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This post features Part 2 of Margaret Klein’s (Climate Psychologist) paper on The Transformative Power of Climate Truth. Part 1 dealt with the power of truth for individuals and for social movements. In Part 2, Margaret writes about harnessing the truth about climate. (Rolly Montpellier ~ Managing Editor, BoomerWarrior.Org).

Harnessing the Truth About Climate

Harnessing the Power of Climate Truth, boomer warrior

I have witnessed the transformative power of climate truth. I have seen people go from passive and disengaged to mobilized, working with dogged determination to fight climate change and spread climate truth to others. These transformations are vitally important, because only people who allow themselves to be transformed by climate truth can provide the fuel for a heroic, fully dedicated, and ultimately successful social movement.

The Pledge to Mobilize provides people with a point of entry into the global climate crisis—it provides a roadmap for how any one individual can build power and affect change in the arena of national politics. The knowledge that you can effect meaningful impact on the climate crisis—call it agency, empowerment, or active hope—is critical for accepting climate truth. Without agency, the scope of the crisis can cause despair, cynicism, or an obsessive focus on assigning and avoiding blame. Without the Pledge— or some other comprehensive political platform and social movement strategy that clearly and effectively tackle the climate emergency—people’s alarm and despair about climate change are largely inert. With the Pledge, this emotional energy can be channeled into dedicated, effective action.

Endemic Avoidance of Climate Truth

The Pledge to Mobilize is dedicated to bringing climate truth into the mainstream. As leading environmental analysts Jorgen Randers and Paul Gilding put it in 2009:

It’s like belonging to a secret society. Conversations held in quiet places, in cafes, bars and academic halls. Conversations held with furrowed brows and worried eyes. Conversations that sometimes give you goose bumps and shivers, and a sense of the surreal – is this conversation really happening? This is what it’s felt like over the past few years, to spend time with some of the world’s leading thinkers and scientists on issues around climate change and sustainability. In public this group generally puts a positive, while still urgent interpretation of their views… But in private, often late at night, when we reflect on what we really think and wonder if the battle is lost, it’s a different conversation. The talk goes to the potential for self-reinforcing runaway loops and for civilization’s collapse. We discuss geopolitical breakdown, mass starvation and what earth would be like with just a few hundred million people.

This is an incredible, crucial statement. Even leading scientists and thought leaders aren’t being totally candid. Instead of frank discussions of the crisis, conversations are awash in confusion, denial and fixation on irrelevancies. Much of this is due to the billion dollar misinformation campaign that the fossil fuel industry has waged to cast doubt upon settled science. Another substantial contribution comes from the media, particularly the American media, which has consistently misapplied the concept of “balance” to give rogue climate deniers a place at the discussion table, and underreported the extent to the crisis.

However, these are far from the only causes — climate truth is avoided by almost everyone. A recent Yale poll shows that only 16% of Americans hear discussion of climate change from people they know once a month or more, while 25% report never hearing people they know talk about climate change! Even when climate change is discussed, the full extent of the crisis is avoided. Instead of being communicated truthfully, climate change is communicated with a huge variety of distortions that make the situation appear less dire, and the solution less drastic.

Carbon Budget

We are told that there is still carbon “in the budget,” even though the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today is enough to cause a climatic catastrophe, and eventually lead to global warming far above levels that could plausibly be considered safe.

We are told to worry for “our grandchildren,” implying that we, ourselves are not in danger. Sometimes we are given the baffling message that climate change is an acute, global crisis, but the solution is minimal! We are told that changing our individual consumer decisions is a meaningful response to the crisis, and that gradual carbon-pricing policies can solve climate change on their own while allowing business as usual to continue. David Spratt elaborates on these obfuscations in his very worthwhile paper, “Always look on the bright side of life: bright siding climate advocacy and its consequences.”

Emergency Response

That we are in an acute crisis and need an emergency response similar to how we mobilized to meet the emergency of World War II, is considered too hot to handle.

Harnessing the Power of Climate Truth, boomer warrior

Americans are considered too weak, ignorant, and ideologically rigid to be able to deal with it. Instead, messages are tested on focus groups and refined in order to achieve a desired level of comfortable acceptance. A cottage industry of climate psychology warns of the danger of apocalyptic rhetoric and implores climate communicators to “focus on solutions” (without honestly confronting the problem) to avoid “turning people off.”

The fact that this communications approach has become normative in American politics does not make it less harmful. Philosopher Harry G Frankfurt, describes this way of relating to the truth, which is the premise of his book, “On Bullshit”:

Bullshitters, although they represent themselves as being engaged simply in conveying information, are not engaged in that enterprise at all. Instead, and most essentially, they are fakers and phonies who are attempting by what they say to manipulate the opinions and the attitudes of those to whom they speak. What they care about primarily, therefore, is whether what they say is effective in accomplishing this manipulation. Correspondingly, they are more or less indifferent to whether what they say is true or whether it is false.

This patronizing approach is doomed for failure. While acknowledging that people who discuss climate change in this truth-bending style mean well, we must also realize that they are making a critical error. We are in an emergency. We need an emergency response. We cannot possibly hope to achieve one without frank and brutal honesty. If there is a fire, should we coax people to leave the building through euphemistic half-truths?—“Its getting hot in here, let’s go outside where its nice and cool?”—Or should we tell them the truth, and direct them to safety?

Further, there is a fundamental difference between telling the truth and distorting it. The difference can be heard and felt by the listener. Even if one’s intentions in bending or avoiding the truth are good, subtle dishonesty is perceived by the recipient, whose “bullshit detector” goes off.

Considering that most of what Americans are told about climate change is either euphemistic understatement or outright lies, is widespread apathy really surprising? Is it any wonder that so many Americans conclude that everyone has an agenda and choose not to engage with the climate crisis?

The Pledge

The Pledge to Mobilize, rather than assuming that people “can’t handle” the truth of climate change, attempts to help people handle and process that truth. The Pledge challenges them to grow, cope with the truth, and become active agents for effective change, spreading climate truth and the Pledge to Mobilize to others. Using the World War II metaphor, we provide an example of a time in which the United States successfully mobilized against an existential crisis; it provides hope without denying the severity of the situation; it invites Americans to look at the climate crisis squarely and rise to the challenge of their time.

The most common criticism we have received about the Pledge’s demands is that it is not “politically realistic” to demand a 100% reduction of US net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Some believe that this timeline is too rapid to possibly be achieved, even in the context of a full-scale climate mobilization. These critics recommend that we should weaken our demands in order to be more mainstream. Of course, anyone who has studied climate change knows that these emissions cuts will give us our best possible chance of saving civilization. People don’t argue that the Pledge doesn’t state the truth; they argue that the truth needs to be avoided! Stating the truth plainly—both of the extent and immediacy of the crisis and the enormous scale of the needed solution—makes them too uncomfortable

Popular climate blogger David Roberts characterized humanity as “stuck between the impossible and the unthinkable.” Our job is therefore to achieve the ‘impossible’! As Joe Uehlein, Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability put it recently in a Facebook discussion of the Pledge’s ambitious timeline and the need for a WWII-scale Mobilization:

It may or may not be possible, but that is what the timeline science tells us we’re on requires…I totally understand your criticism (that the Pledge’s emissions timeline is unrealistic). It’s just that 30 years of realism, realistic approaches, reaching for what’s achievable got us exactly nowhere. Even if all the countries do what they pledge to do in terms of carbon emissions, we still fail. That reality has to be emphasized so people will reach beyond realistic. I believe this is the only path to winning the war. At least that’s what my experience tells me — 15 years on the UN Commission on Global Warming, and 40 years in the labor movement. We’re losing the climate fight, and we’re losing the workplace justice and income inequality fight. This is why “that’s not realistic” does not resonate with me any longer.

Joe has given up on political “realism” that cannot deliver protection from climate change, and embraced climate truth. We need a massive solution to a massive problem, and to accomplish it we need to reach beyond defeatist “realism” and reclaim our institutions. We need to unleash the transformative power of truth.

We must realize that it is not merely “deniers” who distort climate truth and stand in the way of the climate mobilization that we need, but anyone who privileges political “realism” over scientific realism and moral responsibility, clings to false-optimism, or advocates “politically fashionable carbon gradualism.”1

1Phrase coined by Michael Hoexter

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  1. Well Rolly, I’m sorry but my comment is not going to be very happy. I’ve talked with the founders of The Climate Mobilization rather extensively and come away rather discouraged. Not because they have a crappy idea, it’s a fantastic idea, that is to apply the concepts of wartime mobilization to climate change recovery. But what I’ve argued with them about is that their pledge does not match what their message is. As you read the actual statements that folks are pledging to mobilized on, well. to be gentle I’d call so far off the target of wartime mobilization it ain’t even on the firing range let alone hitting the bulls-eye. Read it here:

    1. Vote for candidates who have also signed the Pledge to Mobilize over those who have not.
    2. Support candidates who have signed with time, money, or both.
    3. Spread the truth of climate change, and the Pledge to Mobilize, to others.

    See? it is nothing more than campaigning for candidates, that’s it, nothing more, get it? Built within their project is a so-called social movement, but their actual pledge has nothing to do with a social movement, it’s just voting, campaigning and financing candidates, nothing new about that and nothing there that has ever worked on something this large of scale. The social movement that’s needed for this issue is not about candidates and government, not at this point anyway. It’s about change your entire freaking life…AT HOME! Not at the voting booth or on the campaign trail. Change “your” life at home first, THEN the government will change automatically, even Republicans. Why? Cuz if you don’t buy what the Republican (and Democrat) corporate world sells, THEN they can’t make it and if they can’t make it the “IT” won’t pollute anymore. It’s that simple, and when we (the people, not the government) finally get to the place where we see that, that’s when something hopeful is going to happen.

    Margaret says, “The Pledge challenges them to grow, cope with the truth, and become active agents for effective change, spreading climate truth and the Pledge to Mobilize to others. Using the World War II metaphor, we provide an example of a time in which the United States successfully mobilized against an existential crisis; it provides hope without denying the severity of the situation; it invites Americans to look at the climate crisis squarely and rise to the challenge of their time.e truth of climate change, and the Pledge to Mobilize, to others.”

    Yeah? Well how does “the Pledge” do that. What specifically is their wartime mode? What are pledger’s going to “do” to change the situation? All I can see is they vote, ask others to vote and support candidates with money. Sorry but, big f***ing deal. Where are their personal sacrifices? Are they still going to be living in 3000 sq. ft homes, are they still going to be making 100K a year, are they still going to be buying new shoes, taking vacations out of the country, flushing toilets, are they going to get compost toilets, are they going to try and subsist on their own food production, are they going to make their own clothes, are they going to catch water for their roofs, will they open their big homes to homeless people, will they home school and much much more in the way of PERSONAL sacrifice. In short, will they do everything they can to NOT be a part of the system as it is? Get it?

    No, simply asking people to pledge to candidate promotion is no kinda wartime movement, it’s BAU at best.

  2. The Koch Bros and the Fossil Fuel Industry, have spent Millions on Legislators and Regulators, to continue to Poison our Air, Water, and Soil.

    The Global Warming, Sea Level Rising, Fossil Fuel Energy Policies, that Globally emitted 40 – 50 Billion Toxic Tons of Carbon, of that the United States emitted 6.8 Billion Toxic Tons. And continue to lead the Globe to Fracking.

    Right Now we have 404 parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere.

    The Jet Stream of Old, is Gone.

    There is No Carbon Budget, each Toxic Ton we emit, is Warming the Planet.

    The past Five years have Global record temps steadily increasing.

    Northwest Pacific Ocean, 3 – 6 degrees Warmer than Normal,

    “At just 0.80C of Global Warming, the World is Already experiencing Climate Change.

    West Antarctica and Greenland Calving.

    Arctic 75% gone and melting, with severe consequence for the Future Stability of the Permafrost, and Frozen Methane Stores, as Ice Sheets retreat the Earrths Reflective Power Decreases.

    In reality 2C is the boundary between Dangerous and Very Dangerous Climate Change and a 1C is warmer than any Human Civilization has Experienced” David Spratt

    In the 1850s parts per million of carbon was 260 – 280.

    Whales, Dolphins, Sea Lions, Starfish, Die Off along the Western Coast of the Pacific Ocean over the past year . Ocean Acidity levels climbing, Mercury 3x more than the start of the Century.

    “Ice sheets contain enormous quantities of frozen water. If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet). If the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, sea level would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet).” National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    When will Sea Level Rise to 220 – 300 Feet ? 2020 ? 2025 ? ?

    California emitted 459 Toxic Tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2014.

    Gov Browns call to reduce this to 1990 levels so we can continue to emit over 400 million Toxic Tons a year, will not help us stop or slow down Global Warming and Sea Levels Rising.

    “Updates to the 2020 Limit.
    Calculation of the original 1990 limit approved in 2007 was revised using the scientifically updated IPCC 2007 fourth assessment report (AR4) global warming potentials, to 431 MMTCO2e. Thus the 2020 GHG emissions limit established in response to AB 32 is now slightly higher than the 427 MMTCO2e in the initial Scoping Plan.” Ca. Gov. Data

    We Need 100% Renewable Energies .

    Close all Nuclear Facilities, and Relocate All Waste above 2,000 Feet.

    No Twin Tunnels, Save the Delta, this Fragile Eco-System is a measurement of our commitment to bring in Sustainable Energy Policies.

    Cap and Trade Phased Out.

    75% Airport reduction in Carbon emissions.

    Ban Fracking

    Close all 108, for profit, Water Bottling Plants in California

    Implement a California Residential and Commercial Feed in Tariff.

    California Residential Feed in Tariff would allow homeowners to sell their Renewable Energy to the utility, protecting our communities from Poison Water, Grid Failures, Natural Disasters, Toxic Natural Gas and Oil Fracking.

    Our California Residential Feed-In Tariff should start out at 16 cents per kilowatt hour, 5 cents per kilowatt hour to the Utility for use of the Grid, 11 cents per kilowatt hour going to the Home Owner.

    A California Commercial FiT in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, an Sacramento Ca. are operating NOW, paying the Business Person 17 cents cents per kilowatt hour.

    Sign and Share this petition for a California Residential Feed in Tariff.

  3. Everyone here has some really valid points.

    Politically speaking…. I’m not sure anyone will listen until we change ourselves, as Danny and Daniel suggest. A movement towards change needs a bit more umph than just pledges and campaign funding… we’ve seen plenty of that with the Green Carbon Fund pledges from governments around the world.

    Pledges (historically), don’t translate into near the same amounts when the time to pay comes. Campaigns come and go and manifestos change. I worry too that people who get involved politically, really think they can make a difference! Sometimes they do, but mostly, they get swallowed up in the political machine and spat out, defeated and bruised by the big boys.

    I would like to see the masses just stand up and say “NO” to inaction on Climate Change, to spread the word through the grapevine to veto corrupt and polluting leaders in politics and commerce. Will it happen? Perhaps… I hope! If enough people tweet, blog, Youtube, march, tell their friends… the message will start to hit home. It doesn’t need money, it doesn’t need a movement, it needs action from the heart of every human on the planet.

    I am such an idealist!

  4. I agree with these comments. Margaret is fabulously bright and the Climate Mobilization is absolutely the right move – and right NOW! But there are two insurmountable challenges, as already largely pointed out, and some dearly needed missing elements: (A) no real climate mobilization is proposed and no vision of what that would look like, nor the benefits of that; and (B) no ability for this call for mobilization to go viral on the web, and to go globally.Without automation, reporting of influence, and a connection to ACTION, it’s nice, but ineffective at best.

    By comparison, my network marketing company — one of thousands — is growing 10x faster than the climate mobilization signatory list. Sad, but true.

    In the end, we need to emotionally link people’s key personal and cultural values to action, and action to reward, and leverage that into political power. At the end of the day, people need lots of little tangible things they can do, they need to be “rewarded” and/or recognized for having done them, the have to take very little time, and they have to translate into larger commitments in the political arena. And that political power has to be focused first in clearly identified solutions that benefit people and fast – clear, understandable, logical – and grounded in their values.

    Climate mobilization on the micro must focus on the hundreds of small practical decisions and actions, while climate mobilization on the political should have no more than 3 (5 tops) solutions/ initiatives/ agendas. More will come, but you have to create a consumable and easily communicable platform that would make huge positive changes.

    Take for example: (1) Steeply Progressive Global & Local Carbon Tax – see CCL, (2) Divestment by public institutions, pension funds, universities, etc., See, (3) and an immediate shift to zero corporate tax incentives to drill or mine fossil fuels, with those $50 Billion USD per year going immediately to fund solar, wind, hydrogen, smart grid, etc., (4) mandatory feed-in tariffs for small entrepreneur and home energy production, (5) Ten Billion Dollars in X-Prizes focused on transformational green solutions to the top fossil fuel energy consumption sectors (transportation, food production, etc.) these should be the primary topic list for every environmental group, progressive social group, church group, etc., that seek to have a healthy, clean, livable, affordable future where we have stable economies, fewer wars, human rights, etc.

    Climate collapse makes all of those ideas history – helping people understand this is not only crucial – it is essential. That’s empowerment – climate mobilization has to come from below, 7 Billion points of light – to co-opt a phrase.

    Climate Mobilization as an idea is spot on – however, in my opinion it needs to create both a micro and a macro agenda that operates as a transformational big tent under which all other similar and like minded organizations can buy in, participate, find expression and allegiance, and take the Climate Mobilization initiatives forward as their own. Transform the 7 billion points of light into the most focused and powerful laser in history to shed light and renewed energy (solar!) into a new vision for humanity.

  5. Well said Jonathan – clear and focused ideas from industry leaders and governments, and seven billion of us joining the plan!

  6. After years of researching climate change, I have come to realize that people don’t hear numbers, facts or science when it comes to making decisions.

    But, they do instinctively hear stories told. So I switched from academic papers to climate “fiction” based on science. Consider reading a tale extrapolating current climate action or inaction into our near future. The hopeful (AlberTa’s Gift), to the tragic (Blown Bridge Valley or Storm Punchers).


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