Tag Archive for “climate change”

How Many Climate Scientists Does It Take?–Media, Perception, and Soul Loss

American psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton identifies our very human tendency to ignore difficult realities and overwrite them with thoughts and beliefs that are more palatable as “psychic numbing.” This allows our ego to distract itself enough that it doesn’t have to engage with inner and outer voices and images and movements that go beyond the mainstream consciousness (in Shulman-Lorenz & Watkins, Toward Psychologies of Liberation).

When we witness instances of ecocide (ecological suicide) in the world around us, take note of how wasteful and damaging our consumer-oriented culture has become, or are faced with dire news about how climate change is devastating our planet and threatening life as we know it, we are affected in both body and psyche.

Aspects of the psyche which we require to be healthy and whole get displaced at seeing the destruction; they split off and take cover in a sense, because it’s easier than admitting and knowing we each have some part it in it. This creates a condition of what some indigenous cultures regard as “soul loss,” a sort of psycho-spiritual deficit, which leaves us individually (and collectively) in a state of depression, malaise, and a general loss of vitality. In fact, in Modern Man in Search of Soul, Jung (1933) diagnosed our entire culture as suffering from loss of soul.

In his essay, “The Viable Human,” (in Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century, Shambhala), theologist Thomas Berry wrote, “Our present dilemma is the consequence of a disturbed psychic situation, a mental imbalance, an emotional insensitivity.” Ecocide and our contribution to climate change make it nearly impossible to feel “at home” on our planet in today’s world. Many of us are consciously or unconsciously experiencing anxiety at the destruction we’re inflicting on the earth.

 

Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of ChaosIn his excellent and comprehensive book, Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos: Complexity Theory, Deleuze|Guattari and Psychoanalysis for a Climate in Crisis offers an interesting look at some humorous ways comedians and others engage us in the environmental debate, in the end, he notes many of us turn to denial because the possible outcomes are so grim and so vastly unknown that we just can’t wrap our brains (or our emotions) around the issues.

Dodds writes, “It seems that we have evolved to deal optimally with threats which are immediate, clear, visible, with simple causation, caused by a clearly identifiable ‘enemy’, and with obvious direct personal consequences,”(p. 46) subsequently pointing out that climate change is highly uncertain, not readily visible, and rather abstract in relation to the “here and now.” This translates to the mass denial, apathy, and dissociation we are currently witnessing overall. Dodds calls it the “ultimate bystander effect.”

Globalization, and especially the pervasiveness of media and the manner in which information is conveyed, amplifies the symptoms, affecting us even more deeply, both somatically and psychologically. The speed at which we exchange and take in information is also a significant problem for the psyche, allowing little or no time for reflection and contemplation of what we hear, see, or read.

Much of my current research on the topic of ecocide, environmental degradation, climate change, and their effects on the human psyche consist of newspaper and magazine articles providing the latest information and statistics on the symptoms of a pattern I am referring to as “Culture Collapse Disorder.”  

Due to the speed and fragmentation of mass media, I struggle to articulate and convey information in a way that is considerate of the deep wounds to soul at work in this amazing and frightening phenomena of witnessing the collapse of life as we know it.

media overwhelmNews today in general is difficult to sift through, and does a poor job of conveying what is important. So-called “news” is often delivered at such speed, and with so little time between stories as newscasters, newspapers, or websites skip from one to the next, that we as a public have no time to reflect on any given story.

Too, stories are placed in conjunction with one another with no context of what is deeply important. Recently, I watched PBS Newshour spend nearly ten minutes talking about what it means that many western cultures default to assigning “pink” to girls and “blue” to boys, arguing that it limits girls in their capacity to grow up and become leadersundefinedonly to see that in the next segment, which lasted less than a minute, they “touched on” the topic of the 200 school girls in Nigeria that had been kidnapped to be sold into marriage by terrorists. While I don’t contend that the “pink and blue” debate relating to gender issues is important–it certainly beats the Kardashians reality show which was just a few channels over–the way each topic is portrayed in conjunction with the next, distorting the significance of each, confuses the human mind regarding status and urgency of each situation. 

I recall noting during the early days of the 2011 tsunami disaster in Japan, headlines on the Yahoo home page read “Japan Faces Nuclear Crisis,” positioned right next to a section entitled “Trending Right Now” which included information on “The Bachelorette,” “Lady Gaga,” and “Oil Prices.” Stories on Yahoo about Charlie Sheen acting out uncontrollably received more overall hits than the Japan disaster did during that time, and we can witness this kind of cognitive dissidence online in a myriad of ways virtually every single day.

Back in Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos, Dodds succinctly and convincingly portrays how media serves to skew our comprehension of the real imperative but also reflects our ambivalence, citing examples of how articles for climate change appearing in newspapers are placed side by side with ads for holiday airfares or for SUVs.

Today’s incredibly fast pace of information dissemination via Internet and social media allows us to access important news and data about ecological destruction and climate change, but when treating all topics with equal intensity (everything seems to be “breaking news” on CNN these days), we quickly lose sight of the context that makes meaning.

A recent comic sketch on the HBO news-satire program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver illustrates this concept visually and forcefully. Oliver explains that, while 97% of climate scientists concur that climate change is a reality and that humans have a part in it, we normally only see television debates in which both sides of the argument are represented equally–as if the debate were fifty-fifty, for and against.

In the sketch, Oliver points out that in order to portray the issue realistically, the debate would have to be between just three climate change deniers and 97 individuals who believe. The point that the debate is 97 to 3, rather than fifty/fifty, is driven home when Oliver sets up a mock debate and proceeds to march out three people on one side of the table and dozens on the other. (Click the video below)

 

Online, virtually everywhere, stories about celebrities and their public lives line up alongside stories about the destruction of the planet, about atrocities, violence and trauma, as if all were equal in importance and scope. Debates occur without context or proper weighting for us to reflect on what is real and meaningful. It makes me wonder how we, both individually and as a culture, can truly begin to understand what is truly critical and meaningful to spend our time and resources on, when we haven’t properly reflected about what’s going on on our planet and in our culture.

Reflection, and taking the time to allow things to emerge from the margins where they have been banished, or to well up from where they have been suppressed, is a fundamental practice of depth psychology which enables us to have profound insights. What if we collectively set aside a few minutes each day simply to unplug, turn off the news and sit in quiet contemplation, allowing our psyche to truly absorb and reflect the challenges we face? How might that kind of quiet activism begin to initiate change, first in ourselves–and then in the world around us?

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NOTE: If you’re interested in the topic of soul loss, you can read more about it in my essay, The Shamanic Perspective: Where Jungian Thought and Archetypal Shamanism Converge.

Culture Collapse Disorder: Can Depth Psychology Help Us Cope?

colony collapse disorder vs culture collapse disorderEarth’s inhabitants are in peril largely of our own making. We are, consciously or unconsciously, systematically destroying the our homeplaces, habitats, ecosystems, and above all, the only home we collectively know: Earth. Reports are emerging daily about the implications of human impact on our environment, presenting dire warnings about pollution, urban development, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, natural disasters, and displacement. The tally of global losses grows daily as we perpetrate ecological destruction through our relentless consumption of the earth’s dwindling resources; through rampant use of toxins, chemicals, and pesticides; and through deforestation, erosion, and devastation of natural ecosystems, wetlands, rivers, and oceans.

The unchecked demands of a burgeoning human population on the planet are initiating conditions that are simply not sustainable. Combined with what might be called our cultural “modern mindset,” an ongoing belief (perhaps primarily at an unconscious level) by a large part of the earth’s population that resources are unlimited, that the way we live is the only way, and that everything will work out somehow, we are, as humans, at a precarious tipping point. In fact, more than thirty years ago (in 1979), ecopsychologist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy noted that for the first time in recorded history, we are deluged with data that suggest our own culture, species, and planet may not survive. If we turn to nature for insight, it’s hard to miss the growing number of extinctions of so many species; one of the most notably, perhaps, the mass die-off of honeybees that are abandoning their hives to certain death, a phenomenon termed “Colony Collapse Disorder.”

Some scientists suggest that honeybees may be acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, foreshadowing the imminent demise of the human race as we plummet toward a colony collapse of our own. In his 2008 book, A Spring Without Bees, Michael Schacker muses on the mythical as well as biological implications of CCD, referring to it as a potential Civilization Collapse Disorder. I have simultaneously considered it as Culture Collapse Disorder, an appropriate name for a culture demonstrating ominous symptoms that it can no longer sustain itself.

When we consider the history of humankind, it is not difficult to trace an inevitable path to the significant crisis we face today as culture and a species. The word “culture,” related to the word “cultivate,” literally means the “tilling of the land.” Since approximately ten thousand years ago when a human first turned the earth with a sharp stick in order to plant a seed, to cultivate it, we have not ceased developing new techniques to sustain our burgeoning numbers. From the scientific revolution to the industrial revolution to current day when technology and globalization are the new normal, we have increasingly sought to manipulate nature, embracing rational thought and moving further from a worldview that nature is a community of which we, as human animals, are a part.

Merrium Webster defines “culture” as the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior.” Certainly humanity as a whole may be considered a culture in and of itself in the way we interact with one another, follow customs and traditions, and utilize our capacity to think and take logical action. Culture may also be divided countless ways to reflect, for example, modern versus ancient, third-world versus first-world, or indigenous versus European or western. However, with the coming of globalization and a dramatic increase in what we often refer to as “consumer culture,” the distinctions and contrasts in some cases are becoming harder to discern.

From a research standpoint, culture, human culture, and the domination and escalation of so-called “western” or “consumer” culture have been topics of much attention. The various demands of the masses including food, water, shelter, energy, and healthcare, as well the challenges presented by science, industry, technology, and globalization, have all had their share of scrutiny.

Regarding sustainability, some well-known research has been published on the concept of “collapse,” most notably, perhaps, from Jared Diamond (in his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed) who traces a history of the rise and fall of civilizations over millennia. With the growing evidence of environmental distress, scientists, futurists, and other experts are now rapidly producing vast amounts of research on sustainability and the escalating ecological plight of the planet, a result of ecocide and climate change specifically, both of which are a result of the impact of culture on nature and of our modern mindset that allows us to engage in ongoing consumption and destruction of the planet without changing course. 

In addition, a growing number of studies are focusing on displacement and the destruction of homeplaces caused by ecological devastation like pollution, erosion, drought, desertification, and rising sea levels. Finally, much attention and debate is being turned to social issues including civil, sexual, and humanitarian rights; socio-economic challenges; the increase in poverty and the emerging gap between the rich and the poor; access to healthcare and the effects of decades of drug development on humans and the environment; and what appear to be epidemic increases in diagnosed cases of mental and emotional health conditions like depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and autism to name a few. In response to these insidious challenges, an increasing number of social scientists and psychologists are now investigating the psychological effects of these critical culturo-ecological issues and the underlying systemic relationships between humans and humans, humans and society (culture), and society and nature.

Given this, it is impossible not to contemplate whether the number of problematic symptoms manifesting so rampantly in our culture warrant the diagnosis of “disorder.” In general terms, “disorder” alludes to a disturbance of the regular or normal functions of a process or event. In the arena of mental health, we understand this to be a psychological abnormality or a pattern of behavioral or psychological symptoms that impact multiple life areas and/or create distress for the person experiencing these symptoms. Indeed, with increasing signs of distress (manifest on both a conscious and unconscious level) among many of earth’s inhabitants—and the intimations of more to come—it is critical we delve into the underlying causes of our dis-ease.

Few are engaging depth psychology to inquire into the oft invisible or unexamined causes of a culture in crisis and to assess the patterns at play. Utilizing a depth psychological lens to study this fundamental eco-psycho-spiritual crisis can allow us to gaze beneath the surface of everyday habits, attitudes, and outcomes, exploring beyond the symptoms to ascertain the roots of issues that have potentially brought us collectively to brink of disaster, or the urgent need for transition to new attitudes and actions at the very least. 

Using aspects of mythology, indigenous understanding, archetypal psychology, psychologies of liberation, and Jungian thought may serve not only to diagnose and devise a “treatment plan” to engage with the potential cataclysm at hand, but might also enable us to find ways to come into relationship with it. Ultimately, this process could provide a blueprint by which we can individually and collectively begin to cope with the consequences and fallout of what has already occurred and what is yet to come: the grief, sadness, anger, and despair, of what we have done to ourselves, our homeplaces, and our ultimate home, the earth.

Nature, Psyche, Climate Change, and the Psychology of Place

A pioneer of depth psychology, C.G. Jung carved the following enigmatic quote in a stone at his home in Bollingen.

Carl Gustav Jung - Carved  Stone at Bollingen

I am an orphan, alone, nevertheless I am found everywhere, I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time. I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven. In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man. I am mortal for every one, yet I am not touched by the cycle of aeons.

Jung’s words allude to our connectivity to nature and to each other as human beings embedded in a culture which leaves us feeling separate and disconnected on the surface. Globalization, industrialization, ecocide, and environmental issues seem to be dividing us more and more rapidly, leading to increased feelings of isolation, alienation and to a very real echo of these archetypal aspects in the physical world as people in environmentally stressed areas, feeling abandoned, desperately begin to move in search of food, water, shelter, and a better life.

As I write this, my 3-month-old kitten (aptly named Psyche), is restless. He keeps climbing across my lap over and over again, meowing and rubbing his head on my arm. He seems distressed, and for no particular reason I can determine. Perhaps he’s not feeling contained enough. We are outside, and the wind is gusty, noisily rustling the nearby bamboo and randomly sending leaves and other small bits of nature flying. Nature can be quite terrifying when you’re a tiny little kitten. This observation about Nature and Psyche might also apply to us.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about climate change recently in preparation for co-hosting a panel on Transformative Imagination at an upcoming Climate Change Forum in Portland, Oregon. Statistics and probable outcome according to scientists is dire. Regardless of whether you believe climate change is a result of human activity or that it is simply a natural event, evidence clearly suggests we are headed for a crisis.

And lest it’s not clear how climate change will affect you, increased temperatures, fewer glaciers and augmented greenhouse gas emissions from newly uncovered tundra will categorically result in increased water shortages, decreased food production, and more frequent cataclysmic natural disasters. Wildfires and superstorms–including massive breakouts of tornadoes and powerful hurricanes along with resulting side effects like mudslides and flooding is virtually certain to create mass displacement of vast numbers of people. Traumatized by the loss of home, loved ones, community, livelihood, and connection to place, social tensions are sure to mount as these climate refugees desperately search for a new place to call home. (For some compelling statistics and information on the topic, check out the Forced Migration Review created by the University of Oxford Refugee Studies Centre below)

Forced Migration Review 2008

And, by the way, even if on the off chance climate change doesn’t affect water supplies (where DOES your water come from currently?) or production of food (farming does rely on irrigation, after all), there is a great chance that social unrest and climate refugees in distress will impact you in some way. If you can, watch the 2010 documentary “Climate Refugees” to get a better sense. See the trailer for the film here on this page.

Climate RefugeesPhoto Credit: Climate Refugees Documentary

In the midst of all of this, the physical displacement—the loss of connection to land, to locations that hold the bodies of loved ones who have passed away, to sacred spaces and areas that hold memories linked to powerful emotions like the home one’s children grew up in, the parks where they played, or the streams where a grandfather first taught a boy to fish. Places of worship, places with heritage, places that mark where tradition has been lived out for generations will all be inundated, washed away, or abandoned as desertification invades leaving inhabitants no choice but to seek sustenance and refuge elsewhere.

Climate Change Refugees Crossing River“Photo Credit: Climate Refugees documentary

This duality of Nature is an enigma for many of us. We love Nature when She is at peace–spending time in our gardens, taking walks in the park or nearby woods, enjoying the power of ocean waves on a beautiful sunlit day–but we feel increasingly threatened, anxious, and ill-at-ease at her random expressions of intense destructive energy. The container seems to be broken, leaving us feeling vulnerable, exposed, and helpless in the face of Nature’s power—just like poor Psyche seems to be. The challenge of looking at Nature as “Mother” as we so traditionally have is that we project onto Her in ways that are bound to leave us disappointed and confused, feeling lost, abandoned, exiled, or orphaned.

In his recent book, “Dairy Farmer’s Guide to the Universe,” Jungian analyst Dennis Merritt insists:

Book-dairy farmers guide to the universe - Dennis L. Merritt

 

Science  has magnified our attachment to the archetype of the Good Mother in the form of abundant energy and material wealth, which has created the climate change crisis. It is not a question of giving up our scientific consciousness and the blessing of science and technology and going back to nature: there are far too many people on the planet for a return to the hunter-gatherer type of existence without draconian reductions of the human population…

What is the solution? How can we repair or improve the nature-psyche relationship so that we can feel centered and sustained? How can we as a global community support that growing body of individuals are are being displaced by traumatic events connected to Nature and environment? How can we come into better relationship in time to support our civilization in the face of rapid decline? More, what are the effects of the destruction of home on our individual and collective psyche? On a planet where our relationship to Nature is radically out of balance, we both neglect and abuse Nature as well as feel neglected and abused by Nature. As a culture, we treat Nature as dead matter, perhaps because it seems less threatening that way. C. G. Jung said:

Man feels isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had symbolic meaning for him. Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree makes a man’s life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom and no mountain still harbours a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, springs, plants and animals (in The Earth Has a Soul, Sabini, 2005, p. 79-80).

Those individuals who study ecopsychology and the psychology of place know how important our reciprocal relationship to earth is, just as many of us intuitively feel it in our bones. We feel ourselves embedded in something larger where transformation can occur through creative relationship with nature and place. Terrapsychologist Craig Chalquist describes how “patterns, shapes, features and motifs at play in the nonhuman world sculpt our ideas, our habits, our relationships, culture, and sense of self” (quote from Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled (p. 6), the June selection for the Depth Psychology Alliance online book club)

Craig Chalquist, Ph.D.

Craig Chalquist, Ph.D.

I interviewed Craig this month for Depth Insights radio and he shared his insights on how our interaction with the natural world, the psychology of place, and the power of mythic images are key to understanding and integration. Click here to listen to the interview.

As global conditions worsen in coming years, there is no clear answer as to how we will, as a humanity, attempt to re-establish balance with Nature and Earth, nor how we will establish resources and plans to compassionately aid those who experience the loss and destruction of home and homelands. All of us will surely be affected. Meanwhile, paying attention is a good beginning. Consciousness and willingness to act can offer a fertile landscape for powerful solutions to grow.

 

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