Vaclav Havel and Living in Truth

In his 1978 essay, the Czeck political writer Vaclav Havel argued that Czechs were largely cynical about the State, but hid their feelings and acted compliant, in order to avoid trouble. Havel wrote that much more important than what you believed about the State and its ideology was how you lived. By living “within the lie” of the State—by displaying communist propaganda, voting in phony elections, and not speaking your real opinions—people supported the lie and maintained the system, even if they privately believed the state was corrupt. One persons’ living within the lie put pressure on their families and neighbors to do the same. Havel introduced the concept of resisting the states’ lies through “Living in truth,” meaning refusing to take part in rituals or displays that one did not believe in, that one should speak one’s mind and pursue one’s goals and activities with the truth in mind, whether the State will approve or not.

Havel saw that living in truth offered the possibility for a rapid change in society—that a revolution could occur simultaneously in many sectors of society. As he put it:

(The power of living in truth) does not reside in the strength of definable political or social groups, but chiefly in a potential, which is hidden throughout the whole of society, including the official power structures of that society. Therefore this power does not rely on soldiers of its own, but on soldiers of the enemy as it were—that is to say, on everyone who is living within the lie and who may be struck at any moment (in theory, at least) by the force of truth (or who, out of an instinctive desire to protect their position, may at least adapt to that force). It is a bacteriological weapon, so to speak, utilized when conditions are ripe by a single civilian to disarm an entire division…. This, too, is why the regime prosecutes, almost as a reflex action, preventatively, even modest attempts to live in truth (p.23).

In 1989, Czechoslovakia had a non-violent revolution—“the Velvet Revolution”— in which massive protests and general strikes caused the Communist government to relinquish its power. During this peaceful transition of power from totalitarianism to democracy, Havel became the first elected President of Czechoslovakia. Enough people were living in truth, the lie could no longer breathe. Havel was right—when people stopped living within the lie, the lie, and the system with it, simply collapsed.

III. The Climate Lie

The United States in 2013 may seem nothing like the Soviet Bloc in 1978. In some ways, the situations are very different. But the crucial commonality is that both systems are built on lies, and are sustained by people living within the lies.

Havel described the lies of the totalitarian government:

Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.  (15)

Because Americans do not live in a totalitarian system, our lie is a lie co-created by the government, corporations, the media, and the people.  These organizations encourage the lie, but it only exists because we, the people accept it and choose to live within it.  The lie exists in different forms in different segments of society.   But the basic lie is “We should continue with business as usual, for everything is fine. There is no impending climate collapse. There is no need for a massive social-political movement. There is nothing I can do; climate change doesn’t concern me.”

The lie itself is different in content, but it operates in the same ways as the Communist totalitarian lie–through conformity and collectively reinforcing the lie. As Havel describes:

Individuals need not believe all these mystifications but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to accept their life with it and in it. For by this very fact individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, and are the system. (15)

Most Americans are aware that climate change is a near-term threat to humanity. But what they believe doesn’t matter. How they live matters.  By proceeding with business as usual, by living and working within the current system rather than fighting for a major social and political change—they live within the lie, prop up the lie, and maintain the collision course we are on.

There are three  major ways that the Climate Lie operates: Intellectual denial, emotional denial, and environmental tokenism.

IV Intellectual Denial.

When people reference “Climate Change Denial” they are referring to intellectual denial. People who refuse to believe that climate change is really happening, or really caused by humans, or so forth.

Naomi Oreskes has analyzed the way that the oil industry utilized corrupt and ideologically blinded scientists to sow and nurture this doubt in the American people. There has been a multi-million dollar attempt on the part of oil companies and investors, such as the Koch brothers, to assault Americans’ confidence to know about climate change.

Another culprit is the media. The American media, shaped by the two-party system, is enamored with the idea that every issue has two sides, which should be given equal time, attention and respect. Climate change is continually discussed as a debated issue, not a scientific fact with terrifying implications. Further, the media propagates the climate lie by not discussing it when clearly relevant—such as when discussing extreme weather, increasingly hostile agricultural conditions, invasive species, water scarcities and droughts, with no mention of climate change. The news media, including the venerated New York Times has been cowed by the zealous lies of climate change deniers and are afraid to speak the truth.

Finally, there is postmodernism, or the intellectual fad, which denies that objective truth can exist, because everything is relative, and everyone is biased by their own perspective and agenda.  Though this way of thinking can be extremely interesting, it is putting us in danger.

All humans have the ability to KNOW that climate change is happening, today. You don’t have to be a scientist, or a philosopher. All you need is a discerning mind that says:

There is a scientific consensus that says human emissions are warming the climate, and that that means hotter temperatures, more extreme weather, floods, and droughts.  That all squares with what I see happening, out my window and across the country and the world. I know the truth when I see it. Climate change is happening and we need to fight back.

V  Emotional denial

Most people who “believe” in climate change do not “feel” the affects, emotionally, of what they know. They deny their own emotional response. They do not feel terror, anger, grief, or guilt. They do not feel the pull to organize with their fellow humans and fight back against climate change.

Much of this emotional denial is borne from feelings of helplessness. People feel that there is nothing they can do. That the war is already lost.  Maybe they could do something if they were in Congress or a scientist, but they are just a normal person, a  citizen—climate change is out of their purview.  The reality of climate change is too overwhelming, so they deaden themselves to their feelings.

Cynicism is a common expression of emotional denial. Many of the well-heeled, erudite, people whom I speak with about climate change tell me that “we are fucked.” Cynicism pairs intellectual belief with emotional denial and renunciation of personal responsibility and the social contract. Rather than work together to solve our shared problem, cynics declare climate change hopeless, a foregone conclusion.

Cynics blame those who are in intellectual denial. They ask, “How can we solve climate change when half the country doesn’t even believe in it?” By drawing the division line between those who intellectually believe and those who intellectually deny, he absolves himself of the responsibility to live in truth. All he must do is carry the truth in his mind, and he feels on the right side of the debate, the right side of history. He fails to see how his emotional denial, his living within the lie, entrenches the status quo.

There is a strand of emotional denial that acknowledges that climate change is happening—that severe weather is becoming more and more dangerous and damaging, but that this is happening because it heralds the second coming of Jesus Christ.  This is a disturbing manifestation of the Climate Lie;  those who believe it are stating their intention to watch the unraveling of the climate and humanity with passivity and anticipation

Those who believe that climate change signals the End Times, and therefore oppose action to stop it, have the minimum obligation to be very clear about their opinions and the reasoning behind them. This will at least allow an open dialogue, and give non-religious people to say: “Wow, that’s a pretty big bet you are making. You are certain enough that you understand God’s will perfectly, that you are willing to risk the safety and prosperity of my family, country, and species.” By proceeding with business as usual, and failing to make beliefs about climate change and the End Times explicit, these believers entrench the climate lie.

Continue to Sections VI-X

 

Living in Climate Truth, Sections VI-X

Return to Sections I-V

VI Tokenism

Environmental tokenism plays a major role in maintaining the Climate Lie. Tokenism asks that you reduce your carbon footprint, recycle, bike, and turn off the lights when you leave a room. This is the dominant discourse on climate change. When people think: “God, climate change is terrifying! What should I do to stop it?” the answer they usually find or is supplied for them is to reduce their individual emissions.

This approach is a-political, even anti-political. The “solution” takes place individually, in private. It is not organized and shared. It does not challenge existing power structures (which is why corporations have no problem encouraging their customers to “be green”).

Further, it belies a fundamental misunderstanding of human civilization. We are not merely a collection of individuals. No man is an island; we live in a web of complex systems, which are bigger than us. No one of us created this mess, and no one of us can end it. Individual consumption decisions can never create a carbon tax, they can’t build public transit systems, and they can’t make a city more resilient to hurricanes. Voluntary individual actions can’t do much, really, they are a drop in the bucket.

And that is why individual attempts to reduce consumption are tokenism. They substitute insignificant action for significant action. They give the feeling of making a difference without really making one. They serve as an act of symbolic cleansing. Letting us say, “I have done my part. My hands are clean.” These actions serve a magical function, psychologically, like a lucky rabbits foot. If we perform this ritual (recycling, turning down the AC, etc), if we make these sacrifices, maybe we will  somehow avert ecological catastrophe. But environmental tokenism will not save us. It is the wrong scale.

Some defend tokenism with the idea, “every little bit helps!” There is some truth in that argument. Perhaps all the conscientious people, acting individually to reduce their consumption, have slowed the process of climate change. Maybe, if not for all of the environmentally conscientious decisions people have made, we would be in even worse ecological straits that we currently are. So there is, theoretically, a benefit to individual reductions in consumption.  But this benefit will, at best slow our march towards collapse slightly.

Another argument in the defense of individual token consumption and lifestyle choices is that they lay the ground for political action; they raise awareness of climate change and get people thinking about climate change. This is likely true, as least for some people. As such, we much strive to turn the quasi-political into the fully political, to turn personal lifestyle choices into mass political demands.

When humans make major changes in how they function, such as the changes we must make now, if we want to continue our civilization with some level of homeostasis instead of chaos—we do it together.  We are a social species—genetically programmed to interact with each other, to work together, to form bonds. Evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson has recently written about how humanity’s success and power has come from this social mentality. It is what has allowed us to learn from each other, to coordinate our intentions, and to conquer the earth together.

It is because of our innate, social nature that “individual actions” will never be able to stop the ecological crisis. To truly mobilize the power of humanity, we need a social and political movement. We need to realign the stars, together.

Environmental tokenism encourages us to live within the lie. It assigns responding to the ecological collapse to the individual realm, thus allowing public business to continue as usual.

 

VIII. How to Live in Climate Truth Intellectually, Emotionally, and Socially

I have offered an outline of the Climate Lie, how it functions, and how almost all of us are living within it, committing passive suicide, and sleepwalking towards destruction.

Now, I will describe how to live in climate truth. How to wake up, feel terrified, and ignite a social and political movement to protect yourself and everything you know and love.

The first step to living in truth is acknowledging the truth of climate change intellectually, emotionally, socially, and politically.

Acknowledging the truth of climate change will likely require educating yourself further on the problem. When is the last time you read a book or article about climate change? Many young adults were educated about Global Warming in school or college, but have not kept current with the (ever-worsening) state of the threat. Living in truth means continually updating and improving one’s understanding of what is happening to our climate. One particularly effective method of living in Climate Truth is joining or creating a climate-change book group. These groups create an organized structure in which to learn and talk about the frightening truths of climate change. This is difficult material, reading together allows people to help each other cope with it.

Reading and learning can show you the intellectual truth of climate change, but living that truth emotionally, making it personal, takes true courage. To look unflinchingly at a terrifying reality can humble even the most avid truth-seeker.  It means rethinking your life plans in the light of the reality of climate change. Do you really want to move across the country from your family, when travel will likely become increasingly expensive and difficult? Are you sure you want to have children? No one can answer these questions for you except you. But living in Climate Truth means recognizing that climate change will affect you and your family. It is not a choice—to be involved in climate change or not. You are involved. No one is outside of the ecosystem. And living in truth means recognizing the myriad, cascading implications of that.

Living in Climate Truth comes with a sense of urgency. A motivating fear. It makes people aware that they have both a moral and a strategic obligation to act. The moral obligation comes from their sense of love and respect for humanity. The desire to save their human brothers and sisters from floods, droughts, severe weather, vector born disease and civil unrest.

Socially, living in climate truth will look somewhat different for different people. Everyone must do what they can. Artists make art about climate change, Journalists report on it, teachers share the frightening, but crucial information with their students.  Each person must ask himself or herself, “What can I contribute to the social/political movement that will stop this catastrophe? What are my skills, talents, resources, and networks? Who can I talk to about the climate change? Whose mind can I change?”

Living in Climate Truth means the impending catastrophe of climate change must never be avoided as a topic of discussion. Perhaps even more difficult, one cannot maintain a “private” opinion about climate change (it is an imminent threat to security and safety), and a “public” opinion (scientists are still debating the severity). This means, if scientists are buying houses on higher ground, they have a duty to make clear to the public why they are making those decisions. There must be no “private” opinions and discussions on the climate change catastrophe, because the collapse of our climate is inherently a public matter. Every human has a right to the full truth—living together in truth is our only chance for salvation.

You must talk about climate change with you friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors even though this is often uncomfortable. A neighbor comments, “Another storm? This weather is just crazy.”  You have a choice, in your answer, to either support the lie or the truth. If you answer, “Yea, it’s nuts!” You are holding up the lie, helping your neighbor, and the larger cultural group, cling to denial and false hope.  However if your answer includes the information that climate change is responsible for the increase in severe weather, then you have struck a blow for truth. If you add that it is only going to get worse until we fight back, that this is deeply terrifying, mention the need for a social movement, or you invite your neighbor to your next political meeting, all the better!

What if every time someone on Facebook commented about how weird the weather has been, one of their friends pointed out that this was being driven by climate change, and suggested things for them to read, or organizations for them to check out? Can you imagine how quickly the collective mood could turn?

Those who propagate the Climate Lie—the government, the media, and corporations, particularly oil companies— need to be held accountable. The New York Times, CNN, and Weather.com, as well as all major news outlets that I know of, frequently publish stories on unfolding severe weather, and other phenomena highly related to climate change, and shamefully omit a discussion of climate change overall. What if every time this happened, the author, editor, and publishers received a torrent of angry e-mails and tweets?

Every time we confront the lie, and those who promote it, we strike a blow for climate truth, and move towards a warlike response.

IX How to Live in Climate Truth, Politically.

People living in and spreading climate truth will create a cultural shift, creating a social climate in which huge political changes are possible. But those political changes don’t happen on their own. We have to demand them. Any governments’ most fundamental responsibility is keeping its citizens safe. By sitting idly by as our climate collapses, our government is proving itself near useless. We, the people, need to organize and re-claim our fallen democracy. We need to fight for our country and civilization.

Perhaps the most important question every person must ask and answer in order to live in Climate Truth is, “With whom will I align myself?” “What group will I join?” These are the questions one must ask in times of global crisis. When you realize how small you are in the face of the problem, you realize that nothing you undertake as an individual could possibly protect you. Jack Shepherd put it beautifully. After the crash of flight 815 left a group of survivors marooned on a mysterious island, he told the group, “Live together, die alone.” With whom shall you cast your lot?

I have two suggestions to use when you make this most important of choices—the choice of your political/organizational alignment. First, that you choose an organization firmly committed to Climate Truth. Any organization that has its “internal” understanding of the scope of the threat but minimizes this to the public because they “can’t handle the truth” is not committed to truth. Choose an organization that speaks the truth, even when that is difficult and uncomfortable; choose an organization that has the courage of its convictions.

Secondly, be sure that your organization has a comprehensive plan and vision for victory. The scale of climate change is so large. There are so many mountains to climb if we will stop it. But setting a goal of anything else than solving climate change is planning for failure. Even worse, if an organization sets “reasonable,” small and medium-scale goals, then this organization is encouraging tokenism, business-as-usual, and thus living within the Lie. Choose an organization that recognizes the massive scale of the threat and responds with a massive-scale advocacy.

When I originally published this article, in September, 2013, I wrote that I was “not sure any group exists that fulfills both of these precepts,” and encouraged readers to change the culture of existing groups or create new ones. Since then, I have followed my own advice, working with a group of individuals, to launch The Climate Mobilization. We are truthful about the danger and comprehensive in our advocacy– demanding a WWII scale mobilization that reduces emissions at wartime speed. Our strategy is the Pledge to Mobilize, which commits signers to both supporting political candidates who endorse these measures, and to spreading the truth of climate change, and the hope of the Pledge to Mobilize, to others. The Pledge strategy is designed to battle “the lie” and  unleash the power of the climate truth. All are invited to come take a stand for climate truth and fight for everything you know and love.

X Living in Climate Truth means Living with Honor.

Living in climate truth can be extremely challenging. It can set you apart from your peers, people can have a “shoot the messenger” mentality, and criticize you for your views or your advocacy.

The truth of climate change is frightening, even overwhelming. We would rather forget it and enjoy the present.

But living in climate truth comes with honor, dignity, and a sense of purpose. Living within the lie means being self-deceiving, failing your responsibility to your brothers and sisters, and ultimately, being a passive victim of forces outside of your control. Living in truth means holding your head high, even as circumstances seem insurmountable.

Living in truth means refusing to be lied to and manipulated. Knowing that you are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Knowing that, if civilization does fall, you will be able to say, “I did my best.”  Knowing that, if we succeed, you will be able to live the rest of your life with pride. When your species, your civilization, your planet was on the line, you faced the terrifying unknown with courage, dedication and resolve. You lived in truth.