Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

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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I was honored to be interviewed for Gaia Field Radio today by Lisa Maroski. Lisa and I discussed how Jungian psychology can shed light on the issue of global warming.

I encourage you to listen to the interview by clicking here.



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“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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“… all unconscious functioning has the automatic character of an instinct, … [which] … because of [its] compulsiveness, … may positively endanger the life of the individual. As against this, consciousness enables [one] to adapt in an orderly way and to check the instincts, and consequently it cannot be dispensed with.”

C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 412)

“The closer one comes to the instinct-world, the more violent is the urge to shy away from it and rescue the light of consciousness from the murks of the sultry abyss. Psychologically, however, the archetype as an image of instinct is a spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives; it is the sea to which all rivers wend their way…”

C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 415)

Looking out on the world today can cause one tremendous anxiety. Just this past week new studies were released indicating that we are putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than previous years and that the current rate at which the world is warming is unprecedented. Rate of warming is significant, because it effects how readily life can adapt to change. Since the rate of climate change is now unlike anything we and many other species have ever experienced in our history, we are placing ourselves in a very precarious situation.

How does all of this relate to depth psychology? Depth psychology tells us that we are more than just our ego. That our decisions and behaviors towards our world and others is determined in large part by unconscious factor or forces. This fact about our way of being is continually reinforced by neurological and social science research. Thus, learning about our psychological depths is imperative if we are going to pull our selves back from the murky abyss of global warming.

Jung views the unconscious as holding both the dynamism of biological instincts and the numinous archetypes, or images of instinct. In the quotes above, Jung explores the dynamic capabilities of the these two forms. We know that compulsive instincts lead to life threatening behaviors. With regards to  global warming, think of our rampant consumerism and excessive use of energy to fuel this compulsively consumptive behavior. We consciously recognize that if we come too close to this ‘instinct-world,’ we approach the ‘sultry abyss’ of collective destruction. However the compulsive urge is so strong that we continue the behavior.

How do we avoid the urge towards destructive compulsiveness? Jung argues that we consciously engage with the image of the instinct, rather than the compulsive urge itself. The image or archetype holds collective meaning and connects us with a sense of the numinous. It is not that we reject the physical or biological instinct, but that we include the spiritual or numinous dimension of it. Jung poetically states that this experience of the numinous is the “spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives; it is the sea to which all rivers wend their way…” What is the numinous archetype embedded in the instinctual compulsion to consume? What is the image arising from this instinctual force that holds the ‘spiritual goal towards which [our] whole nature… strives?’

Perhaps our compulsion to consume Earth is an attempt to fulfill our inner selves. Could our need for tremendous amounts of energy to create new material things in the outer world be a reflection of our need for creative energy within us? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but depth psychology opens the door to such reflection. If we are to deal with our compulsive need to consume the world, then we need to consciously work on the images that surround this instinct. Depth psychology is a way to do this work. It provides a numinous and valuable way to deeply explore psyche and the world.

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“People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who’s on top, and so forth. No, no! … The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.”

Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth)

Last week I gave a university seminar on how affect plays an important role in communicating climate change. A few days later, I met with some environmental studies students to continue to discuss climate change and how to better communicate this issue to the public. As I looked around the table I saw the interesting faces of students working on their graduate degrees. I was reminded of that life the excitement of research and the stress of getting through it all. I also realized that when I was working on my degree –some thirty years ago – global warming was a basic research problem, not a phenomena taking place everyday, not a problem threatening our future. Unlike me, these students were not just studying global warming they were witnesses to it. Even more disturbing, their lives stretched out into a future where increased disruption would be the new normal.

The room was full of sadness, anger and hopelessness. Statements of “It’s already too late,” “The issue is too big for individuals to solve,” and “Nothing is going to happen to solve this problem” wove through the discussion. The more we talked the more we descended into a dark emotional abyss. It is so easy to enter darkness when facing this issue. It’s one of the reasons we all tend to avoid the issue. Who wants to go down into that darkness? Who wants to live in hopelessness?  Global warming seems to be a very dark cloud with no silver lining. The students wanted to know if I thought there was any hope. Could we pull ourselves away from the rapidly approaching climate cliff (by the way, far more destructive than any financial cliff)? I sat for a while experiencing the depths of despair. I was down in that dark place. Part of me wanted to admit defeat. Yes, we seem committed to destroying ourselves. I wanted to accept the hopelessness.

It’s so easy to slip into that feeling for it absolves us of any action. Joseph Campbell compared this space of limitation to the appearance of the dragon or monster in myths. Whenever we find ourselves in that place of “I can’t” we know the monster has appeared. Campbell says that, “Slaying the monster is slaying the dark things, the dragon locking you in.” Remember the scene in the Lord of the Rings when the fellowship was down in the dark caves of Moria? They had awakened the Balrog, the flaming monster of the depths. Gandalf stood up to this darkness. He faced the monster with, “You shall not pass!” His sacrifice enabled the rest of the fellowship to come up out of the darkness. Any transformation requires sacrifice.

Sitting in that classroom amidst darkness I experienced a sense of peace. This wasn’t my ego wanting some magical escape. It was a deep sense of strength and resolve. Jung would say that the Self, the archetype of centeredness, had arisen within me. I felt peaceful in the presence of the monster. In that moment I heard myself telling the students of my growing up in the fifties, how I lived amidst rampant racial discrimination and the ever nigh threat of nuclear annihilation. People knew these things were wrong – just as we know the wrongness of global warming. But many felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems. How could things ever change? It took individuals to find the strength within to live a different way. To stand before the monster and say, “You shall not pass!” Rosa Parks chose one day to say this to a bus driver. Martin Luther King Jr. chose this path and many others joined together to slay the dragon of discrimination. Think of all of the changes that have taken place over the past fifty years that began with the few who chose to live one day.

Joseph Campbell says, “become alive to yourself” if you want to change the world. I believe this is what happened back in the fifties. Individuals awoke to life. In the darkest of times we can truly experience this sense of inner peace and resolve. We have many examples to guide us. With such resolve we can stand before the dragon of global warming and say with certainty, “You shall not pass!”

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The Right Moment

“We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos – the right moment – for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols. … Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science.”

C.G. Jung (1956) (CW 10, par. 585)

As I sit writing this piece the East coast is under assault from Sandy, a storm of historic proportions. Over 10,000 flights have been cancelled, millions are without power, and storm surges in New York City are at record heights, and all of this just a few hours before landfall. People are already estimating the financial costs of damages in the billions of dollars. There are questions about whether this particular storm can be blamed on global warming. Climate skeptics point out that storms have happened in the past and this is just a natural event. Unfortunately, we no longer live in a natural world, if your definition of natural is a world where humans have no effect on Earth. The overwhelming scientific consensus (97%) is that humans are warming the planet due to the burning of fossil fuels and the associated increase in greenhouse gas warming. The scientific basis of this is unquestionable. It is based on fundamental physics and solid observations. We do not believe that the theory of global warming is real, we know it is. It is as sound a fact as the theory of gravity. For, yes, gravity is only a theory too. But I doubt many of the skeptics would want to test that theory! So, a natural world is a thing of the past.

The truth is that we cannot state with 100% certainty that Sandy is due to a warming world. There is always a chance that such things can happen without warming. But what we do know is that storms like Sandy are going to become more and more likely due to global warming. Few things in life are absolutely certain. Everyday we make important life decisions in the face of uncertainties. It is time to own up to what we are doing to the planet and start choosing a different way of living in the world. This is an ethical issue of global and historic proportions. I personally do not feel we have the right to condemn future generations to a planet where storms like Sandy are frequently disrupting life on Earth. We are talking about the safety of our children and their children, and generations to come for a very long time into the future.

As Jung notes, the Greeks had a concept of special or opportune moments in time when significant transformation can take place. I believe we are in the throws of the next “right moment” and the coming kairos is the most challenging of all. For we humans have now reached a point in our technological development where we are in the driver seat. Jung (CW 11, par. 870) also states that,

“Western man has no need of more superiority over nature, whether outside or inside. He has both in almost devilish perfection. What he lacks is conscious recognition of his inferiority to the nature around and within him. He must learn that he may not do exactly as he wills. If he does not learn this, his own nature will destroy him. He does not know that his own soul is rebelling against him in a suicidal way.”

Very little has been done to stop global warming. World governments have turned their backs on the problem, as have apparently both of our presidential candidates. It is time that each of us takes on the responsibility of making this “the right moment” for this problem. We need to bring more consciousness to bear on this issue. Consciousness of the science, the ethical responsibility we all hold for life on the planet and consciousness of the rejected parts of our selves. These rejected parts being our feelings and imagination, which hold the solutions to this terrible threat to the world. We can solve this problem, if we choose to make this the right moment.

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