Yale Poll: Millions of Americans Would Take a Climate Pledge!

Ever wonder: “Who would sign the Pledge to Mobilize? Could such an idea ever get mainstream traction?”

This is a crucial question, that Yale’s Climate Change Communication team has helped answer! Their just-released poll shows that:

“Millions of registered voters* would sign a pledge to vote for, would work for, or would give money to candidates who share their views on global warming – if asked to by a person they like and respect.”

* 7% of Americans said that they would DEFINITELY sign such a pledge and 20% said that they PROBABLY would!

Did these pollsters know about the Pledge to Mobilize, or did they come up with a very similar idea on their own? I guess brilliant minds think alike 🙂 Either way– there is no doubting the efficacy that Pledges have had on political campaigns throughout history– from the Pledge to end Chinese foot binding that ended a 1000 year old tradition in a generation, to the “Commitment Card” written by Martin Luther Kind JR,  in which signers “hereby pledge myself—my person and body—to the nonviolent movement.” and agreed to ten stringent commandments on their behavior, to the “No tax Pledge” created by Grover Norquist which has effectively put a straitjacket on our political process.

We hope that the Pledge to Mobilize, with its psychologically and technologically savvy features, will be the most effective pledge yet. And what great news to learn that millions of Americans are ready to sign!

In other news, TCM is now ready to start spreading our message in the twitter verse! Follow us @MobilizeClimate

Or visit our facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/TheClimateMobilization

Or homepage: TheClimateMobilization.org

Help us launch by:

*Donating or sharing our IndieGoGo Campaign

*Will you be in NYC for the People’s Climate March? We will be spreading the Pledge in a major way during that weekend. Get in touch and you can be part of our action team!

*Are you a climate policy nerd (or an energy/ agriculture/ refugee/ medical policy nerd?) TCM cofounder Ezra Silk is starting a Mobilization Plans Working group. We have a great lineup of experts– both self taught and institutionally trained– and think the process of developing specific mobilization plans will be an exciting experience.  Get in touch and tell us about your interest!

Milestone

My grandfather, William Klein, was a meteorologist. (Climate awareness runs in the family, I suppose.) He was a big shot in the field of statistical forecasting, inventing the “Klein Factor”  which, was a very important factor that had to do with humidity. He got his PhD from MIT and for his final year, he lived in Cambridge,  while his wife and two sons (including my father) lived outside of Washington DC. On the day that he defended his dissertation, he sent my grandmother a telegram with one sentence, which I am very excited to say to you now:

“Call me doctor.”

Yes,  after 5 years of hard work, I have completed my PhD program! I am currently winding down with my final patients, working with them for about 15 hours a week, but starting in August, I will be full time working on The Climate Mobilization. I am sad to be leaving the world of clinical psychology (for now, anyway) , but I am extremely pleased with the education I received and know that it contributes invaluably to my climate work.

I have never felt as engaged with anything as I do with The Climate Mobilization.I feel it is what I was born to do, what I must do, and now– what I will do. All the time.

Below is my favorite picture from the graduation ceremony, featuring me, my mom Angie, and my little nephew Josh.

photo (1)

In lieu of presents (heehee) please donate to The Climate Mobilization’s Indiegogo campaign   (Only 1 week left!)

Your ally,

Dr. Margaret Klein

“Launch The Climate Mobilization” Fundraiser (and slideshow!)

Allies-I have exciting news. The Climate Mobilization is very close to launch. Only one hurdle stands in our way from having TCM website built and beginning to spread the Pledge to Mobilize: we need to raise approximately $20,000 to pay for the design, programming, and other miscellaneous launch expenses.

To accomplish this, we have begun an IndieGoGo campaign: Launch the Climate Mobilization.  If you could consider contributing and spreading the word about The Climate Mobilization, and our fundraising campaign, that would be terrific.  The campaign will only run until 7/22, so act now!

We have also developed a slideshow, which provides an overview of The Climate Mobilization and the Pledge to Mobilize.   You can watch the slideshow below, or view on full screen (It looks better on full screen!). So let me know what you think and thank you very much!

[slideshow_deploy id=’662′]

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.

Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together: Introducing the Climate Mobilization

This version, Published in 2/14 is now outdated! Read the updated version, published in 9/14!

 

 

 Climate change presents us each with a fundamental choice. Will we watch passively as our climate and our civilization collapse around us? Or will we mobilize and fight back? To avoid total catastrophe, the United States must respond on a scale comparable only to the World War II home-front mobilization. At present, this is politically impossible. In order for such a mobilization to occur, a social movement must first fundamentally alter the political landscape.

   This paper introduces The Climate Mobilization, a political platform and social movement strategy. The Pledge to Mobilize is an organizing tool that can facilitate a collective awakening. Signers pledge their support to political candidates who have signed the Pledge and, in doing so, publicly supported the Climate Mobilization platform. The Pledge calls on the federal government to commence a five-year Climate Mobilization that both cuts American carbon emissions by at least 25 percent per year for five years and creates a Climate Mobilization Corps, tens of millions strong, to lead the transition to post-carbon energy and agricultural systems and implement adaptation and mitigation measures. It also demands that the U.S. pressure other nations, through nonviolent economic and diplomatic measures, to inaugurate similar climate mobilizations.  

   The Pledge provides structure to an issue that can be overwhelmingly complex and calls on individuals to mobilize their skills, creativity and networks in unique ways. The Pledge does not spread online, but rather from person to person, often in the context of existing relationships. This has the power to bring climate change into living rooms across America, and to the forefront of the national conversation. Variations of the Pledge will launch in other countries, providing a bridge between the hyper-local, the national and the global. The Pledge to Mobilize empowers each of us to rise to the challenge of our time.

PDF Version: Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together

Text Version below.

Marching Towards Catastrophe

The climate is changing. The earth has warmed 1.5°F since the industrial revolution, and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the predominant cause.[1] The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that if carbon dioxide emissions continue their unrestricted growth, the earth will warm between 3.6°F to 10.8°F by 2100.[2] These may seem like relatively small temperature increases, but they are enough to cause the extinction of 18% to 37% of the species on Earth and to end the Holocene, the 12,000-year geological era that facilitated the development of civilization.[3]

   Business as usual is ending. It’s easy to think that we exist outside the natural world, but our global food and energy infrastructure — the foundation of the complex system that we call civilization — is utterly dependent on natural resource abundance and climatic stability. Ecological strains much milder than the climate crisis have caused past societies to completely collapse.[4] Droughts, floods, severe weather, wildfires, invasive species, and vector-borne disease are already damaging agriculture and infrastructure, and creating tens of millions of displaced people.[5] These harsh climatic conditions, as well as a historic oil price shock, have sent food prices skyrocketing.[6] [7] Food price spikes in 2008 and 2011 almost certainly contributed to the successive waves of civil unrest that have recently swept the globe, toppling governments and unleashing violent sectarian tensions.[8]

The arrangements that we rely on are unraveling. In the estimation of the U.K. government’s chief scientist, humans face a “perfect storm” of energy, food and water crises by 2030.[9] These crises will be severely exacerbated by rapid climate change. This gathering storm, driven by the explosive growth of populations and economic activity, is homing in on our shoreline. California languishes amidst a historic drought. Superstorm Sandy floods the New York City subway system. The price of gasoline hovers around $3.50. Climatologist James Hansen, the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 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.[10]

   American leadership is failing. In the face of this unprecedented danger, the United States government is paralyzed. The majority of our elected representatives live in a trance of denial, narcissism and complacency. Domestically, the U.S. has failed to place a price on carbon emissions or even end billion-dollar annual subsidies to the big oil companies. As taxpayers, we are subsidizing the destruction of the climate that biologically sustains us. In international negotiations, the United States has modeled how to delay action by shirking responsibility and blaming others. In 2001, our country abandoned the Kyoto Protocol — the only binding international treaty on emissions reductions ever passed — providing cover for Australia and Canada to opt out of the treaty, as well. Today, more than 25 years after Hansen’s groundbreaking discussion of the greenhouse effect in the Senate chambers, no binding international treaty limits global emissions. [11]

Our country is becoming a pariah on the international stage. Our leaders have justified their obstruction by contending that “the American way of life is not negotiable.”[12] But responding forcefully to climate change is our only chance to preserve the best aspects of the American tradition. Throughout our history, Americans have treasured our country’s remarkable record of social stability and political freedom. But climate change and resource exhaustion is already damaging those ideals. Instead of confronting the climate crisis head-on, the state, facing a crisis of legitimacy, is launching unconstitutional assaults on whistleblowers, journalists and the American public, at large. We must realize that the logical endpoint of our current energy regime, which increasingly benefits only a small fraction of the global population, is a future of tyranny, catastrophic social breakdown and unprecedented human suffering.

   The future is in our hands. And so the fate of humanity falls to us. As our leaders delay and prevaricate, will we continue to watch passively as civilization unravels? Or will we build a social movement, reclaim our fallen democracy and mobilize our society to fight climate change? The decisions we make in the coming months and years are of momentous consequence for the fate of humanity and the natural world. We must rise to the challenge of our time, together.

The Mobilization Imperative

We have done it before. The Axis powers posed an existential threat to the United States, but Americans denied this threat for years, imagining that we could stay out of the war. Pearl Harbor shattered our collective denial, and woke America up to the truth that we were in terrible danger and had to mobilize immediately. Under the leadership of President Franklin Roosevelt, we did so — with stunning success.

Twelve years after World War II, as part of an official US Army history of the war, Elberton Smith described the mobilization that allowed the Allies to prevail:

The task of harnessing a nation’s economic potential for war has come to be known as “economic mobilization.” Its basic purpose is to insure the procurement of finished munitions — the sum total of equipment, supplies, and services required by the armed forces — while at the same time supplying the essential needs of the civilian economy. The demands of modern technological warfare, when suddenly thrust upon a nation lacking the specific equipment for war, are so novel, so complex, and of such magnitude that their fulfillment requires a nationwide industrial and social revolution. Such a revolution does not automatically “occur” when a nation goes to war. It must be planned, directed, and carried out in a manner which will accomplish its objectives with a minimum of hardship and dislocation.[13]

This “industrial and social revolution” that the U.S. underwent after Pearl Harbor was staggering. Conservative business titans joined in common cause with labor leaders and liberal bureaucrats — after ten years of bitter acrimony over the New Deal — to redirect and refocus America’s industrial might against the Nazis. Factories rapidly shifted from producing consumer goods to producing tanks, guns and planes, shattering all historical records for war production. Scientists and universities pumped out research on behalf of the war effort — leading to huge technological and intellectual breakthroughs. Young men sacrificed their lives fighting for their country. Women worked in factories and planted “victory gardens” that supplied 40% of America’s vegetables during the war. More than 10% of the population relocated, often across state lines, in order to find a “war job.” [14] All hands were on deck. All Americans worked toward a common purpose.

This is precisely the level of focus, cooperation and planning that we need if we are to counter the destructive force of climate change. Smith’s comments regarding the novelty, complexity, and magnitude of the demands of modern warfare absolutely apply to the challenge posed by the climate crisis. The conclusion that the United States must mount a WWII-level mobilization to protect ourselves from climate change has support from top scientists, environmental analysts and even national politicians.[15]

A Climate Mobilization would allow our country “to adapt to what we can’t avoid, and avoid what we can’t adapt to.”[16] As in World War II, all Americans would contribute. Industry would transform to maximize energy efficiency and to produce the hardware needed for our post-carbon energy infrastructure. Universities would research methods to improve existing renewable and post-carbon energy technologies, increase energy efficiency, and maximize the resilience of our energy, transportation and agricultural systems, in anticipation of the coming ecological disasters. Farmers would bind massive quantities of carbon into the soil and learn to implement techniques that are more resistant to floods, droughts and invasive species. Existing government agencies, including the military, would shift their focus toward this super-ordinate goal. Citizens would plant trees, reduce energy use at home and take part in community adaptation and mitigation projects. We would grow community gardens, install solar panels and prepare low-lying areas for increased flooding. We would build bike lanes and paint roofs white to mitigate the summer heat that grows more relentless each year.

But how do we get there? A society-wide mobilization requires, at minimum, the consent and cooperation of the population. In 1941, Americans were staunchly isolationist, hoping and imagining that it might be possible to avoid the war. The surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, which decimated much of our naval fleet, changed the mood of the country. Isolationism evaporated overnight and Americans threw themselves behind the war effort.

Various writers have held out hope that a catastrophic natural disaster will be the Pearl Harbor of climate change. Yet we have already been struck by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, and ravaged by wildfires in Colorado and droughts across California and the Midwest. No spontaneous awakening has occurred. It is up to us to rise to the challenge of our time. Although the government must coordinate the mobilization, the social momentum needed to drive the mobilization onto the agenda will not originate in Washington. Those of us who grasp the extent, immediacy and horror of the threat must build a social movement that wakes Americans up to the necessity of an immediate climate mobilization.

The Pledge to Mobilize

The Pledge to Mobilize is an unblinking declaration of reality, and a platform for a social movement. It is a tool for spreading the frightening truth of climate change from person to person, as well as a means to reclaim our democracy. Wielding the pledge, citizens can demand that elected officials both acknowledge the scope of the climate crisis and mobilize to fight it accordingly. The Pledge states:

Climate change is already causing immense human suffering as well as untold damage to the natural world. It threatens the collapse of global civilization within this century. Preventing the worst effects of this gathering crisis is the great moral imperative of our time. This mission must be our nation’s preeminent priority.

I call on the United States federal government to commence a five-year mobilization to preserve a climate that is safe, stable and supportive of human civilization. This nonviolent campaign will be waged on a scale comparable to the American World War II mobilization. It will be carried out in accordance with the United States Constitution, and will guarantee that the essential needs of the civilian economy are met throughout this time of transition.

The federal government shall:

§ Enact policy programs that both reduce national carbon emissions by at least 25 percent each year for five consecutive years and ensure that the United States does not emit more than its fair share of the remaining fossil fuel carbon budget.* 

§ Create a Climate Mobilization Corps, tens of millions strong, which will implement adaptation measures and rapidly expand our post-carbon energy infrastructure and agricultural systems.

§ Exert international diplomatic and economic pressure to enlist allied nations in this heroic fight against social, economic and environmental chaos.

I will:

§ Donate time and money exclusively to political candidates on the local, state and national level who have signed this pledge.

§ Vote for candidates who have signed this pledge over those who have not.

§ Mobilize my skills, resources and networks to spread the stark truth of climate change and the hope of this pledge to others.

_______________________________________________________________________

* “Fair share” is defined as a percentage of the post-2013 global carbon budget no greater than our share of global population on Jan. 1, 2014. This translates to roughly 4.5%, or 5.4 billion tons, of the post-2013 global carbon budget, which is approximately 120 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon emissions, according to Hansen, et al. (2013).

Mobilizing Individuals and Communities

The Pledge to Mobilize is designed to spread in a unique way. An individual will not be able take the Pledge online — it can only be taken in person, and it must be given by someone who has already signed it. This requirement will create new ways of interacting around climate change. The Pledge signer will combine the roles of teacher, mentor and missionary.[17] Those who sign the Pledge will approach people they respect and care for, and invite them to sign. When friends and family are dubious, the Pledge signer will engage them in an educational process about the stark reality of the ecological crisis, encouraging them to read articles, watch videos, and attend meetings about climate change. This process is designed to repeatedly disrupt the culture of silence and willful ignorance that allows us as individuals and as a society to minimize and ignore the growing climate crisis.

Though the Pledge must be taken in person, its spread will be registered and tracked through the Climate Mobilization website, which is currently in development. This will allow signers to monitor how many people they have recruited to sign the Pledge, both directly and indirectly.

One of the Pledge’s primary strategic virtues is its flexibility. We hope that signers will use their creative instincts and unique skills to spread the Pledge. Signers can host events at their homes, or in the community. Using Meetup.com, signers can organize local lectures and discussions about the climate crisis and the Climate Mobilization. Religious people can spread the Pledge in their communities of worship, and climate educators can offer the Pledge after their presentations. The Climate Mobilization can have booths at farmers’ markets, staffed by Pledge signers, who will offer frank conversation about climate change, the need for a mobilization and the Pledge as a tool to get us there.

The Pledge to Mobilize is a platform for a collective awakening. It is a platform on which conversations can be initiated and the cultural consensus of denial and passivity can be transformed into a culture that expects active engagement from every individual in response to the climate emergency. It does not preclude the use of other tactics, including demonstrations, lawsuits, Internet memes and local adaptation measures. On the contrary, we hope that signing the Pledge can serve as a launching pad to further engagement. Online discussion forums, as well as local groups, will serve as places where Pledge signers can develop creative, humane ways to respond to the unfolding crisis. For example, Pledge signers could combine political demonstration with direct relief in areas hard-hit by storms; coordinate social media campaigns to pressure journalists to cover climate change with greater seriousness; or plant community victory gardens. Once people pledge to mobilize, they will find myriad ways to effectively channel their energy and talents.

Successful Movements Fight Denial and Show the Way Forward

In the face of political paralysis, many environmental groups have invoked the Civil Rights movement and resorted to tactics of protest and civil disobedience in opposition to fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Although these admirable and heroic efforts have led to significant victories and captured the imagination of many young people, they have not yet succeeded in mobilizing the country for immediate action.

Civil disobedience was a powerful tactic because it fought denial of a terrible status quo while simultaneously demonstrating the solution. Before the Civil Rights Movement, the majority of white Americans minimized and ignored the brutality of the Jim Crow South. This consensus of denial was facilitated through racist beliefs, such as the idea that African-Americans were violent and needed to be controlled. When African Americans sat at “whites only” lunch counters, they courageously withstood slurs and violence. These confrontations, which were televised nationally, demonstrated the protestors’ dignity and restraint while highlighting the brutality of segregation, striking repeated blows against the culture of racist denial.[18] Through these acts, African-American protesters also initiated the process of racial integration and equality. White protestors bolstered these efforts by demonstrating a different way of relating to African-Americans — as equals and allies.[19]

Inventor Buckminster Fuller wrote, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” The Civil Rights activists demonstrated the need to make the Jim Crow system obsolete, while enacting the new way of life — integration and equality — that could replace it. White Americans could no longer pretend that race relations did not concern them. They were given a choice between the brutal past and a future that, because of civil disobedience, they could begin to visualize.

So far, civil disobedience, protests and the popular approach of “climate change education” have not offered a clear way forward for the individual or society. When confronted with a huge, complex problem that appears to have no solution, most people feel terror and helplessness, and unconsciously insulate themselves with a variety of defensive techniques, including willful ignorance, numbing, repression, denial, and demonization of the messenger.[20] When information about the climate crisis is not paired with ways that individuals can participate in heroic and effective political action, many of us feel helpless and overwhelmed, and fail to integrate the startling reality of climate change into our everyday lives.

What happens if — rather than continuing its tactics — we adopt the deeper lessons of the Civil Rights movement? What if we build a movement around the knowledge that atrocities persist because people ignore and deny them; that people of conscience must fight this consensus of denial emotionally as well as intellectually; and that the solution — a clear, compelling path to a better world — must be central to the movement itself?

After years of becoming increasingly alarmed and despondent about climate change, I decided to tackle those questions. I decided to stop being a passive victim of climate change, and to mobilize my skills to fight for humanity. A Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Adelphi University, with an A.B. in cultural anthropology from Harvard — my entire academic career has been devoted to understanding people and cultures in depth. More specifically, I have focused on processes of psychological change and growth. I decided to develop a psychologically, anthropologically and historically informed social movement strategy that would help us achieve this badly needed mobilization.

I was drawn to pledge-based strategies because of the colossal complexity of climate change. A clear solution, it seemed, must be written down. I was also impressed with the impact of pledges on contemporary American politics. Grover Norquist has achieved substantial influence over the Republican Party through his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” and the Koch brothers have persuaded 169 Congressmen and women, including the entire Republican House leadership, to pledge not to institute a tax on carbon![21] [22] I examined past pledge campaigns that had spurred rapid social transformation, such as the anti-foot binding pledge that ended a thousand-year-old Chinese practice in a generation, without the benefits of modern communications technology. Pledges can be effective tools for fighting collective denial because they are public declarations; people courageously put themselves on the line for their cause. The anti-foot binding pledge shifted foot binding from a symbol of nobility and honor to a symbol of backwardness and shame.[23] I also examined Occupy Wall Street. Would it be possible to harness the creativity, passion, and local responsiveness that Occupy brought to bear, while avoiding the pitfall of lacking clear demands and a plan for realizing them?

This Climate Mobilization strategy was borne of this effort. I developed a plan, and published it on my blog, The Climate Psychologist.[24] Other thinkers, scholars and concerned citizens have refined and improved upon this plan. Ezra Silk, a Maine-based reporter and author, has been particularly involved, working tirelessly to help turn these ideas into reality. We aim to launch TheClimateMobilization.org and begin spreading the Pledge to Mobilize in the spring of 2014.

Envisioning the Mobilization

Our most difficult task was to determine the precise content of the Pledge to Mobilize. In order to show the way forward, we needed to outline the solution before launching. Calling for a “WWII-style mobilization” was too vague. A variety of political programs could theoretically fall under the rubric of a climate mobilization. We needed specific demands, and the implementation of those specific demands needed to lead to a safe and stable climate. Furthermore, since we aim to expand internationally, we needed criteria that could be applied to climate mobilization pledge movements in other countries. [25]

After consulting with Dr. Erica Thompson, a climate scientist at the London School of Economics, we decided to structure our pledge demands on the carbon budget released by James Hansen and 17 others in a December 2013 study.[26] The Hansen carbon budget sets a cumulative, global carbon emissions target that would “keep climate close to the Holocene range to which humanity and other species are adapted.” Hansen’s calculations for the post-2013 carbon budget (~120 billion tons) are right in line with carbon budgets put forward by Meinshausen et al. in 2009 (~118 billion tons) and the Grantham Research Institute/Carbon Tracker Initiative (~133 billion tons).[27] [28] We decided to use Hansen’s budget to structure the pledge since it is the most up-to-date and it is justified in a detailed analysis. Yet, our use of the Hansen budget should not imply that we make the same assumptions about rapid carbon sequestration (see Appendix A for a more thorough description of the reasoning behind this choice).

We decided that each country should use, at most, the percentage of the remaining carbon budget equal to its share of current global population.[29] What we found was that a five-year mobilization that reduces emissions by 25 percent per year would reduce American emissions quickly enough to meet the prudent, conservative target set out by the Hansen team. If the United States leads the world with a mobilization on this scale, and other nations enlist in this effort, we can stay within the carbon budget.

This strategy is scientifically and ethically sound and provides a measure of simplicity to an issue that often drowns people in confusing details and exotic jargon. By introducing the concept of “The 99%,” Occupy Wall Street activists concisely captured the problem of inequality, and made a complex, decades-long economic story relatable. The Pledge can accomplish this for the climate change “debate.” Our message is that the United States must lead the world in the heroic fight against climate change. We need a five-year mobilization, like we had on the home-front during World War II. Each year, we must cut our emissions by at least 25 percent. It won’t be easy, but together, we can achieve victory.

There is no question that a reduction target of at least 25 percent per year represents a tremendously ambitious, soaring goal. Current U.S. energy policy calls for our national emissions to be reduced by only 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.[30] David Roberts has described humanity as stuck “between the impossible and the unthinkable.”[31] A five-year climate mobilization that will transform the United States energy infrastructure, agriculture and foreign policy, while employing tens of millions of Americans, is our answer to this predicament. As Winston Churchill put it, “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”

Some will argue that such reductions in emissions would devastate the economy, but this argument ignores the fact that the American carbon-powered economy is currently stagnating due to daunting oil supply constraints related to the steeply decreasing energy return on investment for global oil production.[32] The 2008 crisis was exacerbated, at the very least, by the rising cost of oil. Since the financial crash, millions of Americans have suffered from the devastating consequences of layoffs, stagnant wages and foreclosures. This process is almost certain to continue; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has forecast a doubling in the price of crude oil by 2020 — an event that would devastate the world economy.[33] [34]

A rapid, government-coordinated transition away from fossil fuels offers Americans a chance to actively and creatively transform the economy, while maintaining the climatic conditions to support human civilization. However, the transition will temporarily add to the disruptions in the economy.[35]

The Climate Mobilization Corps will ease and enhance this economic transition.  Americans involved in this historic initiative will work together to install renewable energy systems, transition and localize agriculture, construct public transit networks, conduct research, insulate homes, plant forests, manage wetlands and provide assistance to other national energy transitions abroad. The jobs created during the mobilization will boost the prospects of tens of millions of struggling Americans, at the very least. World War II demonstrates that structuring a massive labor mobilization through a combination of direct hiring and public-private partnerships can lead to widely-shared prosperity.[36]

The expenses of WWII were financed primarily through selling war bonds and income tax increases, especially for top earners.[37] The Climate Mobilization could be financed through various measures, including mobilization bonds, a carbon tax, a financial transactions tax, Superfund payments or tax hikes on large corporations and high earners.

The Pledge does not specify precisely how the Mobilization will be accomplished. Given that we were designing a tool for a social movement, rather than a governmental policy, we decided not to lock ourselves into inflexible policy prescriptions. This allows us to focus attention on the crucial issue: The need for an emergency response to climate change. We hope to avoid a situation in which people of good faith are pitted against each other over traditionally divisive issues, such as whether the future energy mix should include nuclear power, or whether economic growth is an outdated model. The Climate Mobilization should encompass people with a range of viewpoints, and differences can be explored through ongoing discussion. We stand a chance only if we allow our shared purpose — fighting for humanity’s future — to transcend the squabbles that presently consume us.

There are a wealth of partial and comprehensive mobilization and decarbonization plans that we can draw upon in the months and years to come (a non-exhaustive list can be found in Appendix B). As the Pledge to Mobilize spreads, experts across many relevant fields as well as active citizens will take part in mobilization discussions, refining existing plans and offering new ones. When the federal government, under immense pressure from Americans, finally kicks into full mobilization mode, we will have prepared extensive plans to guide them.

Some may agree that we must cut emissions as quickly as possible, but argue that it is poor strategy to advocate for this publicly, particularly when a highly specific plan is not being advocated. Perhaps they might feel that reducing U.S. emissions at least 76.27 percent in five years will sound too drastic, and that many Americans will feel alienated by the Pledge and reject climate action in general.

This, we disagree with. Few Americans would sign the Pledge to Mobilize today, but that is the point. Our culture is mired in denial, silence and willful ignorance.[38] The process of spreading the Pledge will create a sea change in the public perspective. Successful social movements fundamentally alter how a society understands and, ultimately, governs itself.

Nightmarish problems require heroic responses. Too often climate change is presented as a gargantuan problem with a pathetically inadequate solution: “Want to prevent the collapse of civilization? Turn off your lights when you leave the room.” This is experienced as inauthentic and can cause people to emotionally disengage. Americans ought to be addressed as citizens, not electricity consumers. To bring our country out of denial, we need to offer a solution commensurate in scale to the problem itself. To create a social movement, we need to show the way forward, honestly.

Pledge-Spreading as Collective Awakening

When a society’s governing myths become too deeply estranged from reality, the truth holds tremendous transformational potential. But to transform society this truth must not merely be known. It must be lived. That was Vaclav Havel’s key insight — a message that guided the people of Czechoslovakia through a bloodless revolution against the Soviet Union. Czechs had long been cynical about the Soviet state, privately believing that the government was corrupt. Still, they outwardly complied with state rituals and ceremonies for years, fearing social isolation and state persecution. It was only after citizens started to live their values outwardly — by refusing to display Soviet propaganda, vote in sham elections or self-censor conversations — that they caused a revolution.[39]  “Living in truth,” as Havel called this strategy, derives its power from humanity’s social nature. We evolved in tribes, and developed brains that are highly attuned to the attitudes, emotions, and appraisals of others. We abhor standing apart from the group, especially if we risk being shamed or ostracized.[40] By acting publicly on their political convictions in their day-to-day lives, Czechs implicitly invited others to join them in challenging the state. They drew strength from each other.

The Pledge invites and challenges ordinary citizens to engage meaningfully and publicly with the greatest issue of our time. Civil disobedience brought the issue of civil rights to the forefront of the collective American consciousness. Every American had to decide where they stood on civil rights and many activists made their involvement central to their identity. Through the vessel of the pledge, we can accomplish this for climate change. We can force people to make a conscious choice: Do you stand with human civilization, or do you favor collapsing into deprivation, war, and chaos?

The Pledge strategy responds innovatively to the current technological and cultural moment, as successful social movements have historically done. Martin Luther utilized the printing press to spread his message.[41] More than four hundred years later, his namesake coordinated civil disobedience that was broadcast on television, bringing the struggle for civil rights into almost every American home.[42]

Today, we are bombarded by information and stimulation from computers, smartphones, video games and hundreds of television channels. This virtual blitzkrieg triggers a trance-like state in which we dissociate and screen out most information. This makes it all too easy to ignore the terrifying reality of the climate crisis and those seeking to draw attention to it through protests, civil disobedience, media outreach and traditional lobbying. The Pledge to Mobilize can break through the high-speed, fragmented media landscape, since it relies on personal appeals between people with pre-existing relationships. These personal appeals will be supported by an online platform where signers can network, discuss strategies and share stories and best practices. The Pledge connects the personal with the technological, and the hyper-local with the global.

The Climate Mobilization campaign can foster networks of highly engaged, articulate and organized citizens that will act as a countervailing force to the fossil fuel lobby and others that stand against the safety of human civilization. As the Pledge spreads virally, political candidates will feel increasing pressure to sign the Pledge and begin to publicly acknowledge the scope of the threat. Municipal and state-level officials who sign the pledge will fiercely advocate for a war-like response to the climate crisis, as they simultaneously implement regional adaptation and resilience measures. As politicians, journalists, and pundits are pressured to sign, the media discourse will shift from, “Does this candidate believe in climate change?” to “Does this candidate have the courage and strength of character to face the climate crisis and fight back?”

Launch is At Hand

This Climate Mobilization is almost ready to go. We are now building the website — the final step before launch. There are several ways to get involved in this project, but two are especially pressing at this point. First, we are seeking highly dedicated recruiters and organizers to become involved before the launch. This way, when our website is ready, we will have a small group of original signers who will host local Pledge events and disseminate the Pledge through their personal networks. This group will set the tone of the movement, so each member must be dedicated to fighting climate change with respect, focus, honesty and courage. If you are interested in being an original signer, or in contributing your skills and energy in some other way, please let us know.

We also need financial backing. The Pledge strategy is highly cost-effective. We will be able to launch on a national scale for less than $20,000. So far, I have been funding the initial web design and database steps, and I will match donated funds up to $5,000. Your donation will finance the construction of The Climate Mobilization website and help launch the Pledge to Mobilize. Donations can be made via Paypal. If you are able to support us, it will make a meaningful difference in our ability to launch as quickly as possible.

Climate change is an unprecedented challenge. Never before has humanity marched in such lockstep towards the destruction of our global civilization. We have the opportunity, and the moral duty, to make a meaningful difference in the course of human history. We must face this growing crisis with courage, dedication and resolve. Let us first mobilize as individuals who will transform our culture of silence and denial into a culture of active emergency response. Only then can we mobilize as a society to fight climate change, itself.

 

 

 About the Authors

Margaret Klein lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is a therapist turned advocate and organizer. Margaret graduated in 2008 from Harvard and is two months away from earning her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Derner Institute of Adelphi University. She is the author of The Climate Psychologist and the founder of the Facebook group Climate Change: It’s Personal. She can be reached at Margaret@TheClimateMobilization.org.

Ezra Silk lives with his girlfriend, Amy, in Portland, Maine. In 2010, he graduated from Wesleyan University, where he majored in history and was the editor of The Wesleyan Argus. Ezra has reported for The Hartford CourantThe Bar Harbor Times and The Lakes Region Weekly. His forthcoming book, Carnival of Dissent: The Voices of Protest, from Zuccotti to Athens, relates the story of his travels through the United States, Spain and Greece, at the height of the Occupy movement. He can be reached at Ezra@TheClimateMobilization.org.

The Climate Mobilization logo was designed by Katharine Woodman-Maynard.

The header photo, “Raising Sustainability On America,” was designed by Joseph Durago.

Appendix A: Reasoning behind five years of 25 percent cuts

120 billion ton remaining carbon budget, post-2013. The Hansen team found that humans should not emit more than roughly 130 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon emissions after the year 2012. The Global Carbon Project has estimated that humans emitted approximately 10 billion tons of fossil fuel and cement-derived carbon emissions in 2013.[43] That leaves approximately 120 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon in the remaining, post-2013 carbon budget.

Given that global cumulative emissions continue to increase every year, humanity is on track to exhaust the remaining 120 billion ton budget within eight to nine years, assuming a continuation of current emissions rates. We do not necessarily endorse Hansen’s assumptions regarding rapid reforestation and carbon capture and storage sequestration measures. The Climate Mobilization would allow the United States and the globe to meet the most conservative mainstream carbon budgets, such as Hansen et al., Meinshausen et al., and the Grantham Research Institute/Carbon Tracker Initiative 1.5°C budget. It would also allow us to meet the IPCC’s more lenient 2°C carbon budget with room to spare.[44] When the fate of civilization and the natural world is on the line, we think it prudent to aim high and fight like hell.

Share of budget based on population. In 2014, the United States’ share of global population is approximately 4.5%. Under our framework, the U.S. would emit, at most, 5.4 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon after 2013, or 4.5% of the remaining 120 billion ton carbon budget. Given that our country emitted roughly 1.467 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon in 2013, we are on track to exhaust our national share of the remaining global carbon budget at some point in 2017, assuming a continuation of current emissions rates.[45]

Timelines. If we project that the U.S. initiates the Climate Mobilization on January 1st, 2015, thereby reducing emissions at least 76.27 percent by January 1st, 2020, we would have used up, at most, approximately 4.88 billion tons, or 4.07%, of the remaining global carbon budget — a share roughly concordant with our population. (This would constitute about 4.14% of the Meinshausen budget, and about 3.7% of the Grantham Institute/Carbon Tracker 1.5°C budget.)

A 2015-2020 mobilization would leave us, at most, some 520 million tons of fossil fuel carbon — or, just over a third of 2013 annual emissions — left in our budget. The United States could then decarbonize the economy in 2020 or 2021. Or we could follow a low-emissions path for another five years, emitting an average of 104 million tons per year, and then decarbonize on Jan. 1, 2025.

If the U.S. federal government initiates the mobilization on Jan. 1st, 2016, thereby reducing emissions at least 76.27 percent by Jan. 1st, 2021, we would have used up, at most, approximately 6.36 billion tons, or 5.3%, of the post-2013 carbon budget. Again, this projection is based on the Energy Information Administration’s national emissions forecast.[46] It is clear that the later the mobilization starts, the steeper the reductions necessary.

Possibilities for steeper reductions. Of course, some may argue that the United States should use less than 4.5% of the post-2013 carbon budget. To make up for past emissions, we should cut more steeply, some may say. That is why the Pledge to Mobilize demands that reductions must be at least 25% per year. “At least” leaves open the possibility for more drastic reductions.

The United States was responsible for 26% of global fossil fuel emissions from 1870 to 2012 — the highest percentage of any country or economic bloc (The E.U. was responsible for 23%, and China 11%).[47] Although China is currently the leading emitter in the world with 26% in 2012, the U.S. was the second greatest emitter, at 14%. China was responsible for 23% of consumption-based emissions, while the U.S. was responsible for 17% of consumption-based emissions in 2012.[48]

Simplicity of Communication. The 25% reduction threshold goes beyond Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99%,” in that it introduces an easy metric to gauge the effectiveness of the extraordinarily complex efforts necessary to combat climate change. What if Occupy Wall Street had generated a simple metric to assess the effectiveness of various poverty and inequality reduction programs?

For example, many citizens were forced to rely on environmental experts in order to determine whether President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan was “enough.” Leading environmentalists praised the plan, while stressing, rather vaguely, that it was not enough. In some quarters, it was suggested that Obama’s proposed regulations on coal-fired power plants would reduce national carbon emissions by 10% per year.[49]

Non-experts concerned about climate change were forced to consult environmental and progressive experts in order to understand whether President Obama’s plan was “adequate.” If the pledge had been widely disseminated at that time, regular people concerned about climate change could have demanded that Obama provide a clear projection of how much his plan would reduce emissions this year. “We need to cut emissions by a quarter now. Mr. President, how quickly does your plan cut emissions this year?” The widespread introduction of the per annum framework could democratize environmental expertise, and introduce an inclusive, yet scientifically informed, public discussion about the necessary scope and scale of rapid emissions reductions.

Appendix B: Rapid Decarbonization Schemes and Mobilization Plans

The One Degree War Plan Gilding and Randers

Plan B 4.0, Mobilization to Save CivilizationBrown

Global Climate Stabilization Studies, Clean Air Task Force

Post Carbon Pathways: Towards a Just and Resilient Post Carbon Future, Wiseman, Edwards and Luckins

The Solutions Project, Jacobson

U.S. Climate PlanWeber, Lichtash and Dorsey

Governing Rapid Climate MitigationDelina and Diesendorf

Endnotes

[1] IPCC, 2013, summary for policy makers.

[2] IPCC, 2013 The IPCC provides a range because climate is a complex, non-linear system, which means that it is impossible to make exact predictions about how much warming will occur and when.

[4] Ecological problems leading societies to collapse: Diamond, 2004; NASA 2014.

[5]Damage to agriculture: Gillis, 2013; US Department of Agriculture, 2012.

Damage to infrastructure: McKibben, 2010; US Department of Energy;

Civil wars and climate refugees: US Department of Defense(International Displacement Monitoring Center, 2009); International Organization for Migration, 2013.

[6] Oil and Food Prices. Baffes and Dennis, 2013.

[7] Climate and food supply. Perez, 2013.

[8] Food prices and unrest. Lagi, Bertrand, and Bar-Yam, 2011.

[9] “Perfect storm” of crises. Beddington, 2009.

[10] Hansen, 2009.

[11] The 2009 Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding international agreement, commits the United States to a very weak target that would have us reduce emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

[12] Rio Summit.Vidal, 2012.

[14] For more on the inspiring history of the mobilization on the home-front during WWII, see Goodwin, 1995.

[15] A WWII Mobilization is advocated by Al Gore,  Bill McKibbenLester Brown, Joe RommPaul GildingDavid Roberts, and many others. Hillary Clinton alluded to the WWII mobilization in a 2007 campaign speech on climate and energy issues, saying “For this generation of Americans, climate change is our Space Race. It is our home-front mobilization during World War II and it is our response to the Great Depression.” Bryan Walsh of Time published a cover story in 2008 that called for a WWII-style “War on Global Warming.” There is also a contingent of climate writers and advocates, including Jill Stein and Thomas Friedman, who prefer the historical metaphor of the New Deal.

[17] See Ganz, 2010 on the importance of building relationships and encouraging engagement for the success of social movements.

[18] See Morris, 1999 for a thorough discussion of denial-fighting power of civil disobedience and Bodroghkozy, 2012 for the role of television in particular.

[19] See McAdam, 1988 for a vivid demonstration of this process.

[20] For an elaboration of how psychological defenses function on an individual level, see McWilliams, 2011; for how cultures and societies defend against overwhelming information, see Cohen, 2001.)

[22] No Climate Tax. Americans for Prosperity.

[23] See Appiah, 2010 for a case history of the anti-foot-binding movement, and an examination of how shame and honor shape social movements.

[24] The Climate Psychologist. Klein, 2013-2014.

[25] The Pledge can be adapted and utilized in any country with an elected government, and modified to work within countries where citizens are not granted the right to vote. There are already allies planning Pledge to Mobilize campaigns in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

[27] GHG emissions targets. Meinshausen et al, 2009.

[28] Unburnable Carbon; 1.5°C carbon budget. Carbon Tracker Initiative, 2013.

[29] Inspiration for this carbon distribution scheme comes in part from the Contraction and Convergence movement in the UK.

[30] U.S. 2020 emissions target. Spross, 2014.

[31] Roberts, 2013.

[32] EROI and growth prospects. Murphy, 2013.

[33] Oil price forecast. Fournier, 2013.

[34] Peak oil. Ahmed, 2013.

[35] Certain sectors of the economy will be hit particularly hard. For example, fossil fuel corporations will be encouraged to rapidly shift into producing post-carbon forms of energy and relinquish their efforts to subvert the democratic process. If they refuse to move into the future, the government will serve as employer of last resort for their laid-off employees.

[36] During WWII the government directly hired millions of people—most prominently in the Armed services. However these direct hires were supplied through networks of private enterprise that partnered with the government, often utilizing “cost plus profit” contracts.

[37] See Goodwin, 1995 or the National WWII museum’s America Goes to War.

[38]See McWilliams, 2011 to understand how denial operates among individuals, for how cultures and societies deny see Cohen, 2001.  For a discussion of how denial functions specifically in climate change, see Norgaard, 2011.

[39] See Havel (1978).

[40] For an outstanding elaboration of humanity’s social nature, see E.O. Wilson’s (2013), “The Social Conquest of Earth.”

[41] For more on Luther’s innovative use of the printing press, see: Standage, 2011.

[42] See Thomas, 2004 and  Bodroghkozy, 2012 for the role of television in in the Civil Rights Movement.

[43] 2013 global emissions projection. Global Carbon Project, 2013.

[44] Carbon budget comparisons. Climate Nexus.

[45] National emissions data/forecast. U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2014.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Historical cumulative emissions by country. Global Carbon Project. 2013.

[48] Ibid.

[49] NRDC Plan. Chait, 2013.

References

Appiah, A. (2010). The honor code: How moral revolutions happen. New York: W.W. Norton.

Bodroghkozy, A. (2012). Equal time: Television and the civil rights movement. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Brown, L. & Earth Policy Institute. (2009). Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to save civilization. New York: W.W. Norton.

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

Collins, M. et al, (2013) Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Stocker, T.F et al. (eds.) Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. Bottom of Form

Diamond, J. M. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking.

Friedman, T. L. (2008). Hot, flat, and crowded: Why we need a green revolution– and how it can renew America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Nohria, N., & Khurana, R. Handbook of leadership theory and practice: An HBS centennial colloquium on advancing leadership (509-550). Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press.Gilding, P. (2011). The great disruption: Why the climate crisis will bring on the end of shopping and the birth of a new world. New York: Bloomsbury PressBottom of FormGilding, P. (2012) The Earth is full. CNN.comGillis, J. (2013) Climate Change Seen as Posing Risk to Food Supplies. The New York Times. November 1st.Goodwin, D. K. (1994). No ordinary time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt : the home front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster.Hansen, J, et. Al. (2013). Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. Plosone.Havel, V. (1985). The Power of the powerless: Citizens against the state in central-eastern Europe. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe.Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norweigan Refugee Council (2009). Monitoring Disaster Displacement in the Context of Climate Change.Jorgen, R., & Paul, G. (2010). The one degree war planJournal of Global Responsibility, 1, 1, 170-188.McAdam, D. (1988). Freedom Summer. New York: Oxford University Press.McKibben, B. (2010). Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet. New York: Times Books.McKibben, B. (2013) Obama Versus Physics. Huffington Post.McWilliams, N. (2011). Psychoanalytic diagnosis: Understanding personality structure in the clinical process. New York: Guilford Press.Morris, A. D. (1999). A Retrospective on the Civil Rights Movement: Political and Intellectual Landmarks. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 517-539.Bottom of FormNASA Earth Observatory, (2011). Global Temperatures.Roberts, D. (2013) Hope and FellowshipGrist.

Roberts, D. (2013) What would a ‘wartime mobilization’ to fight climate change look like? Grist.

Romm, J.  (2007). Hell and high water: Global warming – the solution and the politics – and what we should do. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Romm, J. (2012) Hell is truth seen too late: WWII and climate change. Climate Progress.

Schneider, S. 2009 Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation. Video of lecture.

Smith, R. E. (1958). The army and economic mobilization. Washington, D.C: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army.

Standage,  T. (2011) How Luther Went ViralThe Economist. December 17th.

Stein, J. (2012) The Green New Deal.

Thomas, I. & William G. (2004). Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle: The Views in Virginia and Mississippi. DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

Thomas, C. et al. (2004). Extinction risk from climate changeNature, 427, 6970, 145-8. Bottom of Form

US Department of Agriculture: Walthall, C. et al. (2013). Climate change and agriculture in the United States: Effects and adaptation. Washington, D.C: Dept. of Agriculture.

US Department of Defense : Gates, R. M., & United States. (2010). Quadrennial defense review report. Washington, D.C: Dept. of Defense.

US Department of Energy: Wilbanks, T., & Fernandez, S. (2014). Climate Change and Infrastructure, Urban Systems, and Vulnerabilities. NCA Regional Input Reports.

Walsh, B. (2008). How to win the war on global warmingTime Magazine.

Wilson, E. O. (2013). The social conquest of Earth. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp.



 

I’m back, and I have news!

Readers of this blog may have noticed my extended absence. Contrary to how it may appear,  I have not slackened in my dedication to the climate fight! Rather, I have been totally engrossed in the formation of the group The Climate Mobilization, and writing our introductory document, Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together.

I am extremely excited to share this with you, in part because I hope that readers might want to join The Climate Mobilization, and help us launch the Pledge to Mobilize! Please checkout our “Launching Soon” Page at TheClimateMobilization.org

All questions, comments, and reactions are very welcome.  I will now let the document speak for itself!

Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together

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!

“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!

Answering the Question of Our Time: Strategy Proposal and Call to Collaboration

**4/3/14 Update: This document (Answering the Question of Our Time) is now highly outdated. Its greatly-improved sequel, Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together, is now available! I highly recommend you read that, instead (Or read both if you are interested in tracking the evolution of this idea!)

 

I have been hard at work, condensing and synthesizing my ideas into this  PDF document:

The Question of Our Time final

 

My hope is that it will make my ideas more accessible to a wider audience. Please share widely, and, as usual, questions and comments are welcome!

 

If you can’t open the PDF, here is a web version:

Answering the Question of Our Time: Strategy Proposal and Call to Collaboration

Climate change poses an imminent threat to human civilization[1]. Droughts, floods, severe weather, wildfires, invasive species, and vector-borne disease are already damaging agriculture and infrastructure, triggering civil wars, and creating hundreds of thousands of climate refugees.[2] Ecological strains much milder than the climate crisis have caused societies to collapse throughout history.[3] The terrible reality is that climate change threatens everything we know and love.

Thus, the most important question of our time — the question of questions — is: How can we most effectively fight climate change? I propose that those of us who grasp the extent, immediacy, and horror of the threat build a social and political movement — a Human Climate Movement — that fundamentally changes the national mood, wakes Americans up to the gravity of the situation, and clarifies the urgent necessity of a war-like, crisis response. [4] We must channel our dedication and coordinate our activities in the most effective way possible.

So far, a vigorous, collaborative and public conversation about how best to build this movement has not occurred.[5] It has not taken place in the media, or amongst scholars. Some environmental leaders have even suggested that such a discussion should not take place in public, implying that the element of surprise outweighs the benefits of collaboration.[6] However the anxiety, terror, and helplessness expressed by environmentalists suggest that the movement is facing an existential crisis; current strategies and tactics are not working to drastically reduce global emissions. We fear that there is no solution, or that a solution would be too drastic or politically unattainable. We hold forth in living rooms and Internet chat rooms on whether we are doomed. As we do so, we ignore the vital question.

In lieu of developing a thoughtful strategy, concerned citizens and activists have responded to climate change reflexively, utilizing familiar strategies.[7] Individuals reduce their carbon footprint. Environmental groups file lawsuits and work to bring modest legislation, like a carbon tax, into consideration. Activist groups stage protests against oil companies and the Keystone Pipeline.

But will these strategies avert the collapse of civilization? Do they even have a chance? Or are they hopelessly minute compared to the scale of the problem? Some argue that the collective effect of these diverse campaigns may lead to victory, but is that really probable, given their lack of coordination? Is it really likely that a diffuse environmental movement will succeed against the fossil fuel lobby, climate change-denying politicians, and other forces of environmental destruction? What would “success” even look like? With no clear, comprehensive strategy, it is difficult to even imagine what victory would mean.

Since the Civil Rights Movement, protests and activism have become nearly synonymous. Instead of asking, “How can we most effectively transform society?” we assume the answer is “Protest!” But protest tactics had an entirely different cultural and psychological meaning during the Civil Rights Movement.[8] African-Americans earned the media spotlight by courageously withstanding racist slurs and violence. During the Civil Rights Movement, the tactics were the message. Protests were declarations of equality and dignity; they clearly illustrated the protestors’ refusal to endure racial subjugation. When African-Americans sat at “whites only” lunch counters, they initiated the process of racial integration, in defiance of the law. These protests fought a consensus of denial; before the Civil Rights Movement, white America minimized and ignored the brutality of the Jim Crow South. Civil disobedience cast a spotlight on the courage and restraint of African-Americans, as well as the brutality of segregation. The Civil Rights Movement was a truth movement, and protests and civil disobedience were highly effective tactics in fighting denial.

In stark contrast, climate change protests do not embody the underlying message: We face a planetary crisis and a breakdown of industrial civilization, unless the federal government takes drastic, war-like steps in order to prevent a climate collapse. While civil disobedience in the Civil Rights Movement was considered brave and inspiring, climate change demonstrations are considered boring and annoying by the general public. [9] Protests are not, in this context, an effective means to fight denial and apathy. By relying on “normal” tactics, such as lobbying and protests, environmental groups have inadvertently presented climate change as a routine political issue, rather than the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. Different fights, different times, and different technological contexts call for different tactics. We are fighting with old tactics, and it isn’t working. It’s time for something new.

Frustrated with the lack of dialogue on how to fight the climate crisis, I searched for an answer myself. I studied the history of social movements. What tactics did previous movements utilize? What cultural, psychological, and technological factors made those tactics successful?[10] I examined the mechanisms of power in modern Washington and how Grover Norquist and the Americans for Tax Reform had achieved such influence over politics.[11] I studied the psychology of climate change denial, and how it functions on a societal level[12]. I developed a plan, and published it.[13] Since then, other thinkers, scholars, activists and concerned citizens have suggested alterations and additions, improving and bolstering it.[14] Nothing is perfect; this proposal can and should be improved through collaboration. Further, I invite others to submit wholly different strategy proposals for consideration and possible hybridization. We must quickly and collaboratively develop the most effective possible strategy to fight climate change. There is no time for territoriality, ego, or infighting. We must answer the question of our time, together.

A Person-to-Person, Pledge-Based Approach

Your phone rings. It’s your old friend. 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? 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, and you are intrigued by his offer.

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 to talk over what you have read with your friend. At the Wednesday lunch, he tells you that he shares your feelings. He argues that climate change will bring down human civilization, if we let it. “We don’t have to be helpless,” he says. “We can fight back.” Your friend tells you that he recently signed something called the Human Climate Pledge. The Pledge has the following components:

The acknowledgement that:

  1. Climate change threatens civilization.
  2. Fighting climate change is a strategic and moral imperative. Reducing the amount of Carbon (and Carbon equivalents) in our atmosphere to 350 parts per million must be our top political priority.
  3. To preserve civilization, we must fight climate change like we fought WWII: With a government-led, society-wide mobilization. Paul Gilding and Jorgen Randers have presented an example of what this type of mobilization could achieve in their “One Degree War” plan. It includes: Closing 1,000 coal power plants within five years; a carbon tax that funds the One Degree War and also redistributes wealth to the global poor, who are the most impacted by climate change; rationing of electricity and gasoline; massive efforts to halt deforestation; changes to agricultural practices that bind carbon in the soil; the development and installation of renewable energy; huge investments in wide-ranging scientific research and development; and much more. As in any War, the United States will enlist as many nations as allies as possible; this is not a war we can win alone.
  4. 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 approximately 5.6 trillion dollars, per year.

A pledge to:

  1. Only give time or money to political candidates who sign the Human Climate Pledge.
  2. 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.
  3. Live in climate truth.[15] Forsake denial, and face the frightening truth of climate change.
  4. Spread the truth of climate change to people you know and love, and encourage them to sign the Human Climate Pledge.
  5. Encourage existing environmental organizations in your area to endorse the  Pledge, helping to unify and coordinate the environmental movement. Work with local groups on publicity, activism, and local climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

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 people who have taken the Pledge, as well as profiles of the friends and family members who he has personally persuaded to sign. The HCP App, officially launched only a few weeks ago, indicates that, in total, 234,000 people have signed on, including 17 political candidates and three elected officials. Your friend has administered the Pledge to eight people: his wife, brothers, and a small group of friends. In turn, his family and friends have signed up twenty other people, mainly their family and friends. The App also indicates that, in your city, local chapters of the Sierra Club and 350 have joined the Human Climate Pledge effort, and are hosting monthly public discussions and Pledge signing sessions.

Your friend explains that the Human Climate Pledge is a way of reclaiming a fallen democracy; a way for citizens to demand that elected officials acknowledge the scope of the climate crisis and fight it accordingly. It is also a tool for coordinating the passion and dedication of the environmental movement. As more and more citizens sign the Pledge, political candidates will feel increasing pressure to sign the Pledge, and begin to publicly acknowledge the scope of the threat. The Human Climate Movement will create highly motivated voter and donor blocs to support and pressure candidates; these vital networks will constitute a countervailing force to the fossil fuel lobby and others who stand against the perpetuation of human civilization. Municipal and state-level officials who sign the pledge will fiercely advocate for a war-like response to the climate crisis, as they simultaneously implement regional adaptation and resilience measures. As politicians, journalists, and pundits are pressured to sign the Pledge, the media discourse will shift from, “Does this candidate ‘believe’ in climate change” to “Does this candidate have the courage and strength of character to face the climate crisis, and to fight back?” Because the Human Climate Pledge has a viral structure, powered by the hard truth of climate change, it can both spread widely and fundamentally alter the national mood, almost overnight. Indeed, time is of the essence, as we are racing against our own destruction.[16] The goal of the Human Climate Movement, then, is to have Congress declare an official War on Climate Change, 500 days after the first Pledge is signed.

Your friend explains that you can accrue decision-making power within the Human Climate Movement by signing up as many Pledges as possible, or by devoting time to the organization in other ways. “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up,” he tells you. “In the Human Climate Movement, there is no free ride. If you want influence, you have to spread the truth of climate change.”

Your friend tells you that he asked you to talk because he cares about you, respects you, and knows that there are many people who would value your opinion. He tells you he hopes you will join this effort; that you sign the Pledge and spread it to other people. That you will join him, live in climate truth, and fight this war of wars. He asks if you want some more reading, and recommends a few further books and articles, as well as a written copy of the Pledge for you to consider. He invites you, Sunday evening at 8:00, to a gathering at his home, where you can talk more about climate change and take the Pledge, if you are ready.

On Sunday, you arrive with a bottle of wine. You are happy to find some people you haven’t seen in a while, and to meet some of your friend’s neighbors. You discuss the material you have read, and how climate change is affecting 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 carefully explains why only a war-like mobilization can stabilize human civilization. It’s a bellicose call to arms — as well as a friendly invitation to join.

Your friend asks if anyone is ready to take the Pledge. Three people say yes. 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 change 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 registers their Pledges in his HCP App. The new Pledges now download the App themselves. They now have the capacity — and the responsibility — to spread the Pledge to others; to induct them into the Human Climate Movement. Your friend tells the new Pledges that he has some buttons, armbands, and lawn signs, if they want to broadcast their affiliation visually.

Your friend says he will be having people over to his house again in two weeks. All are invited back, and invited to bring others. Maybe they will feel ready to sign. People spend the rest of the evening eating and drinking together, enjoying the atmosphere of shared dedication. It feels like hope.

The Benefits of a Person-to-Person, Pledge-Based Strategy

This Person-to-Person, Pledge-Based Strategy is designed to defeat the widespread intellectual and emotional denial that is crippling our society’s response to climate change. Denial is a psychological defense mechanism people employ when they are not emotionally prepared to face reality. The principle benefit of a pledge-based, person-to-person approach is that it helps people contain and process their anxiety and terror, empowering them to understand the truth of climate change, and to fight back. This plan contains anxiety in two crucial ways that protests do not:

1) It offers a comprehensive plan that starts right now and ends with safety for civilization. In threatening situations, the existence of a plan is critical in overcoming anxiety and terror: plans allow people to approach the unknown future in an organized way and to take an active role in shaping their future. Crucially, this plan allows anyone to be part of implementing it, transforming learned helplessness into collective empowerment.

2) It relies on human relationships. By asking people to spread the Pledge to their friends, family, colleagues, and others in their network, this plan allows us to face climate change together. Overcoming emotional denial and facing the truth of climate change is extremely upsetting; if people have to face it on their own, many will simply refuse to do so.

Further, this strategy responds to the shifting technological and media landscape in a novel way, which social movements have historically done. Martin Luther broke ground in utilizing the printing press to spread his message[17]. More than four hundred years later, his namesake led civil disobedience that was broadcast on television, which was, at the time, a relatively new communications technology, just beginning to transform American domestic life. Because television only carried three broadcast channels, a movement that attracted the interest of the networks could bring their message, insistently, to every American home.[18]

The media environment now is radically different; protests have little chance of achieving that level of sustained, focused, exposure again. We are bombarded by information and stimulation from computers, smartphones, video games, and hundreds of television channels; we screen out the vast majority of news and information. This makes it all too easy to ignore the climate crisis and those seeking to draw attention to it through protests and civil disobedience. The Human Climate Pledge has the potential to break through the high-speed, fragmented media landscape, since it relies on personal appeals between friends, family members, and neighbors. Further, the Pledge App will give the Human Climate Movement organizers the capability to communicate with anyone who has signed, as well as the ability to precisely track the dissemination of the Pledge. Using advanced social media software, the Human Climate Movement will be governed through a modified democratic power structure; voting power on financial decisions within the HCM will be awarded according to how many members you have convinced to sign the Pledge. This meritocratic structure will help the Pledge spread rapidly.

This proposal does not preclude the use of other tactics, including demonstrations, lawsuits, Internet memes, and local adaptation measures. On the contrary, a comprehensive, organizing strategy centered on the person-to-person pledge approach would work synergistically with those tactics, creating a foundation upon which they can flourish. Finally, this strategy can be adapted and utilized in any country with an elected government; we can raise our voices, together.

A Call to Collaboration

When people confront an overwhelming reality, they employ various psychological defense mechanisms in order to avoid the pain and anxiety that comes with that knowledge. One way this happens is denial; the truth is too overwhelming, so people reject it entirely. But there are other defense mechanisms that hamper our efficacy — climate change anxiety can spur activists and concerned citizens to avoid the thoughtful contemplation of diverse options, the study of historical strategies, and the challenging process of open, strategic brainstorming. The threat of climate change makes us feel compelled to do something now. But rushed actions will not solve the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. To succeed, we need a thoughtful, comprehensive, revolutionary strategy.

To begin this conversation, I have offered a strategy proposal that was developed with psychological, anthropological, historical, and technological perspectives in mind. I welcome additions, critiques, and counter-proposals. We have a duty to fight the climate crisis, and to keep the world safe for humanity. But first, we need to think together to answer the question of our time. We must conceive the best possible strategy for the Human Climate Movement.

I hope you join me.

 

 

Margaret Klein is a therapist turned advocate and the author of The Climate Psychologist. She is in the final year of her Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at Adelphi University.

You can reach her at Margaret@TheClimatePsychologist.com.  She welcomes messages from all allies, and is particularly interested in connecting with: climate scientists, agricultural scientists, resiliency experts, environmental economists, social movement historians and scholars, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, programmers, designers, audio and video experts, writers, editors, activists, funders, and those in the media.

Special thanks to Ezra Silk for his help in developing and editing this proposal.



[1] See The Threat  Klein, 2013 for a thorough, sourced discussion on climate change as a threat to civilization.

Also see Hansen, 2009; Gore, 2013.

[2] Damage to agriculture: Gillis, 2013; Bryce, 2013; USDA, 2012.

Damage to infrastructure: McKibben, 2010; US Department of Energy;

Civil wars and climate refugees: US Department of Defense; International Organization for Migration, 2013.

[3] Ecological problems leading societies to collapse: Diamond, , 2004.

[4] Discussion of the phrase, Human Climate Movement, Klein, 2013.

[6] Strategy should not be discussed in public: Romm, 2013.

[7] For elaboration, see: Think before you act(ivism), Klein, 2013.

[9] Environmental protests found boring and annoying: Bashir et al, 2013;

[10] Factors in social movements: Hoffer, 1951; Appiah, 2011; Havel, 1978; Ganz, 2012; Morris, 1999

[11] How Washington works: Lessig, 2012; Peters, 2012 Americans for Tax Reform, 2013

[12] Psychological and cultural aspects of denial: Cohen, 2001; Norgaard, 2011; McWilliams, 2010; Lertzmann,    2012,  Oreskes & Conway, 2012.

[13] For original plan, see Klein, 2013.

[14] For modifications to original plan, see: Klein, 2013.

[15] For a definition and discussion of Living in Climate Truth, see Klein, 2013.

[16]  The necessity of early action: McCracken, 2008.

[17] For more on Luther’s innovative use of the printing press, see: Standage, 2011.

[18] For a thorough explanation of the role of Television in the Civil Rights Movement see: Thomas, 2004.

 

Climate Change: It’s Personal. Want to be Involved in an Upcoming Facebook Group?

Climate change is generally discussed from an objective, scientific, fact-based angle. But what of our subjective, psychological experience of climate change? What about the emotions it stirs, the relationships it alters, and the hopes and fears it inspires?

To help explore these questions, I am excited to announce the (upcoming) Facebook group, “Climate Change: It’s Personal.”

I am working on this project with Daria Kurkjy, who you may know from comments on this blog, or other involvement in the climate change community. The group we envision will be a place were people can share wide-ranging thoughts and feelings about climate change in an atmosphere of emotional safety and respect.

Talking about the personal side of climate change takes courage. All emotions will be welcomed on this page, ranging from feeling terrified because climate change is the near-term apocalypse, to anger because it is a scam cooked up by the government. The only rule is to respect the expressions of others. We hope it will be fascinating to hear from people with different experiences!

Because we view emotional safety as paramount, but have limited time that we are able to dedicate to moderating the group, we are currently looking for people to work with us as “Safety Moderators.”   The job of safety moderators will be to make sure everyone in the group is feeling respected and safe. If someone is aggressive or disrespectful, they can have a chance to apologize. If they cannot compose themselves and maintain a respectful attitude, the safety moderator will have to take them out of the group. Let me know if you are interested in becoming a safety moderator!  (Once we have some moderator coverage, I will invite everyone to come join the discussion!)

It is my hope to bring psychotherapists into the group at regular, posted hours, in order to facilitate conversations, comment on relevant themes, and be available to ask questions. Eventually, I would like to organize therapists to be available 24/7 to discuss people’s feelings about the climate crisis, a kind of “Planetary Suicide Hotline.” This process will take some time, but stay tuned!

This project is inspired by two other groups that deserve mentioning. One is the Facebook group Global Warming Fact of the Day—a lively, well-informed discussion that has been exciting and educational for me, and a great opportunity for meeting new climate hawks! The other is the group Peak Oil Blues, which Daria has been involved with, and found helpful in exploring and processing the feelings that come with our changing world. Peak Oil Blues utilizes therapists in their process, so hopefully I can learn from them regarding how to integrate utilize therapists in a helpful way!

Terror, Hatred, Despair, and Hope Must Co-Exist: Reflections on a Discussion with Believers in Near Term Human Extinction

Something remarkable happened a few days ago in the Facebook Group “Global Warming Fact of the Day,” (GWFoTD) something that I think there is much to learn from, especially regarding the emotional and psychological elements of climate change.

Summary of events

What happened is this: the group — which has over 2,500 members, many of them scientists, activists, and others deeply engaged in climate change — had a long, heated series of conversations and arguments which resulted in approximately 10 members being removed from the group (as well as several leaving on their own), and the group becoming “Private,” meaning only members could access and comment on conversations.

The topic of contention was “Near Term Human Extinction,” (NTHE) the idea espoused most publicly by Guy McPherson, that climate change tipping points have already been reached and that there is nothing that humanity can do to stop the climate from changing so drastically that humanity will be extinct within decades.  For many who subscribe to NTHE, including McPherson himself, this belief about the future is paired with the political belief, most popularly advocated by Derrick Jensen, that human civilization is inherently “omnicidal” and must be dismantled.

(Correction! This article was initially published including the following sentence: McPherson believes that if we dismantled civilization, humanity might have a chance of survival, and that other plant and animal species would have a much greater chance of survival. This was my error. McPherson does not think that anything, including dismantling civilization, can possibly save humanity, and nearly all other life on earth from, from extinction. My apologies to McPherson for misrepresenting his views.)

I can’t speak precisely to how the debate started, because when I joined GWF on Sunday, it was already underway. Guy McPherson, himself, was participating. I gather that while this topic is not new to GWF, in the few days preceding, there had been a significant increase of NTHE proponents arguing that “mainstream” climate hawks are in denial about the scope of the problem. The conversation was already hot, and dominating the group’s attention; there was significant rancor. The moderators of the group, who are usually fairly removed, allowing the group to run relatively independently, were constantly monitoring it— asking people to be respectful, to back up their assertions with facts, and to generally trying to wrangle the unruly scene.

When I joined, I was unaware of this context. I was excited that Guy McPherson himself was participating, and rather impulsively entered the debate. I posted this article, which argues that “climate cynicism,” the attitude that humanity is “fucked” and there is nothing we can do, is morally unacceptable. Since we can’t know the future, we have a moral and strategic obligation to dedicate ourselves to creating a social and political movement that fights climate change.  I was shocked when over the course of two days, 520 people made comments on this thread. The conversation can be seen here, but I believe joining the group is necessary in order to view. (It’s a very interesting group J)

 

The conversation was a flurry of activity. People made psychological, moral, and political points, but mainly the argument was about who had the right data, the right projection. Who should we trust to be accurate: the IPCC? Guy McPherson? Government funded science? Scientific consensus? On the surface, the conversation focused on the intellectual: what should we think? Virtually omitted was a discussion of emotions and subjective experience.  How these ideas and propositions make us feel.

A focus on rational thought, at the expense of giving attention to feelings, the unconscious, and subjective experience, is endemic to the climate hawk community. Climate change was brought into awareness through science, and science still offers highly relevant information about the trajectory of climate change. But climate change is not a “scientific” issue, but rather a crisis with social, political, psychological, and spiritual dimensions. It must be examined from all angles. Further, as a psychologist, I know what a formative impact emotional and unconscious processes have on people. Humans operate at multiple levels simultaneously (emotional, intellectual, physical), , and all levels impact each other. When people deny the impact of their emotions on their reasoning, they reach worse conclusions then when they acknowledge, understand, and talk about the emotions involved.

Looking Beneath the Surface: A Psychological Analysis of the Conflict

In this discussion, I will focus on examining the psychological processes that occurred within the climate hawks. I have addressed the psychology of the NTHEers in my article, “The Moral Imperative of Hope and the Wasteland of Climate Cynicism,” which stirred some of this debate. In short:  I argue that this is a defensive process, that the cynic has been hurt, and is attempting to protect himself from further disappointment. I make the comparison to those who are cynical about love, saying things like, “Women? Who needs them!” People adopt this attitude make because they have been badly hurt, disappointed by love, and are afraid to risk having their hopes dashed once again. Instead of admitting their desire, and their vulnerability, (i.e. “It would be great to meet someone new, but I’m frightened that it wouldn’t work out”) they pretend to have neither. Cynics are trying to pack their broken hearts with ice to numb their pain. This explains why cynics, such as the NTHEers, proclaim doom so loudly; the hope of others is a threat to their defense of rejecting all hope. This defense, then, is threatened by the hope of others. NTHEers often seem driven to spread their feelings of helplessness and despair and to attack the hopefulness of others,  a drive that, unsurprisingly, can make the NTHEers an obstructive group.

But what of the climate hawks? How can we understand their reaction to the NTHEers? My favorite psychoanalytic writer, Nancy McWilliams, sometimes applies her brilliance to politics. In “Paranoia and Political Leadership” she describes the psychological defense of projection. Projection happens when someone attributes upsetting and unaccepted parts of their self onto someone or something external. For example, a woman might become intensely worried about her husband’s fidelity because she herself was feeling the urge to stray.  Rather than acknowledge the feeling, she disowns it and ascribes it to him. Projection can happen in an ongoing way, too. A family may regard one of its children as “the good one” and one as “the naughty one.” Onto the “good” child is projected the parent’s aspirations and goals, onto the “naughty” child is projected the parent’s aggressive drives, and their shame about feeling “bad” themselves. Both children are unlucky in this scenario, because neither are seen as whole individuals, who have a shifting, wide variety of qualities and experiences.

McWilliams writes that:

At a cultural level, group identity may evolve by a comparable process of contrasting one’s reference group to devalued others on whom disowned qualities are projected: the stoic Spartans versus the self-indulgent Athenians, the pious Christians versus the lascivious pagans, the civilized world versus the savages, the selfless communists versus the greedy capitalists….Freud’s observations about the “narcissism of minor differences” apply here: what seems most threatening to one’s sense of group identity are close neighbors with marked similarity to one’s own group: it is from them that we work hardest to differentiate ourselves.

 

Through projective processes, a group disowns parts of itself and its own experience and attributes them to others.  I believe this process was occurring during the recent conflict. The NTHEers began to represent terror, hopelessness, helplessness, and hatred of humanity and human civilization. The climate hawks (to varying degrees) disowned and projected their own feelings of terror, hopelessness, helplessness, and misanthropy onto the NTHEers. It is no surprise, then, that the NTHEers were soon eliminated from the group entirely.

This type of projective process has two dangers:

1) That it will inspire conflict among between, and the group who receives the projections will likely feel mistreated (the NTHEers, in this case, many of whom did feel unfairly treated during and after the discussion).

2) Worse, by projecting and thus assigning terror, hopelessness, helplessness, and hatred of humanity to an external source, the NTHEers allows the climate hawks to reject and deny these feelings in themselves and in the group.  The climate hawks are pushed to defining themselves against that which the NTHEers represent: to have boundless hope; to be fearless; and to be unambiguously positive about humanity.

Psychologists take as a premise that humans are incredibly complex and conflicted. Another premise is that massive stressors (such as climate change) cause us to utilize psychological defenses, which is why so much of the population is in denial. We should not be surprised (or feel embarrassed or pathologized) when we notice ourselves engaging in defenses.  It should be taken as a given that every human who understands the threat of climate change will experience, to varying degree and with varying degrees of consciousness: apocalyptic terror, helpless despair, hatred towards humanity for bringing on this catastrophe, as well as hope for the possibility of redeeming change. These emotions are reasonable and expectable reactions to the state of the climate.

As a psychologist, I am used to scrutinizing and exploring my inner life. And I can say that I personally experience all of the painful emotions that the NTHEers have come to represent.  I am intimately familiar with the terror of climate change and the prospect of civilizational collapse; climate change is the stuff of nightmares. It also frequently makes me feel hopeless and helpless, although this has decreased significantly since I became active in developing social movement strategies. Still, a feeling of helpless despair has not gone away entirely. I worry that humanity will not create the massive social movement necessary to lower emissions drastically, and I also worry that even if a Human Climate Movement does arise and succeed in fundamentally changing the national mood, climate change will be too advanced to stop. I feel hatred toward humanity, and human civilization, as well. I feel it acutely when I see drivers in New York City idling their cars. I feel so enraged at these people who wantonly emit carbon because they want to keep the radio. At times like this I think, “If we are this selfish and ignorant, maybe we deserve what we have in store.”

I also feel hope. When I write, when I read about social movements of the past, when I see people waking up to the threat of climate change, when I meet allies from all walks of life waking up from denial to fight climate change — I feel hope that humanity may prevail.

These emotions can be painful, confusing and overwhelming, but the most productive, psychologically mature response is to accept these feelings, learn from them, and to turn them into action.  Hope, hatred, terror, despair, and hope must co-exist in all of us. Personally, terror of climate-induced civilizational collapse is the most motivating factor in my life. If I disowned it and projected it onto NTHEers, assuring myself that I did not share such nutty fears, I would be depriving myself of my genuine experience, and that motivating fire. If I pretended that I never hated civilization and humanity, then I would never be able to examine and evaluate this feeling, and consider what about humanity is destructive and what is redemptive. If we take ownership of our wide-ranging, conflicting feelings, rather than denying or displacing them, we are best equipped to think and act.

Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions

I tell patients frequently that “There is a crucial difference between thoughts, feelings, and action. In thoughts and feelings, all is permitted. There is no such thing as a thought-crime. Actions, however, matter a great deal and must be weighed carefully.”

I have thus far described why I have no problem with the thoughts and feelings of the NTHEers, and why rejecting their thoughts and feelings is a mistake. They look at scientific evidence and draw a terrible conclusion. The certainty with which they proclaim their beliefs causes me to view them as significantly emotionally-motivated. However, the conclusion I draw from examining scientific evidence is not too drastically different: climate change is a catastrophic problem.  They experience and inspire feelings of helplessness and misanthropy; that’s fine, too. If we climate hawks are honest with ourselves, we can identify those same thoughts and feelings in ourselves.

My problem with NTHEers is squarely with their actions. NTHEers feel that extinction is irreversible, so there is no point in trying to reduce emissions. They can be vocal advocates, attacking those who seek to create change, arguing that it is futile. This cynicism was the attitude that I criticized in the article I posted originally,

I believe that inaction, and especially advocating inaction, is morally unacceptable. We must do everything that we can to create a social movement that instigates a massive social and political response to climate change. NTHE claims that the destruction of humanity is so certain that resistance is futile.  That the problem is so severe (and, in some versions of the argument, that human civilization is so toxic) that we should not fight for humanity. I strongly disagree. To the last, I will fight for my human brothers and sisters, and will ask them to fight for me. If you are not in favor of saving as many humans as possible from the ravages of climate change, then you are not my ally. I will not hate you; I will even fight for you! But our aims are fundamentally opposed.

Conclusion

In closing, I will offer a practical suggestion for the Facebook group “Global Warming Fact of the Day” and other climate change groups and organizations struggling with despair, hope, and the quandary of NTHE.

Currently, it seems that the moderators are arguing that NTHE is scientifically faulty, and thus should not be countenanced. This is a complicated argument that runs into concerns of censorship, and might make members feel that their terror and misanthropic feelings are unwelcome and must be disowned.  Instead, how about redefining the mission of the group as information sharing and networking with the goal of protecting civilization from the ravages of climate change? By defining the group around its goal—its action—it can be possible to welcome into the discussion a wide range of thoughts and feelings. Further, such a blatantly political stance may encourage more discussion of social movement tactics, and encourage members to be more engaged in activism. Climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced—hawks and NTHEers can agree on that. Let our self-definition come from an obsessive focus on finding and implementing solutions, rather than from scientific precision or superiority.  My hope is that when we create a massive social movement, the NTHEers will find our hope contagious, and stand with us, after all.

 

 

Best Metaphors for the Climate Crisis

Therapists, especially of the psychoanalytic persuasion, love using metaphors in therapy. Metaphors are vivid, creative interpretations of reality that communicate on multiple levels. Like dreams, metaphors integrate rational thought with fantasy, imagery and emotion; they are simultaneously rational and irrational. Therapists use metaphors to explain psychological concepts, like, “You can’t go over, under, or around grief, the only way out of grief is through it.” We also help patient’s elaborate metaphors for their struggles or their own lives. Patients may say, “I’m a wolf in a trap,” “I feel like the bases are always loaded,” evocatively conveying their internal state.

Unfortunately, climate writing, including scientific reports and news stories often avoid metaphors, in an effort to preserve scientific objectivity and rationality. However, this also robs the report of their emotional power and communicative potential. Speaking metaphorically, I could say that scientific discussions of climate change are often dry, while metaphoric communication can be lush.  Plus, fascinating recent research shows how metaphor is also central to scientific thought.

I would like to collect the  best, most evocative writing on the climate crisis, and how society is responding to it. These will surely contain metaphors! Collecting rich, powerful writing on climate can serve as a reference for writers and people looking to enhance their ability to conceptualize and communicate about the climate crisis. And, it will be enjoyable 🙂

Here are four of my favorites. I think they all illustrate elements of the crisis beautifully and powerfully.  Please send in more!

Imagine a gigantic banquet. Hundreds of millions of people come to eat. They eat and drink to their hearts’ content—eating food that is better and more abundant than at the finest tables in ancient Athens or Rome, or even in the palaces of medieval Europe. Then, one day, a man arrives, wearing a white dinner jacket. He says he is holding the bill. Not surprisingly, the diners are in shock. Some begin to deny that this is their bill. Others deny that there even is a bill. Still others deny that they partook of the meal. One diner suggests that the man is not really a waiter, but is only trying to get attention for himself or to raise money for his own projects. Finally, the group concludes that if they simply ignore the waiter, he will go away. This is where we stand today on the subject of global warming. For the past 150 years, industrial civilization has been dining on the energy stored in fossil fuels, and the bill has come due. Yet, we have sat around the dinner table denying that it is our bill, and doubting the credibility of the man who delivered it.

–-Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt

 

The currents of change are so powerful that some have long since taken their oars out of the water, having decided that it is better to surrender, enjoy the ride, and hope for the best—even as those currents sweep us along faster and faster toward the rapids ahead that are roaring so deafeningly we can hardly hear ourselves. “Rapids?” they shout above the din. “What rapids? Don’t be ridiculous; there are no rapids. Everything is fine!” There is anger in the shouting, and some who are intimidated by the anger learn never to mention the topic that triggers it. They are browbeaten into keeping the peace by avoiding any mention of the forbidden subject.

— Al Gore, Six Drivers of the Future

 

We’ve foreclosed lots of options; as the founder of the Club of Rome put it, “The future is no longer what it was thought to be, or what it might have been if humans had known how to use their brains and their opportunities more effectively.” But we’re not entirely out of possibilities. Like someone lost in the woods, we need to stop running, sit down, see what’s in our pockets that might be of use, and start figuring out what steps to take.

— Bill McKibben, Eaarth

 

After a long period of frenetic growth, we’re suddenly older. Old, even. And old people worry less about getting more; they care more about hanging on to what they have, or losing it as slowly as possible. That’s why old people are supposed to keep their money in bonds, not stocks. Growth doesn’t matter. Security and stability count more than dynamism.

–Bill McKibben, Eaarth

 

 

 

Physical vs. Psychological Growth: The Teenage Dilemma!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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