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

Join a Climate Emergency Conversation.

In pain about the climate emergency? Feel like no one understands? Join a Climate Emotions Listening and Sharing call – a small group sharing and support session held online. In this hour-long call, you’ll connect, express yourself and be understood by others going through the same thing. Join a session today!

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.

State of the Blog: Pacing Myself & Exciting Projects

As some may have noticed, my rate of posting on the Climate Psychologist has slowed to some degree, and I plan to maintain it at this slower rate, posting 1-2 pieces a week. This is emphatically not because my commitment to this blog, or to the cause of fighting climate change, has flagged.  On the contrary, a slower rate of posting will allow me to pace myself while working on expanding the blog, making connections in the environmental and activist community, and developing articles and other content that require in-depth research. More specifically, here is what I am working on:

Blog Growth. Expanding The Climate Psychologist to more readers, especially those deeply concerned about climate change, engaged in environmental activism, and in the media, is my #1 goal, at the moment. There are lots of activities happening on this front:

  • I am making connections with various environmentalists and publications. (This occurs partially through readers e-mailing me tips for people I should get in touch with, so thank you for that!)
  • I have been bringing some readers on board to work with me on the project of growing the blog, helping me to publish and publicize my work around the internet, and expanding readership. This is extremely exciting, as it will allow me to use more of my time for research and writing and less e-mailing out pitches and so on! Thanks to all volunteers, and special thanks to Victoria, for taking on the (daunting) role of publicist!
  • I have been working with some outside media, which will hopefully cover The Climate Psychologist. (I don’t like to get too specific, because in my short experience with blogging, I have found that the best attitude is to pursue opportunities as they come up, but to avoid getting emotionally invested in them before they actually happen!)
  • I am in the process of setting up a professional Facebook Page for myself as “Margaret Klein: Climate Psychologist” or something along those lines. I think this will be an important platform from which to grow.
  • If you have more ideas for how I can grow The Climate Psychologist, please let me know! Also, if you want to get involved in these efforts, please contact me J!

Content Development. I am excited about the projects I am working on!

  • I am in the research and development stages of an article on “What do social movements owe their members.” In it, I will argue that social movements must offer their members the chance to utilize their talents and individuality to further the movement; that members must have the opportunity to grow as individuals; to elevate themselves in some way (such as honor, love, community involvement, etc.) This article will include the critique of the idea of “leaderlessness: that I elaborated on, to some degree here. This piece will be a companion piece to my article “Fighting Climate Change is Different from Fighting for Civil Rights,” and will expand the critique that, environmental groups are re-using tactics from the Civil Rights movement, while failing to understand how those tactics had a vastly different psychological meaning in a different context.  My hope is to offer a comprehensive psychological critique of the current state of climate activism, mainly embodied by 350. This critique will be offered in the spirit of collaboration and a shared mission.
  • I am in the process of developing what will hopefully be a series of clinical-type interviews with climate leaders, thinkers, and activists. In these interviews, I would ask about the origins of the subject’s environmental awareness, their feelings about the climate crisis and their work, and generally explore the emotional element of what is so frequently discussed as a “scientific” issue. This project faces some hurdles, as my hope would be to conduct these interviews in person, and ideally have a skilled videographer tape them. (If you have video taking or editing skills, and are interested in getting involved please contact me!)
  • I finished reading Speth’s “Bridge at the End of the World” and will be posting some thoughts on that book this week. I will particularly focus on the psychological dimensions of economic growth, corporations, and the idea of “transforming consciousness” and how therapists tackle these issues. Please feel free to join the conversation!

This is all very exciting, so please bear with me for the reduced posting. I look forward very much to the time (in less than a year!) When I earn my PhD and am able to focus, full-time, on fighting climate change!

 

 

Divestment: A Small Part of Harvard’s Failure to Lead on Climate Change

Last week, President Drew Faust announced that Harvard would not be divesting the endowment from fossil fuel investments. While this is a disappointment, it is a small one compared to Harvard’s broader failure to sound the alarm on climate crisis, and to take an active leadership role in the social movement that must fight back against the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. I agree with Dr. Faust that there are “more effective measures, better aligned with our institutional capacities,” other than divestment that Harvard can contribute to fighting of climate change. Harvard is, after all, an academic institution; Harvard can contribute more to fighting climate change in knowledge, scholarship, and commitment than it could possibly contribute economically. But I firmly disagree with Faust’s implication that Harvard has met, or even come close to meeting, this obligation.

The last time human stability and civilization was imperiled, Harvard reacted with courage and fortitude. Before the Pearl Harbor attacks on 12/7/1941, the national mood was strongly isolationist; Americans were in denial about the magnitude of the Axis threat. They knew that war would involve much sacrifice; so they told themselves that the Axis powers weren’t “that bad” and that it was a foreign war that didn’t concern them. In May 1940, President Harvard President James Bryant Conant delivered a national radio broadcast urging the United States to prepare for war through rearmament and aiding our Allies. This speech earned him harsh criticism from isolationists. That same year, a group of faculty launched the “American Defense-Harvard Group,” advocating US support for the Allies. Harvard scientists shifted their projects to focus on militarily relevant work: radio technology, explosives, and military medicine. This was Harvard at its best, fully utilizing its institutional capacity in the face of a grave threat. The Harvard faculty and administration knew the magnitude of the Nazi and Axis threat, and they stood firmly for that truth in the face of widespread ignorance and denial.

Once war was declared, Harvard transformed itself almost entirely into a war-college, training officers, developing relevant technology, and dedicating itself to victory. Harvard made huge shifts to best facilitate the war effort for example adding a third semester, conducting massive amounts of war research mainly in the sciences, but also through the business school. In 1944, only 19 people graduated from Harvard’s “regular” (ie non military) course offerings.

Once again, civilization faces a great threat, and once again the national mood stands against an effective, appropriate response. We are in collective denial; not able to fully grasp the magnitude not immense of the threat, or the magnitude of the necessary response. Our politicians are hopelessly, laughably gridlocked and our media shamefully minimizes climate change, reporting it as an “environmental problem for our grandchildren” and not an immediate global crisis that threatens all of humanity and is already claiming hundreds of thousands of lives through ever-increasing droughts, floods, failed agricultural yields, superstorms, wildfires and vector borne disease.

Once again, humanity is at a crossroads- facing a fearsome enemy but mired in denial about the scope of the threat. This is no ordinary time.

To actually fulfill it’s responsibility to society in this planetary crisis, Harvard must make fighting climate change central to the institutional mission. Harvard showed courage in the face of the Axis threat. Where has it gone? We used to fight for the truth when society was mired in denial and ignorance. But now Harvard has become part of the Lie, pretending that the our climate is not collapsing, that the status quo can continue, with token changes (for example, hiring a new “vice president for sustainable investing”).

President Faust, how about following President Conant’s example and give a televised speech, as a private citizen about the imminent threat of climate change and the need for a massive US and global response? Or faculty, how about forming a “Human Climate Defense- Harvard Group.” Harvard scientists are already working on projects relevant to fighting climate change, and these excellent projects should be expanded and increased. But Harvard should also engage the rest of the faculty as well in studying and contributing to the scholarly project of fighting climate change. Climate change is a human problem, not a “science” problem; it will affect all of us, and all of us have a responsibility to fight against its threat. Historians, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and theologians have important information they can contribute to the question of how humanity should mobilize to fight climate change. The humanities can help us narrate the struggle, and put it in the context of the art and stories of past human struggles.

Harvard’s responsibility in this time of peril is much, much greater than divestment.  Harvard must speak the terrifying truth of climate change and mobilize in its name. This is Harvard’s moral obligation as arguably the most respected university in the world—one that claims to value truth above all. The cold, hard Veritas is that climate change poses an imminent threat to human civilization, posing a greater threat than the axis powers ever did.

Come on, Harvard. Enough foot-dragging and responsibility shirking. Gather up your courage; its time to lead.

First Strategy Proposal: Ezra on Movement Organization

I’m very excited to share with everyone the first open-sourced strategy proposal I received for the Human Climate Movement. It is submitted by Ezra (last name: Mystery-man. 🙂 This is a  “partial” proposal; meaning it is an addition to my proposal of “Person-to-person, pledge based approach” which I describe here. Ezra’s proposal addresses an element of the Human Climate Movement that I had not addressed: how the organization itself will be structured; how leadership and power will be divided. Ezra is a freelance journalist who is writing a book on Occupy in the US, Spain, and Greece. In his time with Occupy, he gave a lot of thought to movement organization and dynamics.

My proposal, basically, argues that Civil Rights Movement style tactics, such as protests and civil disobedience are not appropriate for fighting denial, and building a Human Climate Movement. I say that to do this, we must focus on containing anxiety. My proposal says that the basic organizing tactic of the human climate movement should be members working within their networks and amongst their friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances to spread the Human Climate Pledge, which commit citizens to the knowledge that climate change is imminent threat to civilization, that it must be a top political priority, and that we must instigate a World War II style efforts to fight it. The pledge commits the signatory to only donate money or time to politicians who have also signed the Pledge, and in an election in which only one candidate has signed, to vote for that candidate.  The pledge can only be given by an existing member, in person, but is recoded on the Human Climate Movement App. When someone signs, they gain access to the Human Climate Movement smart phone App that, among other functions, tracks how many people you have given the Pledge to, and how many they have given the Pledge to.

I included the HCM App as a tool of communication and empowerment; that HCM central could use it as a platform to communicate with members, and so that members could see their impact grow exponentially, as their numbers grew. Ezra utilizes the App, and the amount of pledges given, in a different, exciting way. But I will let him speak for himself. Here is the proposal he submitted:

The great asset of the Occupy movement was its democratic character, which allowed it to spread across the country with magnificent speed. The great weakness of Occupy was the lack of accountability within the Occupy encampments and organizations. Since no one was officially in charge and decisions were accomplished through consensus, anyone, however involved they were, could stall and obstruct the process of political action.

 If we are to spread the human climate pledge virally, it will take organization and resources. In my opinion, this organization and its use of resources must be democratically controlled by its members. This will help attract exponentially more pledges. If people know they have a say in the movement’s direction, they are more likely to join. At the same time, each member’s voting power on certain matters should be directly linked to their recruitment record, which ideally would be verified through an electronic database.

I propose a system of pledge credits, which could help distribute power within the movement in a way that ideally would spur the movement’s rapid growth.

Here are a few ideas about how a pledge credit system could work:

I propose that you should receive one pledge credit for signing the pledge yourself. You should receive one pledge credit if you convince someone to sign the pledge and you should receive half a pledge credit for your pledge’s pledge. This way, it is in our interest not only to sign up pledges, but to have our pledges sign up more pledges.

I propose that political figures should be weighed differently. You should receive 5 pledge credits for signing up a town councilor, 10 for a state senator, 250 for a congressman or governor, 500 for a senator, and 1,000 for the President of the United States. These numbers are arbitrary, and could be modified.

Let’s say the movement is collectively voting on a major financial decision: Should we give $1,000,000 to Democratic Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren, who has waffled on the pledge but may win the election, or to Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who has signed the pledge but has no chance of winning?

I have accrued 200 pledge credits. The people voting on this decision — anyone who has signed the pledge and decides to participate in the vote — including myself, collectively have 4,000 pledge credits. Therefore, I constitute a 5 percent voting bloc. In the end, 53 percent vote for Stein. Majority wins, and the money goes to Stein.

I propose that this shareholder voting system should only apply to major financial decisions at the national level. There should be other mechanisms of democratic accountability that would aim to wisely distribute power within the organization.

I propose that if you reach a certain level of credits, say 200, you become a member of the organization’s board of directors. This number could be modified on a sliding scale upward year by year, depending on the growth of the movement. Board members would determine personnel matters within the organization and other key logistical decisions, which would be clearly enunciated in a charter. Ideally, board members would seek to make decisions by consensus. If consensus fails, the board should move to a majority-wins, one person, one vote model.

I propose that charismatic movement figures — media spokespersons and political candidates — should be elected or endorsed by a popular referendum submitted to every individual who has signed the pledge. Anyone who has signed the pledge gets one vote, regardless of how many others they have signed on. These charismatic figures should be appealing to the broader movement, not just the dedicated activists who have signed on hundreds of pledges or are on the board. The charismatic figures and the organizational personnel are not necessarily the same people.

I propose that leadership figures — movement staff, spokesperson, candidates — could be impeached by a stringent and robust popular referendum. In order to impeach, over 75 percent of those who have signed the pledge would need to participate in the referendum. Of those 75 percent, at least 2/3 would need to vote in favor of impeachment. Votes would be weighed on a one vote, one person basis — not by pledge credits.

A few questions come to mind. How do we prevent fraud? How do we verify that these people have actually signed on? Should we require that each individual that signs the pledge post their pledge commitment on their websites, social media pages, or the sign-off of their email messages?

How would we organize such a complicated voting system? I imagine we would need highly complex software. I am sure such software is available, however.

Should there be a charge to sign up? A suggested monthly donation? What are the pros and cons of this strategy?

 

There are several things to like about this proposal. First it provides a modified democratic structure for the Human Climate Movement in which activism is rewarded with a stake in decision-making. Second, I agree with Ezra that this type of structure would be very encouraging of the people to join and be active within the movements. Third (and crucially), I greatly appreciate the spirit in which Ezra offered this proposal. He is sharing an idea, based on an area of his expertise and experience, but he is not territorial or defensive about his idea. He realizes that his idea has unanswered questions and needs further refinement; he wants others to discuss and improve on this idea. I think it is a great example of the utility of open-sourcing strategy discussions! (It also makes me realize that maybe I have set the bar too high with my requirements of scholarly citations; Ezra draws primarily from his own experience and imagination, rather than from scholarship, and I think it’s a great contribution, so maybe I should loosen up and encourage less-developed proposals too, knowing that all proposals will continue to develop and grow through open-sourcing.)

So, in the spirit of collaborative open-sourcing, I offer these critique/ comments to Ezra’s proposal:

1)    I think there should be a way of the gaining “points” other than exclusively getting pledge signatories. Otherwise I worry that devoted, introverted members would feel that they were at a disadvantage. There could be a volunteer our conversion such as five hours spend volunteering in some way other than recruiting pledges equals one point. There could also potentially be a donation conversion. Something like donating 1% of your income to the Human Climate Movement earns 10 points. This creates a progressive valuation of financial donations. It is true that tracking/recording number of pledges given is easier than tracking number of hours worked or percentage of income. Those pose more formidable fraud obstacles.

2)    I think that maybe when someone signs a pledge, they should be able to designate more than 1 member who caused them to sign. Though I feel strongly that the pledge should be taken in person, I know that the Internet is a frequent forum for political/ persuasive discourse. So if a friend had began talking with you about the Human Climate Pledge over Facebook, or you had been reading about it on a blog ;), and that is what drove you to seek out an in-person HCP member to give you the pledge, you could credit the online-convincer with ½ a point and the in-person pledge-giver with ½ a point. (Maybe we could break the ‘points’ into finer distinctions, utilizing 1/3 credits or ¼ credits, but I don’t know… perhaps that is too complicated)

3)    I wonder if there should be several levels within the HCM, obtained at (for example): 10 points, 50 points, 100 points, 200, and 500 points, and at each level comes with an increasing level of privilege and power. For example, maybe at  10 points you are included in local leadership meetings, at 50 points you are invited to join local coordination and leadership efforts. At 100 points, you are invited to listen into board conversations, at 200 points you become a voting member of the board, and at 500 points you get to work together to set the board-meeting agenda. I think that having a gradating structure can be motivating and satisfying for people to work hard and ascend.

4)    Crucially, we need an organizational structure that favors qualities that we want in leaders. I think this one does. People who gain power in the organization will have earned it through dedication, hard work, and communicating effectively with people. These seem like important qualities to have in leaders. But is it possible that I’m missing something? Is it possible that this structure would allow for a faction of some kind to gain too much power? Could this structure be undermined by corporate interests some how? Or, as Ezra worries, fraud?

What do you think, readers? Is this organizational structure the right way forward? Do you see areas where it (or any other part of the plan) can be improved? Are you as excited as I am about this? Many thanks to Ezra for the proposal. May it be the first of many open-sourced contributions to Human Climate Movement Strategy!

Think Before You Act(ivism)

An important goal of many therapies is for the patient to develop the capacity to reflect before acting. This may sound easy, but when people are overwhelmed by emotional distress, to act is a natural response. The key, then, is to make emotional distress less overwhelming. Psychologists talk about “Affect Tolerance” which means the ability to tolerate powerful, often painful feelings. If a patient doesn’t have good affect tolerance, they will do things like quit their job because they become angry at their boss, book a vacation because they are sad, or have sex with a stranger because they are lonely. These actions don’t even feel like choices, the person is driven to dispel their painful feeling. In therapy, we work towards separating out the feelings from action. Sometimes, it’s the right thing to do to quit ones’ job, book a vacation, or have sex with someone new, but its always better to think the decision through, first.  There must be a moratorium period for reflection and consideration that goes between the emotion and the action. Often, if one stops, thinks, discusses with others, the action becomes unnecessary, or a different action arises as a better solution.

The importance of delayed action, commonly called “delayed gratification” was captured in the “Stanford Marshmallow Experiment” conducted by Walter Mischel in the 1960s. It was a simple experiment: give a child a marshmallow, and tell them that you must leave the room. If they wait to eat it until you come back, they can have 2 marshmallows. Then, measure how long the children can bear the pain of waiting. Can they wait? Or must they act now? The results are striking. The length of time a child can wait for gratification is correlated to a wide variety of future outcomes more than a decade later: SAT scores, ability to maintain friendships, and body mass index, to name a few.  (Here is a cute video of children taking this test, struggling not to eat the marshmallows)

Simply put the ability delay action is critical for humans. Without it, we are slaves to our emotions; totally at their whim. The ability to stop, reflect, and take considered action gives us a huge degree of power and control over our destiny.

So how does all this relate to activism and the Human Climate Movement? Quite a bit, I would say.

The reality of climate change is horrifying. When people intellectually and emotionally accept Climate Truth, a formidable psychological achievement on its own, they become acutely emotionally distressed. How could they not? We are careening towards civilizational collapse! So, often, they feel impelled to do something NOW. A protest! A boycott! Something! The question of what to do, how to do it, who to do it with, and so forth—questions of strategy and planning, become secondary to the emotional need to act.

The preference of activists for acting over thinking and reflecting is, of course, enshrined in the name. Activists are  do-ers. They are  do-gooders, and they deserve our gratitude for their efforts. But sometimes a focus on action can come at the expense of thoughtfulness.

In this acute species-wide, planet-wide crisis, we need more than action. We need to think this through. We need to stop and reflect.  The question is: what do we do now? How can we act to optimize humanity’s chances of survival? How do we build a social movement that fundamentally changes the national and international mood and incites drastic, coordinated action? What is the best strategy?

These are the most important question in the world.  We must treat them with the respect, and the patience that they deserve. We have to talk about movement strategy. What are the best plans and how can we combine them and improve them?

This is not a conversation that should occur behind closed doors. It should happen publicly, openly. We must open source Human Climate Movement strategy. I have offered a comprehensive plan for a social movement that is based on psychological, cultural, and historical analysis. It is a “person-to-person, pledge based” approach that utilizes a “Human Climate Pledge App” for smartphones. You can read more about it here.

Though I believe that my proposal offers an important analysis, and the strategy I propose is innovative and has real potential for efficacy, I am not egotistical enough to believe that it should be the last word in Human Climate Movement organizing. Quite the opposite. My hope is that for other scholars, social scientists, activists, and climate writers will improve upon it, refine it, or offer their own strategy proposals, which can be further refined and combined with each other.

This open-source, collaborative conversation is already starting to happen. People are starting to contribute ideas, which I am going to begin publishing very soon. But the conversation needs to grow exponentially. We need to hear from historians, artists, activists, economists, and climate writers. We need to hear from the great minds of our time, and those who have devoted their lives to study or activism. To emerge with the best plan possible we will need to integrate many perspectives.

This is our task at the moment. Not fighting climate change, but deciding how to fight climate change. Call it… thinktivism.

Some will say, “The situation is too dire! We must act now, we don’t have time for a discussion.”

 I would remind them of the saying, “Take your time. Especially when you are in a hurry.” When we rush, we are error prone and often counterproductive. Impulsive activism has no chance of saving civilization from the ravages of climate change.

So here is what to do when you feel the terror of climate change in your gut, when you are seized by despair at what humanity is facing, and you feel impelled to act: try thinktivism! Join the discussion or advocate for the discussion.  Embark on a course of study. Read about the history and theory of social movements, about psychology or religion or politics or anthropology or some other field or and utilize that information for creating and critiquing strategy proposals. Or help promote the conversation. For example, college students can advocate that their institution make saving civilization from climate change its top priority and demand that professors and departments submit proposals for the Human Climate Movement open-sourced strategy discussion. Non-students can promote the conversation in other forums.

Climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. We must act to stop it. But first, we must decide how. First, we must think, together.  I hope you join me.

Ready to Get Involved?

Over the past week I have been contacted by a few readers telling me that they are ready to take the next step and get involved in some way. This is fantastic and extremely encouraging.  I very much want to use this blog to foster and coordinate activism. I have a lot of ideas. To implement them, I need a lot of allies.

The posts  Strategy proposal and Ideas describe some of the things I hope to accomplish with additional reader involvement. Surely these ideas will grow and change, but they give you a sense of the type and direction of activity. Basically, the Human Climate Movement is an anti-denial  movement. The Truth is our weapon, and we must wield it skillfully, creatively, and courageously.

I created an Involvement Form that will help me best utilize your skills and dedication. It is not an application: anyone who wants to fight climate change is my ally, and I will utilize any commitment that is offered.

If you don’t feel the form conveys something adequately, please feel free to e-mail me more information or a CV.

We have so much to do. I look forward to working with you.

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State of the Blog Part 2: Ideas!

In the previous State of the Blog post, I discussed my goals for the Climate Psychologist; my hope that my writing can contribute to building, empowering, organizing, and uniting the Human Climate Movement in order to wake humanity up from denial and fight back. In this post, I will share my ideas for future writing and Movement activities.

I am sharing these ideas because I think scholarly engagement and collaboration on strategy planning is essential to HCM success. I have written that strategy discussions for the HCM should be open sourced, and that organizations and bloggers should “play their cards face up,” sharing and discussing with their membership and readers their comprehensive strategy for solving climate change, or having a frank discussion about their lack of a strategy and their plans to develop one.

Publishing my ideas is part of me taking my own advice. I am not going to guard my own ideas, reflexively advocating for them against competing ideas. I am not going to attempt to milk these ideas for maximal publicity or professional rewards. Rather, I offer them to the movement. Anyone who wants to use their intellect to fight climate change should be able to access my ideas. This way, people interested in collaborating can get in touch with me and people who have good recommendations for relevant sources can share them with me. Further, people should feel free to use these ideas themselves, to elaborate on them, hybridize them, or write about them. Share your work with me, so when I approach this topic, I can utilize your insights, and combine them with my own. We simply don’t have the time to waste on individual aggrandizement or stubbornness. We have to work together.

Posting my ideas like this also gives me a chance to get reader feedback before writing the whole article! Any ideas, comments, tips (on source material, topics, as well as places to publish), preferences, and so on are greatly appreciated!

 

Margaret’s Ideas for Articles:

*Ordered from most developed to least developed

1) Understanding, and Critiquing the Left’s Preoccupation with “Leaderlessness”

I will critique the HCM and especially 350’s “grass roots” and “leaderless” approach to organization. Leadership and centralized coordination is crucial for success. Occupy Wall Street is a prime example of a movement that sacrificed efficacy for the ideal of leaderlessness. I will argue that the right, with no similar psychological and cultural aversion to leadership, builds more efficient institutions (Corporations, militaries, think-tanks, etc).

I will argue that (good) leadership is a gift and essential for movement success. Good leaders inspire and unite a group, empowering people, helping them reach their full potential and achieve things that they had imagined were beyond their capabilities.  MLK is an example of this. (Alford, “Leadership as Interpretation and Holding,”). I will argue that leading is a highly risky and challenging task, and we should appreciate what leaders are sacrificing (Heifetz, “Leadership on the line).

I will also argue that “federated structures:” that have centralized planning and enough independence for individual groups to accommodate local concerns and allow for creativity is the ideal structure for the HCM. This structure allows many levels of leadership. (Ganz) Instead of thinking “no leader” we should think “many leaders.”

I will provide a historic analysis of why the left became so phobic of leaders:

The in the 1960s, 3 excellent leftist leaders—JFK, RFK, and MLK, were assassinated within years of each other, traumatizing the Left and causing them to avoid getting too attached to future leaders.

This, combined with:
*In the 1960s, Leftist leaders betrayed a generation of young men by sending them to fight in Vietnam

*The rise of feminism indicted the idea that men should be leaders of their families. This critique morphed into a general distrust of leaders and power.

*The raising of the Iron Curtain showed the peril of iron fisted “Leftist” leadership and government.

2) Climate Change and the Holocaust: Atrocities, Denial, and Moral Obligation

I will argue that the Holocaust is a recent, very vivid example of how a normal human response to atrocities is to deny them and avoid knowing about them. I will examine the concept of the “Ordinary German” who tried not to get involved, and claimed after the war that they “didn’t know” what was happening. I will discuss the moral duty to learn about and to know about climate change and to act on that knowledge.

I will interpret the phrase, “Never Again” to mean more than “No future genocides” but rather to mean “Never again should humanity turn its back on preventable horrors.”  Terrible things do happen, and we all have a moral obligation to stand against them.

I will discuss similarities between the US media’s coverage of the Holocaust and their coverage of climate change.  (The NYT buried the atrocities of the Holocaust in the middle of the paper, as it drastically understates and underreports the risk of climate change.)

I will utilize heavily Stanley Cohen’s  outstanding  book, “States of Denial.”

**It would be great to collaborate with a Holocaust scholar on this. If anyone is interested/ knows someone who has a good background in Holocaust studies or cultural denial.

 

3)  Climate Change as a Feminist Issue

Beyond the fact that climate change hurts women because it hurts everyone, I will argue that one of the most important, most cherished victories of feminism has been to give women drastically increased agency over their own bodies. This has been accomplished through criminalizing domestic violence and rape, and decriminalizing abortion.

I will argue that climate change threatens to steal away all of these gains. That the collapse of civilization and the rule of law would return the rule of physical strength; drastically increasing incidences of rape and domestic violence, and drastically decreasing women’s access to all medical services, including abortion. This will greatly reduce women’s ability to be independent; in a such a violent world, women will be in much greater need of protection from men.

I will point to regions of climate-change induced conflict, and demonstrate how this is already happening in those regions.

I will call on feminists to look towards the future, and the dangers for women that lie there if we do not take decisive action on climate change.

**It would be great to collaborate with a feminist writer or scholar on this article.

4) Climate Change and the Exodus Story

In the Spring, (as Passover nears), I will write about the similarities between climate change and the story of Moses leading the Jews from Egypt. I will make a Haggadah, so that people who want to give their Passover Seders a climate change theme will be able to do so.

Paralells:

*In the Exodus story, the Jews were slaves in Egypt, they provided the labor necessary to build great pyramids. Fossil fuels have acted as a labor-substitute, allowing us to build cities and the global economy.

*Moses told Pharoh to let his people go but Pharoh was hard of heart. He was unwilling to let his labor force go. Our society has been similarly stubborn, refusing to let go of the comfort and luxury that fossil fuel provide.

*God brought Egypt 10 Plagues: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and finally, the death of all first-born Egyptians. Only with the death of his son, and all of the first-borns of Egypt did Pharaoh let the Jews go. Climate change is similarly reigning down terror upon us. Floods, droughts, invasive species, vector-born disease, damaged crop yields, heat waves, climate refugees, and civil war. How bad will it need to get before we wake up and realize that we cannot cling to fossil fuels any longer?

**It would be great to collaborate on this with a Rabbi or an expert in Jewish studies.

5) Psychologists Psychoanalysts and Climate Change

I will argue that, though the cultural authority of psychologists and psychoanalysts has been eroded in recent decades, society does continue to hold us in high regard, and have generally positive, trusting transference to psychologists and therapists.

As seekers of truth and experts in denial and other psychological defense mechanisms, psychologists should have a unique ability to face the truth about climate change and to help other people do so, too.

I will call on psychologists and psychoanalysts to raise their awareness of climate change by creating study groups; to share their knowledge with the public through writing editorials, papers, and calls to action. Possibly also by hosting community meetings and helping people contain their anxiety about climate change.  To contribute to HCM strategy through scholarly collaboration.

** Hopefully I will be collaborating with psychoanalytic research and fellow Climate Psychologist Renee Lertzman, but other collaborators could be helpful, also.

6) The Role of Shame and Honor in Climate Change Activism

I will discuss the role of shame and honor in human evolution (using E.O Wilson’s “The social Conquest of Earth”) and in moral revolutions (Using Appiah’s “How Moral revolutions happen”).

I will discuss the barriers of modern society to utilizing shame and honor as effective change agents (Huge scale of society, the separation of the rich and powerful from “normal” people, the increasing narcissistic trends in American life).

I will discuss ways that shame and honor could be deployed more effectively, such as:

-Targeting people who are “honor  peers,” meaning that you can only challenge someone’s honor who recognizes your ability to do so. So working within networks, with people who you know and who care about your opinion provides much more leverage than working against strangers (i.e. protests).

-Emphasizing that the HCM works for humanity, and people who stand against it are hurting their human brothers and sisters

-Utilizing some kind of visual symbol (armband/ button/ t-shirt, etc) to indicate that one is with the HCM, so that people in the movement can recognize each other, and give each other honor and respect in daily life.

7) Grieving the Losses of Climate Change: Stability and Faith in Humanity

I will discuss how terribly sad climate change is for all of us, and what humanity has lost.

The fundamental loss, at least at this point, is stability. We cannot plan for the future the way previous generations could, because we know that the world will be radically different. Worse, we know that the climate will continue to change for a long time—it won’t make a big shift and then ready a new, stable state.

Further, climate change and other ecological destruction has made many people negative about humanity. How can we feel good about ourselves when our species is suicidal and ecocidal?

I will discuss the necessity of grief in order to work effectively. We have to mourn our losses, including the fact that previous environmental efforts have failed (Speth) in order to move forward.

8) I am very interested in the technique of Dynamic Facilitation, and the political model that utilizes it, Wise Democracy. I need to learn much more about this, but there is a lot of promising material here.

9) Applying psychological writing about suicide to humanity and climate change (also EO Wilson’s piece, “Is humanity suicidal?”)

10) Considering Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” to think about climate change activism. What needs do people need to have met, internally and externally, before they can acknowledge the horrifying truth of climate change?

11) Considering apocalyptic films, especially Zombie movies, as allegories for climate change. (Starvation and desperation make humans seem like zombies; when people are hungry and hopeless, they get that dead look in their eye, and can become highly destructive.) What can we learn if we think about Zombie’s as unconscious symbols of starving climate refugees?

Ideas for blog-based activities and activism.

These are ideas involve a higher level of reader/ activist participation.

1) Gathering the Best Writing About and Metaphors for Climate Change

Sharing my favorite passages of writing on climate, and asking readers to share their favorite passages. We can create a storehouse of clear, evocative writing. It will be a resource for writers, and all members of the Human Climate Movement who seek to articulate our situation to others.

2) Inviting Academics, Students, Environmental Organizations, and Concerned Citizens to Submit Proposals

I have written about the benefits of open-sourcing strategy for the Human Climate Movement. But I would like to (hopefully with some help) send out a “Call for Papers” on HCM strategy to academic departments, climate groups, and climate writers. Maybe there could be a prize fund for top submissions.  Maybe this could be undertaken with an organization who wanted to partner?

3) Creating a Social Media Climate Truth Squad

Inviting readers/ activists to become involved in spreading Climate Truth using social media.

Activities of this squad would include:

*Using twitter and Facebook to call out individual authors and editors of articles in the NYT and other mainstream news outlets (especially left-leaning ones) that publish articles that, omit climate change when it is highly relevant (such as when discussing extreme weather), minimize the threat (by using phrases like, “our grandchildren”), and otherwise feed the Climate Lie.

Journalists fear the wrath of deniers when they write about climate change, but the Human Climate Movement does not aggressively push them towards truth. We would try to change that.

*Speaking Climate Truth to friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. We could have coordinated messages… maybe a “Climate Crisis Wake Up Call of the Day” that people could share.

Speaking personally, I always feel anxious when I say something on FB about climate change to someone who I know from a different context. I worry that they will be angry at me for bringing up the terrible, horrifying news.  But, on the whole, I have been pleasantly surprised at how well my comments have been received! People want to talk about climate change, they just don’t know how.

4) Organizing Demonstrations After Severe Weather Events

I have written elsewhere about why civil disobedience and protest tactics do not address the fundamental psychological challenge of accepting climate change—people’s anxiety and terror— and thus should not be assumed to be the best tactics.

One of the reasons why I argue that these tactics will not be as effective as they were for the Civil Rights Movement is that the technology of the day is different. The 1960s was an era of the Television. Marches and sit-ins were televised to great effect. Now we live in the era of Facebook, Twitter, Memes and virality. Evocative images can spread extremely quickly. And extreme weather and its damage is highly evocative.

I envision a small group of demonstrators creating highly evocative, sharable images by going to flooded/ drought stricken areas holding signs/ banners that say, “Climate change keeps attacking us. When will we fight back?” Or, simply something like, “This is climate change.”

Sending the message, visually and repetitively, that climate change is already wreaking havoc on nature and humanity, could be highly effective in overcoming emotional denial.

5) Develop the Human Climate Pledge App

I have described the use of an App that would coordinate and track the taking of the Human Climate Pledge.  I have received offers from readers who are willing to develop this. I hope to work with them to make this a reality.

New Ads!

I thought that having some advertisements might help spread the word about this blog.  I had sharing on Facebook in mind when I made them, but they could be used elsewhere too. So, let me know what you think. And, as always, I  appreciate people posting and helping me grow!

**Also, if someone with tech knowledge can help me post these ads in a way that will make sharing on fb/ twitter easier, please let me know. I would love to do that.

 

Worried about

 

Feeling helpless

 

depressed about the future?

State of the Blog Part 1: Blog Goals and Strategy

Intro

Several commentators have noted recently that, while I have plenty of critique for 350, Klein, Romm, and the climate cynics who have given up hope, I have not taken aim at fossil fuel companies, climate change denying Congress people, corruption in the US political system, or the cancerous doctrine of eternal economic growth.

“Who is the enemy?” One commenter asked—it seems like you think it’s the cynics! Another agreed, “Evil ignored is evil condoned.”

Dear readers, there is a method to my madness. In this post, I will discuss the goals and strategy for this blog and my thoughts on where the movement is at.

Goals

This blog has a singular goal: to fight climate change. To my mind, the only way humanity will have a chance of continuation is if we build, very quickly, a Human Climate Movement that fundamentally alters the national mood, waking the public up from their denial of the imminent threat of climate change. This movement must gain the political clout to launch a WWII style and level response against climate change.

Though I remain open to (and highly desirous of) alternative strategy proposals, I have yet to hear one articulated which would give humanity a fighting chance. Most groups and writers do not articulate comprehensive plans, making it impossible to evaluate or collaborate on strategy proposals. Will 350’s efforts on Keystone and divestment solve climate change? Clearly not. They would argue that they are just getting started. But I think they have an obligation to their membership, and to humanity, to engage in an open conversation about strategy. The Citizen’s Climate Lobby does articulate their plan, which relies heavily on conventional lobbying tactics, and aims to institute a carbon tax and end fossil fuel subsidies. I have serious doubts about their ability to succeed with their tactics, even worse, doubts that their advocacy is too modest to stop climate change, even if they were to succeed. I am also skeptical of any effort that advertises its “grass roots participation” and “leaderlessness” as major benefits, without explaining why this lack of organization is strategically beneficial. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, until I hear a plan that gives humanity a better chance of survival, I’m sticking with a WWII advocacy. I think that I may not have articulated well how radical of an advocacy this is, or how significant the implications of a WWII advocacy are for capitalism, fossil fuel companies, and others who are willfully lying to humanity, leading us down the road to destruction.

Remember, before WWII, were the 1930s and the Great Depression, still the period in US history in which wealth was most unequally distributed (though we are getting ever closer to repeating it.) The New Deal helped, of course, but it was really WWII that turned conditions in the US around, ushering in a multi-decade era of relative equality (See table from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Wealth inequality

 

During some years in WWII, the United States devoted 36% of GDP (!) to the war effort, or the equivalent of 5.6 trillion dollars, per year. The highest income tax bracket rose to 94%. The government intervened in industry in a way that has never happened before or since in the United States. After Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, 1941, the United States focused with a singular purpose on winning the war. Economic concerns were secondary and consumer luxury was not considered at all. Shared sacrifice was assumed. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes:

In the summer of 1942, the accustomed rhythms of daily life were disrupted in every factory, business, and home by the institution of rationing and price control… By and large, American housewives accepted the system of rationing cheerfully. When butter became scarce, they added a yellow dye to margarine to make it look like butter. When sugar was cut back, they substituted corn syrup and saccharin in cakes and cookies. They planted Victory Gardens in their backyards. They saved kitchen fats and exchanged them at the butcher shop for points. …By the end of November, government regulations extended into almost every aspect of American life. Shortages of iron and steel prohibited the manufacture of a wide range of consumer items, including electric refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, electric ranges, washing machines and ironers, radios and phonographs, lawn mowers, waffle irons, and toasters. The use of stainless steel was prohibited in tableware. Shoe manufacturers were ordered to avoid double soles and overlapping tips; lingerie makers were limited to styles without ruffles, pleating, or full sleeves. (P 355, 394)

The war effort came first. Capitalism came second. Everything else came second. Citizens from across society were actively engaged in the war effort, and major steps in equality were made in multiple spheres racially, between the sexes, and economically. With the shameful exception of Japanese internment, it was a time of major progress on several fronts. 

So, a WWII advocacy has, nestled within it, an equality agenda, a citizen engagement agenda, an equality agenda and a very strong regulatory agenda.  There is also a justice agenda. During a war, people who side with the enemy or undermine the war effort are traitors. Which is a crime. Until a war is declared, their acts against humanity are not, technically, actionable crimes.

Strategy

I write for a singular purpose, to build a social movement that brings a Climate War about. To wake up humanity to the danger that we are in; to the fact that we are under attack, are in great danger, and desperately need to fight back. I will write scathing pieces about fossil fuel executives, crooked politicians, and other traitors to humanity if I viewed it as beneficial to this purpose. At the moment, however, I do not believe it is.  At the moment, the strategic imperative is to build the movement, to empower the movement, to organize the movement, and to unite the movement.

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. If I was writing in German in the 1930s and 40s, I wouldn’t target Nazi’s for criticism. I wouldn’t view that as productive. I would have made clear that I considered their actions evil, but I would aim my criticism at ordinary Germans, at complicity. I would attempt to rally a resistance.

In this case, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to continue their current protestations against evil. To continue talking about evil rather than organizing in order to effectively fight it.  The environmental movement has failed. Not to blame them for this failure: We have all failed, the environmentalists at least tried! Every political party, every organized religion, every corporation, and every individual has failed to stop our planet’s relentless march towards catastrophe. We need to recognize that failure, learn from it, and regroup. I doubt very much that I can change the minds of Rex Tiller, Exxon Mobile CEO or Jim Inhofe. But I do think I can contribute to planning, organizing, and growing the Human Climate Movement. Though I am predominantly addressing people already deeply concerned about climate change, I am not “preaching to the choir.” I am attempting to turn people who are deeply concerned into people who are deeply active.  I am attempting to help people who are already active think through their activities to achieve maximal results. I am attempting to unity disparate factions of the Human Climate Movement. I am trying to turn “the choir” into an army. I hope you join me.