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Climate change: a therapist’s frank analysis

Counsellors and psychotherapists deceive themselves if they believe that denial and numbness about the state of the planet have nothing to do with their work, writes Mark Brayne. Their clients suddenly may become very afraid.
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(Reproduced with permission from therapy today, a journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, BACP.)

“We’re the only species on the planet ever to document our own extinction.” -- The Guardian, November 20, 2007

Let me get straight to the point. I need some help with a couple of clients.

My first challenging client is a mother of a certain age, indeed a grandmother and great-grandmother multiple times over. Wise, wrinkled and worn, she’s a tough old bird who over a very long life has survived a lot of ups and downs. Her problem now is her large and chaotic family, who still live in her house and have nowhere else to move.

So far, she’s been the archetypal “good-enough mother”, trying to teach her children by example – and with the occasional slap on the wrist – the consequences of unsustainable behaviour.

But her family doesn’t get the plot. They have little idea of healthy boundaries, or hygiene, or the importance of delaying gratification. They eat and drink the fridge empty the minute she puts something in it, and they’re heating the house and burning fuel and resources like there’s no tomorrow, squabbling incessantly that all the mess is someone else’s fault. Our elderly but previously robust client is finding it increasingly hard to cope, and she fears that her family’s dysfunction will be the end of all of them. We’re her therapist. What do we do?

So, to our second client – and I suspect you may be grasping by now where I’m taking us. This man is one representative member of our first client’s household, who’s been told by doctors that if he doesn’t address his self-destructive behaviour – his smoking, his drinking, his addiction to fatty and sugary foods, his lack of exercise, his thinking only of his own immediate pleasure – then he’s going to die. Probably quite painfully and probably quite soon.

On the bright side, this client has listened to the doctors sufficiently to come into therapy. He’s perfectly intelligent, but his response is not untypical. Can’t be happening to me. Let’s get a second opinion. A third. A fourth. Perhaps if he tries minor adjustments to his lifestyle, he can avoid the radical surgery, the chemo- and radiotherapy, the massive life changes which the doctors say he must make.

As this client’s therapist, our dilemma is how to help him to realise that the doctors are right and that he really must change.

Gaia and the denier

I guess you know by now who I’m talking about. Client one is, of course Gaia, our Earth Mother, the planet we live on. Overcrowded, running out of resources, but above all heating up at potentially catastrophic speed as global-warming gases build up in the atmosphere.

Our second client is ourselves – humankind. Desperate for that second, third, fiftieth scientific opinion which will tell us that the prognosis isn’t so bad. That maybe it’s not our fault. That maybe the earth just does heat up and cool down once in a while, quite naturally, that just some small adjustments will be enough, and that we’ll get through this.

We all want to be lied to about climate change. It’s just too big. Right up front, then, my appeal in dealing with these two clients. How do we calibrate the message that things, this time, really, honestly, are very serious? How do we avoid propelling our client straight from denial to despair? How, in the words of a recent article in the British newspaper the Guardian, does one “cry wolf, but gently”? How do we break this bad news?

There’s already good evidence that on matters of climate change, as the media and politicians begin to talk more of what is happening, people are swinging straight from ignorance and denial through alarm to numbing and weary boredom. You will have heard the arguments. The “greenies” and other Cassandras have constantly got it wrong. The ozone layer, acid rain, nuclear power or nuclear winter, the millennium bug, and now this. Just another scare story. We just don’t want to listen any more. And anyway, there’s nothing we can do.

I’ll return to the issue of breaking bad news, but let me for a moment be that
fabled boy coming off the hills and seriously warning of the wolf.

Crying wolf – but gently

The truth is that if we – me, and you, as well as the Americans, the Chinese, all of them out there – carry on living and consuming, driving, burning, thinking and just living as we currently do, and do not make massive changes very soon indeed, then human civilisation will end, if not in our own lifetimes then possibly as early as in those of our children or grandchildren.

It’s that bad – in effect a terminal diagnosis that raises profound questions about how we as humans order our affairs. Our politics, our economics (the systemic failure, as described in a 2006 report to the British government by Sir Nicholas Stern, of the market system), our thought systems, the way we elect our governments, the way we practise journalism or organise our health services. None of which are, if we’re honest, truly fit for purpose for the challenges of the 21st century.

The truth is that it won’t be enough just to drive a Prius hybrid, change our light bulbs to energy savers, or ban plastic bags or set up a climate-change helpline. If the most serious of consequences are to be averted, all those things must be done and much, much more. The arguments and the evidence are now clear, but for perhaps all too understandable but potentially catastrophic reasons of human psychology, the message is neither truly getting through nor being acted on.

In a nutshell, and as has been powerfully argued by the former American vice president Al Gore in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth,  the debate over whether climate change is happening, and whether it’s human-induced, is over. That’s a bald scientific fact which we as therapists in particular now need to understand – confirmed in the plainest of language by the respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fourth report, completed late last year.

The science is conclusive

Just as there was once heated disagreement about whether the sun revolved round the earth or vice versa, or over the nature of gravity, this matter is resolved. The disagreements are no longer about whether global warming is happening or whether it’s caused mainly by humankind, but rather about just how much time we have left to correct things, and whether it might already be too late. Scientists advising the IPCC talk of a window of less than 10 years – TEN YEARS! – to start making the massive global changes that might give humankind a chance of survival.

In the meantime, ordinary people the world over continue with their ordinary lives as if nothing untoward was happening. Coverage of the last IPCC report in most British media lasted just one day, before they returned to business, celebrity and Christmas preparations as usual. True, newspapers, radio and television are increasingly reporting strange happenings in nature – unusual floods here, unprecedented drought there, the disappearance of butterflies, collapses of bee populations, Arctic melting, the disappearance of ski runs in the Alps, hawthorns blossoming in the autumn. But where is the comprehensive and universal articulation of an overarching, corrective narrative of imminent danger which might give ordinary people the motivation and the tools to respond properly?

One is reminded of tourists in Sri Lanka in December 2004 who excitedly and naively -- and tragically -- explored the rock pools uncovered by a retreating sea without realising that this meant they were about to be hit by a tsunami.

Hard for you to hear?

Let me pause for a brief moment. Are you, like our second client, finding this difficult to read and to hear? Is this something you don’t really want to know? Perhaps you would rather put this article aside at this point, or turn your attention to something less disturbing.

In naming what’s happening in ordinary conversations, and with clients, I’m acutely aware how easily people can be shut down and put off. So the temptation is to sugar the pill, to focus on the opportunities rather than the threats. But without a felt understanding, not just a thought understanding, of how urgent this is, will people really change? I fear not. So, please bear with me as we return to what’s actually now a very straightforward narrative.

In the space of less than 300 years -- from the start of the industrial revolution to when, very much later this century, we might achieve a carbon-neutral global economy -- we are in the process of pumping back into the atmosphere, through the burning of oil, gas and coal, an amount of carbon which Gaia took 300 million years to capture. That’s a process one million times faster than that which laid those reserves down. Gaia managed for a while to absorb the extra, but she’s showing every sign of no longer being able to cope. She has a fever.

Even with the delayed greenhouse effect of the industrial revolution so far, we’re already committed to a global temperature rise of most probably two degrees Celsius [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit]. And – this is the really alarming piece – scientists who have been at the forefront of understanding how Gaia works, notably James Lovelock, now warn of a tipping point, to which we may already be committed, of some two-and-a-half degrees heating, beyond which the feedback mechanisms which have kept the planet cool for millions of years flip, and start to accelerate rather than moderate temperature rise.
The consensus-driven, cautious and measured IPCC continues to argue in its latest report that the current trend of climate change can still be averted, as it puts it, at reasonable cost. But for the first time, it is also now warning of the likelihood, if the world continues with business as usual, of “abrupt and irreversible impacts”.

Six degrees of warming

Let’s consider some of those possible impacts. If the earth approaches six degrees of heating, which is within the IPCC’s range of forecasts for this century, scenarios being taken very seriously could include:

•  Extensive melting of the ice caps, and, combined with the heat-driven expansion of sea volume, sea-level rises of several metres. That would irreversibly flood coastlines and some entire countries, and cities such as Shanghai, London and New York. The consequences for the global economy and human welfare would be dire.

•  The melting of tundra and permafrost, and the release into the atmosphere of huge quantities of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

•  The drying out and possibly the wholesale burning of the Amazon rain forest and its transformation into dry savanna.

•  The disappearance of Tibet’s and South America’s glaciers, and with them the summer river-flows that water the agriculture of hundreds of millions of people.

•  The desertification of northern China, North Africa, southern Europe and much of the western and central United States.

•  The death of carbon-absorbing algae in the oceans and the collapse of fish species and food chains as the seas warm dramatically.

•  All of this leading to hundreds of millions of refugees on the move, and death on a scarcely imaginable scale.

•  And if you think it may not be as bad as scientists are warning, almost every indicator of change is happening faster than in the previous worst-case scenarios.

So, what has this got to do with therapy?

Let us consider again the clients with whom we opened, and the analogy of breaking bad news. As any doctor is now trained to understand, bad news – of the death of a loved one, for example, or of a terminal diagnosis – has to be conveyed with compassion and kindness, but also clearly, honestly and directly, without beating about the bush.

The bearer of such news can’t make the fact of the message any less painful to the person receiving it. One does not amputate a leg in slices.

Therapists may indeed already have had clients coming to them with fears of what climate change will mean, for themselves and especially for their grandchildren. How do we respond?

I have no data to prove it, but I can imagine that quite soon, within years and not decades, and possibly as a result of some particularly serious natural disaster, public opinion on a global level will at last begin to grasp the meaning of what is happening, and suddenly be very, very afraid. Reflecting Carl Jung’s thinking, we may experience a seismic shift in consciousness as a presently hidden collective awareness breaks the surface. And we must profoundly hope that the shift does not come too late.

So, if as therapists and counsellors – and, indeed, as journalists writing that first draft of history – we presume to be at the leading edge of human consciousness, I believe we should prepare ourselves in three important ways.

•  We must first inform ourselves of the simple science of what is happening, and address our own denial and avoidance – and be ready to deal with the existential fears for ourselves and those we love which will be revealed when we do that.

•  Second, as therapists and as fellow human beings, we must seek to help our two opening clients – Gaia and her children – to work together to understand the threats that face them, and together empower both ourselves and those who govern us to make the choices and changes that might yet avert the worst.

•  Third, some might wonder whether there’s any point in engaging with therapy if things are so bad. I think that’s wrong. Just as we would continue to work lovingly in a hospice, for example, with someone who is dying, we also need to work lovingly with each other and our clients as we openly address the meaning of climate change.

I am personally not optimistic, but we must still hope that a miracle cure may yet be found, or that our immune systems will mobilise in time to fight the infection. In addressing the dangers we now face as individuals, as families, as communities and as a species, we need to show realism, clarity and courage, but also congruence and compassion. Whatever the outcome.

(Reproduced with permission from therapy today, a journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, BACP.)

Mark Brayne is a former Reuters and BBC foreign correspondent whose postings have included Beijing. He is now working as a psychotherapist specialising in trauma support and treatment for individuals and organisations in the news business and beyond. For the past six years, he has been European director of the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma.

This article, first published in the December 2007 issue of therapy today, is abridged from a draft prepared for the December 2007 London conference of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s Association of Independent Practitioners, on the theme of “Trauma: Keeping Cool in a Crisis”.


Copyright: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), 2007

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


马克•布雷恩的文章描述了气候变化如何逐渐成为治疗师和客户(普通人)需要面对的一个心理问题。忽视这个问题,从另一个角度上来说,就是在否认气候变化。在过去的数十年中,我们不断的听到全球变暖的消息,许多世界知名的科学家和研究机构也对此做了的大量的研究。最新的研究成果表明,气候变化的负效应在加剧:冰山融化,沙漠化,砍伐森林,臭氧减少,生物消失等等。(科学报告往往提供保守的结论,实际上,现实会比我们听到的更糟)而我们当中的很少一部分人,就像马克•布雷恩指出的那样,真正感受到问题的紧迫性。我们中的大多数人是否在日常生活中想到过这个问题?我们是否因为它太抽象,或者太可怕就将其推到一旁?(物理学家David Bohm在”改变认知“中写到”你是否真的不关心你的孙辈以及他们的后代会争夺剩余的一点资源,会因饥饿而死亡,只要你在今天能享用你的汉堡?作为人类,活在文明的当下--拥有法律和经济系统,文化和技术成就--我们忽略了这个事实,那就是我们是自然的一部分,并且依赖于它,不能离开它。逻辑上说,当地球的气候发生变化,它上面的生物也与之变化。

A very important article (part 1)

Mark Brayne's article on how climate change will increasingly become a psychological issue for therapists and their clients (ordinary people) is one of the most important ever published by chinadialogue. Ignoring this issue is another form of climate-change denial.
We have known about global warming for decades. Study after study by the world's most reputable scientists and institutions have been published, the very latest of which have told us, yet again, that the negative consequences of climate change are accelerating: melting glaciers, desertification, deforestation, ozone depletion, species loss, and such. (Scientific reports tend toward cautious conclusions -- so, in reality, the situation is worse than we've officially been told.)
But too few of us, as Brayne points out, really grasp the criticality of the situation. Do most of us think about it at all, amid the routine concerns of daily life? Do we push it away as too abstract, or too horrific to focus on? (In the words of physicist David Bohm in "Changing Consciousness": "Do you really not care that your grandchildren and those who follow them are going to starve to death and fight for the little that may be left, as long as you can have your hamburgers today?"
As human animals, living our days in "civilisations" -- with their laws and economic systems, their cultural and technical achievements -- we have lost sight of the fact that we are part of, and dependent on, nature, not apart from it. Logically, it follows that if Earth's climate changes, so do its life forms.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



A very important article (part 2)

As environmental photographer Mark Edwards writes in his book "Hard Rain -- Our Headlong Collision With Nature":
"We feel so small, and the sky seems so big; how could anything we do affect the climate? We are in collective denial, sleepwalking blindly towards a tipping point where bigger and deadlier environmental problems overtake our ability to solve them. But the consensus among scientists that man-made climate change is happening now is overwhelming. Of course all the independent scientists could be wrong and the lobbyists, many funded by US oil companies, could be right. And the earth could be flat."

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



A very important article (part 3)

While hope and optimism are essential elements in effecting climate-change solutions, they are useless on their own. The outlook does seem bleak, with governments and businesses also in need of therapy for denial and numbness. A new Accenture survey of more than 500 big businesses in six countries around the globe (China, India, the US, Japan, the UK and Germany) found that nearly nine in 10 of the businesses do not rate global warming as a priority. Al Gore told the government and corporate leaders at the World Economic Forum last week that they need to act, that individuals changing their light bulbs won’t rescue the earth on their own. Were they listening? The challenges ahead are huge, as is the magnitude of the shift in global thinking that is required.
Ignoring the coming storms, and the planet's interlocking ecological crises, won't save a single life. Failing to act –- failing to force governments and businesses to urgently prioritise, and to creatively respond to, climate change issues -- means choosing to destroy ourselves. And, in the headline quoted by Mark Brayne, we’ll continue to document our own extinction. -- MEB, London

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匿名 | Anonymous


我觉得本文的语调和观点都很值得称赞。事实上,前几段的一些论点几乎概括了整篇文章。例如: “最近的IPCC的报告在大多数英国媒体的版面上只持续一天。然后他们又像平常一样回到商业,名人和筹备圣诞节的新闻上去。 ”在大卫克伦威尔《监护者的力量:自由媒体的神话》一书中,他对这一话题阐述的淋漓尽致。他指出有一天《卫报》会报告“气候变化的黯淡前景”,然后向美国航空公司出售大量的广告版面。

Guardian isn't always on track

I think that the tone of this article and the points therein are made very well. In fact some asides in the first few paragraphs almost deserve full articles themselves. For example:
"Coverage of the last IPCC report in most British media lasted just one day, before they returned to business, celebrity and Christmas preparations as usual."
In "Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media" David Cromwell treats this topic very well. He identifies how the Guardian can report the 'terrifying prospect of climate change' one day, and then offer large advertising spaces for American Airlines' 2 for 1 offers the next.

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匿名 | Anonymous






Ad Hom

The situation is indeed getting out of hand.

Now that measurement and observation have failed to produce any credible evidence of anthropogenic global warming despite all the resources put into the research by governments, inter-governmental agencies and the manufacturers of windmills, the alarmists are reduced to this. Claiming that anyone unmoved by green hysteria is thereby in need of treatment raises the Argumentum ad Hominem to new heights.

Why would anyone need to control the thoughts of other people unless he was unable to prove his case by rational means?

MJP, London

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


菲利普•福斯特牧师 英国剑桥


1. 对人为气候变化的相信可称为一种宗教么?

1. 几乎所有的宗教都需要一个教义:一个对信仰的基本阐述。教义一般与现实不一致,被认为是某种启示,因此不容置疑。气候“宗教”当然也是如此。当科学研究显示二氧化碳、水、甲烷、氧化亚氮等气体能吸收红外线同时也是冷冻剂时,气候宗教坚持说它们会以某种方式从别处吸收能量,使大气和地球升温。从联合国政府间气候变化专门委员会的所有解释温室气体变化假设的所有图表中都可以得出这个结论。最普遍的一个(基尔-崔波斯)显示,太阳能辐射密度为每平方米342瓦,其中107瓦被反射,只有235瓦被大气层或地表吸收。但是,令人惊奇的是,图表显示地面辐射回每平米390瓦+24瓦+78瓦=每平米492瓦。这比原本来自太阳的能量的两倍还要多!这些令人惊叹的能量是从哪里来的?某个地方。这就像魔术一般。





2. 我恐怕布莱恩博士已经显出了宗教狂热的早期症状。建议他寻求治疗。

Is it a religion?

Revd Philip Foster MA Cambridge (UK)

Dr Brayne's interesting (and worrying) article raises important questions.

1. Is belief in man-made climate change a religion?
2. If so, is Dr Brayne suffering from a form of religious mania and should he seek help?

1. Nearly all religions require a creed. A basic statement of beliefs - often at odds with reality - which are regarded as revelation and therefore not to be questioned.
Climate 'religion' certainly ticks that box. While the scientific understanding shows that CO2, H2O, CH4, N2O etc are, as IR absorbers, coolants, Climate religion insists they can somehow generate energy from nowhere and heat the atmosphere and the earth. This can be seen in all the IPCC diagrams 'explaining' the greenhouse hypothesis. The most common one (Kiehl - Trenberth) shows input from the Sun at 342 Wm-2
of which 107 Wm-2 is reflected ie only 235 Wm-2 is absorbed by the atmosphere or the ground, yet, amazingly, the diagram shows the ground radiating back 390 Wm-2 + 24 Wm-2 + 78 Wm-2 = 492 Wm-2.
This is more than twice the amount of energy originally received from the Sun! Where has this miraculous catch of energy appeared from? From nowhere. It’s magic.

Nearly all religions have an 'enemy'. Climate religion certainly does: 'greenhouse' gases and people who generate them Or deny man-made climate change.

Nearly all religions have a Threat: “believe our religion or else face doom.” Climate religion certainly has that.

Nearly all religions have zealots - people who are convinced that it is their duty, by all means, fair or foul, to compel everyone to believe their creed. Climate religion certainly ticks that box, and Dr Brayne would seem to fit the picture of the zealot.

Most religions stigmatise dissenters as heretics, ban their books and articles and refuse them platforms to speak on. Sometimes going further and forcing them to recant of their errors. Climate religion definitely ticks that box.

2. I fear Dr Brayne does show early signs of religious mania. I suggest that he seeks medical advice.


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匿名 | Anonymous


问题是,要理解其中的科学,你需要博士学位以及毕生从事研究。就像我。那么,读到了一个在这方面没有资格的人对IPCC立场的的认可, 实在令人很担忧的。


直到2004年物理学家们似乎知道了真相。但是IPCC权威的立场 - 那就是1978-1998 的暖化大部分是源于 “人类活动导致全球变暖” (Ahthropogenic Global Warming AGW) - 却倒退不了。根据一篇受争论的学术文,IPCC的第四轮评估报告(The Fourth Assessment Report ,AR4)抛弃了天体物理学的解释。

今年是埃尔尼诺现象年,是关键的一年,因为气象局的模式预测到2014年的气温迅速升高,将把我们回AGW的预算轨道。但是据保罗. 赫德笋在他的BBC 气候播客中所写, 一個非常活跃的拉尼娜现象和安静的太阳可能再导致一个严寒的北方冬季。


气候科学的权威人士对那些认为是利用了IPCC去力争个人目标的人, 张开了口诛笔伐。似乎,软弱的太阳活动周期预测了像发生在十七世纪的急剧变化,而我们可能进入了一个小冰河时期。中国和俄罗斯把IPCC放弃了,而好像在为明显的全球变冷做准备。

那么,什么导致了1978-1998期间的暖化呢?了解内情的人都知道80%是太阳能,20%是由于人类活动。 如果我们在北欧遭到历时超过一个世纪的阻塞高压,那些风轮机产不出来多少的能源!(smc 翻译)

Poor man

The problem that to understand the science you have to have a PhD and a lifetime in research. I do. So, to read such an endorsement of the IPCC's position from a person incapable of making such a judgement is very worrying.

The IPCC's stance is provably wrong. Most models over-predict so much they are corrected by assumed 'aerosol cooling' via clouds. In 1996, the existence of such an effect was an accepted part of cloud physics. However, the confidence was misplaced: the theory only applies to thin clouds; there is no experimental proof that it works for thick clouds - cloud albedo in the polluted Northern hemisphere is the same as in the unpolluted South. Game over.

By 2004, it seems the physicists knew the truth. However, the IPCC establishment could not retreat from its position that 1978-1998 heating was mostly due to AGW. On the basis of one contested paper, AR4 rejected the credible astrophysical explanation.

This year, an El Nino year, is key because the Met Office model predicts rapid heating to 2014 to bring us back on the AGW track. However, as Paul Hudson writes in his BBC weatherman blog, a very active La Nina and the quiet sun may cause another very cold Northern winter.

I hope he isn't sacked for questioning the BBC's orthodoxy. But on the other hand, I detect a gradual shift of position as experimental fact disproves the models, e.g. the Met Office has discontinued long range forecasts.

The climate science establishment is rounding on those perceived as having used the IPCC to push their own agendas. It looks like the weak solar cycle predicts an abrupt change of behaviour like happened in the early 17th century and we may be entering a new little ice age. The Chinese and the Russians have given up on the IPCC and appear to be preparing for significant global cooling.

So what did cause heating between 1978 and 1998? The smart money is 80% solar/20% AGW. And if we do get the blocking high for well over a Century in Northern Europe, the wind turbines won't produce much power!