To my dear companions in Extinction Rebellion.

I want first to put something right with you. An in-joke developed in our Christian Climate Action affinity group about ‘’getting Phil Kingston into prison’’ and when it went public some of you voiced disturbance because in countries across the world, going to prison means torture and possible death. I apologise for my insensitivity. To honour them, I point to Berta Caceres, the brilliant and fearless Honduran environmental activist who was awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize. This is her acceptance speech:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR1kwx8b0ms

She was assassinated 11 months later by government and corporate hirelings.

My campaigning has gone to new levels in this context where many groups work together with common purpose. I am relieved that at last the utter seriousness and urgency of the developing  Earth catastrophe is being pushed into public consciousness after decades of avoidance by almost all politicians, mainstream media and of course economic and financial powers. Our political ‘representatives’  have let us down. With notable exceptions, they lost their credibility by not  speaking about this.

To say a little about the last 12 days: not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I, a former probation officer and educator of probation officers and Local Authority social workers – all of whom  work in a context of  respect for the law – would within a week be arrested on three occasions and spend considerable time in police cells. Being given the opportunity to meet so many police as human beings has been a gift. Yes, I know that when the chips are down, they have agreed to  uphold  laws which I regard as fundamentally unjust, such as those which are heavily on the side of corporate and state power. Within that context I want to emphasize their  kindness and respect to me and my colleagues. Whenever I had an opportunity to speak about my concern for my grandchildren, I asked if they had children. I was grateful that so many were willing to speak about their concerns regarding climate breakdown. One of reasonably high rank immediately responded with his concern that there are now only 12 years  within which to halt his children’s  descent into  disaster.

These connections with those who we may often regard as ‘other’ are, I am sure, made more possible by our absolute commitment to nonviolence, including verbal nonviolence, to all persons. Hard as it often is to hold on to my belief  that politicians and and those in business and finance have a humanity exactly like mine, I am determined to do so. I have no illusions about the wrongness of their ideologies and behaviour but I completely refuse to say that they aren’t human.  If someone like me can change over the years by facing the traumas of life, especially childhood ones,  and seeking help for them, I hold hope for all.

I would like to address the rest of this note to other followers of Jesus, though the link in the final paragraph may be surprisingly congruent because it touches our common humanity.

I regard myself as a fortunate man to be alive at the same time as Pope Francis. His arrival has given immense encouragement to those of us in the churches, especially the Catholic Church, who have a vocation to justice, peace and care of the Earth. Prior to this, the experience of many of us was that this vocation was  suppressed more than encouraged. It is essential at this critical time of global suffering that this vocation be fully honoured and supported. His writings and speeches about the relationship between the current global economy on the one hand and on the other the destruction of the Earth and the exclusion of the majority of the world’s population from what should be the Common Good of everyone, have a clarity and reality which has often not been as forthright in many previous papal documents.  See for example his  Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) especially paras 52 – 75 beginning with ‘No to an Economy of Exclusion’:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

…and many parts of ‘Praise Be, Our Common Home’ (Laudato si). My experience is that there is often a focus upon the latter document by agencies like CAFOD and Caritas and minimal references to the economic one in Joy of the Gospel.  Criticising the current economy seems to be avoided as much within the Church as in society generally.  I often regard Pope Francis as a rather lonely man in the Churches of the materially rich countries where his pastoral care and simple living are acclaimed but his economic critique is made invisible by silence. He calls us to extend our focus upon personal sin to fully include structural sin.

An aspect of Pope Francis which I value hugely is his explicit seeking of the guidance of the Holy Spirit  and his request to all of us to do the same. Our Church so often seems dead to me in comparison with the one in the Acts of the Apostles.

I end by asking  if you will read the speech by Pope Francis to the World Gathering of Popular Movements gathered at Santa Cruz in Bolivia in October 2014. I imagine that it will shock many Christians whilst being an affirmation for others.  This is the link:

http://movimientospopulares.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Documents_ingles_web.pdf

 

Rebellion At The Palace Gates

 

Cold Stone and Fierce Love

My heart is breaking. Every fibre of its delicate sentience is being violated by a reality as harsh as holocaust. Its soft tissues are torn to shreds. I can barely breathe though the pain of it.

Yesterday I attended Extinction Rebellion’s funeral march in honour of extinct and soon-to-be extinct species. It left me broken.

My heart, my fragile human heart, was not made to contain the grief of these times we are living in. It was not made to hold the extremes of death and rage that it is now living with, each day, each breath, each warm, tender pulse.

Participating in yesterday’s ceremony allowed the devastating reality of the global environmental situation to land in me in a way that it never has been able to before. Walking behind the mock coffin amidst the sombre group of a thousand mourners made the extinctions we were there to honour and those that we are threatened with—including that of our own species—shockingly palpable. The fine armour of denial habitually worn to shield my heart from the horrors we are living through fell away somewhere between Parliament Square and Buckingham Palace.

I’ve been trying to shed this armour all my adult life, loosening it and pulling it off piece by piece, only to feel it re-grow again when my attention turned elsewhere for a while. Yesterday a whole layer of the stuff tore off. Being part of the procession, surrounded by others who have shed or are in the process of shedding their denial, overwhelmed any unconscious attempt to turn away from the reality of our global crisis.

Raw, un-shielded, the enormity of the situation broke in on me, the cold facts printed on banners carried by the mourners pierced me like blades of ice.

“200 species lost each day due to human activities.” I find no way to rationalise this fact, nor to bury it. It screams from beneath the soil, eclipses both sun and moon.

Add up the figures:

200 species lost each day…

1,400 species lost each week… 

6,000 species lost each month… 

72,000 species lost each year…

720,000 species lost each decade… 

…through the ravaging of nature by misguided human ingenuity and blind greed.

At the current rate of extinction we will have wiped out all 8.7 million species on the planet in a little over 100 years, and ourselves with them.And the rate of extinction is currently accelerating.

It is impossible to reconcile these numbers with what passes for everyday normality. Our civilisation is literally destroying life on this planet, in the pursuit of consumer paradise. I stagger in the face of the brutality, institutionalised ignorance and systemic denial that allows this to continue. My heart breaks anew with the acknowledgement of my own complicity, however slight compared to many.

Each single species is the labour of ages, an irreplaceable strand in the web of life, a precious jewel in the sparkling constellation of this miracle Earth. To fully feel the loss of one strand is horrible. To be implicated in the loss of 200 per day is devastating.

How to conceive of the conscience of those whose interests in short-term personal gain blind them entirely to the evil they perpetrate?

How to endure the cold faces of business-as-usual sleepwalkers, completely mindless of the damage their consumer lifestyles are causing, utterly careless of the irreparable destruction their everyday choices are supporting? 

Their hard eyes seem made of virtual reality. Their greed is like titanium claws, or like chainsaws, ripping through living fibre. Their unconsciousness of the insidious evil our lives are embedded in is like fracking fluid flooding the chambers of the heart.

“60% of the Earth’s biodiversity destroyed in the last 50 years by human greed and ignorance,” read another banner. By next year that number will only have increased.

How can this be happening? How can it be that I’m only now fully waking up to this reality?

Tears pour down my cheeks from a pool of grief so vast it looks to me like the night sky, an enveloping darkness.

I thought I was getting used to all this. I thought I was finding an equanimity. After decades of environmental awareness and radical choices to limit my impact and re-connect with the living Earth, I thought that I was in touch with the situation. But yesterday’s funeral procession shattered that equanimity. Walking behind the coffin brought home to me the bitter reality of what is going down in a new and savage way. Today I am reeling with a fathomless grief and incandescent rage that is like an image from the book of revelations.

Extinction Rebellion is an apposite name for the movement rising up to fight against the continued and escalating devastation. The heart ignites in rebellion at the inhumanity of the mass extinction we are causing and which if allowed to continue will sweep us away too. The soul of the Earth which resides in all of us floods us with rebellion at what is clearly unconscionable conduct on the part of those who are overseeing the global destruction as well as those who are participating in it—either knowingly or in ignorance. And so we rise up, with fierce love in our breaking hearts, in the name of life, to rebel against extinction.

On the 31st October we roared our declaration of rebellion outside parliament. Last Saturday we took rebellion to London’s bridges and blocked them for a day. Earlier this week we took rebellion to the streets of London and disrupted some of the normality that is destroying our Earth. And yesterday we processed rebelliously from Parliament Square to Buckingham Palace, stopping outside Downing Street on the way to let our tears fall on the road and our songs echo off the government buildings of Whitehall.

There was something deeply mythical about it. I felt a bit like I was in the Iliad: through the streets the procession moved, calling for climate justice in the name of life; our way was lined with police officers and surrounded by the cold stone monumental architecture of establishment power; one could almost sense the divine forces at play overhead which these two colliding factions were representing here on Earth! Although the police gave no obstruction and we left the monumental architecture behind at the entrance to Pall Mall, the invisible friction grew more intense the closer we got to Buckingham Palace.

There was a third element also, which it took me a while to notice but with which there was actually a more intense collision than the with other. This was the more insidious form of inertia represented by the onlookers who read the banners we carried and the pamphlets we distributed but remained unmoved. Some simply laughed and took photos, enjoying the spectacle of the procession before carrying on with their day; others grumpily pushed through the crowds, resenting the delay, intent on their own business. I felt that the disengaged eyes of these passers-by held more resistance in them than the establishment powers flanking the procession, and the invisible force they represented to be far older and deeper than any of the bright warring gods or even the Earth itself.

So many worlds, so many realities, conflicting and inexorable.

When we arrived at the fountain in front of the palace the air was almost crackling with the friction of subtle forces. It looked almost hopeless, our little bundle of rebellion, in the face of so much cold stone and inertia. But there was a power in it that was far greater than the sum of its parts: the power of life and love rising up to shake the foundations of a destructive and ailing system. However small our number, the grief and rage we expressed there before the seat of the nation’s sovereign power was great and marked a historic moment.

There before the palace gates we laid down the coffin. There before the empty windows of the palace we let more tears fall, welling up from our love of the Earth and despair at the failure of those who are titled our leaders to even acknowledge the emergency. There we called upon the Queen to act in response to the existential crisis we face as a nation and a commonwealth. And there we declared that her failure to do so renders the social contract null and void and our rebellion justified in law and conscience. I wonder if she heard us. I wonder if she cares.

I wonder too what powers are preventing her and her noble officers, the British aristocracy, from acting in accordance with the law of the land and the dictates of conscience to respond appropriately to the emergency we, as a nation, are in.

But I know this: whatever these powers are, wherever they operate from, however much destruction they succeed in wreaking upon the Earth or any other part of this sacred creation, their power will one day fail. For they are not love, and only love prevails.

I know this also: however much my heart breaks, however much grief pours through me in the face of what is being lost here every single day and what will continue to be lost in the days, weeks, months and years to come, love will remain, and that love will cause me to rebel against the criminally destructive status quo that is jeopardising our future and that of all beings on Earth.

Nurses to Extinction

The old woman coughs hoarsely into a handkerchief, pulling the mask from her face. We use morphine to keep her free of the agitation of respiratory distress, and nebulized drugs to keep her airway open, as well as make the cough productive. Eating and drinking are hard to do when you are constantly on an oxygen mask. Even with the oxygen off your mouth, there is oxygen flowing into your nose. This is not really helping her to live, merely setting trails to her dying with tubes and wires.

The webpage London Air gives you very measured and description of how air pollution can affect conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). It does however not give any insights into the emotions of those suffering from the disease, often caused by our bad air quality, nor of those who care for them – London’s many fine nurses, healthcare assistants, allied health professionals, and doctors. We do the best we can with people panicked and traumatised at their own bodies’ failure. The ravages of COPD are quite ghastly to behold. Many patients bounce back into hospital a short time after their admission with the same problem, but with a poorer prognosis. Our treatment of them has only been a sticking plaster, placed over the cracks. We do our best to keep people happy and enjoying that bare, reduced life they lead in hospital. Back out in the polluted streets and modern slums of London we do not see or hear them – they are invisible – save when they re-emerge from this “illspring.”

The “sticking plaster” seems for me symbolic here, as it mirrors our government’s attitude to dealing with climate change. For a small cut, a “sticking plaster” is ideal, but climate chaos is a huge, scarifying wound – capable of destroying communities, dwellings, lives and –as time may tell – societies. Nothing small or temporary will do. I did not want to be a “sticking plaster” in the battle against extinction and the poisoning of our environment. Nurses have long been patient advocates. But that advocacy remains locked to our clinical area for the most part. We should remember the bravery of some of the first modern nurses such as Mary Seacole, who, derided and scorned, journeyed into battles to take injured soldiers away from harm’s reach or tend to their injuries.

But long before the Crimean War, women, and occasionally men, provided help to their communities when it was not always safe and went against the authorities’ wishes. What were the state-sanctioned Stuart witch trials of England other than an attack on local “healers” and “pellars”. Most of these people did the best they could with a lack of science and scant resources. It was in some sense a power grab enacted by James I – drawing influence away from local knowledge and talent and making the country ready for the Age of Reason, which was all too keen to throw the kernel of medical wisdom away with the chaff for being folksy. The 17th century Stuart regime was faced with a crisis, in the form of the 1665 plague, a terror that took the lives of 100,000 people. The clinical heirs to the folk wisdom of ill health, the plague doctors, were not able to offer good remedies. The rich fled London. Industrialisation and human misery helped to spread the damage. This history offers us a smaller scale parallel of our modern situation. The difference is that we can stop extinction with our knowledge and tactics, whereas early modern clinicians had little hope of stopping Bubonic epidemics. Not to detract from their humanity and human sensitivities, but nurses are made for crisis situations, whether that be widespread disease or climate change.

Nurses should feel empowered by being trusted figures in the community, the inheritance of a job that is a vocation nor a career. We can speak about climate chaos, as well as report from the frontline of pollution and degradation’s effects on our nation’s health. We have the social connections of those wise women of times forgotten, but with a deeper pool of knowledge and more possibilities of working together within our networks.  We can relay the suffering of those in poverty and lingering in chronic illness and give voices to the voiceless. We can be more than mere “sticking plasters” in sum. Which is why, as your fellow nurse, I would passionately urge all of you to join Extinction Rebellion.

Tom Lennard @tomlennard

You can get involved with the Extinction Rebellion health workers group at “XR Health Workers”.

 

 

 

 

Why I’m Rebelling against Extinction (wait, should that really need explaining..?)

originally posted by Shaun Chamberlin on November 18th, 2018 on darkoptimism.org

Shaun Chamberlin - Dark Optimism - Extinction Rebellion - Blackfriars bridge

I got arrested for the first time in my life this week. And I’m proud of it.

As long-time followers of this blog know, over the past 13 years I’ve tried everything I know to get our society to change its omnicidal course. I’ve written books, co-founded organisations, taught courses, worked in my community, lobbied governments, given talks, participated in grassroots discussion and action…

I’ve failed. We’ve all failed. As a global society we are accelerating towards oblivion, and taking everyone else with us.

And last week, someone said something that stuck with me. That if everyone around you is carrying on like everything’s fine, then no matter how much one reads or understands intellectually about a situation, it’s so difficult not to go along with that. Equally, if you’re somewhere and everyone else starts screaming and running for the exit, then you probably start running for the exit, even if you have no idea what’s going on.

Maybe there’s seemed to be a disconnect between the message we’ve been bringing – that this society is knowingly causing the harshest catastrophe in history – and the actions we’ve been taking?

Maybe if the wider public see that hundreds feel the need to go to jail over this, they might start to seriously ask why? With these stakes, it’s worth a shot.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/301399993?app_id=122963

That film was shot yesterday on Blackfriars Bridge, one of five bridges surrounding Parliament that we occupied as part of the Extinction Rebellion. The sheer mass of thousands of people meant that the police couldn’t possibly arrest everyone, so the bridges were ours for all the family fun you can see.

But when, at the hour we decided, we collectively moved on, many ordinary folk stayed behind and refused to leave in order to be arrested. If all we have left to amplify the message with is our liberty, then we offer it up.

And paradoxically – as I say at the end of the clip – in doing so we have discovered a new freedom. That following our conscience and refusing to be bound by laws that insist on inflicting death and misery is an act of liberty.

Hundreds of thousands are dying of climate change each year now. Most of the wild nature that existed fifty years ago is gone. What’s a little time in jail, by comparison?

—As I sat in my cell, I felt peace. I knew that I was doing all I could for our collective future, and am proud to have that recorded against my name for the rest of my life.

Perhaps, as ever, Wendell Berry said it best,
“Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success, namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

Maybe we can’t stop what’s unfolding, but it would diminish us not to try. And yesterday was the first event I’ve attended that felt as though it might be a historic turning point.

Equally, it might not. That’s up to us.

One child held a placard saying “When I grow up, I want to be alive”.

Yep. See you there next tomorrow.

(and there are plenty of crucial non-arrestable roles too)

 

The Bad, The Worse, And The Downright Criminal

By Bill McGuire

 

Forget the Good, the Bad and the Ugly- it’s the Bad, the Worse and the Criminal, we need to bring down.

I guess we’ve known it all along, but when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions it seems – as far as industrialised nations are concerned at least – that there just aren’t any good guys. Now it’s been confirmed by a new study just published in Nature Communications1, which forecasts what the end-century global average temperature rise would be, based upon the current emissions policies of individual nations. Heading the cast of scoundrels is a clutch of the usual suspects; China, Russia, Canada and Saudi Arabia – along with a bunch of smaller nations – whose policies, if matched globally, would see end-century temperatures climb to more than 5°C above those of pre-industrial times.

Not far behind is another gang of countries, including the United States and Australia, whose national climate targets, if matched worldwide, would see temperatures up 4°C or more by 2100. Before we cast stones, however, we in the UK don’t have much to crow about either. If the rest of the world followed our example, temperatures would still be 2.9°C higher by the century’s end – easily high enough to bring about catastrophic, all-pervasive climate breakdown2. And that’s with most of our manufacturing emissions outsourced to China and elsewhere.

The authors of the study make plain their hope that national emissions pledges, made as part of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, will be tightened in coming years so that the global average temperature rise may still be kept below 1.5°C. The way things are going, however, it would be fair to say that such a target remains pie-in-the-sky. For a start, there is no binding enforcement mechanism to ensure that pledges are kept. More importantly, they are simply not enough. Even if all signatories stuck to their emissions targets, the global average temperature rise would still be 3°C by 2100. If self-reinforcing feedback effects start to kick in seriously – as is highly likely – this could be a calamitous 4°C or even 5°C.

When set in the context of last week’s World Energy Outlook report, which predicts that global carbon emissions will still be heading skywards in 2040, the overall picture looks dire. Fiddling while Rome burns doesn’t even begin to describe the snail’s pace changes that are taking place across the energy and emissions reduction landscapes. We have to act big and act now. Rapid transitions that can change minds and change policies, virtually overnight, have happened before. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US economy was re-jigged in just six months from its peacetime ambitions to a full-on wartime footing. If it happened then, it can happen now. We are, after all, in a war situation. A war that will end either with anthropogenic climate breakdown brought to heel or with our world and our society shattered. The focus of our government, and those of all nations, has to change NOW. Forget Brexit; forget GDP; forget growth for growth’s sake. The mindset has to be turned around so that success is measured by how much and by how quickly we slash greenhouse gas emissions – pure and simple. Net zero emissions by 2025 is the goal.

It’s a huge call, but history teaches that if we want it badly enough, it can be done.

Let’s go for it.

 

Sources:

1du Pont, Y. R. & Meinshausen, M 2018 Warming assessment of the bottom-up Paris Agreement emissions pledges. Nature Communications  9. Article number 4810.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07223-9

CHECK HOW BADLY YOUR COUNTRY IS DOING: http://paris-equity-check.org/warming-check

A View from a University Researcher

By Stuart Capstick

How many more last chances can we have? There’s no need for another list of the appalling consequences we face if we don’t act: most of us know that if we carry on this way, the outcomes will be a devastated planet and enormous human suffering.

I am a psychologist who researches people’s understanding and responses to climate change, and I have done so for over ten years. I could tell you what the literature says about the way we block out negative information, how we shape our thinking to fit a softer version of reality, how in some ways we’re just not wired upto feel the urgency of this. I’ve worked on projects that aim to get people to make greener choices and have a better grasp of the climate science, and I’ve tried to push for a more urgent approachto changing the way we live.

But despite all this – maybe because of it – those last ten years have felt like joining an effort to put out a house fire with a water pistol. Research papers on every aspect of climate change and the environmental crisis now number in their millions. Yet at the same time as I add to this ever-growing pile, I know in my heart that it has changed little. The publication of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C– meticulously organised by one of the most respected group of scientists in the world – was followed less than a month later by a UK government budget that allocated £30 billion to road-building, and made not one single mention of climate change. Our government is failing us, it is failing our children, and it is failing the natural world. They pay little more than lip service to scientists and to the science. The ‘honest broker’ model– in which boffins assemble the evidence and decision-makers act on it – is broken, if it ever worked at all.

There are times that I lie awake at night, with a sense of blind panic rising in me, and I feel terrified and trapped by climate change. Terrified for my kids – who are 3 and 6 years old, and whose innocent understanding of the world so far doesn’t extend to what we’re doing to it. Trapped, because like everyone else I am just one part of a much bigger structure, that seems unwilling or unable to change.

Most people now accept the reality, human causes and seriousness of climate change. But most of us also float along in a dream-world, knowing but not knowing, aware but unmoved. The hope for me is that XR is sounding an alarmthat could wake some of us up – enough of us to shake the complacency and the silence that permeates society. In all honesty, I don’t know whether we can make a real difference through XR, and I share the doubtsthat some have expressed about its tactics and slogans. We don’t know yet whether XR will peter out miserably, or morph into an effective resistance movement, but I’ve decided that is not a good enough reason not to try.

With hundreds of others, I blocked the road by Parliament on 30thOctober in a first, symbolic gesture to kick-start XR. There was nothing pleasant about breaking the law that day, or having to ignore police demands for you to desist in doing so. But for the first time in years, I felt some glimmer of hope – that maybe we were beginning to treat this like the emergency it is.

As academics and researchers, we are trained to be objective and ‘neutral’ – but I refuse to be neutral about our species sleep-walking into planetary collapse, and I’m not the only one. It’s high time we faced these issues head on, and for that reason I support non-violent direct action of the sort XR has planned. I hope others will join in, and hold our government, our society, and our institutions to account.

Dr Stuart Capstick is a Research Fellow at Cardiff University and with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. This piece is written in a purely personal capacity.

Can psychology help understand and combat ecological catastrophe?

By Derek Boswell

The issue of climate change has been gaining traction with each passing moment. Seemingly so, anyways: News articles and government reports portray a grim future where natural resources are scarce and natural disasters are all too abundant (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], 2018). Countless documentary films suggest no different (Guggenheim & Gore, 2006). To some, this comes with an added dose of irony: Capitalism – the very system which can be owed to their box-office success, is the supposed driving force behind global pollution. To others, the ingenuity of free-market capitalism will provide the answer to our environmental ills. Not only is there infighting among climate change’s adherents, there is also a battle over the seriousness, legitimacy, and relevance of this issue. Indeed, some concerned citizens have made meaningful changes in their own lives, but this amounts to only a fraction of what climate change reports call for (IPCC, 2018). Nevertheless popular sentiment suggests that climate change poses an existential threat to the Earth, so what’s with all the talk, and not all the action?

This article will take a look at one study in particular, which aims to mitigate ecological harm through unlikely means; psychology. In “Redefining Climate Change Inaction as Temporal Intergroup Bias: Temporally Adapted Interventions for Reducing Prejudice May Help Elicit Environmental Protection” (2017), researchers Rose Meleady and Richard Crisp shed light on the psychological barriers yielding this disparity between action, inaction and disbelief in climate change.

As is often the case when giving science away to the public; methods, findings, implications and applications are often muddled through a misunderstanding of scientific vocabulary. To some, “temporal intergroup bias” may at first glance appear incomprehensible jargon. Simply put, this describes the perceptions one makes of ingroup and outgroup peers, and the favoritism bias inherent towards the former. In this case, groups are defined temporally; as living and future generations (Medleady & Crisps, 2017). It is this former generation’s prejudice for the latter that lies at the center of Meleady and Crisps’s hypothesis (2017).

Now, one might ask; how could prejudice possibly mediate climate change engagement!? Prejudice is so often conceived as racial bias or perhaps gender bias, but it can just as easily be generational – and it mustn’t necessarily be explicit bias either. Meleady and Crisp aptly cited a phrase from Barrack Obama’s final presidential address as an example of this: It would “betray future generations” to not act boldly on climate change (2017). Likewise, they paraphrase Pope Francis in stating “the destruction of the natural world for our own benefit as a sin against God and future generations” (Medleady & Crisps, 2017).

Minimal Groups Paradigm suggests that the formation of groups may be founded upon any uniting factor, however arbitrary it may seem (Medleady & Crisps, 2017). By seeing our current generation as a separate entity from future ones, Meleady and Crisp hypothesize that, due to a favourable ingroup bias, we see climate change as a presumably distant threat and an irrelevant concern for our generation (2017): In this context, ingroup members – the present generation – are making sacrifices for the benefit of a future generation (e.g. reducing fuel consumption, plastic waste, industrial farming). This comes with little perceived intrinsic reward for ourselves, with no chance of reprisal from the temporally distant outgroup; the future generation. When we choose to support ingroup members, or feel less compassion for outgroup members who experience harm, this in effect, is prejudice. Most importantly, this highlights how psychology does indeed play a role in prejudice – not merely politics and physical traits (Medleady & Crisps, 2017).

These temporal intergroup boundaries are arbitrary. As Meleady and Crisp believe; they are likely a product of our desire to socially categorize our peers – predicated upon a psychological urge to find patterns where they apparently exist, rather than a logical, political goal (2017). It’s in this distinction that the beauty of Meleady and Crisp’s research lies: Rather than attempting to outright extinguish this supposed psychological desire – a futile endeavor – the scientists intend to flip that desire on its head: By redefining the parameters of ingroup and outgroup membership (2017).

In a small 2017 pilot study designed to test the efficacy of this approach, Meleady and Crisp had 140 participants randomly divided into control and experimental groups. The experimental group was tasked with identify five similarities between present and future generations. The control group had a similar task, albeit with irrelevant categories (e.g. cats and dogs). Participants then rated how similar they felt to future generations, with the experimental condition reporting statistically significant scores, compared to the non-significant scores of their control group counterparts. In other words, Meleady and Crisp found the result they were hoping for; by consciously breaking down these arbitrary intergroup barriers, we do indeed have the ability to identify with, and accept, those outside of our traditional groups (Medleady & Crisps, 2017).

Meleady and Crisp took this a step further with two subsequent 2017 experimental studies. Both were conducted to determine if changing intergroup attitudes can also garner pro-environmental behaviours. The first study asked 80 participants to think about present and future generations (like in the first study) or sports (an irrelevant issue). Participants were then asked if they would purchase a more environmentally sustainable version of common products such as jeans, milk, and electronic devices. The second study had a similar design to the first, albeit with a key difference: Participants were asked if they would perform more environmentally conscious behaviours that transcended mere buying habits (Medleady & Crisps, 2017).

In both studies, the results met the researchers’ predictions: Not only can arbitrary intergroup barriers be broken down by demonstrating group similarity; this newfound similarity has the potential to foster better environmental stewardship behaviours too (Medleady & Crisps, 2017). This is all fine and well to say that a simple change in attitudes can be a great boon for establishing environmental concern, but is that really realistic? How could this research possibly generate tangible results in the real world, outside the laboratory? Surely, it wouldn’t be wise to make every ill-informed person on earth write down what they like about the next generation. Rather, I would contend that a far more reasonable, albeit somewhat sneaky application is at hand.

Our ideas about the world are not informed in a vacuum. What we read and how we feel about it is more important than ever. In what has been described as a post-truth era, the veritable weight of cold hard facts pales in comparison to emotional appeals (McIntyre, 2018). Each time a news article is written, a scientific report articulated, or dialogue with friends and family orated, it provides us with a valuable opportunity: If it can prompt us to consider personal relevance and why we should care for our fellow man or woman – no matter when they’ll inherit this planet – then perhaps we can find ourselves in a more ecologically-sensitive world. All the knowledge gained through scientific research can only be rendered useful if it is communicated well (McIntyre, 2018).

Communication is the sieve in the floodgate that strains words from actions: If done through dry and jargon-heavy means, our communication of this climate change problem only speaks to those who already know it’s a problem, while potentially alienating others. If done in a psychologically-sensitive way, the same statistics and findings can be transformed from informative to inspirational; helping one find congruence between their knowledge and feelings of the issue. That can ignite meaningful action, before it’s too late.

I would hope a more holistic method for communicating climate change findings is imparted before those findings become self-evident. In many ways, climate change is already here: A report from World Wildlife Foundation – which compiled data from dozens of climate scientists – suggests that humanity has killed over 60% of wild animals (World Wildlife Foundation, 2018). Likewise, a raise in global temperature of only a few more degrees would almost assuredly be catastrophic (IPCC, 2018). We are living in a dire situation, lying on the precipice of an ecological point-of-no-return. As such, it’s imperative we use every tool in our arsenal – including psychology – to combat this.

 

References

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2018). Summary For Policymakers. Retrieved from http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

Guggenheim, D. (Director), & Gore, A. (Screenwriter). (2006). An Inconvenient Truth [Video file]. France: Paramount Pictures. Retrieved November 1, 2018.

Meleady, R., & Crisp, R. J. (2017). Redefining climate change inaction as temporal intergroup bias: Temporally adapted interventions for reducing prejudice may help elicit environmental protection. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 53, 206-212. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2017.08.005

McIntyre, L. (2018). Post-truth. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

World Wildlife Foundation. (2018). Living Planet Report 2018: Aiming Higher. Retrieved from http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/id/eprint/15549/1/%255bEMBARGO%2030%20OCT%255d%20LPR2018_Full%20Report_12.10.2018.pdf