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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

symposium-tall-wide

Please check out the exciting upcoming symposium on Earth, Climate, Dreams, which is sponsored by the Depth Psychology Alliance. For more information please click here.

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On November 2nd a forum will be held on climate change messaging at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. The forum is open to the public with talks given by leaders in the fields of climate science, psychology, economics and neuroscience. I would like to thank Dr. Jerry Schubel, the director of the aquarium, for organizing this forum after being inspired by my book Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future. Please come and join us for an exciting day of presentations and interactions.

climate-change-forum

 

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I will be discussing, reading and signing my book “Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future” at the Trident Bookstore & Cafe, Boulder, CO on April 16th from 2-4pm. Please stop by…

Trident-flyer

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I will be in Boulder, Colorado next week to present with my friend Marda Kirn on the dance of science & art. If you are around the area and are interested please click on the announcement below…

Dance

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Big Sur

“Anxiety has an unmistakable relation to expectation.”

Sigmund Freud

Our reliance on fossil fuels as the main source to address our energy needs is untenable. The burning of these fuels is causing carbon dioxide levels to rapidly increase and thus warm the planet via the greenhouse effect. The burning of coal is destroying local air quality and placing many thousands at direct health risk. We are experiencing human caused climate change now. If we continue on our current path, planetary warming will reach unprecedented levels within decades. We can no longer afford to deny, ignore or diminish the problem of climate change. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence for climate change we continue to burn these fuels and in the United States we continue to turn away from the warnings of what is happening to our world.

Denial is a classic way to avoid dealing with a disturbing issue. You can probably remember either consciously or unconsciously using this strategy to avoid or postpone action on a pressing problem. Disturbing information or situations evoke a sense of anxious dread within us. We feel overwhelmed by facing the situation and procrastinate. We all do this. Often when we actually do face the problem it turns out that addressing it was less painful than imagined. Our expectation of loss created a deep sense of fear that amplified the actual situation. Understanding the psychological processes that occur in situations of denial can actually help us penetrate the barriers preventing us from moving beyond the problem. This is why it is so important to explore the psychological dimensions of climate change. We can learn much from the experiences of clinical psychology, social psychology and neuroscience. These fields have delved into the many ways we make decisions and avoid making decisions. They shine a light of understanding on the darker shadow regions of denial, ignorance and diminishment. For example, the emotional reactions experienced around the issue of climate change mirror those of a physical or psychological trauma. Thus, the vast knowledge of trauma and its treatment can aid in dealing with the resistance to addressing the state of our climate system.

The physical, chemical and biological sciences have provided us with a comprehensive picture of climate change and our integral role in this problem. The manifold dimensions of psychology can provide ways to actually address the problem. By combining the studies of climate and psyche we not only see what is happening to our world and why, but also, how we can move beyond the problem to create a more flourishing world for future generations.

Find more here.

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Facing Climate Change

Kiehl-cover

“Any change must begin somewhere, it is the single individual who will experience it and carry it through. … Nobody can afford to look around and to wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself.”

C.G. Jung

Many have awakened to what we are called to do. The evidence of our impact on planet Earth, our home, is unmistakable. We can no longer afford to turn away from the disturbing news about what we are doing to Earth. Each of us, in our own way, can help heal the deep wounds we have created in our relationship to Earth and to one another.

This coming March my book “Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future” will appear. The book, published by Columbia University Press, explores the psychological dimensions of our current climate crisis. More importantly, the book explores how we can, with a deeper understanding of these psychological dimensions, actually create a flourishing future for all life on the planet. The book reflects my personal journey with regard to climate change. As such, it integrates my life as a climate scientist and a Jungian analyst.

I hope you will find something of value in reading the book.

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Seeing the Unseen

Unconscious

Nobody can afford to look round and to wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself. But since nobody seems to know what to do, it might be worthwhile for each of us to ask himself whether by any chance his or her unconscious may know something that will help us.

C.G. Jung (CW 18, par. 599)

As a scientist I recognize how difficult it can be to communicate our current scientific understanding on climate change to the general public. As a Jungian analyst I recognize the essential role the unconscious plays in our ability to take in disturbing information associated with climate change. Being both a climate scientist and a Jungian analyst has helped me in finding more effective ways to communicate the science of climate to the public.

The field of depth psychology was born in the consulting rooms of Freud and Jung over a century ago. These two pioneers recognized the importance of unconscious processes in determining human thought, feeling and behavior. Each developed methods to make the unseen world of the unconscious seen. Jung carried out pioneering scientific work on identifying complexes that take center stage in our lives. They are the actors that cause us to say after the fact, “Why did I say that?” or “Why did I behave that way towards that person?” Freud explored how we unconsciously defend ourselves to insure that we are not overwhelmed by a disturbing reality. Complexes and associated defenses are core parts of who we are and how we react to the world.

Over the past decade many scientific studies have confirmed the importance of unconscious processes in human behavior. These studies have led to a plethora of popular books reporting on the important role of the unconscious in our daily lives, see for example: Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior; Thinking Fast and Slow; Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain; and Strangers to Ourselves. A number of scientific studies have argued these unconscious processes are rooted in evolutionary strategies. Thus, many of the early observations by depth psychologists are being confirmed with current research.

Despite the recognition of the importance of unconscious processes in human behavior most discussions on issues like climate change assume these problems are solely rooted in the conscious realm. Most plans to address the issue of climate change ignore unconscious processes. Given all that we have learned about the role of the unconscious, it is important that we begin to look social issues from a more comprehensive psychological perspective. We need to include our understanding of the unconscious in communicating and addressing the critical issue of climate change.

Jungian psychology has much to offer towards moving forward on the problem of climate change. Although many in this field focus their attention on the interior world of psyche, it would be of great benefit for members of this community to turn their gaze on the outer world and consider how a Jungian perspective can help the world at large. Likewise it would be of great value for the public policy community to recognize the research that shows how important the unseen world of the unconscious is to addressing many of societies problems.

 

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Metropolis

“In what follows we shall be questioning concerning technology.”

M. Heidegger

I have begun to notice something about the tenor of conferences and publications on solutions to the important issue of climate change. A particular word keeps appearing more and more regarding this problem. The word with such staying power is: TECHNOLOGY. The message is clear that technology will ultimately solve our problem of global warming. Given enough time, ingenuity, and stimulus (direct or via free markets), solutions will arise and save us from the worst consequences of global warming. These technologies will usher in a fossil fuel free age and perhaps even allow us to remove existing atmospheric carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to insure a sustainable, stable future.

Let me first state that I am not opposed to technologies important role in addressing the issue of global warming. Our warming world due to our use of fossil fuels is truly the greatest threat facing humanity. Many will dismiss this statement as hyperbole, but when you realize that in a mere 90 years our continued fossil fuel use will result in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels not seen for 30 to 40 million years then you begin to realize the immensity of this issue. When carbon dioxide reaches such levels Earth’s climate will be vastly different from anything known to the human species. So, avoiding this pathway back to the extremely warm past is paramount. If we are to continue to meet humanities growing need for energy, then a sustainable, safe replacement for fossil fuels is necessary and technology will clearly play a central role in meeting this need.

What I find alarming is the blind trust placed in this approach. At times it seems people are possessed by the presence of a holy ghost of technology. All we have to do is wait for the next generation of geniuses to find the solutions to our energy needs (of course we can’t wait too long!). I keep sensing the presence of belief. Believe and we shall be saved! The mood is what one finds so often in TED talks, in which technology is the panacea for all problems.

Belief leaves little room for reflection, which is what I find missing in these messages about technology. Yes, some do recognize that technology often creates new problems while solving old ones. But there is little time spent on turning a careful, reflective gaze on how potential new technologies may affect the world. I am speaking of the ethical questions surrounding our approach to solving problem like global warming, questions that account for the many complex interdependencies within the Earth system. It seems to me that we need to develop a different kind of understanding and relationship with technology than our old one of blind trust.

Often these ethical questions are paid lip service, “Yes, of course we need to consider the downsides to this particular approach, but let’s develop the technology first and then discuss such issues.” However, once the technology exists the temptation to implement it to ‘solve’ problems is often too great. It is only later that we look back with our ‘20-20 hindsight’ and see how new problems arose from the new technological fix. Why not hold reflective conversations about solutions at the same time we are developing them? I receive many announcements about upcoming conferences on sustainability. None that I have attended or see advertised reserve time for careful discussions regarding the ethical issues associated with proposed solutions for a sustainable future.

I guess we will figure that out after we get to the future…

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hands_holding_earth

“Everything now depends on man: immense power of destruction is given into his hands, and the question is whether he can resist the will to use it, and can temper his will with the spirit of love and wisdom. He will hardly be capable of doing so on his own unaided resources. He needs the help of an “advocate” in heaven …”

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 745)

“The only thing that really matters now is whether man can climb up to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness, in order to be equal to the superhuman powers which the fallen angels have placed into his hands. But he can make no progress with himself unless he becomes very much better acquainted with his own nature.”

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 746)

Within the last few weeks the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 400ppm. What does this mean? First, ppm is a unit of measure used in atmospheric science to denote the fractional amount of a gas relative to the total amount of all gases in the atmosphere. The more important point is that prior to the Industrial Revolution this number was around 280ppm. So, through the burning of fossil fuels we have increased this potent greenhouse gas by 43%, which is causing the planet to warm up. Second, when was the last time carbon dioxide was at a level of 400ppm? It turns out that it was around 4 million years ago, when the planet was much warmer than today with accompanying higher sea levels. Back at this time very slow natural geologic processes led to higher carbon dioxide levels. Which brings us to the important point that the current rate of increase in carbon dioxide due to the burning of fossil fuels is unprecedented. In a matter of two hundred years humans have put Earth back to a point it has not been at for many millions of years. This is important because life on Earth is sensitive to the rate of change of climate.

We are in the midst of performing a very dangerous experiment on Earth. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, as we have in the recent past, then in a mere 80 years carbon dioxide will reach levels of 800 to 1000 ppm. These levels of carbon dioxide were last present around 40 million years ago when Earth was very, very warm. In Jung’s words we humans have an “immense power of destruction” in our hands. Often people will say if the planet was warm in the past and life existed, then what is the problem? Certainly Earth and many life forms on it will survive an increasingly warm world. But humans and many other species have never lived in such a world. Do we want to risk seeing what would happen to civilization by continuing this experiment? Arguments are also made that it will cost too much to do something about the problem, but what of the terrible costs if we do nothing? If a doctor finds you have a serious illness that can be successfully treated, do you do nothing?

Now to Jung’s comments … It has become clear to me that any solution to this problem must be rooted in a transformation of consciousness. We have fallen into this problem because of our ill-tempered will to control. This pure will-directed approach to living is no longer tenable on a planet with over 7 billion people. In the first quote, Jung notes that we need to temper “will with the spirit of love and wisdom.” Many may look upon this statement as unrealistic and perhaps even delusional. However, there is ample evidence that we are capable of finding and expressing love and wisdom to each other and in the way we live life. We are a species innately imbued with the potential to care. Our capability for compassion is boundless. We often forget this fact of life and believe that we are basically greedy beings. If this were so, then cooperation, an act essential for our survival, would not exist. Yet, we do care, love and find wisdom within ourselves. Jung notes that we need a heavenly “advocate” to accomplish this because it is beyond the ability of our ego alone. What does he mean by this? In today’s world, this means that we need to recognize and become acquainted with our “own nature,” in other words, the innate deep part of our psyches that holds the archetypal power of wisdom. In Buddhism this would be called Big Mind as compared to the small mind of the relative ego. Jung would call it the Self. Perhaps a neuroscientist would call it the power of empathy. Whatever one chooses to call this force within, empirically we know it exists.

The most important challenge now is whether we, “can climb… to a higher plane of consciousness…” in order to avoid falling prey to our own “superhuman powers.” The movement to this higher plane rests on our ability to wake up to the reality of our inner “love and wisdom” which  are necessary to create a sustainable future for all.

I would encourage each of you reading this to take one moment today and express your innate sense of love and wisdom towards another. This would be a very good start to creating a transformation of consciousness.

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Queensboro Bridge Construction

“[The] symbol of the creative union of opposites … points … forward to a goal not yet reached. … the archetype, because of its power to unite opposites, mediates between the unconscious substratum and the conscious mind. It throws a bridge between present-day consciousness, always in danger of losing its roots, and the natural, unconscious, instinctive wholeness of primeval times.”

C.G. Jung (CW 9i, par. 293)

The union of opposites is a powerful archetype for individuals and the collective. Jung’s words state that the process of bringing opposing forces together lies in the future. Psychologically, the union that stretches out before us is the connection of our conscious directed life with our instinctual self. It is as if we need to be constantly reminded that we are animal that our being-in-the-world is deeply rooted in this earth. With our development into highly technological beings we seem to have lost this connection to our animal nature. Jung’s words also point out that the archetype builds a bridge between our present being and that of ‘primeval times.’ In the process of bringing together the opposites we reconnect to the un-dividedness of our primeval past. We are not talking about our historical past, which was written by us, but a past extending into the evolutionary depths of time.

The result of this reconnection is to find something that was lost within. Jung (CW 9i, par. 285) says that, “… all uniting symbols have a redemptive significance.” What is redeemed in reconnecting to our ‘primeval times?’ I would say a re-membering, a re-collection of our selves into wholeness. Our outer directed search for fulfillment turns inward to redeeming our lost other.

Jung uses the image of a bridge to describe the process of reconnection and redemption. This is an apt image for we speak of bridging differences, or building a bridge across our divides. Interestingly the word metaphor means to build a bridge. Finding metaphoric images in the world  builds bridges within us and in the world at large. These are powerful ideas. If ever we needed to be building bridges it is in today’s world. Everywhere we look we perceive gaps, abysses, canyons calling out for a bridge to mediate between the opposing sides.

When I consider the polarizing political bickering in our nation’s capitol, including division around the issues of national budgets, health care and climate change, I feel despair. Most troubling this week is our apparent inexorable movement towards building the Keystone pipeline, which will result in terrible regional and global destruction. We seem to have lost our ability to throw bridges across our ideological divides in order to avoid destruction. Our inability to build metaphoric bridges across our collective divides illustrates an inability to imagine. For imagination is a bridge building activity and we are sorely lacking in this creative construction process.

It is easy to fall into a sense of despair when so little is happening, so few bridges are being built. Perhaps we can take heart in the fact that this mediating process is essentially archetypal. It is not solely up to us to build these bridges for deep within our primeval unconscious exists the need for bridges to be built. Called or not, bridges will be built. I end with the words of a well-known bridge builder…

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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