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.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?