The Climate Psychologist

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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5 thoughts on “Ready to Get Involved?

  1. TenneyNaumer (@TenneyNaumer)

    I’m thinking that this is not necessarily the best path — you know, the “I,” “I,” “I” part:

    “I created an Involvement Form that will help me best utilize your skills and dedication. Filling out the following form will give me information about how to best utilize your skills, talents, 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.”

    1. Margaret Klein Post author

      Sounds a bit narcisstic, huh? Not my intention. I mean to communicate as clearly as possible. I am thrilled by the continuing process of “I” becoming “We” that I am experiencing since launching this blog. At present, however, it is I that made the involvement form, and I who will coordinate activism projects and teams…I can only speak for myself.

      Maybe I should change the title of the involvement form to say “The Climate Psyhologist Involvement Form rather than call it the “Human Climate Movement” involvement form…. I can see how that sounds a bit over the top….

      Anyway, I appreciate the feedback. It is important to keep ones tone and how other people hear it, in mind.

  2. Daria Kurkjy

    I apologize up front as this is going to be a very long comment…

    I have been following your blog with great interest. Like you, I have spent a considerable amount of time the last few years reading extensively about climate change and related issues. I have also spent a considerable amount of time trying to think of the best approach to address this crisis.

    As you stated, “most groups and writers do not articulate comprehensive plans, making it impossible to evaluate or collaborate on strategy proposals”. I agree with you wholeheartedly on this. A goal without a plan is merely a wish and a plan without action is merely a dream. I have also read the “One Degree War Plan” and agree that it is, at the very least, a step in the right direction.

    In general, my views are very similar to yours. However, there are some differences. I clearly believe that climate change is a crisis that must be immediately addressed. However, I think that climate change is a “symptom” – it is not the “problem”. This in no way minimizes its seriousness as it is clearly a “life threatening” situation. The underlying problem, however, is our fossil fuel addiction. As we should have learned from the “War on Drugs”, the focus for addressing an addiction problem should be on reducing the demand rather than on reducing the supply. This should be exceedingly obvious if one is addicted to a finite substance as the supply will ultimately disappear of its own accord anyway. Yet many of the efforts to fight climate change, such as the opposition to KXL, focus on reducing supply. (I will tell you, though, that I have been quite active in the KXL fight as it does make me feel like I am at least doing something.)

    I also think it is important to recognize that the climate crisis does not exist in a vacuum – it is inextricably linked to several other converging crises that we are currently facing as a result of our fossil fuel addiction. My view is that industrial civilization is balanced precariously on a three legged stool with the legs representing the environment, energy and the economy. Unfortunately, all three legs are about to break. We just don’t know which leg will break first.
    Even if climate change were not an issue, industrial civilization would likely collapse in the near term. Our economy depends on growth and it is simply not possible to have infinite growth on a finite planet. Unless there happens to be a spare planet or two hanging around that can be conveniently exploited. Unfortunately for us, there isn’t. Fossil fuels are truly the lifeblood of our economy and our current fossil fuel usage is unsustainable. In addition to depletion of fossil fuels and other minerals, we are also facing dwindling supplies of fresh water and arable land.
    If you follow peak oil discussions, you are probably aware that several analysts have reported that the current Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) is simply too low to maintain our current economic system for much longer. Back in oil’s heyday, only one barrel of oil was needed to extract 100 more – a superb EROEI of 100:1. It has been estimated that our society requires an EROEI between 15:1 and 20:1 in order to function in the manner in which we are accustomed. Conventional oil now has an EROEI between 10:1 and 15:1, shale oil is between 2:1 and 7:1 and tar sands oil ranges from 5:1 to 7:1. These numbers will all continue to decline as the cheap and easy oil is long gone. Low EROEI translates into higher costs for energy products. It is clear that we are heading into an era of extremely expensive energy. As a result, products created with these expensive energy products will not produce adequate returns to cover expenses. Our economic house of cards which was created as a result of low energy prices is about to come tumbling down.

    I assume you have read or are at least familiar with Jared Diamond’s book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”. I think the wording of the title was no accident. He does not say, “Why Societies Fail”. He clearly implies that failed societies have chosen to do so. I have pored through that book trying to glean wisdom that can be applied to our current situation. I felt that one of the most relevant and haunting tales was the story of the Greenland Norse. Diamond lays out in painstaking detail the poor choices that the Norse made that led to their ultimate demise.

    After arriving in Greenland around 1000 AD, the Norse established sheep and dairy farms. They built churches, a monastery and an impressive cathedral and prospered for nearly 500 years. Unfortunately, Greenland was ill suited to agriculture. As a result, the environment degraded and the Norse struggled with soil erosion and deforestation. Climate change also played a role in the Norse downfall as the Little Ice Age struck and brought extremely harsh weather conditions. However, unlike most of the other societies that Diamond examines, the Norse starved in the presence of abundant supplies of food. For some unknown reason, the Greenland Norse chose to not eat fish.

    One of the most interesting facets, however, of the Norse story is that they were not alone in Greenland. They shared the island with the Inuit, who survived in the difficult climate via fishing and hunting. Yet the Norse foolishly refused to adopt any facets of the Inuit way of life. Diamond says, “the values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs over adversity”. Tragically, the Norse perished and the Inuit survived. The Greenland Norse chose to die as Christian farmers rather than to learn to live as Inuit.

    Diamond asks the poignant question, “At what point do we as individuals prefer to die than to compromise and live?” That is the essence of the dilemma that we are currently facing. Will we choose to die as fossil fuel addicts or will we learn to live as fossil free humans? In many ways, our situation is far more difficult than that of the Greenland Norse as most of us have never met or even seen a fossil free human, so becoming fossil free is understandably perceived as a daunting and nearly impossible task. We have truly backed ourselves into a most unfortunate corner where our short term survival depends on our fossil fuel addiction, while our long term survival demands that we kick the habit – and do so quickly.

    You addressed the question, “Who is the enemy?” I think the answer is, “We have met the enemy and he is us”. We can blame the oil companies, we can blame capitalism and we can blame the politicians. But it seems clear that blaming and fighting the system isn’t working. Perhaps it’s time to abandon the system. If, as a psychologist, parents came to you and told you that their child was dealing with an addiction problem, what would you tell them? Wouldn’t you tell them that the ultimate responsibility rests with the child? Our situation is not very different. We are the addicts and we are the ones who must kick the habit. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We are on a sinking ship. We need to take responsibility into our own hands and start boarding the lifeboats. It is time to stop talking, stop blaming and to start to figure out how to survive as fossil free humans.

    So, how do we begin? I agree with you in that we need to build a movement and that it needs to be a full scale societal mobilization. In order to achieve broad based support, this movement must be framed in a manner that resonates with the greatest number of people. If we accept that the “problem” is not climate change, but rather fossil fuel addiction, then I would suggest framing the movement in a manner that speaks to the problem and focuses on the goal we are trying to achieve, perhaps calling it the “Fossil Free Human Movement”. The clock is ticking and we need all the allies that we can find.

    One thing that baffles me is why the “climate change” crowd and the “peak oil” crowd have not joined forces. They are fundamentally on the same team as they both recognize that it is in humanity’s best interests to transition to a post carbon world quickly. Whether you believe that the reason to become fossil free is because climate change is going to render the planet uninhabitable if we don’t or whether you believe that the price of fossil fuels is going to become so astronomical that we will be forced into a fossil free world or whether you believe that either (or both) could happen is largely irrelevant. It seems to me that it is time for the peak oil crowd and the climate change crowd to join hands in the fossil free movement. (btw – are you familiar with the site http://www.PeakOilBlues.com ? It is run by a psychologist and is designed to help people who are struggling with coming to grips with peak oil.)

    I also think it is critical that this movement delivers a message that has some hope of resonating with the denier crowd. The topic of climate change simply seems to shut them down and cause them to dig their denying heels in even more firmly. We have probably all heard ad nauseum statements like, “Climate change is a liberal conspiratorial hoax designed to force people to pay carbon taxes”. So, using a term like “Human Climate Movement” will simply alienate the deniers right out of the gate.

    If, instead, the focus is on becoming “Fossil Free Humans”, there may be more hope of at least getting the deniers to listen. At its essence, this movement (whatever it is called) is the embodiment of “freedom”. Its primary purpose must be to free ourselves from the shackles of fossil fuels. While the term “climate change” makes deniers recoil, “freedom” is a word and a concept that many of them can and do relate to.

    The other difficulty with using the term climate change is that many people view it as some nebulous future problem. They do not see how it is connected to their daily lives. (Even the IPCC seems to focus on what will happen “by the end of this century”.) If the movement is framed as being a fossil free movement, it is much easier to explain how it relates to people both immediately and personally. The reality is that fossil fuels will continue to get more expensive, which will translate into higher costs for most goods and services. On top of that, droughts and extreme weather events will continue to wreak havoc on food production, which will translate into higher food prices.

    My take is that the primary objective of this movement needs to be on empowering people to design and build resilient and self-sufficient communities which focus on transitioning to renewable sources of energy, localizing food supplies and conserving materials and energy. This is essentially what the Transition Movement is doing, but it seems to me that they have not really gained significant traction.

    As far as fighting larger battles, it seems that the first one should be fighting to end fossil fuel subsidies, which are essentially a reward for bad behavior. In the US, estimates of fossil fuel subsidies range from $14 billion to $52 billion annually. I would suggest using these funds instead to both subsidize renewables and to reward good behavior. One way that we could reward good behavior would be to provide financial incentives (to both employers and employees) for telecommuting arrangements. There are millions of Americans who commute to jobs to do work that they could just as easily do at home.

    Although I would personally support a carbon tax (which would penalize bad behavior), I recognize that it would be such an uphill battle (in the US anyway), that it may not be a battle worth fighting.

    Sorry again for the excessively long comment… I do want you to know that I greatly appreciate your efforts and welcome your thoughts.

    1. Margaret Klein Post author

      Hi Daria. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. There is no problem with it being long, but it does makes me slower to respond. I agree with you it is rather strange that the peak oil was and climate hawks have not united more fully. Perhaps I should talk about people oil more on the blog. There are two huge reasons that we must transition away from fossil fuel: 1) they are destroying our planet and our civilization and 2) they are running out!

      However I’m not sure I agree that our addiction to fossil fuels is that the (only) root cause of the problem. What about global capitalism? Or Overpopulation? My point is only that climate change has many causes, and fighting climate change itself does not have to constitute a denial of those root causes but only a prioritization of the immediate crisis. To extend your addict example, let’s say a cocaine addict presents at the hospital having seizures after overdosing. Yes the root problem is the addiction ( or a host of factors in this person’s life that drive them towards risky behavior), but the immediate problem is the consequence of that addiction. Sometimes you have to treat the most pressing problem first knowing that it doesn’t entail a full solution to underlying problems.

      I also tend to think that confronting climate change the destructive phenomenon through a War on climate change is the most psychologically appealing response, and thus the most possible to implement. World War II was an example of Americans working together, fighting for our survival, making shared sacrifices and emerging triumphant. I don’t believe there is a more powerful analogy out there. I have not yet read collapse but I hope to very soon. The example you cite sounds very appropriate and scary. The question though is what could have changed the Norse peoples minds? What could have rallied them to change? Without without full knowledge, I tend to believe that framing the issue in terms of in honorable war for survival might have been effective.

      Thank you again for contributing your knowledge and insight. Also thank you for the introduction to peak oil blues. I will definitely be getting in touch with those authors.

  3. Daria Kurkjy

    Thank you so much for your response. It took me a while to get back to this, but I do want to address some of the points that you raised.

    You ask whether either global capitalism or overpopulation are among the root causes of climate change.

    While I am not defending capitalism, I fail to see how capitalism, in and of itself, could be a cause of climate change. If it were, then wouldn’t it follow that only capitalistic societies would have succumbed to fossil fuel addiction? That is clearly not the case. We all drank the same Kool-Aid as we all bought into the illusion that the fossil fuel party could continue indefinitely. Unfortunately, it is now time for all of us to collectively pay the piper.

    One thing I often wonder about is how this situation should be dealt with on a global basis as it is critical to realize that this is a global problem that requires a global solution. How do we deal with it fairly and equitably? This is one of many elephants in the room that must be discussed. There was an interesting article in the New York Times a few weeks ago that addresses the question of how our remaining carbon budget should be allocated. Here is the link if you haven’t seen it: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/08/science/how-to-slice-a-global-carbon-pie.html?_r=0.

    If we look at the United States, it is clear that we are contributing much more than our fair share to the problem. On a per capita basis, the United States nears the top of the list in CO2 emissions by country, with annual per capita emissions at 17.6 tonnes. This is more than double the emissions for European countries, which on a per capita basis average only 7.1 tonnes. The two countries with the largest populations, China and India, weigh in at 6.5 tonnes and 1.5 tonnes per capita, respectively. The United States is home to less than 5% of the world’s population, but is responsible for nearly 20% of total CO2 emissions. And this does not account for the fact that we effectively “export” a significant amount of our emissions by having a massive amount of the products that we consume manufactured in other countries. To be fair to the rest of the world, shouldn’t the US make the most significant reductions?

    Overpopulation is another one of those pesky elephants, but it is also a topic that should be discussed. However, it seems clear to me that overpopulation is not a cause of climate change, although it certainly exacerbates the situation. My view is that overpopulation, just like climate change, is a result of our fossil fuel addiction. The exponential growth of the human population clearly corresponds with our increased use of fossil fuels. Consider that humans have inhabited the earth for approximately 200,000 years and that it took almost all of that time for the human population to reach the 1 billion mark, which occurred around 1800. It then took only 127 years to double and hit the 2 billion mark, which it did around 1927. The next doubling took a mere 47 years as we hit the 4 billion mark in 1974. We have now nearly doubled again as we recently exceeded the 7 billion mark. These are frightening numbers. I was born in 1960, when the population was (only!) 3 billion. It is shocking for me to consider and reflect on the significance of this growth as the human population has more than doubled in my lifetime. It should be exceedingly obvious that this is not sustainable.

    I recently read an interesting book called “Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change”. It was written by William Catton in the early 80’s, but it is quite relevant to our current situation. If you have not read it, I would highly recommend it. The basic theme is that the earth has a sustainable carrying capacity, which has been temporarily increased by the extraction and utilization of fossil fuels. As fossil fuel supplies are now dwindling and our utilization of them is wreaking havoc on our environment, our day of reckoning for exploiting this ephemeral windfall is fast approaching. The book examines our predicament from an ecological perspective and clearly illustrates that, despite our cleverness, we are not all that different from any other species that overshoots the carrying capacity of its habitat.

    Here is an excerpt:

    “When yeast cells are introduced into a wine vat, as noted in Chapter 6, they find their “New World” (the moist, sugar-laden fruit mash) abundantly endowed with the resources they need for exuberant growth. But as their population responds explosively to this magnificent circumstance, the accumulation of their own fermentation products makes life increasingly difficult—and, if we indulge in a little anthropomorphic thinking about their plight, miserable. Eventually, the microscopic inhabitants of this artificially prepared detritus ecosystem all die. To be anthropomorphic again, the coroner’s reports would have to say that they died of self-inflicted pollution: the fermentation products.

    Nature treated human beings as winemakers treat the yeast cells, by endowing our world (especially Europe’s New World) with abundant but exhaustible resources. People promptly responded to this circumstance as the yeast cells respond to the conditions they find when put into the wine vat.

    When the earth’s deposits of fossil fuels and mineral resources were being laid down, Homo sapiens had not yet been prepared by evolution to take advantage of them. As soon as technology made it possible for mankind to do so, people eagerly (and without foreseeing the ultimate consequences) shifted to a high-energy way of life. Man became, in effect, a detritovore, Homo colossus. Our species bloomed, and now we must expect crash (of some sort) as the natural sequel.”

    As distasteful as the subject of overpopulation is to contemplate, it would be delusional for us to believe that the human species is somehow immune to the laws of nature. As much as we would like to think that technology will swoop in and save us, we must accept the real possibility that the human population is likely to experience a most unpleasant decline in the not so distant future.

    Overpopulation, of course, puts an incredible strain on our food production system. Clearly, no civilization can avoid collapse if it fails to feed its population. Currently, approximately 1 billion people, or 14% of the world’s total population, do not have enough to eat. Climate change will worsen this situation as heat waves and droughts as well as loss of freshwater and arable land will reduce yields of many crops. Unfortunately, the tentacles of our fossil fuel addiction have permeated the entire global food production system, which uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy. It currently takes about 10 fossil fuel calories to produce, process, package and transport each calorie of food energy in the average American diet. This is in sharp contrast to the situation a few generations ago. Back in 1940, one calorie of fossil fuel energy produced approximately 2.3 calories of food energy.

    It is obvious that fossil fuels are used to power farm machinery and to transport and refrigerate much of the food that we consume. But fossil fuel use extends beyond that. Much of our food is enveloped in plastic, which is made from oil. Many fertilizers and pesticides, which have led to increased crop yields, are produced from fossil fuels. It has been estimated that approximately half of the world’s current population could not be fed without nitrogen fertilizer, which is produced from natural gas. How often do we look at the food on our plates and consider the carbon footprint of what we put in our stomachs? How much of what we eat was grown thousands of miles away from where we live?

    There are many factors currently straining the global food supply. Ocean acidification, also caused by our fossil fuel addiction, is threatening many forms of marine life. According to Matthew Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist with Oceana, “Fish and seafood are an important source of protein for a billion of the poorest people on Earth and about three billion people get 15 percent or more of their annual protein from the sea.”

    Additionally, supplies of phosphorus, a key ingredient in fertilizer, are likely to peak and decline with a few decades. And there are also problems in the bee world, with colony collapse disorder taking a terrible toll on the bee population and posing an additional threat to our food supply.

    Perhaps even more frightening than the threat to food is the threat to fresh water supplies. Aquifers are being depleted and water tables are falling around the world. Glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates. One recent report indicated that nearly half of the global population could be facing water shortages by 2030, a mere 17 years from now. That number is so phenomenal that we almost need to pause momentarily to let it sink in. Even with zero population growth, that would mean that three and a half billion people may not have enough to drink. It is quite conceivable that water will be the new oil.

    You state that a “war on climate change is the most psychologically appealing response”. Personally, I think it is only psychologically appealing to those of us who grasp that climate change represents a clear and present danger. Far too many people view it as some nebulous future problem – if they view it as a problem at all. How do we get people to buy into this “war” if they are unable to grasp that we even have a problem?

    Another recent article made the disconcerting claim that “everyone hates environmentalists”.

    Here is the link if you are interested: http://www.salon.com/2013/09/26/study_everyone_hates_environmentalists_and_feminists_partner/

    I don’t mean to come across as antagonistic, as I am very much in agreement with you on the urgency of our situation. I am just not sure how the message should be framed so that it is grasped and results in action. I am more inclined to believe that people will find it more psychologically appealing if they can see how it relates to them personally.

    Sorry for another very long reply. I do have a tendency to be a bit verbose.

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