Loss and climate change: the cost of parallel narratives. An article that explores theories of loss in relation to climate change

November 1, 2009 § 3 Comments

Can psychoanalytic theories about loss help us deal with climate change? In a paper “Loss and climate change: the cost of parallel narratives” due to be published shortly in the online journal Ecopsychology  I suggest that it can.

Climate change discourses present us with two parallel narratives, one about the problems of climate change, the other about the solutions. When media commentators discuss the problem of climate change, loss often features dramatically and terrifyingly in their stories but is located in the future or in places remote from Western audiences. In narratives about solutions – particularly in the discourse of government – loss is completely excised and we are encouraged to believe that ‘small steps’, technical wizardry or perhaps the pursuit of happiness will do the trick.
The paper suggests that this division into parallel narratives is the result of a defensive process of splitting and projection that protects the public from the need to truly face and mourn the losses associated with climate change. The effect is to produce monstrous and terrifying images of the future accompanied by bland and ineffective proposals for change now. I suggest that a more sophisticated understanding of the processes of loss and mourning, which allowed them to be restored to public narratives, would help to release energy for realistic and lasting programmes of change.
Drawing on my work with Carbon Conversations groups in Cambridge I describe in the paper how William Worden’s typology of the tasks of mourning and their negatives may provide an appropriate model for exploring the kinds of losses that climate change faces us with, losses that range from the extinction of species to the loss of a familiar Western style of life, with its typical aspirations and must-have purchases. Acknowledgment of the real and painful losses that climate changes faces us with might help to develop a culture of greater truthfulness and might help us to forge practical programmes that could support people in working through changes that conflict with our expectations, identity and familiar ways of maintaining security.

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