stones

Values are guiding principles in life and represent what we consider to be important, whereas goals reflect aspects of life deemed worthy of striving for.

Influences behaviour

Studies show that the more strongly individuals subscribe to values and goals beyond their own immediate self-interest (self-transcendence, prosocial, altruistic or biospheric values, intrinsic goals) the more likely they are to engage in pro-environmental behaviour (Steg and Vlek, 2009). These values are to do with care and concern for others, and for the natural world. Conversely, values and goals to do with enhancing your own status and having power over others, acquiring financial wealth, material goods and other external rewards (self-enhancement values, extrinsic goals) are associated with lack of concern for the wellbeing of other people or the natural world, and with higher materialism (Kasser et al, 2004).

Anxiety-free or anxiety-based

Whereas self-transcendence values are anxiety free, self-enhancement values are anxiety based: they are pursued to cope with anxiety in situations of uncertainty or threat (Schwartz et al, 2012). Likewise, people may orient towards extrinsic goals as a way to enhance their self-esteem and/or sense of security and of being in control (Crompton and Kasser, 2009). Anxiety has been shown to reduce empathy because it is linked to egocentrism (Todd et al, 2015).

Priming

It is thought that we have the full range of values and goals available to us but we may have a dispositional tendency to prioritise some over others. These tendencies can change over time. The strength and salience of values in individuals is influenced by the relative strength of these values in wider society (Kasser et al, 2004). We can be influenced, or primed, into activating certain values without us even being consciously aware that this is happening e.g. through advertising, the media, political discourse, and through being influenced by our social networks and group affiliations. When values are repeatedly activated, they become strengthened in the mind relative to other values, and this strengthening makes them subsequently easier to activate.

Interaction with other psycho-social factors

Values and goals interact with other drivers of behaviour in complex ways. There are many other psycho-social factors that influence how we act in the world including identity, type of motivation, and how a person copes with psychological threat (Andrews, 2017). We also make trade offs between different values and goals, so that a pro-environmental behaviour may be in line with one value or goal but in conflict with others. Depending on how salient these other values and goals are in the mind, the behaviour may not then be enacted or may be cancelled out in a rebound effect. Rebound is when environmental benefits from one behaviour are cancelled out by changes in behaviour in other areas, e.g. money saved through home energy efficiency is used on flights abroad. Developing our understanding of the way that values, goals and other psych-social factors interact to influence our cognition and behaviour is critical for ensuring our responses to ecological crisis are adaptive rather than maladaptive.

References

Andrews, N. (2017). Psychosocial factors influencing the experience of sustainability professionals. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy, 8(4), 445-469.

Crompton, T. and Kasser, T. (2009). Meeting environmental challenges: the role of human identity. Godalming, UK: WWF-UK.

Kasser, T., et al. (2004). Materialistic values: their causes and consequences. In Kasser, T. and Kanner, A.D. (Eds.). Psychology and consumer culture: the struggle for a good life in a materialistic world, pp.11-28. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Schwartz, S. H., et al. (2012). Refining the theory of basic individual values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(4), 663–88. 


Steg, L. and Vlek, C. (2009). Encouraging pro-environmental behaviour: an integrative review and research agenda. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29, 309-317.

Todd, A. R., et al. (2015). Anxious and egocentric: how specific emotions influence perspective taking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Generals, 144(2), 374-391.

fracking

The culture of un-care works to promote a bubble-like ‘as if’ fake world...

IMG 0930 1

The word ‘un-care’ has come to have a particular meaning within climate psychology. Here, ‘un-care’ is a process, meaning actively promoting disassociation from the loving part of the self. The human self is, broadly speaking, divided. One part loves, seeks a truthful picture, is concerned, takes responsibility and wants to repair damage caused in genuine ways; the other part is more uncaring, self-involved and out for number one. It does not take responsibility for damage and suffering, but seeks ‘as if’ quick fixes for moral problems.

Bringing out the worst in us

Sally Weintrobe has argued that neoliberal culture actively un-cares us: it boosts an exaggerated sense of entitlement to be it all, have it all and not feel responsible. It undermines our capacity to care about others. She has called this the culture of un-care. It works to disassociate us from feelings of grief that the neoliberal economy is damaging the life support systems of people and planet, and grief about our collusion.

Culture refers to external culture (advertising, media, political framing, language framing, education and the academe) and also an inner psychic culture in which disavowal (turning a blind eye) can flourish. The culture of un-care works to promote a bubble-like ‘as if’ fake world in which everything is present and possible, and nothing is apparently lost.

References

Weintrobe, S. (2019). The new imagination. In Trogal et. al. (Eds.). Architecture and resilience. Abingdon-on-Thames, UK: Routledge.

Weintrobe, S. (2019) (in press). Climate change: the moral dimension. In Morgan, D. (Ed.). The unconscious in social and political life. Phoenix Press.

See also: www.sallyweintrobe.com for blogs on the culture of un-care.

trauma

Simple and complex trauma

Trauma in the context of climate change may result from discrete events, which lead to the loss, for example, of homes through flooding or fire. Trauma in relation to environmental change may also appear as something less defined; a pervasive state similar to complex developmental trauma.

Trauma caused by particular events

Discrete traumatic events may destroy the ability to feel safe. This kind of trauma is likely to induce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as nightmares, flashbacks and hyper-arousal. For a full psychiatric review of studies of trauma related to climate change go to: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00074/full

Complex trauma

States of mind and bodily feelings potentially evoked by climate anxiety and systematic oppressions have much in common with complex or developmental trauma, where no direct experience of a traumatic event has been involved. In relation to climate change, these may be linked to and interact with a range of traumas, such as anticipated trauma (pre-traumatic stress disorder), the experience of loss of continuity in the environment (see Solastalgia), and what Menakem (2017) terms historical, intergenerational and institutionalised trauma. This adversely affects the development of an internalised ‘holding environment’ or sense of containment; and may create a traumatised state of mind which becomes a subtly pervasive feature of collective experience manifest, for example, in constant vigilance.

Alienation from the natural world

The alienation created in our modern lives from the more-than-human world also affects psychological resilience and the capacity to recover from any kind of traumatic experience. Harold Searles writes: “An ecologically healthy relatedness to our non-human environment is essential to the development and maintenance of our sense of being human.” And the capacity to deal with the ordinary losses of life is “undermined, disrupted and distorted, concomitant with the ecological deterioration” (Searles, 1975).

Trauma and learned helplessness

Van Der Kolk (2015, p203) found that patients acquired a kind of learned helplessness from repeated and/or continuous trauma:

“Trauma robs you of the feeling that you are in charge of yourself, of… self-leadership.”

If disconnection from the natural world creates something similar to complex or developmental trauma then perhaps as a culture we are affected by learned helplessness. This may explain, in part at least, our apparent apathy in relation to climate change.

The effect on the nervous system

Prolonged and continuous climate-related anxiety affects the nervous system so that it may no longer easily regulate stress and rest responses, and it becomes unable to switch appropriately between the two. It may also disrupt normal patterns of sleep and rest, leading to a continuous state of hyper-arousal.

Van Der Kolk proposes that the way to heal complex trauma is through awareness of how the body’s natural alarm systems have been affected by trauma and a re-training of neurological responses.

Managing climate-change-related trauma

A widely applied therapeutic response to psychological trauma (Herman, 2015) involves a three-stage recovery process:

  • safety and stabilisation
  • remembrance and mourning, and
  • recognition and integration.

While effective in the healing of simple trauma, this formulation may not work so well for complex trauma in relation to climate change. The deep and pervasive effects of this require healing and change at not only the individual level but also that of community and culture.

Healing complex trauma

There is evidence that unless we can create a coherent narrative about traumatic events, we have difficulty recovering from them (Bednarek, 2020; Herman, 2015).  Building the capacity to manage overwhelming feelings, and finding the courage and support to face these feelings, are essential parts of the healing process for all kinds of trauma. Joining with others to create resilient communities, regenerative cultures and more sustainable lifestyles may in the end be the only truly effective means of managing climate-related complex trauma.

References

Bednarek, S. (2021). Climate change, fragmentation and the effects of collective trauma. Bridging the divided stories we live by. Journal of Social Work Practice, 35: 5-17.

Herman, J. (2015). Trauma and recovery: the aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books.

Menakem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hand: racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies. Las Vegas: Central Recovery Press.

Searle, H. (1975). Unconscious processes in relation to the environmental crisis. Psychoanalytic Review, 59 (3): 361-374.

Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. New York and London: Penguin.

cloud

Splitting processes divide what should remain whole, but they also work to destroy connections

Dividing what should be whole

Do we have the psychological capacity to face up to our destructiveness as a species without either despairing of humankind or clinging with religious fervour to the idea of human progress? If we are unable to hold the tension between despair and hope, we end up splitting one from the other, creating an either/or opposition in the process. When we fail to contain the tensions, contradictions, ambiguities, dilemmas and paradoxes of life, we then ‘split’ reality into binary polarities. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the nature/human binary and, having split humankind from nature, modern society then splits reason from emotion, equating the latter with the feminine.

All or nothing/Now or never

Splitting can affect our capacity for engagement with environmental issues when it results in an ‘all or nothing’ approach. We throw ourselves into an all-consuming commitment which, because it is all consuming, demands an immediate return. Then, when reality proves recalcitrant, despair sets in. As one activist put it:

...there’s definitely a danger of tying your whole sense of worth and purpose to this challenge that is so much bigger than you and is never ending (Hoggett & Randall, 2018)
This binary is often linked to another which is ‘now or never’. In climate change work this is manifested in the belief that ‘we must all act now or it will be too late’, a belief that can all too quickly slip into the perception that it is already ‘too late’, and that processes have already been unleashed which are irreversibly leading us to catastrophe.

Not making the connections we should

Splitting processes divide what should remain whole, but they also work to destroy connections so that things that should add up no longer do. This failure to make connections is a common defence in relation to our environmental destructiveness. Here, a retired scientist talks about his daughter, who ‘considers herself to be quite green’ but also ‘shops for England’:

...she doesn't follow that logic or train of thought to the fact that these things are being made in sweatshops and then put on aircraft and shipped over here. So part of some of the connections are made, but they don't actually make any difference. (Tollemache, 2017)

Taken to extremes, this failure to connect can lead to bizarre inconsistencies. Visiting Shell’s headquarters, George Marshall was struck by the fanatical obsession with health and safety of a company which was busy destroying the planet (Marshall 2014). Paradoxically, many fossil fuel companies manifest characteristics of a ‘green’ company culture. The following comes from an interview with someone who was close to the inside workings of one such organisation:

...there is a certain amount of kind of, erm, rather worthy continental European, you know, green living in the company sometimes, so sometimes you do go to parties, company parties in London, at which people comment how terrible it is you can't get around London on a bicycle, which seems strange (he laughs). (Tollemache 2017)

This example also shows how processes such as splitting need to be understood systemically, as they become manifest in networks, cultures and organisations as well as within the individual mind. Splitting can therefore lead to socially normalised but disassociated states in which, on the one hand, we know about climate change and yet carry on with life as if we didn’t know. Donna Orange (2017) refers to this as ‘double-mindedness’, a kind of living in two worlds.

References

Hoggett, P. & Randall, R. (2018). Engaging with climate change: Comparing the cultures of science and activism. Environmental Values, 27, 223-243.

Marshall, G. (2014). Don’t even think about it: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. London: Bloomsbury.

Orange, D. (2017). Climate crisis, psychoanalysis, and radical ethics. London & New York: Routledge.

Tollemache, R. (2017). Thoughts and feelings about climate change: An in-depth investigation. Bristol, UWE: Unpublished PhD thesis.

Photo above: The rift in the Larsen C ice shelf. John Sonntag/NASA/AP.

bird

The background

One of the sources that lends meaning to the term solastalgia goes back to the Swiss physician Johannes Hofer, who in 1688 established the term “nostalgia” based on observations of soldiers who, he concluded, were homesick.

Until the middle of the 20th century, homesickness was perceived as a diagnosable psycho-physical condition. This reflects a period in human history when people travelled far less than they do now. From the middle of the 18th century, nostalgia changed its meaning from homesickness to a sentimental desire to be connected with a positively perceived period or place in the past (Albrecht 2019, p.30). In light of the immense human and “more-than-human” displacement caused by climate change, the Hoferian concept of nostalgia signifying deep place-based distress is highly relevant today. 

The coining of the term

The Australian environmental researcher and philosopher Glenn A. Albrecht coined the term solastalgia, which he based on the words solace (that which gives comfort) and algos (Greek for pain). He argues that if we seek solace in a much-loved place that is being despoiled, we suffer distress. Desolation is associated with feeling devastated, deprived or abandoned (Albrecht, 2019, pp.37-8).

Summarising the above, solastalgia refers to the pain or distress caused by the loss of a comforting place; the sense of desolation people feel, consciously or unconsciously, when their home or land is lost to e.g. road building, dam projects, deforestation and so forth. Albrecht argues that invasive changes like this to one’s home environment are perceived as an attack on one’s sense of place. Solastalgia is a reversed form of nostalgia: it is the homesickness we feel in (rather than for) our own home (Albrecht 2019, p.38). 

Image: Adam Stevenson

Influencing thinkers – phenomenological evidence

Freud’s (1919) concept of the Unheimliche (the Uncanny) shares similarities with solastalgia, in the sense that both terms convey a disturbed, sinister or threatening sense of home life caused by adverse internal or place-based changes of one’s home environment. The fellow Australian Elyne Mitchell who published Soil and Civilization in 1946 was an inspirational source for Albrecht’s work and influenced his conception of solastalgia.

Albrecht’s conception of solastalgia is based on collaborative field-based research in the Hunter Valley in Australia’s New South Wales, for which he interviewed people living close to open-cast mines. Individual accounts reveal participants’ intense and enduring psychological and physical distress of having to live and farm close to the mines: solastalgia is place-based distress (2019, p.49).

Ecosystem health

Solastalgia is closely related to Hippocrates’ notion that human health is closely connected to a healthy environment (Albrecht, 2017), and to Elyne Mitchell (1946) and Aldo Leopold’s (1949) conceptions of the interrelatedness of land health and human health: a depleted landscape where biodiversity is diminished can induce a sense of solastalgia. Mitchell (1946, p.4) was one of many marginalised female voices who pointed out that exploitative practices such as large-scale agriculture and colonisation have contributed to an endemic disconnect between humans and the planet.

In the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, emerging insights from science are clarifying the relationship between virus spread and habitat loss – due to exploitative practices such as large-scale deforestation (Mowat, 2020).

The global context of solastalgia

Whilst solastalgia has been felt for many centuries by many cultures, ecosystem distress and climate chaos have intensified the feeling described by the term. It is now used to describe the distress people experience in response to such phenomena as wildfires, flooding, drought, land clearing, overfishing and so forth.

Jules Pretty (2014), who has travelled to many regions where the natural world and people are under increasing pressure from development, reports a deep sense of solastalgia in response to the loss of traditional cultures and irreversible loss of home environments. See also a series of essays compiled by Cunsolo & Landman (2017) that portray ecological grief.

Related concepts

Kriss Kevorkian (2019) coined the terms “environmental grief” and “ecological grief” in 1999. The former describes the grief brought about by the loss of ecosystems as a result of natural or man-made events. He defines ecological grief as the grief resulting from the disconnection from and relational loss of our natural world (Kevorkian, 2019 para. 1 and 2).

Cunsolo & Ellis acknowledge that their own case studies on ecological grief resonate strongly with Albrecht’s concept of solastalgia. They contend that ecological grief is a natural response to ecological loss, particularly for people who retain close living, working and cultural relationships with the natural environment. As more and more people globally experience the impact of anthropogenic activities, ecological grief is likely to increase dramatically (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018, p.275) and develop into a mental health crisis.

Critique of solastalgia

Albrecht’s notion of solastalgia is not without criticism. De Bruyn (2020, p.13) states that whilst Albrecht deserves praise for his attempt to construct a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene psyche, he also needs to be challenged about a perceived lack of dialogue with other researchers in related fields. There is a sense that Albrecht does not give enough credence to peoples’ ambiguous feelings about place. See De Bruyn, (2020) for a more elaborate critique of Albrecht’s work.

References

Albrecht, G. A. (2017). Solastalgia and the new mourning. In Cunsolo, A., and Landman, K. (eds), Mourning nature: hope at the heart of ecological loss and grief. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, pp.292-315.

Albrecht, G. A. (2019). Earth emotions. New words for a new world. Cornell University Press.

Cunsolo, A. & Landman, K. (2017). Mourning nature: hope at the heart of ecological loss and grief. London: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Cunsolo, A. & Ellis, N. (2018). Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Climate Change, 8, 275-281

De Bruyn, B. (2020). Review of ‘Earth emotions: new words for a new world’ by Albrecht, G.A. American Imago, 77, 1, 213-222.

Freud, S. (1919). The uncanny. In the Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. Vol 17

Fromm, E. (1964). The heart of man: its genius for good and evil. Riverdale NY: American Mental Health Foundation Books.

Kevorkian, C. (2019). On environmental grief and the rights of nature. [Online]  https://seeingthewoods.org/2019/05/03/environmental-grief-and-the-rights-of-nature/ (Accessed 6 August 2020).

Leopold, A. (1949/1989). A sand county almanac. New York: University Press.

Mitchell, E. (1946). Soil and civilization. Sydney: Halstead Press.

Mowat, H. (2020). Protecting forests will help safeguard our future. [Online]https://theecologist.org/2020/mar/26/protecting-forests-will-help-safeguard-our-future. (Accessed 27 March 2020].

Pretty, J. (2014). The edge of extinction: travels with enduring people in vanishing lands. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press.

shame

Guilt may be corrosive, but shame can pierce our very sense of identity.


Shame is the feeling of humiliation triggered by the real or imagined gaze of the other; bringing ridicule, exposing dishonourable behaviour or evoking a sense of failure to live up to important values. As with guilt, the interplay between internal/internalised elements (like conscience), and the force of others’ judgements and reactions, is variable and can be complex. For instance, someone with strong self-belief will be less vulnerable to others’ views. Perhaps the key difference between guilt and shame is that the former refers to what one has or hasn’t done, whereas the latter is more about who one is. Guilt may be corrosive, but shame can pierce our very sense of identity.

In ‘shaming’ as deliberate action, the other is by definition real. A deliberate social sanction is applied by one individual or group against another, to punish and/or alter behaviour, via exposure and a message of disapproval or reproach. The objective may be reinforcement of prevailing values (for example, against WW1 conscientious objectors), or spreading new values (as in flight shaming).
Shame and shaming have great relevance to climate psychology and it is worth looking at how they operate in this context, as well as considering their efficacy. Here are some instances:

1. ‘Greta Thunberg weaponised shame in an era of shamelessness’. (Washington Post).1

2. ‘Flight shame could halve growth in air traffic’. (BBC News).2

3. ‘The real kicker is shame’. (CPA podcast).3

Involvement in a collective sense of shame about climate and ecological degradation is a common feeling amongst those who have become sensitised to the climate emergency. This invariably co-exists with other emotions such as anger (outward-directed) and forms part of the distress which needs to be understood and contained in any therapeutic intervention based on climate psychology.

Each of these examples illustrates ways in which shame can be deployed. Point 3. also involves defences against shame. In point 4., there is a spontaneous recognition of involvement in harm, where cultural norms may have previously masked awareness but new awareness removes that comfort and leads to shame. In point 2., there is a concerted effort by a group to shift the norms of acceptable behaviour, and the predicted outcome is a partial success because, given shared values, some recipients of the message are amenable to it. (Peer group values and reinforcement are obviously a factor here). In point 1., the term ‘weaponisation’ reflects a more aggressive onslaught on widely embedded values and behaviour. Intense resistance is anticipated and is challenged with weapons/arguments such as inter-generational justice. The child-to-adult dynamic is used to intensify shame by pointing out that the ‘grownups’ are the ones acting irresponsibly.

The question underlying all these examples of shame and shaming is how effective they are in challenging the cultural complexes that underlie humankind’s path of ecological and climate destruction. Several of these complexes have been named by climate psychology, for instance, the culture of un-care – the illusion of autonomy/denial of dependence and enduring sense of entitlement to high carbon lifestyles, together with the consumerist paradigm of wellbeing and indifference to the other-than-human world – which has been widely explored in ecopsychology.

Footnotes

1. Washington Post, 25 Sept 2019. Available online (paywall).

2. BBC News, 2 Oct 2019. [Online]. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-49890057

3. Hickman, C., with Sharp, V. (2019). What’s under the surface in the attacks on the school strikers. [CPA podcast].

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