Since the publication of Engaging with Climate Change in 2012, I have given many talks on our collective difficulty in taking climate reality seriously. The texts of some of these talks can be found under Talks and Interviews on this website.
Most people are still in denial about the deadly seriousness of the climate crisis. However, many now see much more clearly that we have been living in a bubble of denial about climate reality, a bubble that encouraged us to idealise a narrow view and kept obscured the great harm and violence being done to the environment, to people and to other species. The result of this violence is that both the physical and the social climates are by now in a damaged state. At the same time, and more positively, the climate bubble of denial is now bursting, with many more people appreciating with much greater empathy that this bubble has served to maintain white privilege and Exceptionalism. With roots that reach back into history, Exceptionalism has greatly escalated harm to people and planet during the era of neoliberalism, an ideology-driven deregulated form of capitalism that gained ascendancy over the past forty odd years.
Given this context, we face that the climate crisis is human caused, meaning caused by us, collectively. I believe we have barely begun to take this in in a feeling-ful way, as to do so would face us with conflict, grief, guilt and a sense of moral injury. It would lead us to question how responsible each of us is. We need considerable support to be able to stay with these difficult feelings and to work them through in ourselves and our social groups, support that is not provided by neoliberalism’s culture of uncare.
I believe urgent questions now include how do we think proportionately about our role in this crisis? How do we manage feeling at times overwhelmed? What frameworks do we need to support thinking with care and to contain our destructiveness? What kinds of support do we need to think in a feeling-ful and not cut off way about climate?
My current work, outlined in Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis (2021), is on neoliberalism as an ideology of power, based on a mindset rooted in Exceptionalism, and promoting a culture of uncare that boosts omnipotent wishful thinking and attacks reality based thinking. The aim is to alienate and distance us from the part of us that cares about the collective effects of our actions.
To address the climate emergency we need to care more. Only felt links with the part of us that cares will give us the strength and will to defend the earth and life on earth at this time when both are so under attack. But to care more, and to take responsibility for our part in things, we need to do more than exhort ourselves to care. We need to understand more about the culture of uncare, what drives it, and the effects it has on us. We need to dig deeper into our own and our collective psychology so as to better understand ways we collude with Exceptionalism and its culture. We need to reach out to each other to help us work through the difficult emotional task we now face as we see our collusion with the corrupting culture of uncare and understand – without judging ourselves with harshness – our wish to remain in a bubble that is deadly to life.