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.
I call it squabbling over the scraps. There is nothing to be done, other than assign blame. Since we are all to blame, that’s a game that can occupy us right to the very end. If Joe and Naomi and you are lucky you will all sell lots more books before there is no one left to read them.
Thanks for reading. Check out my post on climate cynicism: http://theclimatepsychologist.com/?p=258
I understand why you feel like giving up all hope, but its not a constructive attitude.
Another great discussion.
I confess, I will have to catch up on that, So many of us prefer to disregard the squabbling couple – they are a distraction.
JR and Naomi may just represent the civil and polite aspects of a far darker battle brewing.
Let’s see: a heavily funded multi-decadal carbon disinformation campaign has been misdirecting humans away from learning of safety. Deliberately leading us into risk and danger. Why is this not treason? Looks like information warfare to me. .
Why don’t you, the psychologist, see this as the shameless acts of cultivated and professional industrial psychopaths? If it was any other crime they would be in prison.
Back at the time of the French Revolution — was the Reign of Terror an inevitable expression, or was it the symptom of the chaos?
Is the civil chaos we face high Tragedy or is it Revolution? Is a Reign of Terror aimed at Carbon Capitalists something that is inevitable? Or should it be suppressed? (or encouraged?)
Where is our justice system? Bought off and asleep, perhaps? Did Joe and Naomi talk about that? Inside the Beltway thinking is narrow and does not follow current information, it follows interests.
Fortunately, physical laws trump all these legal, ideological and economic beliefs And we can relax knowing that everyone will be receiving substantially the same climate punishment.
Some will just deserve it more,
Another great contribution. You write:
‘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.’
I fully agree. I do think however, it is useful to look back from time to time and try to learn from past experiences, successes, failures. Not to assign blame, but to help us decide on the best way forward. Just like you do in your own strategy proposal by trying to learn from the civil rights movement. And looking back may be difficult and painful sometimes, but hopefully that will not kill us, but make us stronger.
I couldn’t agree more. Looking for historical examples of mass social movements can provide invaluable information. Some historical movements I want to explore on this blog are: The French Revolution, the rise of Christianity, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, and the rise of Women’s Rights and Feminsm, (in addition to expanding my discussion of the Civil Rights Movement and the Velvet Revolution.)
Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂
Here is my policy solution:
Step 1: Congress to pass and President to sign a Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax
Step 2: Remove all energy/fuel subsidies
Step 3: Congress to pass and President to sign Feed In which requires power monopolies to create a smart grid that accepts all decentralized local renewable energy sources.
And, here’s how we create political will:
Step 1: Citizens build relationships with every single member of Congress. Educate members of Congress and ask them to become Climate Heroes by taking the above policy steps.
Step 2: Newspapers in every city, town, and county call on their members of Congress to become climate heroes by taking the above policy steps.
Step 3: Citizens build unlikely alliances between religious groups, civic groups, retired and active duty military, green groups, libertarians, etc. to support above policy steps.
Who can lead this effort to build political will?
Citizens Climate Lobby already is.
Check us out at http://www.citizensclimatelobby.org
Join us if you are ready for a personal and global breakthrough!
Sounds good, Sparks. I’m in.
Hi Elli- thanks for reading, and for the comment. I greatly appreciate you describing the Citizens Climate Lobby’s comprehensive plan for change. I have some serious doubts about the efficacy of this plan, which I will address soon in a longer post. But this is a good thing! Plans, when articulated and shared, can be the topic of study, critique, and collaboration. So thank you for “playing your cards face up.”
The couples therapy always helps to overcome the problems in the marital life. The experts in the marriage counseling team will help you to overcome the problems up to some extend. Keep sharing more information like this in the upcoming posts.
Tis conversation between Incubus and Succubus.