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.