So what is Climate Psychology? Five key principles.
Climate change is not a scientific problem waiting for a technical solution. It’s an urgent, frightening, systemic problem involving environment, culture and politics.
It engenders fear, denial and despair amongst individuals, evasion, indifference and duplicity amongst the powerful.
It forces uncomfortable dilemmas about justice, nature and equality into consciousness. It challenges all of us in modern societies both personally and politically.
To work with these dilemmas the CPA draws on a broad range of perspectives including philosophy, the arts and humanities, ecology and systems thinking.
Our core focus however is in psycho-social studies and the psychotherapy field, approaches which help us to understand the unconscious processes and emotions which control our thoughts, beliefs and behaviour and which manifest in mutually reinforcing systems of defence in society.
Anxiety, guilt and shame make it very difficult for people to face the reality of climate change and lead to denial and disavowal while the norms and structures of everyday life validate and reinforce these responses.
Five key principles define our approach.
Recognise our part in the problem
To be part of the solution we must first recognise that we are part of the problem, part of that richest 20% of the world whose lifestyles are based upon heavy fossil fuel consumption. Part of the CPA’s work is to challenge the cultural norms of privilege and resentment. In addition to the more obviously radical task of eliminating greenhouse gases from the global economy, the CPA believes in challenging the consumerist paradigm that includes:
the notion that human beings are somehow superior to and separate from Nature
the idea that all the problems we create can be solved by technology
the dangerous delusion that economics is of a higher order than ecology and that environmental costs can ever be ‘externalised’.
Address existential shame
The slow awakening to our destructive exploitation of natural resources coincides with a growing awareness of the earth as a living being – the biosphere is sentient (even if Lovelock hesitates to claim that). The analytic view is that this is an attack on the mother who has nurtured our species but whom we now, in our modern technological triumph, resent for our feelings of dependence.
Climate psychology attempts to address these feelings of existential shame for our species and our sense of self-betrayal. Repairing this rupture, this alienation from inner and outer nature, is a huge challenge as our species faces into a rite of passage marked by the end of carbon-fuelled civilisation.
Hold the tension between hope and despair
Rather than split connections apart we need to hold the tension between hope and despair, between complacency and alarmism, between action and reflection. When these tensions are successfully a held a vision emerges which can attract an engagement that is both practical and creative.
Offer understanding and support
Climate psychology acknowledges how anxiety and feelings of helplessness are generated by attempting to face into the dreadful possibility of self-destruction and possible species extinction. It seeks both an understanding of denial and how emotional support can address the harmful psychological impacts.
Restore what has been repressed
The short-term success of technology in modern society has given us a false promise of unlimited growth, seeming to justify the domination and plundering of the earth’s finite resources. Climate psychology therefore seeks to restore what has been repressed by welcoming and bringing feelings, imagination, values and justice back into the centre of the human picture.
Responding to climate anxiety
Climate anxiety is spreading and beginning to permeate therapists’ consulting rooms. Many of climate change’s "canaries", those such as activists and scientists, are at times having to face unmanageable feelings of despair, anger and grief and the Climate Psychology Alliance is responding to a growing volume of calls for support.
We believe that the therapeutic community has a vital role both in providing support and in deepening our understanding of how climate anxiety plays out both in our individual lives and in our culture. We hope that this work can also throw light upon the psychological resources – acceptance of the tragedy in the mass extinctions of species and the ability to grieve our losses as well as resilience, courage, radical hope and new forms of imagination that support change.