27 February 2011

What Would You Put in a a Psychosocial Toolkit for Advocates of Bold Climate Action?

The Post-Carbon Institute is looking into developing "a psychosocial toolkit" for supporting and sustaining environmental activists. (Check out their call for input here.) Sanjay Khanna and Asher Miller posted this:
This brief post is intended to stimulate a response among people who are bearing witness to, and tracking, the latest effects of climate change on people and the planet. It’s aimed at those who sense the consequences of large-scale inaction, and poses the question of what sorts of psychological and social resources may be needed to keep up spirits and address the potential impact of depression and
anxiety on those who are wrestling with, the climate issue.

Understandably, the American people are concerned about the state of the economy, their jobs, and their futures. For climate scientists and climate activists, however, every bit of news that confirms the hypotheses of accelerating warming -- and brings us closer by the day to catastrophic outcomes -- adds to the urgency and to the stressful nature of their work. After all, scientists and activists in their own unique ways are trying to attune policymakers and citizens, respectively, to the need for large-scale action -- action that does not seem at present to be forthcoming.

The question we’re posing is: Would a “psychosocial toolkit” help advocates of bold climate action to better cope with anger, sadness, or loss they may be feeling about accelerating changes to the climate system and the lack of mobilization among the general public and policy makers?
Here are the ideas I've sent in for what should be included. What's your reaction? Helpful? Not helpful? What would you add?

1. Reassurance that these feelings and emotions are perfectly appropriate in the face of the magnitude of the problem. (Perhaps it's not just stories from the frontlines that are important … I would add stories from people who sit at their computers all day, too.) Let's include some humour here, as well. If it ain't fun, it ain't sustainable. And we're still alive and well enough to be "activating." See, for example, Stephanie McMillan's excellent Code Green cartoons.

2. Please include some psychological definitions. For example, inaction on the climate change emergency is a classic case of cognitive dissonance -- which can drive people nuts (which isn't an official psycho-term, by the way). We (including the public) hear all the news about the climate change emergency -- but then we see zero urgent action. Our mind says, WTF?

3. Some ecopsychological prescriptions / exercises might be in order … computer-bound climate activists sometimes forget to go outside and breathe deeply, feel the breeze on their cheek, delight in the dappled light through the leaves, go for a walk around the block, stop to smell some flowers.

4. Suggestions for finding "buddies." Because of computer activism, many activists are alone doing this work. There's nothing worse than being in the depths of despair with no one "nearby" (really nearby or virtually nearby) who understands and can help us keep our head above water. Maybe it would just need to be a forum where people could go during their darkest hours to find someone to talk to (and who would suggest a walk in the fresh night air!).

5. Examples of activists in other fights who have dealt with the psychosocial aspects. For example, was it Gandhi who suggested that we should turn our depression into anger, and then our anger into action?

6. The Truth about
  • The Science - A lot of the people pushing for bold action on climate change know that it's vital but don't understand the science deeply enough to feel expert enough to speak out boldly. Courage is definitely called for, but clarity adds to that courage.
  • The Deniers - If activists really understand the motives and tactics behind the denial machine's campaign, they'll feel better about how their own attempts to push through the denial of the public feel so puny at times.
  • The ENGOs - Helping people understand the inertia of the big green NGOs (and where much of their funding comes from) will help them with the cognitive dissonance of knowing the urgency and seeing only small personal actions (turn off your lights for one hour per year) suggested by these groups.
  • The Scientists - Scientists are people, too -- and most of them are ordinary people educated in a reductionist system with little knowledge of ecological principles. Climate activists need to understand this so that they can understand why so few climate scientists are calling for urgent action.

19 February 2011

The Courage and Compassion of My Climate Hero Friends

Just a quick one today. I want to say thank you to some very special friends of mine who are giving their lives to help safeguard life on Earth. All three are climate activists extraordinaire, and I'd like to showcase and share their work with you.

Glenn MacIntosh, of ecoSanity.org, has been calling it like it is for several years now — one of the few anywhere in the world brave enough to tell the truth about the threat we face. ecoSanity.org's focus is "the clear, present, accelerating global emergency of the climate crisis and the unprecedented threat it poses RIGHT NOW to the survival of most life — this century." ecoSanity.org advocates "emergency worldwide mobilization at war-time speed to restore our rapidly destabilizing global climate to the safe balance that allowed us to evolve." Glenn works non-stop to bring us blogSanity and vidSanity. Visit his website to SEE, ACT and then INSPIRE. But take your courage and compassion with you!

Cory Morningstar is a fearless inspiration to me. She has wonderful children and pours her love for them into her work and her writing, which you can find at Canadians for Action on Climate Change. Cory also makes me laugh when the world gets me down (like last weekend when someone called me "negative" for talking about ensuring food security for the children in my community in light of the threat of climate change). Cory is currently working on a kick-ass book that will unmask many of the world's biggest climate change cowards and cons. You can check out some of Cory's chapters at The Art of Annihilation. But take your courage and compassion with you!

And finally, my hubby, Dr. Peter Carter ... man, is he one committed fighter! It is possible that Peter knows more about the climate change emergency than any other human being on this planet — that's how much time he spends at it, searching and sifting through the data, comparing, contrasting, extrapolating ... realizing what's happening. The thought of losing the birds, bees and butterflies and all the other beauty in the natural world (growing up an only child in the countryside ensured a lifelong love for the rest of Nature) spurs Peter to spend all day, every day researching, writing about and then filming his syntheses of the climate change research. Please visit his Youtube Channel if you'd like to learn the science behind the worst threat our species has ever faced. But take your courage and compassion with you!

13 February 2011

Wearing Our Sweaters While Melting the Ice in Our Hearts

Two things came across my desk this week. (Now there's a pre-email expression, when notices arrived by post!) They're such opposite takes on what needs to happen that I'd like to juxtapose them here. Mind you, not to be unkind — with the sun peeking through the trees today, I'd like to believe that we're all doing our best. (It's just that our best really sucks right now and the future is rapidly becoming a thing of the past because of it.) I hope the juxtaposition will be instructional.

1. Did you know that February 17 is National Sweater Day here in Canada? Yup, it's the one day of the year we're supposed to turn down our thermostats — at home, work and school — and put on a sweater to stay warm. The announcement says
This single action can help make a difference to the future of the planet. If every Canadian turned down the thermostat by two degrees in winter, 2.2 megatonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved per year — the equivalent of taking about 350,000 cars off the road. That's an important step toward reducing our carbon footprint.
Two degrees? Is that all? Considering that the average Canadian household is about 22 degrees Celsius (71-72 degrees F) all winter, I think we can stand turning down our heat by more than 2 degrees, no? Especially in light of the fact that a lot of Canadians keep their houses cooler than that during the summer! How can we look our children in the eyes and say we've done all we could when we keep our houses cooler in the summer than in the winter? It's cuckoo! So yes, put on a sweater, but keep it on all blinkin' winter!

2. On the other hand, I also heard from Greenland Eskimo elder and shaman, Angaangaq, who shared this:

My Elders say it is too late to stop the melting of the Big Ice.

Everywhere I go, people ask: So what can we do? My Elders say: Change!

They say that the easiest ice to be melted is the ice on the ground. The hardest ice to be melted is the one in the heart of Man. Only by melting the ice in the heart of Man does Man have a chance to change and begin using his knowledge wisely.

We have been doing the same old stuff over and over again. And we know it does not work. We still have wars, the Big Ice is melting every day, pollution is getting worse, and we have never been so many people before. Now we need to change. Now we need to melt the ice in our hearts and to begin using our knowledge wisely.

See the difference? One strategy lasts a day, one suggests transformative change.

Are we willing to suffer the cold for the sake of our children? Or aren't we? (Mostly, we aren't.) The heat will come soon enough.

p.s. Please start praying for a miracle. Perhaps the miracle of compassion.

05 February 2011

"A Child is Trapped Under that Car!"

The latest synthesis of ice core data combined with the latest predictions about food security and climate change in the Arctic are painting a very dark, very scary picture of the quite close future. I cried myself to sleep last night, and by this afternoon, still had not shaken my sadness at the thought that my beloved niece is likely going to be robbed of her future.

"Doom and gloom," my mom called it when I phoned her today. I burst into tears. "You don't get it. It's like Savannah is trapped under a car," I sobbed to my poor dumbfounded mother, "and NOBODY'S LIFTING THE CAR OFF HER!"

A whole generation of wonderful young people is trapped underneath that metaphorical car. Urban legend tells us that loving mothers in a "frenzy of maternal fear" can lift cars off their trapped babies. A new kind of urban legend, Tom Boyle Jr., lifted a Camaro off a bicyclist crumpled beneath it. Neuroscientist Jeff Wise shares that story in an article on the "super powers" we get from fear.

He explains that "[t]here is a bright side to crisis. The experience could give you a rare opportunity to meet a part of your mind you otherwise would never encounter—and to find out just how powerful you really are." Here are the four "super powers" fear gives us:
  1. Fear — our danger-response system — allows us to respond rapidly and vigorously to a threat.
  2. Fear can increase our strength — in the moment, sometimes accomplishing this by deadening pain. (Boyle discovered later that he'd clenched his jaw so hard while lifting the car, he shattered eight teeth — I want this guy on our side!)
  3. Fear gives us incredible focus.
  4. Fear dilates time, putting everything into what seems like slow motion. This helps us do what we have to do.
Unfortunately, as so many commentators have pointed out, the climate change emergency is, for the vast majority of us, a creeping emergency. So we haven't had our amygdalas and limbic systems fired up and our hormones and neurotransmitters released. Yet.

And because we're so gawddamned comfortable (lazy, greedy, cowardly, insert-suitable-adjective-here), we're simply going to ignore the child pinned under the car. "Car? What car? Legs? I didn't see any legs. Did you see legs? I didn't see any legs."

Maybe I can't singlehandedly lift the car, but I am not going to refrain from expressing my fear and my sadness. (It's now officially your problem if you can't handle the truth. Though as a friend said recently about a blog post here: "Clarity of understanding creates hope for me.")

I am going to do something very concrete in response to my sadness and fear. I am going to help get our first Green Party Member of Parliament elected here in Canada. I am going to respond rapidly and vigorously when our climate-change-denying prime minister calls an election. I am going to use all my strength to work round-the-clock. I am going to focus like mad. And the whole campaign will go into slow motion so that we can get everything done in order to make history here in my riding.


P.S. I did help get our first Green Party MP elected! Woohoo!!