Facing climate change – report from a conference at the University of the West of England

April 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

Climate change poses an unprecedented threat to human life and yet the response, from national policy makers to individual consumers, remains tragically inadequate. The ‘Facing Climate Change’ conference on March 7th, organised jointly by Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility and the Centre for Psycho-Social Studies at the University of the West of England brought together 160 climate change activists, psychotherapists and social researchers to explore the human dynamics of our collective denials and failures to respond.

First of the morning speakers was George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network with an energetic presentation on perceptions of risk, the metaphors that frame climate-change discourse, the importance of social norms in preventing or generating pro-environmental behaviours and the socially supported strategies that people use for denying or avoiding the significance of climate change.

George was followed by Paul Hoggett of UWE with a very thoughtful exploration drawing on Susan Long’s work on perverse organisations and demonstrating the way in which the dominance of instrumental relations, the disembodiment of knowledge and ‘as-if’ relations, could lead to the creation of a set of ‘virtual’ policies where we might both wish for tough targets and wish for them to be missed.

The morning ended with a lyrical presentation by Mary-Jane Rust from an eco-psychological perspective about the significance of people’s disconnection from the natural world.

These three, very different speakers, were followed by an array of workshops from the practical to the theoretical, including one from myself, describing the psychological perspectives we use in Cambridge Carbon Footprint’s work.

Like all conferences, it was exhausting, energising and uplifting in turn. I’d recommend any counsellor or psychotherapist to look out for talks by any of these speakers.

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