The Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) came into being during 2009-12, following a number of conferences and meetings at the University of the West of England’s Centre for Psycho-Social Studies (CPSS). These events helped to bring together and mobilise a network of people who combined a background in psychotherapy and associated academic work with a concern about increasing evidence of climate and ecological destabilisation resulting from human activities.
The first event in 2009 Facing Climate Change was conceived and chaired by Adrian Tait, with speakers George Marshall, founder of Climate Outreach (formerly COIN), Professor Paul Hoggett, Director of CPSS, and Ecopsychologist Mary-Jayne Rust. There was a wide range of workshops and Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility (PCSR) contributed through its then Chair, Judith Anderson.
After four further events involving CPSS, bringing psychoanalytic, psycho-social and other psychological perspectives to bear on the issue of human engagement with the twin challenges of climate change and ecological crisis, questions began to emerge:
Is there common ground to be developed between the diverse range of psychological disciplines?
Can this be used effectively as a resource for improved communication in the voluntary sector, government and the public sphere?
How might collaboration to this end be most fruitfully pursued?
If the climate/ecology problem is the greatest challenge to our own survival yet created and faced by humanity, are we motivated to transcend our cultural differences in the interest of pooling energies, insights and potential influence?
The Climate Psychology Alliance was launched to put these questions to the test. We hoped to demonstrate that our shared field, with its knowledge of mechanisms such as denial, has the capacity to make a useful contribution to the task of mobilising a relevant collective response. This must involve the work of both mitigation and adaptation.
CPA became a constituted non profit-making body with a membership and an elected Executive Committee plus Advisory group. It initiated the term “Climate Psychology”, which has since been adopted increasingly widely. CPA’s own definitions reflect its roots in depth psychology and are (in 2018-19) being set out in its Handbook of Climate Psychology, available on this website.
It has enjoyed and fostered international links from the outset, both via its own membership and partnerships and collaborations with other bodies. It continues to be UK based, but a chapter in North America is (at the time of writing) at an intermediate stage of development. Our website, members’ online discussion group, events and monthly newsletter all reflect this diversity. We have, to date been limited to the English-speaking world, but this showed signs of starting to change in 2019.
From the outset, and despite its pluralistic ethos, a psycho-social perspective has been a key ingredient in CPA’s focus. This emphasis on the interplay of societal and psychological processes has given us a powerful set of tools in helping to understand the multiple obstacles to ecologically informed living. Some examples of problems that call for this dual perspective are the various forms of denial, the consumerist notion of wellbeing, ‘entitled’ thinking and failures of political engagement with the climate and ecological emergency. Terms such as ‘cultural complex’ reflect this psycho-social strand.
CPA’s history has been marked by involvement in a number of themes, notably denial, ecocide, radical hope, leadership, story-telling and the Anthropcene. Whilst the emphasis in our discourse has shifted, all these themes continue to be in play.
A major outreach development in 2018, one that was envisaged from the start by CPA’s founders, has been the formation of a psychotherapeutically informed practice in the community. We have run a programme of workshops called ‘Through the Door’ to assist members with clinical backgrounds to explore and develop a capacity for working with people who are struggling to come to terms with the threats and uncertainties arising from the dawn of the Anthropocene. This initiative was triggered by an upsurge of public awareness and anxiety arising from material such as the IPCC’s 2018 report, media coverage of biodiversity loss and numerous commentaries highlighting the unsustainability of humankind’s demands on our planet and symptoms such as escalating extreme weather events.
The surge in public concern and awareness has also been driven by the rapid emergence of movements such as Extinction Rebellion, the worldwide student strikes and the Deep Adaptation programme launched by Professor Jem Bendell. In addition to CPA’s community practice, the membership has forged multiple links with these initiatives as well as holding a sustained psychological commentary on their messages and impacts.
Still central to the vision behind CPA is that we are seeking to place human science alongside natural science in the cause of ecologically informed living, through understanding and facing difficult truths.