The psychoanalyst, writer and activist Susie Orbach, writing in This is Not a Drill, the Extinction Rebellion handbook, makes this cogent point: ‘The feminist movement taught us that speaking with one another allows truths to enter in and be held together.’ This is crucial when we are living in a time where evidenced reports are brazenly referred to as fake news, while lies and distortions are foisted on the public as undisputed facts.
Orbach notes the need ‘to create spaces in which we can share how difficult this hurt is and how to deal with our despair and rage.’ This might sound touchy-feely at first, but for those of us who live in Brexit-inflicted Britain, it rings too true. The Leave campaign created a public space for those hit by economic despair at a time when income inequality is writ large. The fact that these domestic problems had little to do with the European Union didn’t matter. The space for feelings of despair and rage had been created. The problem, of course, with this Brexit example, is that truths were not allowed to enter in.
Even though the environmental movement has science on its side, the selection and interpretation of the science can also be manipulated. Just listen to Pat Michaels, a climate scientist with legitimate credentials, who claims, often on Fox News, that human contribution to global warming is minor and that our planet is just going through a natural cycle.
I’m also bothered by the arguments that try to turn the climate crisis on its head. The growing interest in the Arctic by governments such as China, Russia and the US sees the melting ice as opening up sea passages and making undiscovered mineral and fuel resources accessible. I find this annoyingly paradoxical coming from the Trump administration that denies the existence of global warming.
Orbach’s advice to environmental activists is well-meaning, but doesn’t take into account all of these complexities. But she concludes her piece by encouraging us to ‘accept our own feelings of grief and fear and…to provoke conversations that touch the hearts of others.’ I think this is already taking place and can help to explain why the environmental crisis that has been talked about in some circles for decades is now part of our public discourse.
I’ll add to this my own advice to keep these conversations going and to translate them into actions.