The atolls and islands of Kiribati are not more than a few meters above sea level. Photo: Finn Frandsen, Politiken

Indifference and effects of COP18

Indifference and effects of COP18: have we missed the boat on climate change? Psychotherapist Rosemary Randall calls for more focus in an opinion piece for The Guardian …

Psychotherapists aren’t fond of making predictions. The individual psyche is too full of conflicts, too labile and too contrary to make prediction a rewarding move. Is sustainability any easier to predict? I doubt it. There are as many conflicting currents in the bigger psychological landscape as in the individual one.

The interaction between political events and individual psyche is complex. Although public events can seem remote, we experience them emotionally – with anxiety, amusement or disgust for example, depending on what is featured and what we allow to affect us. These moods feed back into the actions of powerful players and produce what I call a public psychological landscape. There is the sense of an overall terrain – desert, pasture, mountain or wilderness – populated by features that come and go as you travel through it.

If sustainability is the landscape, then within it we will find competing moods, broad sweeps of feeling, forbidden subjects and repressed desires. We might trudge through miles of unspoken anxiety, knock up against pockets of paranoia, rest for a while in the sunshine of optimism or struggle in a fog of indifference. The landscape looks different, depending on where you are standing. And the weather can change without warning.

Missing the boat

Three years ago, in December 2009, my son returned home from Copenhagen. He had been at COP15 with UNFairplay, the organisation he and some friends set up to help small countries who could not fund enough delegates to attend the flood of meetings or digest the mass of paper. He worked with the delegation from Kiribati, a small island in the Pacific, already experiencing the effects of climate change. He was pale, exhausted and quiet, the failure of the conference etched on his face. The train to the ferry port had been delayed. “We nearly missed the boat,” he said. For Kiribati, there was no “nearly”. COP15 was the day the world missed the boat and the political and psychological landscape changed.

This year, news from COP18 at Doha has been sparse. Even the Guardian hasn’t reported the outcome in its print edition (though its online coverage has been good). In the three years that separate these two conferences, the public appetite for news of climate change has vanished. The psychological landscape appears to be one of indifference. Concern seems to have evaporated. Lobbyists for a third runway and for new roads express confidence. Oil exploration companies are chipper and unashamed. Among the middle classes it is OK to fly again.

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