top of page

The Psychology of Climate Inaction; Will Humans Be the Next Species to Become Extinct?

Updated: May 15, 2022

IMG_9282
Adults keep saying “we owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel everyday. And then I want you to act… I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is – Greta Thunberg, 16

On Wednesday night I went to a Geelong Sustainably Green Drinks talk called Don’t Mention the Emergency with semi-retired clinical psychologist Jane Morton. Jane has had a successful career, with many years of experience in public and private practice. For the last 10 years Jane has albeit quit her job to focus her efforts on raising awareness about the psychology of climate inaction and the implications for civilisation as we know it. I had considered myself informed about the climate but I got absolutely schooled and it stirred up many of the personal denials that exist within my comfort zone.


If you’ve read some of my other thoughts you’ll be aware that I’m interested in effective, pragmatic approaches to activism by way of non-violent communication and activism. Jane explained that the primary approach to climate activism is based on false positives. There’s this idea that we can’t make the message sound doom and gloom because then no one will listen. This was the first thing that made me uncomfortable, it’s hard to think that to be an activist you have to make people uncomfortable with the truth. But the longer I sat with it the clearer it became; though it’s true that fear should next be the first time of defense, it does our planet home no favours to act as if the house isn’t on fire, when in fact it is. There are ways of communicating heavy information in a sensitive and compassionate way.


When I took a poll on Instagram of who was ready to sit with the discomfort of knowing the truth about our current climate, around 10% of voted said no, I’m scared. I want to acknowledge that this evidence-based, politically-repressed information is a very difficult to sit with. It evoked fear in me and my body felt cold throughout Jane’s talk on Wednesday night. Be aware that reading this will likely evoke fear in you too, but denial is not a sustainable solution. Grab a cuppa and fasten your seat-belt, we’re about to deep dive into an even more inconvenient truth than Al Gore could have predicted.

Talk about the “climate emergency” not “climate change” – Jane Morton

I am just as guilty as the next person of banging on about climate change but Jane explained that the language we use to talk about our climate is important. Our climate has forever been changing, from ice ages thousands of years ago to polar ice caps melting today. Even climate deniers are happy to agree that we have always and will always live in a climate that changes. Therefore, “climate change” fails to convey that our climate is changing at such a rapid rate that scientists are afraid, it plays into the climate deniers argument and hence we never get any meaningful policy. Anyone alive on planet earth today is living in the era of a climate emergency and we should talking about it as such!


The first inconveniencing truth; The earth is already too hot and our carbon budget is overdrawn.

hot.jpg

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently wrote a 700-page report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. These are the world’s leading climate scientists and they warned there are 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C before the damage is irreversible. They warned that even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Jane argued that though it’s true that even half a degree increase is dangerous, predicting a 12 years window is a gross overestimate of the time we have to change. Jane used the analogy of the earth being a bolder on a cliff face, supported by a twig alone. With each half degree increase in warming the twig strains more, there’s truly no way of knowing how long we have left. Hence, many have accused the IPCC of corruption, if you tell someone they have 12 years to act, they might consider writing a policy on the 11th hour. We need action and we needed it 12 years ago.

To add insult to injury, some claim we can capture waste carbon produced at fossil fuel power plants and deposit it into a geological site to prevent it from reaching the atmosphere. Carbon capture and storage is a very big band-aid masking a bigger issue. Our carbon bank accounts are overdrawn and its time to repay our depts.


The second inconveniencing truth; We are running out of time and we can only be sure about tipping points when its too late.

time.JPG

Jane used the analogy of canoeing towards a waterfall to explain our current climate. If we paddle hard to the side of the river (that is, significantly reduce our emissions) we have a chance of surviving. But if we freeze up or back peddle against the current for a few more minutes, we’re gonna fall go down the waterfall. We don’t how many meters of water we have left up ahead but we’ll sure now when we tip.


The precautionary principle generally defines actions on issues considered to be uncertain. The principle is usually used by policy makers to justify discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from making a certain decision. The climate emergency and uncertainly about the actual tipping point into existential risk for the human race demands the precautionary principle regarding attitudes and policy, it is negligent to act otherwise.


The third inconveniencing truth; Its not just coral dying.

stupid.jpg

We are losing coral forests and polar ice caps, facing water and food insecurity. Australia is in a land clearing crisis, did you know that? Yep, and the driving motivator for that land clearing is animal agriculture. We are losing wild animal species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. Let us refresh our biology here and remind ourselves; we are animals too. We make up at little as 0.01% of the global ecology and yet we act as if we’re the only species on this planet.


The climate emergency has already claimed human lives, with poverty-stricken countries hit the hardest. The climate scientists share conservative statistics but even by these measures a new risk category has been added to the 80 year climate forecast which is existential. In psychological terms an existential crisis involves contemplating the meaning or purpose of life but when we talk about an existential crisis in terms of climate weren’t talking about the threat of human extinction due to the in-habitability of our planet. Its for this reason that masses of people have come together to form Extinction Rebellion.


It is important from a psychological perspective that all the doom and gloom of the situation is met with equally proportional action, that is, that this global emergency is met with a global emergency response. If you’ve been feeling tense reading thus far, take a deep breath, move your body in someway and then settle back in to re-focus on the response that needs to be taken.

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil but because of the people that do nothing about it” – Albert Einstein

At Green Drinks, Jane provided three solutions based on the demands of the Extinction Rebellion, a group that started in October 2018, that together form an international non-violent rebellion against the worlds governments for criminal inaction on the ecological crisis and climate emergency. They have the backing of heavyweight climate scientists and activists, including Naomi Klein. You’re going to be hearing a lot more about this movement this year as the climate emergency intensifies. You can rebel for life too, by joining the rebellion here.


The first climate emergency action; Use your voice to tell the truth about the climate emergency. To do this we may have to make some noise, we may even have to engage in disruptive but strictly non-violent rebellion and protest.

birdseye

I first heard Gretta Thunburg’s Ted Talk whilst upside down in a Jivamukti Yoga class, with senior NYC-based teacher Yogeswari. Gretta is a 16 year old Swedish girl with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, a gift that has assisted her to talk about climate inaction without the niceties and indirectness we have become accustomed too. Gretta advocates that we are never to small to make a difference, she practices and advocates veganism as a means of reducing her personal emissions. Last year Gretta made world wide headlines by sitting from school on the steps of Parliament in Stockholm, asking politicians to act on the climate emergency.


This is exactly what Katie and I did on Friday, with around 50,000 other primary, secondary and university students, parents, teachers and advocates in the School Strike for Climate in Melbourne (pictured above). There were around 150,000 school strikes around Australia alone in this international protest. We heard primary children speak about their fear of schooling under constant threat of fires and floods. This was such a validating experience for me as I remember first learning about emissions and greenhouse gasses from an influential Year 3 teacher, Miss Pinkard, and feeling fearful and helpless about my future. Since that time, I have been passionate about all sorts of environmental justice movements including veganism and zero waste. I was moved to tears listening to these young children using their voices to tell the truth.


The second climate emergency action; Declare the climate emergency and initiate a society wide mobilisation.

ending

Jane advised that much like transitioning to using language such as climate emergency to explain the current climate, she also advised to shift our focus from small campaigns like stop Adani and go renewable and instead towards declaring a climate emergency which is a catch-all for all environmental campaigns. Don’t ask for less than you need in these early negotiations.


We need urgent action to restore a safe climate, including conserving our over-fished oceans, regenerating our soil and forests (one simple way to achieve this is by ceasing wasteful animal agriculture), banning all disposable plastics (to reduce the trash filling our rivers and oceans) and transitioning to carbon positive energy sources like solar, wind and hydro power (to save the atmosphere from filthy fossil fuel power plants). The objective of this would be to achieve zero emissions at emergency speed, as well as down-draw (peak-to-trough emissions decline) at emergency speed (by 2025). These are some of the demands of Extinction Rebellion and by necessity these initiatives require the a society wide mobilisation of similar size and scope to those enacted in times of war.


Jane spoke about the successes of many social justice movements that have used mass civil disobedience or disruptive non-violent rebellion. The Extinction Rebellion in the UK got media attention with their blood of our children campaign, but there are countless ways to get global attention and challenge the current climate of denial.

blood_copy

The third climate emergency action; We need a citizens assembly to share the climate burden decision making and rebuild together.


You could be forgiven for thinking about the overthrowing of government as pie-in-the-sky-thinking, radical notions usually do feel foreign and unbelievable at first, but remember when veganism seemed radical? If our governments continue to be criminally negligent we will have no choice but to establish a citizens assembly, its only a matter of when.

We do not trust our Government to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve this and we do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a citizens’ assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose – Extinction Rebellion
boat.jpg

We can survive this with a good emergency response. Jane believes this year we are at a social tipping point, where critical masses will come to recognise the climate emergency for what it is. The truth about our dying planet is evident but how we come to conceptualise this universal truth will be very personal. A Christian may conceptualise or recognise our demise as the end times prophecy;

“If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come” – Revelation 3:3

This global issue transcends all faiths, we might even consider it an inter-faith issue. As a yogini, I recognise this as the Kali Yuga era and take divine guidance from my teacher, David Life;

According to some Hindu scriptures, the Kali Yuga (the current age) will end in a fast and fiery way, wiping out all forms of life as we know it. It is our job as yogis to maintain the innate serenity of mind throughout, and to carry on with the righteous activities devoted to dharma. The destruction of this world is followed with the creation of a new one. The Satya Yuga (Golden Age), is followed by Treta Yuga (less virtuous, the advent of agriculture), then Dwapara Yuga (Tamasic, discontent, disease), then our present Kali Yuga (with some 427,000 years to go of liars, hypocrites, pollution, and scarce water). During Kali Yuga, rulers become unreasonable and no longer promote spirituality or protect their subjects; they become dangerous. People will migrate, seeking countries with water and food; people will have thoughts of avarice, wrath and murder; acquisition of material wealth, lust, addiction to food and drugs, treating living things as objects (animals, people) becomes the central facet of life. Only the lucky few will respect teachers and teachings. The good news is that for the first 10,000 years of the Kali Yuga there will exist a Golden Age in which yoga practices will still be present on Earth. Today, 5,000 years of the Kali Yuga have passed and we have 5,000 years remaining where we will be blessed with the knowledge of the yoga traditions. We still have time to bring peace to this place, calming the muddy waters of distress – David Life, H2OM (August 2018 Focus of the Month)

David’s wisdom, taken directly from yogic scriptures, provides a psycho-spiritual layer to the climate emergency response for me. The truth only hurts if you feel its beyond your capacity to cope with it. Indeed, many people will not cope with this information and the extremely high incidence of anxiety and depressive disorders will only continue to rise. It is more important than ever than look after ourselves and each-other. Here are some ideas you may consider incorporating;

  1. Contemplate and meditate our your reactions to this information, especially if it is the first time you’ve heard it

  2. Write down all the actions that you’re already taking to reduce your footprint on the earth and consider where your room for improve is (e.g. eating less meat, dairy, eggs or honey, buying less stuff, ethically sourcing stuff you do need, shopping waste-free as much as possible, driving less, the list goes on and we all have a different set point).

  3. Talk to people who get you and seek their support in times of distress. There’s nothing quite like talking to people who are in denial about something you know to be true to deflate your mood and motivation. This is distressing topic, we all need support.

  4. Spend time in nature. Get down to the beach, the forest, the dessert, the river and breathe in that fresh air and give thanks for it. Incorporate Mother Nature into any gratitude practice you may already have.

  5. In times of distress remember your dharma or life purpose and consider how you can use it to be of service to the greater good. Take care of your own mental health through a wide variety of self care practices that increase your vitality.

  6. Share a skill you have with a young person, be it a dying trade like growing food or repairing things. Young people are so underestimated, encourage them to speak and always give them a platform on which to speak on. Their options count.

  7. Get active. Make your presence felt online and at protests for climate action.

  8. If you believe in the power of intention or prayer, set your intention and say a prayer for our unity as a global society.

I’d like to give thanks to Jane Morton for using her psychological training to speak in a no-bullshit, assertive and solution-focused way to dispel our collective ambivalence and spark society-wide behavioral change and empowerment. There is much room in this movement for psychologists and our unique skill-sets, Jane has single-handedly re-directed my personal activism efforts with the ultimate trump card. I am seeing the world through new eyes. Thanks to Monica Winton for organising Jane to speak at Green Drinks and share the truth with us (for without which this blog would remain unwritten) and for her tireless environmental activism. And many thanks to the peaceful warrior beside me, Katie, your encouragement and “die trying” attitude will continue to keep the path illuminated for me through the dark times ahead.


Thanks for reading,


Meg x


References and Resources

Listen to Jane’s Don’t Mention the Emergency talk at the recent Sustainable Living Festival as well as other radio and podcast interviews; https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/janemorton/

School strike for climate – save the world by changing the rules by Greta Thunberg; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAmmUIEsN9A

School Strike for Climate Australia; https://www.schoolstrike4climate.com/

My thoughts on the Jivamukti Yoga August 2018 Focus of the Month on water scarcity: https://thoughtfulveganblog.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/h2om/

Sign up to switch off at 8.30pm on Saturday, 30 March 2019 to symbolise our commitment to the climate emergency response; https://www.earthhour.org.au/register

You can still get tickets for our next Towards Zero Waste Geelong workshop in Meredith on Friday 29th of March; https://www.facebook.com/events/2408325245909506/?ti=icl

And other at Winchelsea Wholefoods next month by joining our Towards Zero Waste Geelong Facebook group and waiting for more details to be released.

0 comments

Related Posts

See All
bottom of page