The UK Green Party Surge (but don’t mention the environment)


The UK Green Party Surge (but don’t mention the environment)

Psychoanalytic insights into the disavowal of climate change

In the UK, there is a ‘Green Surge’ where party membership grew by 13000 members in one week, taking the party in January to 46,000 overtaking other parties such as UKIP and the Liberal Democrats in membership. “If the Greens’ growth rate were to continue, they would overtake the Tories (on around 134,000 members) toward the middle of March, and Labour (190,000) by the general election.”

There are many views as to why this is happening, disillusionment with the major parties and the desire for new politics across Europe, that is showing swings to far left, far right, and to independents and new parties such as Podemos in Spain.

The Green Surge has happened as the Greens have shifted their political message away from their core mission of the environment (green politics), to issues of justice (left politics).

Climate Change Denial

The trouble with selling the Green environmental message, is that it is too overwhelming, too distant and frankly too despairing i.e. we are all doomed!   Peoples everyday concerns outweigh a future catastrophe in the making, and who wants to think about future catastrophe anyway…its too devastating to contemplate. Climate change denial is one form of dealing with this, but Psychotherapist Paul Hogget discusses a more subtle form of denial that psychoanalysts call disavowal, that allows us to turn a blind eye, whilst knowing what is happening.

Psychoanalysis since Freud has linked denial to perversion. Besides the outright repudiation of disturbing reality that we see in psychosis there is a much more subtle and pervasive form of denial, called disavowal, in which one part of the mind sees whilst another discounts what is seen. The more subtle and pervasive form of denial accepts some or all of the evidence but finds ways of carrying on undisturbed.

Psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe agrees with Paul Hogget ….

that climate change denial is not best understood at an individual level, but needs situating within a perverse culture of denial………Disavowal is the territory of fraud, distortion and finding more enduring ways of not facing the truth and hanging onto our illusions. Disavowal can severely undermine our thinking, particularly being able to think rationally and with a sense of proportion.

So we have a Green party riding high on leftist-justice politics, and parking the climate change issues at the back of their mission bus. Politically this is astute and clearly working, disassociating themselves from the very thing they are most concerned about, but that the rest of us cannot bear to think about.

The trouble is that climate change and environmental issues are becoming political no-go areas, even by the Greens. However, through applying psychoanalytic thinking and understanding the psychodynamics of our collective disavowal, we can perhaps to begin to find collective ways to overcome the anxiety and fear. Paul Hogget in another paper says ‘The quandary we face is how to sound the alarm without being alarmist’….. but perhaps the task is not to sound the alarm at all, but to begin from a different place. As Lenin said to succeed we need to, “ ‘begin from the beginning again’ over and over again in approaching an extremely difficult task”.

A new beginning would be to abandon the castrophe warnings, and to connect the here-and-now challenges and peoples direct concerns with sustainable futures.

The Greens have such policies, such as building a green economy that not only works for a sustainable planet, but also provides jobs, new infrastructures, collective engagement of communities etc. So they need to find ways of communicating this. In my book Leadership a critical text (Western 2013) I write a chapter on Eco-leadership,,_Chapter_12_The_Eco_Leadership_Discourse.pdf

and cite examples of businesses and social enterprises which link their task of short term success in the present, with the task of creating a sustainable future. What surprised these leaders was how their new focus on sustainability and ethics, produced very unexpected gains. I once met Ray Anderson the late CEO from Interface, who led an exceptional turn-around in his global carpet business aside from doubling profits his vision of zero-waste in the company, led to raised morale, improved retention of talent, huge savings, and most of all an innovative culture. Pushing to make radical changes in sustainability, led to innovative changes in organizational structure, new business models and new products.

What has become clear to me, is that the only way to escape denial and disavowal, is to offer here-and-now opportunities to change things.

Leadership lessons

The by-product of being courageously ethical, leads to surprising rewards for all.

Coaching lessons

When faced with a leadership or organization engaged in disavowal, it doesn’t work to argue rationally!  As coaches we have to find creative ways to undo the leaders attachments to their disavowal. This always entails offering them some other attachment for their desire!