Chapter Four --The Radical Path of Climate Truth & Reconciliation
Updated: Mar 26
“It is only through the reclamation of our cultural shadow and the integration of collective trauma, that we become a sentient whole, able to make the world anew, together.”
~ THOMAS HÜBL
Responding To The Great Dying With Big Psyche:
A Regenerative, Psychophysical & Relational Approach
While the mental health profession has a crucial role to play in the Great Dying, it is largely ill-equipped for that role, especially here in the U.S., due to its historical exclusion of Mother Earth and the natural world from accredited models of psychological health. This remains the case even though science now views us as an integral part of this larger organism, the living planet. Western psychology continues to "other" Earth as external to self, to objectify Gaia rather than to reposition our psyche internally within her psychosphere. This is a problem, because it largely makes psychology irrelevant to an existential crisis.
How is it possible to define mental health apart from planetary health? Would we ever consider a fetus’ health apart from the body it is being carried to term by? Of course not. Naturally, then, the health of the planet is integral to our mental health. And every psychotherapy session should begin with the question: "So, tell me about your relationship with your mother, Earth."
It was in response to this fundamental flaw in the foundation of Western psychology that Ecopsychology emerged from the Deep Ecology movement, marked by the publication of the ground-breaking book Voice of the Earth by Theodore Roszak in 1992:
"What the modern cultural environment has required of us is an enormous extroversion of attention and energy for the purpose of reshaping the Earth into a global industrial economy. For two centuries we have been subordinating the planet and our deepest personal needs to that project. This great act of collective alienation... lies at the root of both the environmental crisis and individual neurosis. In some way, at some point, a change of direction, a therapeutic turning inward, had to take place within a culture as maniacally driven as ours has been by the need to achieve and conquer.”
As mainstream psychology, due to it’s stubborn scientific bent and it’s unseemly entanglement with industrial capitalism, is guilty of enabling this maniacal cultural drive, Ecopsychology sought to effectively reframe psychology with the addition of “the psychological processes that tie us to the world or separate us from it,” thereby aspiring to a more holistic vision and model of the human psyche. See, e.g.: Buzzel & Chalquist, Ecotherapy (2009). The more holistic and humane ecopsychological model quite naturally views humans and the world we inhabit as entangled right from the start, such that our mental health and the health of our sociocultural interactions are inextricably intertwined with the health of our natural surroundings, up to and including the health of our host organism.
In the 50 years since the movement was founded, the American Psychological Association, or APA, has chosen to treat Ecopsychology as a threat rather than a midcourse correction, going out of its way for example to deny accreditation to Ecopsychology programs offered by various colleges and universities. More to the point, however, the APA has largely clung to its Freudian cigars and refused to give up its pernicious attachment to Ego-psychology - the self-obsessed model of psyche, spawned by the sex-obsessed Sigmund Freud, which places humans at the center of the universe, rather than viewing us more coherently as micro-organisms which are integral to the macro-organism that is this living planet.
In spite of its obsession with being considered a science, the APA's conceptual model of the human psyche is essentially religious, since God's first decree to man in the Bible, to "subdue" the Earth and have dominion "over every living thing" casts the relationship between humans and nature as one of separation and control. This APA-reinforced, thoroughly unscientific paradigm continues to support an ego-centered, self-reinforcing consumerist oriented worldview by which the convenience of plastic bottles becomes more important than protecting oceans and marine life.
How could such an objectifying, egoistic worldview lead to anything other than the consumption of ‘our’ planet? Nature becomes something external to us, a world out there for us to impose the will of our ego upon, something to consume like every-thing else, and not even worthy of inquiry, let alone self-reflection, in the psychotherapeutic context. “So what if our world is dying! Tell me what YOU really want or need…”
Ironically, while recognizing that most of our modern psychological problems arise in the context of our relationships, Ego-psychology enables the consumption of the planet (there is even a branch of industrial psychology) and is largely complicit in the great social ills of our time - increasing isolation, polarization, and substance abuse - because of its continuing allegiance to the materialist worldview of Descartes rather than the relational worldview of quantum physics.
What a death trap!
A century of Freudian complexes and behold: Unnatural Man (homo unnaturalis), toxic masculinity (beginning with Freud himself), and a profoundly inhumane culture that elevates personality, entitlement, and grievance above nature, harmony, and symbiosis. To mis-quote Oliver Wendell Homes, a century of idiots is enough! Freud was cynically prescient when he acknowledged that the function of ego-psychology was to make us more content with our unsatisfactory lot in life, or “less unhappy.”
Ecopsychology, in sharp contrast to ego-psychology, places our very life-source, the world in which we emerge and with which we are merged, at the center of our constellation of self. Major advancements in the development of the theory and practice of Ecopsychology include: Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown’s Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (1998, reissued 2014); Andy Fisher’s Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life (2002, reissued in 2014); and, most recently, Andrew Fellow’s Gaia, Psyche and Deep Ecology (2019).
The reason I list these three books here is that together they represent a radical political praxis, or movement, one that quite naturally leads to a more holistic, relation-oriented worldview, displacing the antagonistic, thing-oriented worldview of Freud’s less unhappy society. In light of our present predicament, they should be viewed as political treatises more than as academic works, just as important to our times as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was to the founding of America and Karl Marx’s Das Kapital is to critiquing industrial civilization.
A social movement that advocates for a political re-orientation towards ‘all our relations’ will, in turn, empower colonized minds to recover the natural indigeneity we've lost to industrial and consumer conditioning. A widespread rehabilitation of relational culture fueled by individual and communal indigeneity may, as we will explore in the last chapter, represent our last, best hope at turning this sociocultural Titanic around.
As Buzzel & Chalquist noted in their influential book, Ecotherapy (supra), the mental health professions bear a special responsibility in helping people to confront the harsh realities we are now collectively facing:
"At a time of planet-wide environmental crisis, it seems both outrageous and irresponsible that so few mental health clinicians connect the epidemics of mental distress in industrial societies with the devastating impact of our suicidal destruction of our own habitat and ecocidal elimination of whole species that used to share the Earth with us (p. 19)."
Perhaps we would now add “pandemics of ecological distress” after epidemics of mental distress to this condemnation.
What the mental health industry, institutionally represented by the APA and constrained by Big Pharma (funding), is doing instead is to perpetuate the pop-cultural fraud of “eco-anxiety” - based upon the backwards thinking that it is the climate crisis that represents an external threat to us, or our mental health and well-being. This is little more than a collective psychological defense, or "complex," dressed up in political correctness (or ‘wokeness’) that effectively masks the inconvenient truth that it is we humans, and our collective mania, that represents the true threat here — to the entire biosphere. We are not just threatening the climate, in fact, we’re actively assaulting it, and in the process we’re perpetuating our own poisonous cultural climate of fright, fight, and flight (on steroids). To diagnose this serious malady as a case of “eco-anxiety” would be akin to saying a wife-beater is afflicted with “spousal anxiety.”
It seems like just a matter of time before Big Pharma comes along and patents something like Climatex to alleviate our anxiety over the 6th Great Extinction, dying oceans, and rising tides, so that we may feel at ease in continuing to drive our muscle trucks, fly to exotic locations, and drink water out of tiny plastic bottles. “Ask your doctor if Climatex is right for you.” ** side effects may include mass extinction, ocean death, insufferable heat, extreme weather events, alienation of your children, and the collapse of industrial civilization.
Until the APA acknowledges the fact that Earth is a living organism, one that does not revolve around us, and that we are to Earth's biome what our biome is to us - i.e. systems thinking that comports with reality rather than hegemony - it will mostly continue to be part of the climate problem, not part of the solution we should rightfully expect from such an important profession. Modern psychology may help individuals and families at the scale of their lives, but at the larger scales of culture, society, politics and the planet, it is unhelpful at best, and toxic at its worst (remember the APA-certified torture advisors?).
One would think that by now the APA would be able to provide our leaders the benefit of a trauma-informed view of the climate crisis, one that would actually be conducive to recovery. Failure to do so cannot be viewed as anything less than a shameful abdication of psychology's ethical obligations to the society they helped create and profess to serve. It is therefore up to individual psychologists and psychiatrists to abandon the orthodoxy of the APA - which, fortunately, they’ve begun doing in droves. I am herewith prescribing Fellows’ book for all psychologists, as well as Jung's The Earth Has a Soul . They must become more responsive in their own professional and political communities, speaking up on Gaia’s behalf, and begin their therapeutic sessions with the following corrective for Ego-psychology:
"So, tell me about your relationship with Mother Earth."
Is that really too much to ask of our profession in a time of climate and ecological emergency?
In preparing society at this late stage to honestly face the end of life as we have always known it, and had assumed it would always be — that is, human civilization over the last eleven millennia, which co-evolved with the remarkably stable and supportive climate that we have now unmoored — we should certainly look to existing models of grief and hospice for guidance, and seek to apply the principles and lessons from these models at a societal level. Examples like the Work that Reconnects, the Good Grief Network, Positive Deep Adaptation, and the Climate Psychology Alliance are already contributing critical mental health services to our society’s well-being in this regard - efforts that should be both applauded, replicated and mimicked.
At the same time, however, the COVID-19 Pandemic has revealed a dangerous schism in the way we are likely to respond collectively to the accelerating climate chaos over the ensuing, most critical decades, calling on all social activists and advocates of planetary sanity to significantly recalibrate our approaches to social engagement. The inherent trauma of our dis-integration during this burgeoning “eco-catastrophe” does not have to trigger widespread panic, dread, fear, despair and hostility. Without clear guidance and support from mental health influencers, however, it most definitely will trigger all those unwelcome and unnecessary, collective neuroses and psychoses.
As the anti-mask madness and the continuing insurrection that prompted the mob violence against our Capitol have shown, we here in the U.S. represent perhaps the greatest obstacle to short-term climate triage and long-term climate progress due to the over-weening prevalence of assault weapons in our culture, concentrated in the hands of the most lizard-brained, cognitively challenged minority segment in our society — the racist/survivalist, toxic male ego-on-steroids strain of White Christian Nationalism, currently 30 million strong, mostly fueled by the dangerous biblical mythos of Armageddon combined with the insidious prosperity theology, who still cling to the cold, clammy corpse of the American Dream (MAGA), or their own perverse idea of American Exceptionalism. Is it not time to recognize that this is a virulent form of mental illness, a social pathology for which no vaccine exists — not unlike what the world saw develop in Nazi Germany?
Why doesn’t the Mental Health Profession step up to the mic and talk about mob mentality and mass psychosis?
Because unlike the rest of us, when these deranged white Christian nationalists watch “The Handmaid’s Tale” in their living rooms, their response is: “Why not us?”
Don’t believe me? As one reporter found:
“They are pro-gun… and argue Christians should be trained in ‘trench warfare.’ They want to save ‘our constitutional republic’ by making American law ‘Mirror the Law and Justice of God.’”
(See: Guardian story on extremists).
Surely, it is no coincidence that the very people who have consistently denied the existential threat of the climate crisis are now organizing themselves as an existential threat to democracy, in order to protect their privileged status and consumptive lifestyle. These mom and pop domestic terrorists, who are no longer isolated politically, intend to outlaw abortion, pre-marital sex, same-sex marriage, and vaccines. Far from representing some kind of high-minded religious or political ideals, they are driven primarily by fear and negative feelings toward discrete social groups primarily aligned with the Democratic Party: African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and gays and lesbians. See: "Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support” (cited in Stroop's article “The uncomfortable truth about the authoritarian Christian right's role in American politics”).
But unlike Margaret Atwater’s dystopian vision of Gilead, these shockingly prevalent white Christian militants and their enablers have no intention of protecting God’s creation. Their Armageddon would instead be a self-fulfilling prophesy filled with guns, barbecues, and muscle trucks that would ensure the end of all life on planet Earth, or what they prefer to think of as “God’s will.” Donald Trump has provided us a great public service: finally exposing, for all to see, the dark underbelly of the American Dream. It would be insane for the rest of us to ignore the existential threat they represent to democracy and life itself under their "Pro-Life" pretext.
It is therefore incumbent on the mental health profession, in light of this prevailing madness and the very real prospect for a holy-civil war right here in the U.S.A., to actively and politically advocate for a societal intervention.
Seriously, if Anna Freud could engineer the conformist American Dream, which is the psycho-genesis of this viral societal madness, why isn’t the mental health community coming forward now with an effective antidote to this growing cult? In the words of Dr. Lise Van Susteren, with Physicians for Social Responsibility:
"It no longer makes sense, because of the challenges presented by the climate crisis and the unique skills we have, to confine our professional lives only to traditional roles and services in our offices, academic settings and clinics. We need activism now to initiate services in this time of urgency—helping people out of their denial, tending to their wounds, working to create resilience."
At the very least, mental health advocates should be promoting more sane and adaptive response to the stages of collective grief over the great dying precipitated by our collective mental dysfunction as a society. But there is so much more untapped potential here for a socially responsible mental health profession to counsel a consumerist, egocentric culture that has now become pathologically and malignantly narcissistic, as ably represented by their messianic leader. A society is only as healthy as it is sane, after all, and social sanity is necessarily defined by the nature of our relationships. Ecocide is, in a word, insane. And as Dr. Van Susteren points out, "Our canons of ethics tell us it is our duty to protect the health of the public and to participate in activities that contribute to it."
Simply stated: Mental health must precede and actively become an integral part of the recovery of global health, and mental health professionals. of all stripe have a special responsibility in this regard. While the APA’s Climate Change Policy Guide is certainly a positive step in that direction, it doesn’t go nearly far enough in acknowledging its own complicity in the climate crisis, and rooting out the psychological disease that is producing the symptoms it seeks to address. This was the very reason ecopsychology was intended as a corrective to industrialized psychology.
If mental health is not elevated to a central place in this existential crisis, if it continues to be treated only as a scientific or technological issue - which is getting us nowhere fast, by the way - then we can expect that the collective grieving process associated with the cascading losses of species, and of the stable ‘known’ world we co-evolved with, will only continue to be culturally repressed, suppressed, and self-medicated. If provided with no outlet, this repressed dark energy will tend to metastasize as a death drive, as already evident with the opioid epidemic, anti-maskers, and authoritarian movements, inevitably ripening into exactly the kind of doomsday-cult pathology and abhorrent behavioral reactivity that we’ve seen before and have been witnessing again during these cascading waves of global pandemic.
Those are the stakes now. This social pathology must be contained. We would do well to remember that this viral strain of culturally reinforced narcissism is relegated to a significantly traumatized, amoral minority, and not some kind of rational, moral majority. This faction was isolated and without power for decades, often literally living off the grid, and they live their lives of not-so-quiet desperation in largely dysfunctional homes, finding community only in churches where people speak in tongues and hide their worst sins, or in militias where they prepare for the end days. These segments of the population had, for too long, been forgotten, unsupported and ridiculed by our political leaders (‘deplorables’), left behind economically, and shamelessly under-served by mental health providers (leaving it to social workers or police to manage the symptoms of domestic violence, substance abuse, etc.).
Especially now that they pose a smoldering threat of civil conflagration, an active social intervention that takes advantage of everything we’ve learned about trauma and its discontents is an urgent sociopolitical and climate imperative. These segments of our social fabric are inherently redeemable -- and we know where they live. We know, in other words, how to reach them. If we’re not successful in containing this anti-truth, anti-reality (i.e., trauma dis-informed) social virus, both politically and spiritually, they will probably achieve their desired end of controlling us forcefully, acting out their own special brand of collective trauma on a large scale. After all, they're already disproportionately represented in our militarized police forces. They’re not bashful in clearly stating their objectives, either, supporting racial oppression, authoritarian leaders, mass incarceration, and advocating for civil war if they don’t get their twisted way.
While it’s ultimately important to find ways to address each emotionally disabled person’s root trauma in order to dispel the big lies, the appropriate spiritual container at the cultural level needs to be grief-informed in order that it might elevate what is noble in all of us, collectively:
“The psychology of death is a psychology of life because it concerns human hopes, human motivation, human satisfaction, and human frustration. Human beings remain human beings when they are dying, and death brings out in humanity its goodness (with its capacity to love, transcend, grow) and its capacity to hate, to destroy, and to deteriorate psychologically (Zinker & Fink, 1966).”
The same is true, at a societal level, for the psychology underlying the end of life as we have always known it. We’re seeing all of this play out during this pandemic, are we not?
If we accept the results of the 2020 U.S. general election as representative, then roughly half of our society seems to want to learn the lessons of the pandemic and create a more just, more sustainable, and more compassionate world, acknowledging the truth of industrial civilization and reconciling ourselves with the natural world, while the other half want to hide their heads in the sand - denying reality at every turn - and pretend that we have the option to go backwards in time to a simpler world that only ever existed in their own deluded minds. And they’re willing to die in service of that delusion.
Because, after all, this really is an existential crisis, not just another political issue. From an existential perspective, there are really only two primal reactions to the sudden onset of a deadly threat, one that's responsive and one that is reactive:
1. “Something must be done!”
2. “NO - THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!!”
In other words, while a significant portion of us have been jolted into living more death-informed lives during this global pandemic, gaining a greater appreciation of our intimate connections to the natural world and a deeper respect for our social connectivity in the process, another significant segment of our society has been triggered into cult behavior that clings to death-phobic, escapist, science-denying and consumer-driven attitudes of divine entitlement. Is that really just another “political view,” or is it instead an urgent mental health concern?
While we have no problem dismissing the QAnon folks as a bunch of crazy meth-heads hanging out in Dallas Square, awaiting the return of their annointed political savior, the rest of the Republican Party is actually the greater mental health concern - though it is taboo to say so out loud - and equally deluded down inside their own “up is down” and “war is peace” white rabbit holes. Assuming this doesn’t devolve rather precipitously into America’s New Civil War, there are still plenty of vital lessons we can learn from this first wave of ecological and socio-cultural unravelling.
The difference between a breakdown and a breakthrough, or between a spiritual emergency and spiritual emergence, has to do with the adequacy of the support system that is in place. America and other places in the world where society is unravelling and authoritarian responses are gaining traction clearly are having a mental health crisis, and do not have adequate support systems in place for people and communities who are in crisis mode. Politicians are preying on their worst impulses rather than providing any kind of support for them. No wonder their constituents are telling them they know where their families live, essentially holding democracy at gunpoint! Where can these people turn to for help and guidance? So we have to begin by seeing this for the crisis that it is, and then we need to get these people help! Medicating them is not the answer - self-medicating is the problem here, not the solution. The APA doesn’t seem to have any answers. This is why, in a time of unraveling, it makes sense to approach a mental health crisis not through the traditional lens of the medial industry, but rather through the more compassionate lens of the hospice movement.
We must also remember, however, that the hospice model itself is a fairly recent development that arose in direct response to another kind of trauma and suppressed grief: the medicalization of clinical death and the dehumanizing of our culture that came with it during the Great Acceleration following WWII. After the overwhelming global trauma of successive world wars, with a Great Depression sandwiched in between for good measure, our industrialized and mechanized civilization elevated the medical model of illness to a level of technological madness, transforming dying from a natural process that used to take place in the more natural spiritual container of people’s homes, with sympathetic and empathic community involvement, into a chilling clinical nightmare played out in hospital rooms under harsh lights, with the morgue conveniently located in the basement. It all fit perfectly with the culture of denial and conformity that followed the great wars, turning us into a death- and grief- phobic society where people were no longer real with one another. Who cared about reality when we ‘all’ (who mattered, anyway) had shiny cars, perfect lawns, chrome toasters on formica tables, and magic TVs! We’d had enough reality with Hitler and Hirohito.
The advent of hospice and palliative care, beginning in the 1960s, began to re-empower families and individuals to find some solace and meaning in dying and death again, mostly by creating an intentional space for the natural goodness of the dying and their extended families to be expressed and held, in safe spiritual containers, and by allowing each of us to define the passage into the great unknown in whatever way we and our loved ones might choose. The dominant culture slowly began honoring death once again, seeing it as a natural part of life once again - and even welcoming it in response to onerous medical attempts to prolong life for life’s sake alone - rather than continuing to futilely fight death at every step in the clinical process under the pretense that dying is somehow an act of injustice, or a sign of personal and family failure.
If we apply these same kinds of humane principles at social, cultural, and even global scales to the long emergency of our existential climate crisis, we will come to view this ‘Great Dying’ as the collective moral and spiritual emergency it is. This is the symbolic importance of XR getting governments to declare climate emergency, by the way. With an appropriate sense of death-informed urgency, we can at least begin to transform the climate/spiritual emergency into climate healing and spiritual emergence. Rather than becoming the ‘new normal,’ from this transformative perspective the chaotic profusion of petro-society’s unraveling is seen as a kind of ‘initiation,’ just as leading thinkers like Stan Grof, Richard Tarnas, Sean Kelly and other have suggested. See, e.g.: Becoming Gaia: On the Threshold of Planetary Initiation (2020). With this kind of intentional pivot towards emergence, or what Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning, more and more regenerative psychotherapists, somatically grounded cultural healers, empaths, deep ecologists, depth psychologists, archetypal astrologists, ‘highly sensitive people,’ authentic plant medicine guides, trained hospice workers, planetary thanatologists, and doulas everywhere will feel empowered and hopefully be encouraged to step into their deeply felt roles as sociocultural spiritual midwives, born for these times, guiding us all collectively through the planetary death/rebirth process we’ve already set in motion.
That’s the idea, anyhow, behind moving away from the overly-medicalized mental health ‘industry’ towards a more humane support system for people’s mental health crises as our economic support system crumbles. This can transpire according to a shared sacred intention to transform this crisis from the presently painful dislocation, rife with suffering and regret, into a much more constructive and even instructive spiritual healing process -- for each of us as individuals, including the traumatized Trumpeters, for all of us who find ourselves enmeshed in a mushrooming global mycelium (‘psychocelium,’ as the Wachowski’s presciently called it), for human beings as a species with growing self-awareness, and for our Mother, Earth, above all else, including all Her own cherished forms of life and expression.
That may sound like a tall order, I know, but it actually just involves a shift in orientation from within popular culture. As quantum social theorists point out, these kinds of shifts can happen quite suddenly. And we can facilitate that shift with the kind of wise intervention from climate-aware mental health professionals that is designed to break down the walls of psychological resistance and emotionally reactive conspiracy mongering at this critical time in our story.
If ever there was a time for psychologists and sociologists to make themselves useful to society at large, now is certainly that time. In fact, given that scientists have done all they can do to impress upon us the urgency of this existential threat, and still emissions climb, you would think that coming up with an antidote for this kind of mass climate psychosis would be the "Manhattan Project" moment for mainstream psychology, in particular, bringing our brightest and best experts on the human psyche together to thoroughly diagnose the disease and devise an appropriate psychosocial algorithms to change the behaviors of consumers and citizens alike, or to shift the zeitgeist of our ecocidal culture. It is instructive to remember that the profession gained its foothold in American society when the government turned to it after WWII to help the traumatized generation of soldiers cope and return to their communities as productive members of society. Why wouldn’t our government turn to them now?
Unfortunately, from promising beginnings even the field of Ecopsychology doesn’t really fare much better on this account. Fifty years should’ve been long enough to make more of a difference than it has on American culture. Rather than sparking a social movement with active engagement as its focus, Ecopsychology itself retreated into a largely academic tower that still talks a good game, but doesn’t speak for the Earth in the way Gaia needs her advocates to speak up for Her. Indigenous people are doing a much better job of that, as we see with the battles over pipelines, but what naturally should’ve been a powerful alliance between Ecopsychology and Indigenous people never seemed to develop - in spite of the fact that Indigenous voices like Dr. Leslie Gray were there right from the very beginning.
Those Indigenous voices of Mother Earth were not elevated and supported as they clearly should’ve been from the start, and as even the APA belatedly acknowledges they need to be now, and as a result the profession became politically timid and allowed itself to be cowed and marginalized by the same psychology industry that supported torture during the Bush years. While scientific journals broke with convention and became politically vocal more than a decade ago now, the journal Ecopsychology made an editorial decision early on to avoid political activism, according to its long-time editor, Peter Kahn, Ph.D.
Extinction Rebellion UK has modeled the correct response for successful professionals who can clearly see the dire emergency we’re facing: if what you’re doing has not proven effective in transforming the way we collectively think and act, and especially if you’re just motivated by the security attendant to your status as a professional, then now is the time to either revolt from within your current structure or get out of it and make yourself useful. That XR model hasn’t really taken here in the States yet, in part because we have such an entrenched professional class of “environmentalists” - another colossal failure I was party to for two decades of my life.
And so I’m happy to issue the challenge now to the one profession, ecopsychologists, that should know better than any other profession the present moral imperative for radical action. The challenge is to go beyond what the APA is now recommending psychologists do, which is little more than a kind of voluntary pro-bono service outside of the therapy room. To wit: either use your current position as a platform to raise a ruckus in advocating forcefully for social sanity, even at the risk of tarnishing your reputation, or quit your spiritually numbing job, get out in the streets, and/or otherwise devote what is left of your professional career to fighting for a future for the human race.
Perhaps an inspiring musical interlude will help here:
"From the ashes we can build another day." From our greatest adversity as a species we can give birth to an equally great spiritual awakening. We just have to see climate trauma and recovery as an initiation and transmutation process by which the human species will be transfigured into a truly humane species. Deciding who we want to be is as simple as adding an “e” to the end of our species name! Sure, we might perish altogether - but as far as we know we still can choose to grow through this crisis, however long it takes, and to evolve out of it, leaving behind all these childish and adolescent ways of thoughtlessly being in the world. We still have time, individually and collectively, to grow into the responsible adults the children of the world are now pleading with us to become.
Why would we choose anything less?
From a psychological and spiritual perspective, at least, the key to this collective evolution is really rather basic: we need to begin by acknowledging that this time of cascading losses that we are suffering through in the world right now is actually quite traumatic, that this is a personal crisis, not solely the responsibility of our failed world leaders. Then we need to honor, creatively reinvent, and even ritualize the kind of healthy collective grieving process that is best-suited to unleashing the healing potential of our pervasive traumas. As Nobel prize-winning climate scientist Karen O’Brien states:
“The trauma dimension of really healing [climate] trauma can release a lot of the energy that we need to face head-on the challenges that are facing us now and that will face us in the future.”
In other words, the larger the trauma, the greater the healing potential energy that is latent in that trauma. Honesty in relation to difficult truths requires real bravery, while denial is just insincere and insecure cowardice hiding behind a facade of bravery.
The kind of courageous re-orientation O’Brien advocates reminds me of how bison in the wild face into the fiercest of storms, and then just plow right into and through to the other side, where green pasture can still might be found. As O’Brien cautions, however, in order to tap into climate trauma’s healing potential, we must be prepared to allow our hearts to “break open and not break down.” All the wisdom we Western humans have gained from decades of hospice care is brilliantly reflected in that wise prescription.
What people tend not to appreciate about trauma, death and grieving is that each carries a unique gift when they are arrive at our door. Inviting these admittedly unwelcome guests into our home, and then taking them into our hearts, is richly rewarded by the profound appreciation we gain for both the beauty and fragility of existence -- what the Indigenous healer Woman Stands Shining (Kate McCabe) refers to as the sacred Hoop of Life:
“Every form of life gets to have a place on this sacred hoop, and every form of life has a perfect design for a thriving life… [However], every single member of this sacred hoop of life has to uphold their part or the integrity of the hoop begins to fail.”
As Hübl teaches us, “[t]rauma is part of the underlying separateness of life. And collective trauma creates the basic foundation for separation.” Because trauma arises in relationship, Hübl wisely concludes “collective trauma has to be healed by the collective.” Are we up to the task? Can you appreciate why this is the cauldron in which the climate crisis can be resolved?
Again, we see here a crying need for the global mental health profession, preferably in close alliance with Indigenous cultural healers, to impress this wisdom of our times to political leadership everywhere - not just Iceland, New Zealand, and Bolivia. The only organization that I'm aware of that demonstrates a clear understanding of this leadership role from mental health experts is the UK/EU Climate Psychology Alliance, which deserves a lot more recognition, obviously - and funding - though they are growing in both numbers and strength. The North American offshoot of CPA is currently represented on the APA Climate Task Force, so that’s an encouraging sign. Still, much more urgency and political activism is required of all those with special skills and insights for addressing our traumas..
Some might view breaking the silence around collective trauma as the opening old wounds, politically speaking. But with trauma, the cure is always found close to the wound and, politically speaking, those wounds have already been reopened (if they were ever even closed, that is). A closed heart is just our psyche’s way of reflexively contracting around the wounded self at the core of our being - thus giving rise to grievance politics. All closing our heart produces is the scar tissue of our patterned behaviors, repeated ad nauseam until we begin to believe that is just who we are.
But when we allow our heart to break open in response to grievous loss, whether that loss is long past, current or ongoing, a kind of healing balm naturally emerges from the wound itself, breaking us out of the self-imposed prison of our unresolved traumas. The wounded self (or segment of society) is honored, allowed to express itself, and then healed in the same kind of relationship in which it arose. From a disintegration process, we find the resources to re-integrate our self identity, individually and culturally, at a much more holistic level of integrity.
Educator Brad Kirshner speaks eloquently to concurrent integration process that emerges from the ongoing disintegration of acknowledging our collective traumas:
"We have begun the Great Release, the Great Unravelling, through the portal of critique and judgment, and now it is time for the Great Embrace, and the Great Integration, through the portal of love and healing. It won’t come easy. We will need to address and heal the collective trauma of the shadow side of each structure of being and community: the violence and sacrifice of our tribal foundations; the fundamentalism and dogmatism of our totalitarian civilizations; the materialism, scientism, individualism, and colonialism of our modern expansion; and the nihilism, alienation, fragility, cynicism, and inequality of our postmodern/capitalist/neoliberal lifeworld."
Climate trauma arises in both a primal and cultural relationship:
Primally, there is the intergenerational split from our Mother, the natural world in which we are all embedded, culminating with the archetypal disruption of our splitting the atom, and the Great Acceleration that conquest over Nature triggered; and,
Culturally, there are all the oppressive forces that are designed to lock us into the same patterned behaviors which perpetuate the trauma.
Since there is no separating the oppression of the fossil fuel industry from the oppression of women, Indigenous peoples, and people of color, the cultural expressions of climate trauma can only be resolved through responsive social movements oriented towards reparation. But in order for these to translate into healing the biosphere and climate, we’re required at the same time to address our primal trauma — by acknowledging its entanglement with Gaia’s trauma, by re-valuing and learning to really listen to Indigenous voices, and finally by coming into proper relationship with ourselves, our communities, and our mother organism holistically, all in a symphonically symbiotic way. Climate healing is cultural healing, and cultural healing is climate healing.
Climate healing is cultural healing, and cultural healing is climate healing.
As the closing panelists for the first Collective Trauma Summit agreed, merely invoking collective traumas, along with honoring their presence in our lives and in the currency of our social relationships, is already producing a socially significant, profound shift in our collective Psyche — like the light of day first entering a formerly sealed cave. At the end of 9 days of processing our shared traumas in a global community of over 50,000, there was a felt sense amongst participants that respectfully acknowledging collective trauma was in itself having the effect of initiating us into a healing circle that felt close, but spanned the globe. Empowered by Hübl’s own growing popularity and the success of his and his artist wife’s Pocket Project, there was a consensus among all involved to make the summit at least an annual event. Just two years later, using the same format, participation had nearly doubled. It’s become quite apparent that there is a real opportunity to scale up Hübl’s efforts, such as with the Climate Psychology Alliance’s efforts, in order to address the multivalent layers of climate trauma for years to come. This is, after all, something we will be living with the rest of or lives.
Hübl takes advantage of the condition that broken systems want to rediscover their wholeness. Healing has the effect of pointing us in that direction. When we can hold that space of awareness collectively, with empathy, in small groups or large, and when we can hold a space for Gaia’s organic wisdom to manifest through our own, it naturally triggers a kind of alchemical process that heals the collective soul. As mentioned, this healing potential is inherent in the trauma itself. Since climate change represents the greatest trauma on the grandest scale, the potential energy for healing waiting to be unleashed in relationship with this crisis is immense, as currently evidenced by the heightened levels of chaos.
Trauma appears in my dreams as a dragon in a cave, or submerged in the ocean, and it holds in its claws the jewel of our staggering potential as human beings. Collective awareness is the transformational, unifying force of nature with which we can heroically slay that dragon or, as my Buddhist sensibilities prefer, get it to release the jewel. Summit speaker William Ury, a Harvard negotiator and author of the best-selling book Difficult Conversations, reported from the front lines of his decades-long experience with the world’s most intractable conflicts:
“I believe that humanity has this capacity to heal itself, and our jobs as as healers, or as global social witnesses, is to serve as activators of… the global immune system of humanity.”
It's worth repeating Dr. Elworthy’s profound insight here:
We are capable of affecting very large systems
because we are connected with very large symptoms.
That pearl of wisdom really is the essence of healing climate trauma. With that potential in mind, we’re now ready to face the big, fire-breathing dragon that holds the entire planet in its claw: systemic oppression.
Climate Racism: White Power Over IPOC
“The fact is that we live in a world that has been profoundly shaped by power. Differentials of power between and within nations are probably greater today than they have ever been. These differentials are, in turn, closely related to carbon emissions. The distribution of power in the world therefore lies at the core of the climate crisis.”
~ Amitav Gosh, from The Great Derangement
In the next chapter, we will explore the innate potential of shared awareness to shift collective consciousness at a global scale in this new internet age of radical connectivity and interdependence. Related to that phenomenon, we’ve looked at the critical role social movements are playing in resolving, or at least bringing attention to, our most persistent collective traumas. And as we saw in chapter two, these collective traumas and climate trauma are entangled.
In this chapter, we’re focused on the sociocultural aspects of our shared dilemma, and are taking a realistic account of the obstacles that we still need to surmount. Viewing our current, metastacizing political polarization through the trauma-informed lens of accelerating climate trauma, it is easy to appreciate the central importance of ‘truth’ to advancing a sane political agenda. But contrary to an old maxim, truth alone will not set us free. In order to effectuate truth in the saturated realm of accumulated traumas, it must lead to some kind of reconciliation process, both culturally and politically. As columnist Robert C. Koehler states:
“Looking directly, and collectively, at the truth must be done not with the intent to cast further blame and create another scapegoat, but to heal the harm and transcend the hatred.”
But how do we proceed from truth to reconciliation?
Primed by Covid and #BLM, we should now be ready to consider the lethal role that overt, systemic racism is playing in our collective refusal to respond sanely to the existential threat of our shared climate crisis. After all, as a practical matter, is it not true that ruthless politicians and their corporate overlords are keeping their authoritarian knee on the windpipe of Mother Earth? She was already visibly wheezing before the Covid pandemic, and the mass distraction and political pandemonium created by lockdowns and mass dyings have only resulted in acceleration of the rate at which we are hacking away at her lungs.
Gaia can’t breathe, either.
In the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder by a cop who seemed to think that he was just doing his job, our collective failure to respond to rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, 92% of which are produced by the Global North, should now reasonably be viewed through the lens of climate trauma as a racial issue on a global scale. While this point has been emerging through trans-sectional dialogue, it really came into focus for me listening to a precocious eleven-year-old UK climate activist, Elsie Luna, patiently explain to Jem Bendell that even folks with Extinction Rebellion did not seem to fully appreciate the underlying cause of the climate crisis: oppression. The “power over” syndrome that has shaped our modern world, in other words. As Elsie bluntly put the matter, if we’re not fighting oppression, then we’re not doing anything to solve the climate crisis!
In light of how long we’ve been fighting, and even winning the public relations battle, without having any effect whatsoever on rising CO2 emissions - every year a new record - it’s worth considering the matter afresh, through the eyes of a child. Children of a certain age can be quite uncompromising and perceptive, perhaps because they’ve yet to be worn down by pervasive cultural conditioning.
Without intending to detract from the pressing agenda of #BLM and the urgent need to address the institutionalized racism reflected in militarized police brutality, it's time for us collectively as well to acknowledge an even more lethal symptom of this centuries-old plague of virulent, mostly Christian, white supremacy — one with a greater death toll already than the pandemic and police brutality combined. As Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright, U.S. Coordinator with Leap, has been articulating for some time now, the imperialistic, settler mentality that inhibits effective social change in the U.S. and Europe is also precluding the kind of radical global changes that scientists tell us are urgently called for to avert, or at least lessen the impacts of, the coming climate cataclysm.
As with the kind of shocking environmental racism that was on display with the intentional lead poisoning of the predominantly black and brown residents of Flynt, Michigan, everyone should be able to readily appreciate the fundamental injustice of our chronic climate chaos. The economically ‘developing’ world of the Global South, and Indigenous communities the world over, are already bearing a grossly disproportionate share of the accelerating effects of climate trauma, even though they contribute substantially less to the continuing causes of the crisis.
Climate change amounts to an undeclared, deeply unjust war against the global poor. Though they have emitted almost none of the heat-trapping gases that have raised global temperatures to their highest levels in civilization’s history, it is the poor—especially in low-income countries in Asia, Africa, and South America—who suffer first and worst from overheating the planet.
In fact, it is all too plain to see that much of the crisis is being driven by our imperialist control of the Global South’s sub-standard living conditions — just as we callously strip-mine the ocean floor of life, our transnational corporations strip indigenous people's homelands of “natural resources,” with virtually no regard for the environmental consequences the exploited local populations are then left to live with, all in order to fuel our comfortably numb lifestyles of excess consumerism and profligate waste. We poison their waters with fossil fuel extraction practices these criminal corporate raiders would never try to get away with in white countries, even using mercenary armies to quash local resistance, and then we raze their vital rainforests to grow mono-crops to feed our cows!
As succinctly stated by the authors of a 2017 book entitled The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History, and Us (Bonneuil & Fressoz):
The overwhelming share of responsibility for climate change of the two hegemonic powers of the 19th (Great Britain) and 20th (U.S.) centuries attests to the fundamental link between climate change and projects of world domination.
One of the uncomfortable truths documented by Nikole Hannah-Jones in The 1619 Project (NYT) is that the slave plantations in the South gave rise to capitalism as we know it today. In point of fact, however, those plantations were never really abolished - we simply scaled them up and moved our operations to the Global South, because those countries are filled with people who mattered even less to European sensibilities than Indians did in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation -- or the continental Indians did to the British, for that matter, or the Aborigines did to the Ozzies at the turn of twentieth century, not to mention all the other imperialist incursions into countries of color.
While these colonialist sensibilities may have at least appeared to change for the better in the last century, you wouldn’t know it from the way our corporations do business! The very fact that we do not legally require these domestic corporations that we charter to behave the same way abroad that we require them to behave at home says all you need to know about how those same racist attitudes have been institutionalized systemically.
It’s immoral and obscene - and nobody questions it! But if corporations are people entitled to due process, as the courts now rule, then they should be required to behave humanely overseas, the same way we ostensibly require them to behave here at home. Right?
Nigerian farmer Eric Dooh showing his hand covered with oil from a creek near Goi, Ogoniland, Nigeria. Photograph: MARTEN VAN DIJL/EPA
These same disparities, by the way, have been on full display with the global response (and lack thereof) to the pandemic, as David Bush points out quite clearly in his revealing essay The Imperialist Pandemic. The same corporate, imperialist powers that prevent effective responses to the climate crisis are busy capitalizing on the misery of the pandemic, in what has come to be known as “disaster capitalism,” while needlessly perpetuating its causes and insuring that it will not go quietly into the night.
It’s a rather convenient and ultimately lethal trap, however, to scapegoat imperialist actors on the world stage for inhibiting an effective response to the climate crisis without also acknowledging the part our own comfortably air-conditioned attitudes play in not demanding urgent action and corporate reform in response to the climate crisis — the same way white allies are now, finally, demanding urgent policing reforms in response to the persistent cries of our black brothers and sisters. Just as we can see the role white supremacy is playing in the structural violence of America’s police force, we also need to see very clearly the role white supremacy plays in the structural violence of our assault on Mother Earth.
As the Indian climate scientist, social activist and Zen teacher Dr. Kritee Kanko bluntly stated on a FB post on June 10:
“White supremacy is the most important cause of climate crisis.”
Let that sink in a little.
Now ask yourself: "How often have I heard this from the mostly white leaders of the climate movement? Have I ever heard it from a politician not named AOC? Is it any less true??
In response to our sudden awakening of collective conscience and compassion for IPOC, Hop Hopkins echoed Dr. Kritee’s sentiment in the national magazine of that once white bastion of environmental concern, The Sierra Club, calling it a “long over-due realization” that “[w]e’ll never stop climate change without ending white supremacy.”
And the Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest who is executive director of GreenFaith, a global religious-based climate action network, posted this on his blog:
“For too long, the environmental movement has not been concerned enough about the destruction that climate change wreaks on Black and Brown communities around the world. For too long, we haven’t been concerned enough about Black and Brown people who can’t breathe because they are carrying the weight of climate change and White supremacy.”
This climate racism represents a criminally neglected aspect of our activism around climate issues that deserves far more discussion than I can possibly advance here, but at least we can all agree on the parameters and critical import of the concern with systemic imperialist oppression. Because as Hopkins notes in the same article: “The richest people need for white supremacy to remain invisible so they can continue to plunder our planet.”
Look at the role white supremacy has played at the outset of the mass migrations that climate scientists have predicted all along would result from global warming. The climate crisis has already produced unprecedented droughts in countries like Syria, sparking civil wars (over scarce water supplies) and strife, flooding predominantly white Europe with black and brown climate refugees. This has, quite predictably as well, been met with a rise in white nationalism and border restrictions.
The same is of course true here in America, where Trumpublicans want to wall off refugees from the Global South, who are being driven north by the very conflicts and climate displacements that we are largely responsible for, and they have no moral compunction as white Christians with placing brown babies in cages! The wall is just a shadow projection for keeping the climate crisis they cannot bring themselves to face, and its relatively blameless victims, fenced off from their cherished sense of privilege and entitlement.
This is all overtly unjustifiable and racist.
In their essay "The Case for Climate Reparations," Olufemi O. Taiwo and Beba Cibralic bluntly state there are two ways of collectively responding to the "great climate migration that will transform the world," which is just beginning: climate reparations or climate colonialism.
"Climate colonialism is like climate apartheid on an international scale. Economic power, location, and access to resources determine how communities can respond to climate impacts. But these factors are shaped by existing global injustices: the history of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism that enriched some countries at the expense of others. Global warming has exacerbated these inequalities..."
That is the REAL “inconvenient truth,” is it not? We must ask ourselves, would the U.S. and Europe be walling out climate refugees and migrants if they were not poor people of color? (Note: The Ukrainian War recently answered this question for us). Do our political leaders even even pretend to care that it is our own habitual, fossil-fueled lifestyle that is largely to blame for the woes of the Global South? Would we be content to watch millions, or even billions, of these mostly dark-skinned people perish if, somehow, we could ourselves avoid the same fate in the bargain?
It sure seems that way. Again, as Pope Francis asserts, the climate crisis is asking us all to consider what it means to be human in this brave new world - and that question is especially pertinent for the pale-faced European Christians whose beliefs justified centuries of slavery and colonialism.It is up to moral Christians who believe in penitence and God’s love for all creatures to reclaim the mantle of Christianity from the politically active “Prosperity” Evangelicals who actively promote white supremacy and American exceptionalism.
It’s instructive to note that this pandemic happened to hit the mostly white countries of Europe and North America first, or the exact opposite progression of impacts that we are seeing with global warming. What would it look like if we were to respond to the climate crisis with the same sense of urgency and resolve that shaped our initial response to the Coronavirus pandemic? How about, pursuant to a declaration of national/global emergency:
minimizing use of fossil-fueled cars to the maximum extent practicable right away;
eliminating all subsidies for fossil fuel producers, and re-directing the money to conversion of our energy and agricultural systems - which, as to the former, happens to be all it would require;
rationing gasoline in the short term, with a 2030 deadline for eliminating all gasoline and diesel vehicles;
creating incentives for folks to get rid of their gas-and-diesel-powered cars altogether asap, either going without altogether for a generous public transportation stipend, or trading up to an e-car with interest-free federal loans.
There is no reasonable debate anymore as to what needs to be done — halt and then reverse the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from fossil fuels — and the pace at which it needs to be accomplished — a decade to be at least halfway there, according to the 2018 UN IPCC Report. But when it comes to the kind of action that would even slow this heat engine, the world acts like a deer caught in the headlights of its oncoming demise.
Why is that?
Certainly bad actors like Trump, Bolsonaro, and Putin bear a lot of the blame for derailing the Paris Accords. But we also know that even if every signatory was faithfully implementing the Paris Accords, it would still not be nearly enough to avoid unparalleled suffering and loss on a scale that would’ve made Hitler blush. And we know that the Accords themselves were only designed to be voluntary. It isn’t actually required that our world leaders avert extinction of life on planet Earth.
How dare they?!
Given that the ‘commitments’ set forth in the Paris Accords were negotiated by Obama’s fossil fueled minions on the stated assumption that 3–4 degrees Celsius rise in average global temperatures would be acceptable, in direct contravention of the 1.5C rhetorical limitation subsequently added into the text, it seems quite apparent that wealthy, mostly white capitalist countries and transnational corporations in the so-called “first world” (RACISM ALERT!) have already made a calculated assumption that they can somehow survive on islands of luxury in a global sea of misery. The most recent COP26 in Gaslight - I mean Glasgow - Scotland brought that point how quite vividly. And so they collectively keep kicking the can down the road, keeping fossil fuel subsidies in place, they continue to extract dirty fuels like Australian and West Virginian coal, Canadian tar sands, and deep sea oil, and they even continue opening up new areas to fossil fuel exploration!
It's a mistake, in other words, to view this as a partisan, political issue and not an oppression and racial reparations issue, as the professional climate movement has mostly done so far. The implicit injustice and amorality, and the patent racism that undergirds this global stalemate, as well as the enabling lack of urgency from people not named Greta Thunberg or Elsie Luna, can readily be appreciated by considering the alpha and omega of Climate Trauma:
How we got here; and,
how we get out.
Anyone can quickly appreciate the imperialist, racist overtones of the climate crisis and paralysis by considering three graphs, compliments of Dr. Kanko. First, consider the respective responsibility of imperialist, exploitive cultures versus any of the other countries for the causes of this lethal mess:
Pretty clear who has benefited from the Industrial Revolution the most, and who has been exploited by its twin insults: first, our corporations bribing the developing world’s leaders and taking their resources, fouling large areas of already impoverished countries in the process; and second, now those same countries whose peoples and resources we’ve exploited find themselves on the front-burners of runaway climate change, disproportionately experiencing the extreme, chronic droughts, the disappearing water bodies — except ephemerally with more frequent and extreme flooding events — and massive wildfires, together with other climate-related unnatural disasters.
No wonder, then, there are more refugees now fleeing those regions of the world hit hardest by climate change than the world has seen since the end of WWII. These are climate refugees, plain and simple, whether we choose to call them that or not. And they’re people of color, guilty only of being born into relative poverty and strife created by our economic exploitation. They’ve been living in sub-human bondage to our precious economies and our cherished consumer culture for centuries now.
We have to be honest about this if we’re going to re-solve this crisis.
Now consider where your own carbon footprint falls in this graph:
75% of those global carbon footprints are accounted for by white countries. As Dr. Kritee points out in an illuminating YouTube presentation, what needs to happen quickly in order to come into compliance with the Paris Accord’s goals is for everyone in the world to reduce their carbon footprint to that of a person in India by 2030–2035. This is an emergency, after all, right? Much more so than the pandemic, though the higher urgency of the climate crisis tends to be obscured by the significant, decades-long time-lag between our emissions and climate uptake, while a pandemic has more immediate impacts. The truth is that no amount of green energy can bring everyone up to our material standard of comfortable excess in that time frame, so it’s clearly incumbent on we, the privileged, the predominantly white people to simplify our lifestyles in order for a future to be viable. Isn’t that responsibility clear enough to us yet? (We’ll return to this notion of shared responsibility in Ch. 6).
To be even more specific, the average carbon footprint of Americans is about 50,000 lb. of CO2 equivalents. According to the famous 1.5 degree report released in 2018, in a just world where all countries fairly shared the burden of stabilizing our shared climate, the average American’s lifestyle would need to be reduced by a factor of ten in the next ten years — down to only 5000 lb. of CO2 equivalents, or the average emissions of someone living in India.
What are we waiting for, exactly?
So far, three years since that 2018 UN clarion call, we have not budged — except, of course, just a little in our initial response to the pandemic. But that was understood by most to be just a temporary inconvenience. So, if like me you are from the settler class, do you feel entitled, for some reason you haven’t bothered to think through, to live a more extravagant lifestyle than a human being from a ‘country of color’? Do you feel ‘exceptional,’ or perhaps like one of God’s ‘chosen people’? Let’s try to remember that geneticists have now proven that we all come from the same tribe in Africa, and that our skin color is merely a reflection of migration to different latitudes over time - and there’s nothing inherently smarter about moving to colder climates. (How ironic that the people who moved to colder climates, and imagine themselves superior to the people who remained in sub-Saharan Africa, are now responsible for heating the planet!)
For that matter, why do so many people still feel entitled to sacrifice whole species just to support their accustomed diet? And why are these considered to be political issues instead of being considered personal issues - especially when it is so clear that politicians are constrained or at least reluctant to take action? It’s our lifestyle, which is to say the way we choose to live our lives, that is the problem, is it not?
We’re all in denial here, to varying degrees. Every one of us can take each of the following actions to reduce our impact: have fewer children; fly less, if at all; give up your gas-powered vehicles; and, adopt a vegetarian, organic, locavore diet. There are even plant-based meat substitutes now that are difficult to distinguish from the factory-farm equivalents.
Collectively, according to Andreas Malm, at a minimum we need to take the following steps: stop building carbon-burning power plants; shut the existing ones down; halt any further expansions of air, sea and road travel, introduce a rationing system for transportation; rapidly expand our mass transit systems; switch urgently to food grown locally with regenerative agriculture (i.e., break up Big Ag); dismantle the meat industry’s racist factory farms and (yes) plantations in the Global South, substituting plant-based proteins that permit returning vast monocultural lands to regeneration by wildlife; and, heavily invest in climate ‘drawdown’ efforts to draw atmospheric carbon levels down before they can exert their full climate impacts.
Only some of these steps require systemic changes. We can all drastically change our transportation habits, use mass transit, boycott factory farms and otherwise adjust our diets, while at the same time marching on D.C. to demand this climate triage. It is not an ‘either/or’ proposition. It is a ‘both/and’ proposition, or ‘all hands on deck’ for the preservation of life on planet Earth.
Perhaps this final graph will bring all this clearly into focus:
So yes, there is one meat that is still climate friendly: EAT THE RICH!
Gaia’s Life Matters
If America, purveyor of the American Dream and the World’s Policeman, is a microcosm of the global system right now - and it is - and if everyone is now clearly seeing just how racism has been baked into our social disparities and oppressive systems of policing and incarceration, then why can’t we see the same racism enshrined in our global economy that we saw exhibited on the streets of Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s murder?
Are we waiting for Gaia to say she can’t breathe before we take our knee off the necks of African countries and the rest of the Global South?
As I am writing this, scientists have just reported that Gaia's lungs, the Amazon Rainforest, is now a net emitter of CO2 rather than the carbon sink it has ALWAYS been. Throughout all the millennia of human history, and even human evolution, any fires in the Amazon would be extinguished by the seasonal monsoon. Now she is experiencing drought, and we have fires that burn all year round. That is the equivalent of cutting off Gaia's oxygen supply with our knee.
Maybe it’s time that we in the over-developed world simply demand that our corporate rulers treat the entire planet as an autonomous, racism-free, imperialist-war-free, and global-cop-free zone. As one of my more intelligent activist friends once wrote on a chalkboard:
SAVE EVERTHING! FREE EVERYONE!
Or maybe it's time we demand that our political leaders see the world as it is seen from space — a world without borders. A living, conscious being, with only one race of humans. The human race.
It’s time for America, the World’s Policeman, to turn in our badge and dismantle our forces of oppression. For all the same reasons, really, that we’re demanding the same of our militarized police forces.
We are the oppressors.
Time has come today. We must radically reform our way of life. For humanity’s sake. For a future to be possible. For everyone — regardless of their ethnicity or place of birth. For all species. Because in the final analysis, from the standpoint of recovering from this accelerating biospheric trauma, which is on pace to lay waste to the entire living world, we are but one species.
And, alas, there is only one planet.
So in the end, we the human species only get one chance to get this right. And this is the end. Life as we have always known it is over. And all life hangs in the balance.
When we do get it right, when we finally, unequivocally demand an end to imperialist power-over people and countries of color, and power-over Indigenous peoples, when we do finally stop abusing the natural world and listen to ecologists and Indigenous voices for the Earth, when we finally enlist Gaia as an ally in our struggle, then and only then can anyone finally and genuinely be heard to say:
“Yes, it has come to pass: All Lives Matter!”
Feb. 25, 2021
Representative Barbara Lee and Senator Cory Booker Reintroduce Legislation to Form Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Commission
Washington, D.C. ––Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) announced the reintroduction of their legislation calling for the establishment of the first United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT). The Commission will examine the effects of slavery, institutional racism, and discrimination against people of color, and how our history impacts laws and policies today.
“Inequality, systemic racism, and white supremacy are at the heart of every crisis we’re facing right now – the COVID-19 public health crisis disproportionately impacting communities of color, the crises of police brutality and mass incarceration, the crisis of poverty, and much more,” said Congresswoman Lee. “We’ve made substantial progress, but the legacy of systemic racism clearly shows that the chains of slavery have yet to be broken. This commission will educate and inform the public about the historical context for the current racial inequalities we witness each and every day, and usher in a moment of truth.”
“To realize our nation’s promise of being a place for liberty and justice for all, we must acknowledge and address the systemic racism and white supremacy that have been with us since our country’s founding and continue to persist in our laws, our policies and our lives to this day,” said Senator Booker. “The first ever congressional commission on truth, racial healing, and transformation will be a critical compliment to other urgent legislative efforts, like S.40, which would establish a commission on reparations. Together, these proposals are a necessary step in beginning to root out systemic racism in our institutions, creating proposals for addressing and repairing for past harm, and building a more just nation for every American.”
Urging the establishment of a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation.
Whereas the first ship carrying enslaved Africans to what is now known as the United States of America arrived in 1619;
Whereas this event 400 years ago was significant not only because it ushered in the institution of chattel slavery of African Americans, but also because it facilitated the systematic oppression of all people of color that has been a devastating and insufficiently understood and acknowledged aspect of our history over these past 400 years, and that has left a legacy of this oppression that haunts us to this day;
Whereas the institution of American chattel slavery subjugated African Americans for nearly 250 years, fractured our Nation, and made a mockery of its founding principle that “all men are created equal”;
Whereas our Constitution failed to end slavery and oppressions against African Americans and other people of color, thus embedding in our society the belief in the myth of a hierarchy of human value based on superficial physical characteristics such as skin color and facial features, and resulting in purposeful and persistent racial and gender inequities in education, health care, employment, Social Security and veteran benefits, land ownership, financial assistance, food security, wages, voting rights, and the justice system;
Whereas these oppressions denied opportunity and mobility to African Americans and other people of color within the United States, resulting in stolen labor worth billions of dollars while ultimately forestalling landmark contributions that African Americans and other people of color would make in science, arts, commerce, and public service;
Whereas Reconstruction represented a significant but constrained moment of advances for Black rights as epitomized by the Freedman’s Bureau, which negotiated labor contracts for ex-enslaved people but failed to secure them their own land;
Whereas the brutal overthrow of Reconstruction failed all Americans by failing to ensure the safety and security of African Americans and by emboldening States and municipalities in both the North and South to enact numerous laws and policies to stymie the socioeconomic mobility and political voice of freed Blacks, thus maintaining their subservience to Whites;
Whereas Reconstruction, the civil rights movement, and other efforts to redress the grievances of marginalized people were sabotaged, both intentionally and unintentionally, by those in power, thus rendering the accomplishments of these efforts transitory and unsustainable, and further embedding the racial hierarchy in our society;
Whereas examples of government actions directed against populations of color include—
(1) the creation of the Federal Housing Administration, which adopted specific policies designed to incentivize residential segregation;
(2) the enactment of legislation creating the Social Security program, for which most African Americans were purposely rendered ineligible during its first two decades;
(3) the GI bill, which left administration of its programs to the States, thus enabling blatant discrimination against African American GIs;
(4) the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which allowed labor unions to discriminate based on race;
(5) subprime lending aimed purposefully at families of color;
(6) disenfranchisement of Native Americans, who, until 1924, were denied citizenship on land they had occupied for millennia;
(7) Federal Indian Boarding School policy during the 19th and 20th centuries, the purpose of which was to “civilize” Native children through methods intended to eradicate Native cultures, traditions, and languages;
(8) land policies toward Indian Tribes, such as the allotment policy, which caused the loss of over 90 million acres of Tribal lands, two-thirds of which were guaranteed to Tribes by treaties and other Federal laws, and similar unjustified land grabs from Tribes that occurred regionally throughout the late 1800s and into the Termination Era in the 1950s and 1960s;
(9) the involuntary removal of Mexicans and United States citizens of Mexican descent through large-scale discriminatory deportation programs in the 1930s and 1950s;
(10) the United States annexation of Puerto Rico, which made Puerto Ricans citizens of the United States without affording them voting rights;
(11) racial discrimination against Latino Americans, which has forced them to fight continuously for equal access to employment, housing, health, financial services, and education;
(12) the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which effectively halted immigration from China and barred Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens of the United States, and which was the first instance of xenophobic legislation signed into law specifically targeting a specific group of people based on ethnicity;
(13) the treatment of Japanese Americans, despite no evidence of disloyalty, as suspect and traitorous in the very country they helped to build, leading most notably to the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans beginning in 1942;
(14) the conspiracy to overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii and annex the land of the Kingdom of Hawaii, without the consent of or compensation to the Native Hawaiian people of Hawaii; and
(15) the United States history of colonialism in the Pacific, which has resulted in economic, health, and educational disparities among other inequities, for people in United States territories, as well as independent nations with which it has treaty obligations;
Whereas these governmental actions, among other government policies that have had racially disparate impacts, have disproportionately barred African Americans and other people of color from building wealth, thus limiting potential capital and exacerbating the racial wealth gap;
Whereas research has shown that this persistent wealth gap has had a significant negative impact on other racial disparities, such as the achievement gap, school dropout rates, income gaps, home ownership rates, health outcome disparities, and incarceration rates;
Whereas American civic leaders and foundations have spearheaded critical efforts to advance racial healing, understanding, and transformation within the United States, recognizing that it is in our collective national interest to urgently address the unhealed, entrenched divisions that will severely undermine our democracy if they are allowed to continue to exist;
Whereas many of the most far-reaching victories for racial healing in the United States have been greatly enhanced by the involvement, support, and dedication of individuals from any and all racial groups;
Whereas at the same time, much of the progress toward racial healing and racial equity in the United States has been limited or reversed by our failure to address the root cause of racism, the belief in the myth of a hierarchy of human value based on superficial physical characteristics such as skin color and facial features;
Whereas the American institution of slavery, as well as other examples enumerated in this resolution, represents intentional and blatant violations of every American’s most basic right to a free and decent life;
Whereas the consequences of these oppressions have cascaded for centuries, across generations, beyond the era of active enslavement, imperiling for descendants of slaves and other targets of oppression what should have otherwise been every American’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;
Whereas more than 40 countries have reckoned with historical injustice and its aftermath through forming Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to move toward restorative justice and to return dignity to its citizens; and
Whereas contemporary social science, medical science, and the rapidly expanding use of artificial intelligence and social media reveal the costs and potential threats to our democracy if we continue to allow unhealed, entrenched divisions to be ignored and exploited: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the Congress—
(1) affirms on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slave ship, the United States long-overdue debt of remembrance to not only those who lived through the egregious injustices enumerated above, but also to their descendants; and
(2) proposes a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation to properly acknowledge, memorialize, and be a catalyst for progress toward jettisoning the belief in a hierarchy of human value, embracing our common humanity, and permanently eliminating persistent racial inequities.