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October 2014

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us...
Beyond a penchant for public decapitation, there may not be all that much in common between France’s reign of terror (central to Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities) and the brutal zeal of the new caliphate.  But it looks as if much of humankind is once again plunging into enmity of a kind which dominates the public mind, the media and politics.  Along with all the other good reasons for an “Oh No!” reaction, this situation looks bound to be a further massive distraction from the challenge of stopping climate and ecological meltdown.  Are we once again facing the worst of times?
In the context of climate psychology it has, or had, the potential to be the best of times, in the sense that two brilliant books, both in their very different ways richly informed by thinking in our field, have come on sale.  One, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything : capitalism vs the climate, has already been reviewed on our website by Ro Randall and can be accessed here.   Ro notes (in spite of everything) a sense of hope and possibility.
The other book is George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About it – why our brains are wired to ignore climate change.  Despite the pessimism that can be inferred from the title and actually voiced by some of Marshall’s interviewees and despite his respect for the “wickedness” of the problem, this volume too is vibrant with creative energy and thoughts about how to overcome the impasses and errors that have beset climate communication and climate activism.  In a very reader-friendly structure, with 42 chapters of around six pages each, Marshall helps us to navigate the maze of difficulties, by breaking it down into a series of linked components.
Both books exhibit the cross-fertilization of a maturing subject.  In the case of Don’t Even Think About It, Marshall’s many references include Ro Randall, Sally Weintrobe, Renee Lertzman and Mark Brayne.  In the formative days of CPA, there was a lot of anxiety around as to whether the culturally and academically diverse field of psychology could achieve any coherence or sense of common purpose with regard to climate change, however urgent the challenge.   There are clear signs that this has started to happen.  In that sense at least, these are better times, if not the best of times.
Marshall devotes a chapter in his book to “enemy narratives”.  Here, as elsewhere, his argument is thoughtfully nuanced, but perhaps the key point is that “The missing truth, deliberately avoided in these enemy narratives, is that in high carbon societies, everyone contributes to the emissions that cause the problem and everyone has a strong reason to ignore the problem or to write their own alibi.”  Here, in colloquial language, is what psychoanalytic contributors to CPA have recognised as splitting and projection on a massive scale.  Renee Lertzman too has expressed the problem in everyday terms, with her references to the “tangle” in which we can find ourselves.  Marshall advocates a move from enemy narratives to ones “based on cooperation, mutual interests and our common humanity”.  This vision has been evident in COIN’s work for a while.  Once again, let us hope that this already challenging task (for our famously quarrelsome species) is not further obstructed, in a world gripped by military conflict.  The climate marches of 21st September may have to be repeated.
A new and excellent review, published in Psychodynamic Practice , has brought back to the fore Sally Weintrobe’s and colleagues’ ground breaking volume Engaging with Climate Change.  Its author, CPA member Terry Patterson, issues at the end a challenge to psychotherapists over our failure in the main to respond to climate change as an issue of huge and specific importance to our profession.  The article can be accessed here.  It should be noted that Terry’s admonition, whilst it contains the tough observation that psychotherapists seem to be as heavily defended against the threat of climate change as the rest of the population, is balanced by the observation that activists exhibit their own equally obdurate defences against the horror of what is unfolding on our planet. These are issues of central importance to CPA and they will not go away, any more than climate change itself and the threat it poses to the physical and mental health of billions of people will go away. For any therapist reading these lines who feels bemused by the rebuke to our profession, it might be helpful to add that CPA has received several requests for referrals to therapists who will not deal in a formulaic or reductionist way with the distress and disturbance which they are experiencing, in the face of ecocide and escalating climate disruption.
A welcome contrast to this frustration is on offer, from the field of psychiatry.  Here is a link to Daniel Maughan’s article, posted a few days ago on the CPA website, entitled “The Royal College of Psychiatrists – sustainability summit”.  Dr Judith Anderson of CPA was a leading contributor.  Inter-disciplinary links are another core objective of the Alliance.
Finally, our website’s technical problems seem finally to have been resolved.  Anyone wanting to post a comment simply has to fill in the short form at the bottom of the article in question. In particular we’d really like to encourage CPA members to contribute new material or become regular contributors. So if you feel the urge why not follow the instructions under the ‘Contribute’ button on the website. If any further glitches are encountered, please e-mail Milo at, who will take the appropriate action.     
Paul Hoggett
Emeritus Professor of Social Policy, UWE, Bristol.

Psychotherapist registered with the British Psychoanalytic Council and Member of the Severnside Institute for Psychotherapy.

Chair of the Climate Psychology Alliance.