|Margaret Klein Salamon|
Confronting the truth of the climate crisis means accepting that the futures we might have fondly imagined were ours are no longer realistic. According to psychologist Margaret Klein Salamon, we either fight for the life of the planet or we die.
"My grief enabled me to remember my connection to all life, and helped me let go of the illusion of my separate self. If the forests die, I die. If the oceans die, I die." Margaret Klein Salamon.
THERE'S A COMMON ASSUMPTION within the Labour-led Government's policies and views on climate change that, bar a little bit of tweaking here and there, everyday life will carry on pretty much as we find it now. Maybe more of us will use public transport or ride a bicycle, and plastic bags have already been banned at the supermarkets, but life will carry on largely as normal. This has been codified by the political establishment as the fatal ideology of 'green capitalism' and it is the seriously flawed ideological assumption that lies behind all of the Government's actions on climate change.
The Climate Change Minister James Shaw addresses largely corporate audiences and serenely sketches out his plan for the country to be carbon neutral by 2050. It all sounds bizarrely sedate. It is the madness and extremism of centrist politics.
What happens between now and 2050? Apparently not enough to motivate Shaw to up his game. I cannot help but think that James Shaw is our very own Neville Chamberlain, waving a piece of paper in the air and declaring that he has achieved 'peace in our time'. While Chamberlain thought he had made a deal with Hitler, James Shaw thinks achieving carbon neutrality in some thirty years time is our own 'get out of jail free' card.
But it is the political establishment, represented by people like James Shaw, that encourage us to live our lives as if the climate crisis is not happening. We pursue our careers, worry about finding a job or even somewhere to live, fret about the kids, look forward to the next holiday break.
But unless we happen to be Sean Plunket or Mike Hosking, we know - intellectually at least - that climate change is happening. But most of us haven't identified with climate change in any meaningful emotional sense. It is still something that is 'out there', with little connection to our own lives, other than the inconvenience of not being able to use plastic bags in the supermarkets and having to put up with yet another reminder from Julie Ann Genter that she rides a bicycle to work.
The climate crisis is something that is happening on the evening news bulletins. It is as remote for most of us as the latest bombing outrage in a war-torn country that many of us, if the truth be known, probably couldn't find on a map. Some local authorities pass 'climate emergency' declarations and we reflect how easy that was. Our job is done.
|James Shaw : New Zealand's version of Neville Chamberlain?|
Of course this is far easier than confronting the reality of the climate crisis and the reality that the future we might have envisaged for ourselves has been yanked away from us by a deepening environmental crisis driven by an economic system that we are all participants in, whether we like it or not. So we allow our fears to be allayed by the soothing noises coming from establishment politicians like Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw and we carry on regardless.
There is no place in this scenario for grieving for a future that has been denied us but we continue to behave as if its still 'out there', just beyond the horizon. But if we are to fully confront the climate crisis then there must be time for grief. This is the view of psychologist Margaret Klein Salamon. She writes:
"Above all, in order to live in truth, we have to grieve for our own futures—the futures we had planned, hoped for, and thought we were building. Grief is appropriate—while, on one hand, this is the loss of an abstraction, not a living creature. On the other, it’s a huge loss—the loss of our most cherished plans, goals, and fantasies.'
She goes on to say:
'Psychotherapists know that grief is not optional: when confronted with devastating losses, grief is the only healthy way to respond and adapt to new realities. If we stop ourselves from feeling grief, we stop ourselves from processing the reality of our loss. If we can’t process out loss, then we can’t live in reality. We become imprisoned and immobile. Grief ensures we don’t get stuck in the paralysis of denial, living in the past or in fantasy versions of the present and future."
This the rational path we can take as individuals. Once we confront the truth that the future we saw mapped ourselves for isn't likely to happen, we can begin to think of ourselves and our lives in a fundamentally different way. We are confronted with a stark choice - change or collapse. Me, I often refer back to Rosa Luxemburg's observation that its either 'socialism or barbarism'.
And confronting the truth of the climate crisis does as Naomi Klein has observed, change everything:
'...you are not an isolated actor, living in a stable country on stable planet, whose main purpose in life is to pursue personal success, familial satisfaction, and constant gratification. Rather, you are living in a country, and on a planet, in crisis. Your primary responsibility is to fight for your family, your species and all life on earth. You didn't ask for it, you didn't cause it, and probably you don't like it. But here you are.'