I’m pleased to feature Margaret Klein’s (Climate Psychologist) paper on The Transformative Power of Climate Truth in Below2C. The paper will be presented in three parts. Part 1 suggests that the most powerful truth of our times is climate change. (Editor)
The Most Powerful Truth
Climate truth is not easy news to receive or deliver, and it takes fortitude to spread it. However, it is a message that people are increasingly ready to hear.
The Climate Mobilization launched seven months ago, when we began spreading the Pledge to Mobilize at the People’s Climate March in New York City. Our mission is to initiate a WWII-scale mobilization that protects civilization and the natural world from climate catastrophe. Climate truth is central to this mission. We believe that the climate movement’s greatest and most underutilized strategic asset is the truth: That we are now in a planet-wide climate crisis that threatens civilization and requires an immediate, all-out emergency response.
The Pledge to Mobilize, a one-page document that any American can sign, is our tool for spreading climate truth and channeling the emotions it inspires into political power. The Pledge is a public acknowledgment that the climate crisis threatens the collapse of civilization, as well as a call for the United States to initiate a World War II-scale mobilization to eliminate our national net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and enlist in an international effort to restore a safe global climate. (Please see The Case for Climate Mobilization, for a detailed scientific and economic explanation of our demands).
The Pledge also contains a set of political and personal commitments to build the social mobilization required to achieve these demands. When you sign the Pledge, you agree to:
- Vote for candidates who have also signed the Pledge to Mobilize over those who have not.
- Support candidates who have signed with time, money, or both.
- Spread the truth of climate change, and the Pledge to Mobilize, to others.
It is still early days for The Climate Mobilization, but our progress is quite promising. The Pledge to Mobilize has been signed by more than 1000 Americans, a number that is growing every day. We encourage people, once they have signed, to recruit friends and family, and to advocate for mobilization in public. Mobilizers have begun a variety of actions such as giving presentations on the climate crisis and need for mobilization, tabling, or holding discussions in their homes. In March, 375 people marched to the San Diego Federal Building, where they posted the Pledge to Mobilize.
This paper explores the transformative power — and strategic necessity— of climate truth. It explains why we believe the Pledge to Mobilize approach contains such incredible potential for change. This paper will also address the concern that The Climate Mobilization should be less frank and frightening about the climate crisis, and push for a more appealing and “realistic,” though inadequate, solution.
The Power of Truth for Individuals
Humans have a remarkable capacity for imagination and fantasy. This is a precious gift, which allows us to create technological breakthroughs and captivating, brilliant works of fiction. Our imagination gives us the capacity to re-make the world, a uniquely powerful ability that no other animal can come close to rivaling. The downside, however, is that our minds are such powerful and flexible creative forces that they can also easily deceive us.
Socrates advocated that individuals must work to discover personal truth, encapsulated in his statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Guatama Buddha, a near contemporary of Socrates, created a spiritual system that also emphasizes seeking personal truth and staying in touch with reality. This is no easy task—distinguishing reality from fantasy is a life-long developmental challenge. The child, for example, must learn that monsters and fairies are not real. As the child grows, she must continue to determine what is real about herself, her family, and the world — including recognizing the truth of her capacities, or strengths, proclivities and limitations. She must also recognize what family stories have been distortions of reality, i.e. “In this family, everyone always gets along.”
There are two basic reasons why it is critically important that individuals separate truth from distortion and fantasy. The first is very practical. If someone does not adequately understand themselves and the world, they will have a very difficult time navigating it, or growing in response to it. For example, if a teenager believes himself to be invincible, he may break bones or worse before coming to terms with the reality of his vulnerability. Or if he has been told his entire life, and now believes, that he can accomplish any goal easily, he might be in for a rude awakening when he enrolls in advanced courses for which he is unprepared. If he can’t accurately evaluate his talents honestly, he denies himself the chance to utilize his strengths and bolster his weaknesses!
The second reason was discovered by Freud, and used during the past century by psychoanalysis and the related psychotherapies to relieve individual suffering and enhance individual lives. The truth is inherently energizing and enhancing to the individual because the truth is often known, but defended against—repressed, dissociated and denied. This avoidance of the truth takes continual effort and energy. Take, for example a woman who finally admits to herself that she is a lesbian after years of fighting this knowledge. When the truth is finally embraced, a weight is lifted and a new level of personal freedom is accessed. The woman feels as though she has a new lease on life, and indeed she does, because she has integrated an important truth, which is inherently invigorating and opens up new frontiers of possibility.
Sexual orientation is only one example. We all shield ourselves from unpleasant truths; it is a basic part of human mental functioning. That is why actively examining oneself is critical. Psychotherapy is one such process of active examination, and the results can be staggering. First the client’s depression lifts, then their interpersonal relationships improve, then they make a career change that is more rewarding. Increased understanding and honesty bear many fruits.
The Power of Truth in Social Movements
All of the great social movements throughout history have successfully applied the transformative power of truth en masse. The transformative truths of social movements are widely known before the emergence of the movement, but they are repressed, denied, and ignored. The institutions of society—the government, media, academy and religious institutions often collude in denying the truth, failing the people they are meant to serve. Successful social movements take the truth into their own hands and force individuals, institutions, and especially governments to reckon with, accept, and ultimately act on the truth.
Vaclav Havel championed “Living in Truth” rather than complying with the corrupt, repressive actions of the Soviet Union. His work helped cause the non-violent Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, after which he became the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia in 41 years. Havel described the strategic power of truth:
The power of truth does not reside in the strength of definable political or social groups, but chiefly in a potential, which is hidden throughout the whole of society, including the official power structures of that society. Therefore this power does not rely on soldiers of its own, but on soldiers of the enemy as it were—that is to say, on everyone who is living within the lie and who may be struck at any moment (in theory, at least) by the force of truth (or who, out of an instinctive desire to protect their position, may at least adapt to that force). It is a bacteriological weapon, so to speak, utilized when conditions are ripe by a single civilian to disarm an entire division…. This, too, is why the regime prosecutes, almost as a reflex action, preventatively, even modest attempts to live in truth. (1978, emphasis added.
The lies of the Soviet state in Czechoslovakia collapsed when confronted with the force of the truth. This was possible because, as Havel describes, the power of truth exists in everyone, including the army, governmental leaders, and other elites—we all “know” the truth on some level—but it is buried under layers of defenses, fear, and doubt. However, when people advocate for the truth with clarity and moral certainty, the truth comes to the forefront of people’s minds; it cuts like a spear through layers of denial and self-deception
Gandhi pioneered the movement strategy called “Satyagraha” which means “Truth force” and has connotations of love and inner strength. Rather than using violence to create change, practitioners of Satyagraha used their inner resources to march, fast, and otherwise demonstrate the truth of their message that colonialism was inherently degrading and that India needed to govern itself. Satyagraha was instrumental in helping India achieve independence.
Martin Luther King utilized Gandhi’s teachings and preached about the need for “soul force” in the struggle for racial equality. Before the civil rights movement, America rationalized, ignored, and passively accepted the brutal Jim Crow system. The civil rights movement brought the ugly truth of Jim Crow to the center of American life. When non-violent protesters were met with hateful violence, and these confrontations were broadcast into living rooms across America, the truth could no longer be denied and ignored: the status quo was seen as morally bankrupt. Major, immediate changes were plainly necessary. When a powerful truth is effectively communicated, change can happen very rapidly.
The Truth Allows Us to Grow
Grappling with the truth makes us, as individuals and societies, healthier and more resilient. It allows us to approach problems with rationality and creativity and energy that would otherwise be sapped by denial and avoidance. Social movements invite us to put truth into practice — to be changed by the truth and to share the truth with others. This takes dedication and courage. In successful social movements, these traits are found in abundance. When people become agents for truth and vital change, they are elevated, enlarged, and lit up. The truth, and their role in advancing it, affects how they view themselves, what occupies their mind, and how they conduct their affairs. The power of truth allows them to transcend their limitations and what they once thought possible for themselves.
Psychologist and climate activist Mary Pipher puts it this way:
We cannot solve a problem that we will not face. With awareness, everything is possible. Once we stop denying the hard truths of our environmental collapse, we can embark on a journey of transformation that begins with the initial trauma —the ‘oh shit’ moment — and can end with transcendence. In fact, despair is often a crucible for growth. When our problems seem too big for us to tackle, there’s really only one solution, which is: We must grow bigger.
The Most Powerful Truth- Pope Francis Speaks Out
We are living in a state of planetary emergency and must mobilize our society on the scale of World War II in order to rapidly bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in order to have a chance of averting the collapse of civilization and the destruction of the natural world. The fact that we have warmed the world this much, and show little sign of stopping, is evidence of widespread institutional failure. We cannot expect anyone else to save us. We must do it ourselves.
This truth, while deeply unwelcome, has the potential to be the most powerful, transformative truth of all. Climate truth has the potential to be more powerful than any country’s independence; more powerful that overthrowing authoritarian states; and more powerful than civil rights or any group’s struggle for safety, recognition and equality. Climate truth contains such superordinate power because all of those causes depend on a safe climate. (Added for emphasis ~ It is the most powerful truth).
If we do not solve climate change, we will never be able to build a just, free, healthy, loving society. It will be “game over”— the experiment of humanity organizing into civilizations will have failed. This will mean the deaths of billions of people and the loss of safety and security for the rest. It will be a miserable, deplorable fate. If we accept climate truth, we can channel the enormous power of our values, passions, empathy and hopes for humanity towards our fight for a safe climate.
Some people will feel that the climate crisis is not ‘the most powerful truth of all,’ a distinction that should be reserved for the existence of God. Some even feel that the existence of God lessens or negates the need to act on the climate crisis. I am not a theological expert or religious person, so I can’t confidently speak to the matter. I can say that I have come across a good number of deeply religious climate activists who believe that separating God from creation is not possible, and to honor him, we must protect the planet and ourselves. Further, I know that every major religion considers both suicide and murder deeply wrong. Allowing climate change to unfold without mobilization is suicide, homicide, and ecocide on a massive scale. Though the intent to harm is lacking, passivity on climate is complicity with these deaths. As the growth of faith-based climate efforts grow, perhaps most notably the statements of Pope Francis, we see that there is no contradiction between religious faith and climate truth. Indeed, there is a contradiction between professed belief and passive acquiescence as humanity destroys itself and the natural world.
The fact that climate change threatens the collapse of civilization is not only known by scientists and experts. It is widely known—and defended against. Many Americans are willfully ignorant—they know that climate change, and the institutional failure it represents, is scary, so they keep it out of their focus. They never read about it, perhaps telling themselves that they aren’t interested. Another common defensive reaction is to intellectually accept the “facts” of climate change, but not to connect emotionally with its implications. This attitude can be seen by those who calmly, cynically state, “We are fucked,” and remain utterly passive.
Though climate change ranks low on most Americans’ lists of stated political priorities, our collective anxiety is apparent. Witness the popularity of learning survival skills and packing “go bags”—people harbor the fantasy that in a collapse scenario, they would be able to successfully take their safety into their own hands. Or look at the profusion of apocalyptic movies, TV shows and video games that have been popular in recent years.
If we look squarely at the climate crisis, we realize that these portrayals of destruction are not as fantastical as they seem; that they are imaginative forecasts of the climate ravaged planet that we are careening towards. This understanding can, to borrow Naomi Klein’s phrase, “change everything.” Letting climate truth in can affect not only your civic and political engagement, but also your priorities, goals, and sense of identity. You are not, as American culture has told you, an isolated actor, living in a stable country on a stable planet, whose main purpose in life is to pursue personal success and familial satisfaction. Rather, you are living in a country, and on a planet, in crisis. Your primary moral responsibility is to fight for your family, your species and all life on earth. You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t cause it, and you probably don’t like it. But here you are.
Here we all are, in personal and collective danger. Climate change is already killing 400,000 people a year, a number that we should expect to rise quickly and abruptly as climatic and civilizational tipping points (i.e. the breakout of water wars and food riots) are reached. Climate change is a matter of life and death for billions of people, and for civilization as a whole. If we allow ourselves to feel that reality, then our survival instincts can kick in. We must be like the mother who lifts a truck to pull out her baby, or perhaps more aptly—a man who comes perilously close to drinking himself to death, but emerges from hitting rock bottom resolved to courageously face his problems rather than fleeing them. Our love for life and for each other can urge us to great feats.
The most powerful truth of all is the Climate Crisis will be followed by Parts 2 and 3 of Margaret’s paper in the coming weeks. Part 2 will deal with the harnessing of the power of climate truth. Part 3 will explore the challenges and the rewards of climate truth. The full article is available on The Climate Psychologist.
Image credits: rivendellbooks.com climate-change-child, pewsitter.com Pope Francis
Excellent article. Sadly I seem to have lost my audience after about the fourth share… In Australia the normality bias has its roots so deep (perhaps because our media has long been so concentrated in terms of ownership) that even my immediate family say there’s no way things are as dire as they’re being portrayed.
We live in a continent that’s hugely vulnerable to climate change, especially heatwaves and subsequent bushfires. And yet even after nearly two hundred people burned to death in Victorian bushfires a few years ago, nobody in the media was talking about a direct connection to climate change. It’s hard to see people taking concerted action (of the kind required for meaningful change) even if 400, 500, 1000 people die in fires in one season. Ultimately belief trumps evidence.
I feel I’m waiting for the end, unable to do anything to stop it. Apologies for being so glum on your wonderful blog, Rolly. For what it’s worth I’ve reduced my carbon footprint and will keep reducing. I’m starting to understand why people become survivalists: it’s not necessarily that they want to outlive others or live at the expense of others (necessarily); it’s that they know how seismic the panic will be when the truth finally does sink in, because the longer a truth is repressed, the greater the trauma of recognition. Again, so sorry to be glum! Alas, Australia…
Thank you for your comments. I have many followers on Facebook and Twitter from Australia. I’m aware of your dire climate change prognosis. I’m also aware that you have a Prime Minister who is quite sinister about climate change. Tony Abbott and our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, are both hugely negative forces on the international climate scene. I call them the evil carbon twins for their focus on coal and the Tar Sands respectively.
I like the phrase you have used. ” the longer a truth is repressed, the greater the trauma of recognition.”
Sorry about your glumness. I have those moments too.
Oh, I too can identify with what Jennifer is saying here. Margaret Klein says that people are ready to hear the message (truth) about global warming, but I am not so sure that people are getting the same message. My husband is of the opinion that it is too late to stop the warming which will continue apace even if we go to zero emissions, which he says will be impossible. And perhaps if we are to continue in our pursuit of technologies like internet based communications, he is right. The mining of ‘rare earths’ is a necessary thing for our mobile technology. My husband has invested a bit of his savings into ‘Graphine,’ a fabulously versatile, strong material needed in solar panels, mobile technologies and having great potential to make materials lighter, and stronger with applications in medical developments, automobile industry and so on. It is the latest, greatest thing to push us forward in the ‘green’ world development. But like all things we create, it requires vast open-cast mining of Graphite – the raw mineral. And yes, these mines promise the land can be put back to natural state after the mine is spent, but will it? The Alberta Tar Sands were supposed to have been ecologically promised as low-impact!
The problem is that people want to believe the claims ‘that all will be well,’ and ‘our products and manufacturing processes are safe,’ from any Tom, Dick or Harry that expounds them. When naysayers come along (usually with some scientific credentials and credible research), they are branded as ‘negative people full of doom and gloom!
I’m with you Jennifer, I do what I can personally, and encourage the same from others, but even my husband doesn’t follow everything I do so I can’t realistically hope to influence many people to become vegan,to throw out all chemicals and stick to basic soap, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda to clean their homes. No one really cares that my health is better, blood pressure low, body slim and skin irritations and allergies all under control. Only me! It is the same with all things affecting lives. When the ‘personal’ hit from climate change comes, it will catch many people off-guard.
I am not being gloomy, because I’m doing what I can, but misinformation, uncaring attitudes, and outright selfishness and greed has overtaken human societies taking us all on the road to perdition. We need to hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. We need to keep speaking out. Eventually, some might listen and like us, will not be derailed by the runaway train of climate destruction.
Margaret, I think your article is very clear about what should be done to motivate the masses to action. And yes, some influential voices are speaking up, but the momentum is not fast enough yet to convince the deniers who seem to be hiding round every corner sniggering with contempt.
Voting right and all those things are fine, but it’s all about power. Corporations, including the energy companies and the banks, have all the power. They dictate to our governments in most situations. Even if we elect a good government, how can it do anything really significant as long as governments are badly indebted, and that we live under austerity and neo-liberalism? There’s a lot of talk but how do we gain power again, and this doesn’t mean just electing a good government. That’s only part of it. The extreme right seized power during the Thatcher and Reagan eras, and they continue to steam role is — in all areas, not just the environment. We progressives and small-liberals have totally failed to build any consensus on alternative policies, and we fail to understand the true nature of what power is and how it is exercised. Further, we will never overcome out serious environmental problems as long as the governments of China and India still face the pressures from millions of people who want the same kind of life we have in the West. We should not be addressing environmental issues in isolation from the many other great problems the world faces.
Thank you Nick for your comments and welcome to BoomerWarrior.
Indeed governments are so compromised that they no longer present the best options for addressing climate change. This is a crucial year with the Paris2015 COP Conference in December. Nations of the world will attempt to come up with new aggressive targets for the reduction of emissions post 2020. The Road to Paris is full of good intentions but the record of international talks on climate change is full of examples where political land mines have blown up all over the place.
I think that a lot of good actions are happening. For example, the US and China have signed a climate agreement. The growth of renewables has been phenomenal. There is an endless list of positive small steps in the right direction. But the environmental issues we face are so monumental that what is needed is a world-wide mobilization of the type described by Margaret Klein in this article.