Who’s responsible for the green crap?

December 2, 2013 § 4 Comments

Climate change is often seen as an environmental issue. Why such a limited view? Many of its harms are a question of justice. Most of the solutions will come through political agreement. Our out-of-control consumption is a question of economics and desire. Our complicity in catastrophe is a mix of ideology, ignorance and anxiety.

Yet the words – ‘green levy’ ‘green taxes’ ‘green business’ and ‘green crap’ – resonate across the media along with the suggestion that this is all about some dispensable polar bears, some obscure insects and a bunch of people in woolly hats.

The green ghetto
Over the last few months I’ve heard a number of people suggest that environmentalists are somehow to blame for the fact that climate change is seen as an environmental issue. Climate change needs to come out of the ‘green ghetto’, they argue. Environmentalists have captured the green agenda, they complain. Environmentalists ‘put people off’ with their strident demands.

This one has the fingerprints of our old friend projection all over it. Blame is being offloaded by the bucket-load.
If you enquire a bit more deeply about who exactly is at fault, answers are not forthcoming. Is it the RSPB? No, they say. The Wildlife Trust then? No – not that kind of environmentalist. Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace then? No – they think FOE and Greenpeace do good work. Who do they mean? Bill McKibben? Jonathan Porritt? Caroline Lucas? No – they quite like all of them. Who then? They struggle. Maybe it’s the climate camp people. But they haven’t been around for over three years, I say, and there were only ever a handful of them. The argument rapidly collapses. My interlocutor is confused.


It isn’t the environmentalists who have labelled climate change an environmental issue at all. It’s the powerful who cynically frame it as belonging to a ‘green fringe’. These are the people who talk about ‘green crap’. Some of them do so in order to dismiss climate change out of hand, some of them do so from their half-hearted commitment to an issue that challenges their assumptions about how the world works. In a week where the Guardian reported that a mere 90 companies (primarily fossil-fuel companies) have produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gases generated in the industrial age, we should not be surprised at such obfuscation.

In psychological terms the process of projection occurs when one person attributes a feeling, a characteristic, an action or a responsibility to someone it doesn’t really belong to. ‘I’m not angry, you are.’ ‘He’s the most careless person I know.’ In the process called projective identification, the person who is the object of the projection comes to feel that they are indeed as described. “Perhaps I am angry…” “Maybe I am careless…” Similarly we find people from environmental organisations wondering if they are to blame for the marginalisation of climate change in the so-called ‘green ghetto’ and assuming responsibility for emerging from it.

Time to break out

Minorities live in ghettos not from their own choice but because people more powerful confine them there. If climate change is locked in a green ghetto it is not because environmentalists have put it there but because the powerful prefer to place climate change where they believe its implications will not touch them. It’s time for an uprising not an apology.


Community, anxiety and security: how do these play in work on climate change?

July 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

A sense of community is almost universally regarded as valuable. It is like motherhood: a general and unquestioned good. Activists feel they should be embedded “in the community” while governments hope “the community” will deliver services they no longer wish to invest in. But what exactly is “the community”? What is its psychological and emotional meaning and how does this impact on its possibilities as an arena for change? Who owns and controls it? Who are its gatekeepers and guardians? Who defines its boundaries, rules and membership? « Read the rest of this entry »

What happens when our unconscious fantasies play out in our campaigning materials? Thoughts on the 10:10 video

October 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

The recent short film from 10:10, rapidly taken down from their website, might encourage us to think more about the emotional experiences of those who work day in day out on climate change, whether as scientists or as persuaders and educators of the public. There is a personal toll in allowing oneself to be constantly in touch with traumatic events and potential catastrophes. Whatever else the film does,  it perhaps opens a window into the state of mind of those who struggle to do a good job and manage the fear, frustration, anxiety and rage of the close proximity to trauma. « Read the rest of this entry »

Fragile selves and stuff we buy

July 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Psychoanalysis has a complex view of the human psyche and its motivations. Its theories assume that we do not necessarily know ourselves well, that we hide our less worthy motives from ourselves, repress our unacceptable passions and that our sense of self may be contingent and fragile. How might such theories help us understand issues of identity in relation to climate change?

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Spills, subterfuge and comfort: reflections on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

May 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

The recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is referred to in the press as an oil ‘spill’. We spill milk and wipe it up. Children spill out of school. A spill is an accident, easily rectified or exuberance that shouldn’t be contained. The language suggests that we should not be too worried. A spill is a mild occurrence. There is no need to cry over it.

The use of language to disguise is well-known in the military where ‘collateral damage’ means dead civilians, ‘body count’ stands in for the number of people killed and ‘neutralise’ is a euphemism for kill. The bland bureaucratic words provide distance from the reality and a screen for those responsible to hide behind.

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Coping with Copenhagen

January 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Guardian’s January 1st promotion of the 10:10 campaign bore the headline “The politicians failed in Copenhagen – so now it’s up to you.” Psychologically, this rang alarm bells for me: emphasising small personal steps as an alternative to large-scale political failure is known to confuse and disillusion people. Coping with the fall-out from the hugely disappointing result requires more than exhortations to turn off the lights.

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