Letter to the Climate Shrinks

by | Jan 25, 2013

BBC Radio 4 show, Thinking Allowed had a feature on the psychoanalysts perspective on climate change this week. Bishop Hill picked up the story. Thinking Allowed is one of my favourite programmes, so I was a tad disappointed to hear that thinking isn’t allowed if it’s thinking that contradicts climate orthodoxy. Here’s my letter to the programme.

Dear Laurie,

I refer to your section on climate change and psychoanalysis in your most recent programme.

Your feature frames the problem as a failure to recognise what one of your guests called ‘the reality of climate change’, which moved on to a discussion about ‘types of denial’. However, if psychoanalysis has anything to say in the climate debate, it must speak to climate sceptics as much as their counterparts.

Sally Weintrobe lets the cat out of the bag when she claims that we are ‘increasingly aware’ of ‘weird weather’, citing hurricane Sandy and the UK’s recent wet weather. Yet there was nothing remarkable about the weather last year. The IPCC’s recent special report on extreme weather found that there is no evidence of increased frequency or intensity of storms, floods or droughts, or losses caused by them attributable to anthropogenic climate change.

So psychoanalysis must have something to say about Sally Weintrobe’s misconception of the ‘reality’ of climate change represented by the IPCC. Her views on climate seem to be as far out of kilter with the scientific consensus as any “denier’s”.

Further to her misconception of the reality of climate change is Weintrobe’s misconception of climate sceptics’ arguments. There are many forms of climate scepticism. Some sceptics object to environmental ethical or political philosophy. Some object to environmental economics. Some object to the attempt to mobilise political action through the use of fear. And of course, some sceptics object to some of the claims that seem to emerge from climate science. Your guests would have us believe that sceptics contest the claim that ‘global warming is happening’, whereas the question that most sceptics of climate science ask is about the role of feedback mechanisms that are believed to amplify the global warming effect — a subject on which there is far less consensus that your guests will admit.

For a programme with the title, ‘thinking allowed’, this is a problem. Rather than doing justice to the debate, a psychopathology of climate scepticism is proposed. Thus thinking is not allowed: to think differently about climate change is to have a broken mind, requiring the intervention of psychoanalysts.

There is a dark history of psychoanalysts and psychiatrists being recruited by the state to elicit the obedience of the public. Your guests seem to want to continue that tradition. That desire for control is what this climate sceptic objects to.

The recruitment of headshrinkers to a political campaign is a far more concerning phenomenon than people living in ‘denial’ of ‘the reality of climate change’. Your guests would rather construct elaborate theories about the pathology of climate sceptics than speak to them. Thus, their theories stand as a demonstration of only what is happening inside their own heads, rather than in society at large. This in turn speaks about the nature of environmental politics and the anti-democratic tendency of environmentalism.


  1. Jim south London

    Pscho(analyst) called Sally

    So Ben did the KGB lock away political dissidents in Mental Hospitals in the old USSR during the Cold War .

  2. Stonyground

    When I first came across this at BH it made me feel a little bit cross but then I thought about it a bit. “I’m so sure that I’m right that everyone who disagrees with me must be crazy”, isn’t really much of an argument is it? Climate change alarmism is more than twenty years old now, and as a consequence, so are many of the alarmist’s dire predictions.

    North pole ice free by 2012, no more snow in England after 2000, rising sea levels swallowing the Maldives and coastal towns everywhere, etc. Extreme weather is the latest thing, unfortunately for them, the UK alarmists predicted droughts not floods and then claimed victory anyway.

    All we sceptics need to do is bide our time. Reality will prove the alarmists wrong eventually. I hope that we are not too magnanimous as to fail to rub their noses in it once it happens.

  3. bernie

    Excellent piece. Very clearly written. I cannot seem to download the program here in the US. I have, however, tried to list to some of Sally Weintrobe on Youtube. I find it very difficult going. What I heard was so abstract and metaphor laden it was difficult to understand what bits of reality she was actually concerned about. Was she any clearer on the program?

  4. Fay Tuncay

    Excellent letter Ben.

    Sally Weintrobe claims of being ‘increasingly aware’ of ‘weird weather’, has also been mentioned by Greenpeace and other NGO types. I think they must send each other email updates on the new scare line to follow. They are now attempting to make weather a superstitious rather than scientific issue.

    Stonyground other missing predictions that just didn’t happen:
    1. the desertification of Turkey
    2. 50 million climate refugees by 2010

  5. RoHa

    Psychoanalysis and anthropogenic climate change theory belong together. They are both junk science.

  6. Mooloo

    I have to say I agree with RoHa. Expecting sensible science out of a person who works as a psychoanalyst is asking too much. Actually, expecting sense is too much to ask – she’s just a modern witch doctor, after all.

    This is a woman whose specialty appears to be chasing down a non-existent type of “denier” in order to edit articles about “the need to mourn before we can engage in a positive way with the new conditions we find ourselves in.”

  7. geoff Chambers

    I’m sorry to see attacks on psychoanalysis here. Whether psychoanalysis works as a cure, and whether Freud’s theories of the unconscious are true, is beside the point here.
    Weintrobe’s job is to cure people of their mental problems, of which anxiety and stress are major symptoms. She’s worried that people are not worried enough. A medical practitioner who’s concerned that her patients are not ill enough – that’s serious. Weintrobe sees to understand this at some unconscious (there I go again) level, since in the interview she tries to steer discussion away from psychoanalysis towards the social sciences in general.
    Weintrobe on her own is not the problem. Freud accepted practicisng Catholics as psychoanalysts, so why not practising Green activists? Her book is a joint effort to get all the social scientists working together to change our minds. Everyone accepts that 97% of climate scientists are not enough to change the climate. They’re hoping that 97% of socilal scientists may have more luck.
    I’m transcribing the Laurie Taylor interview. It should go up at Alex Cull’s Mytranscriptbox later today.

  8. Lewis Deane

    Yes, Ben, Thinking Allowed is one of my favorite programs, too. Mostly because of Laurie Taylor who, although sometimes very ‘right on’ is, often, more than not, saved by his wit and humor. And also by his great knowledge about his own subject, among other things.
    On psychoanalysis I’m with Geoff here. It isn’t a question of ‘truth’ but of, in the best hands, an imaginative exercise which produces productive fictions. I’m surprised Peter S hasn’t commented yet!
    Would you tell us if you get a reply to your ‘provoking’ missive? It would be interesting to note. Maybe Laurie will mention it next broadcast?

  9. Lewis Deane

    Your editing function doesn’t seem to work – I meant to add – perhaps Aunt Sally is just a bad psychoanalyst!

  10. Lewis Deane

    On Radio 4 now? Animal Farm – what a glorious parable! One of the set texts in my day. You see Radio 4 is good for something if that’s not OT.

  11. Lewis Deane

    Sorry for repeat posts and off topic – but comrade Snowball is Trotsky, yes?

  12. Mooloo

    I’m sorry to see attacks on psychoanalysis here. Whether psychoanalysis works as a cure, and whether Freud’s theories of the unconscious are true, is beside the point here.

    You appear to be saying that it does not matter whether a medical theory works or not? To me the sine qua non of a useful medical theory is that it actually has some basis in fact.

    Psychotherapy is out there with fairies. Which some people also believe in, I hasten to add.

    I got into climate scepticism because I really dislike bad science. When that is then used to push other agenda, then my blood rises. For the same reason, I cannot support psychotherapy as anything other than a ridiculous way to analyse literature. It’s bogus through and through (and harmful, for instance when “frigid” mothers are blamed for autism in their children).

    For science, working is never beside the point.

  13. geoff Chambers

    Lewis Deane
    Yes, Snowball is Trotsky (or Boris Johnson). No, I don’t believe psychoanalysis is “an imaginative exercise which produces productive fictions”.
    Whether Freud’s theories of the unconscious and of infantile sexuality are true or not is a logically separate question from that of whether psychotherapy “works”.
    Dowsing “works”. Some people really hate that (e.g. Monbiot, who uses it as an argument: “Axel Morner believes in water divining. Therefore he’s wrong about sea levels. Therefore the Maldives are disappearing”).
    The fact that the two interviewees were psychotherapists is not that important, I think. Both of them were at pains to deny the kind of reductionism which gives psychology such a bad name. They emphasised the need for a cultural, as well as a psychological analysis of climate denialism, and I’m with them there, as long as it’s applied to both sides of the debate. That’s the important point which Ben emphasises in his letter.
    It’s easy to poke fun at Weintrobe, who was nervous, and hadn’t the time to expose her ideas. It’s more interesting, I think, to examine Laurie Taylor’s role. He starts by saying: “we’re not in this particular discussion debating the science of climate change, we’re taking as given the broad consensus among scientists…”, which gave the green light for his interviewees to talk about “climate chaos” and weird weather”.
    They all seemed to accept Dépêche Mode’s doggerel as the literal truth. Taylor said it “presciently it bemoans the lack of proper attention [the planet] receives”. Now that really is out with the fairies.

  14. Lewis Deane

    Geoff, When I said ‘productive fictions’ I meant, with you, therapeutically productive. The conceptions of Freud are, by definition, fictional. Hence the beauty of his Case Histories. There luminous glow, a German shining, is part of that fiction. But I am not into the whole trashing of Freud, which is, or was, a kind of industry, based mostly on the reductive simple minded stupidity of bad reading. I like the late Freud, the Freud of Thanatos and Eros.
    Nice reference to Depeche Mode!

  15. Peter S

    Can you judge a book by looking at its cover?..
    ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0415667623/ref=rdr_ext_tmb )

    Given its lofty subject matter, one might have expected the front of Sally Weintrobe’s book to depict a man with his head in the clouds. But no. It opts instead for a man with the clouds in his head… where his brains used to be. This idealised portrait suggests that whatever ‘engagement’ the author of “Engaging with Climate Change” has in mind, vaporised brains are the desired outcome (the trouble with waterproof brains, of course, is that they are very difficult to wash). As Freudian slips go, it’s an impressive start.

    Inside, Weintrobe rushes through the usual AGW alarmism before announcing that “engagement with this extremely difficult reality is the subject of this book”, and later gets around to revealing that “engagement means facing our conflicts”.

    Weintrobe goes on – “…while people are conflicted and do want to avoid difficulty, they do need to face reality and experience their feelings of anger and grief at what they have lost before they are able to move on”. The author appears to confess to a radical difference between her own described “reality” and whatever reality other people may experience (sensually and intellectually) – identifying this difference as the conflict we “need to face” and the “loss” she anticipates we will have to accept as the result of doing so.

    Losing one’s reality, of course, is another way of describing going mad – so the author should hardly be surprised by people’s apparent noncompliance to her wishes. Instead, Weintrobe diagnoses the preference for keeping our own experienced reality – over losing it for her described one – as ‘denialism’. A Denialist, it turns out, is simply a bad loser… a person refusing to ‘face conflict’ with psychoanalyst Weintrobe out of anxiety that she may win – and demand her prize.

    As many know, this “engagement” bravado is a familiar noise from a movement famed for fleeing from all debate and avoiding any real exchange. Perhaps Weintrobe should have called her book – ‘Climate Change – Come-on, if You Think You’re ‘Ard Enough!’.

  16. David C

    Good letter Ben. I hope you’ll post any response you get. Laurie’s not incapable of an intelligent and considered response, but I fear he may not wish to stick his neck out on the subject.

  17. AlecM

    The positive feedback supposedly making CO2-AGW responsible via the water cycle for all lapse rate warming is a clever scam. It depends on a major error by Houghton who used the Schuster-Schwarzchild ‘two-stream approximation’ which is used in astrophysics but breaches the most basic of radiation physics, Poynting’s Theorem, which states that the vector sum of all arriving vectors at a point.

    This is why all heat transfer calculations and measurements work in all other disciplines except Atmospheric physics act on the basis of identifying the net energy flow. The two-stream approximation considerably exaggerates the heating in the climate models hence no climate model can predict climate.

  18. geoff Chambers

    Brilliant analysis of the cover. It’s obviously worse than we thought. I was taken in by the wimpishness of Weintrobe and Hoggett.
    There are Amazon reviews of this book by Chris Rapley, Naomi Klein, and Stefano Bolognini, President Elect of the International Psychoanalytic Association.
    Dr Bolognini calls it “more shocking than a fantasy novel”. Professor Rapley observes that “we are all much less rational than we care to think” and Naomi Klein talks of “how… the psychology of denial, compassion and cruelty can help break the climate deadlock” (doesn’t say whose cruelty).
    Rapley, as head of the Science Museum, once put on a crap exhibition on climate change at two months’ notice on the orders of environment minister Ed Miliband. That is the action of a Soviet apparatchik, not a scientist.
    Contributors to the book include a senior training and supervising psychoanalyst for the Institute of Psychoanalysis, many other shrinks (including at the Tavistock Institute, where I spent many a happy horizontal half hour) and professors and – Bob Ward.

  19. Mark Shepherd

    Spot on Ben,
    I happened to be listening to that program whilst in the kitchen. I was so annoyed that I was apparently shouting at the radio; or so my wife tells me… How can the science be settled, if the Doom ‘n’ Gloomers, have had to change the mantra from Global Warming, to Climate Change, or the Met Office has had to retrospectively alter predicted global warming graphs? Shame on the BBC, and the broadcasters for going along with this sham.

    I’m still trying to chase down ‘Ethical man’ Justin Rowlatt, for that abomination of andn experiment in ‘global warming in a bottle’ on Newsnight, where two plastic bottles with two ‘sun’ lamps trained upon them. One with our atmosphere’s 0.04% CO2, and the other with ‘a ‘slight’ increase using baking powder and vinegar, to a conservative guess of say 4% CO2, a 10 000% increase in levels. What kind of industrial revolution would be required for that increase? The scientists involved should be held to account for this deception, not to mention Justin, and Newsnight for that matter.


    Perhaps someone with more influence could follow this up for me…

  20. AlecM

    Mark Shepherd: the experiment proves CO2 absorbs IR energy but not the ‘direct thermalisation’ part. If you replace the PET bottles with Mylar [oriented PET] balloons one twelfth the wall thickness, there is no detectable warming proving that following absorption, the energy pseudo-diffuses to be absorbed at the boundaries. Lower boundary thickness reduces the amount trapped hence the warming.

    In the atmosphere, the IR energy is converted to heat in clouds, not the air. The conversion to grey body spectrum puts about a fifth of it into space, a potent cooling process.

  21. Stuart Baker

    Very good to know I wasn’t alone in being utterly dismayed to hear the ‘climate effect on thought processes’ invading Taylor’s normally entertaining programme. I considered writing to BBC about it but it seemed a bit hopeless, so glad you did a very good job on behalf of all of us.

    Incidentally my own background is many years of modelling & forecasting – but of computers themselves. Remarkable that determinate beasts, of minuscule proportions compared to the big bad climate, can be almost impossible to model satisfactorily, even with much immediate feedback from actual experimental data. I consider myself part of the new generation, very leary about any claims to know what the world will be like in even a short time ahead. Not a ‘denier’, more a doubter. I remember from my early days in Experimental Psychology the folly of mathematical models applied to animal learning, and the total failure to effectively predict anything in reality. Ironic that I am married to a psychotherapist, whose theoretical basis now seems more convincing than all that phony math…

    Taking a chance using my name, but agree with Jaron Lanier’s views on anonymity’s unfortunate interaction with internet culture.

  22. geoff Chambers

    The papers contained in the book were read at a 2010 conference, which you can see at
    It starts on an upbeat note, with Rosemary Randall anouncing that
    “For each tonne of carbon dioxide I’m responsible for, someone else, somewhere loses a year of their lives.”
    Watching these people, you have to remind yourself that this is the intellectual elite (plus Bob Ward).

  23. Vinny Burgoo

    Geofff, re ‘both sides’: Rosemary Randall once trick-cycled far enough into the Dark Side to recognize that Greenpeace-type activism is driven by narcissism. Not in the book, AFAICT.

  24. Marcel Meyer

    Why don’t you fight the the expression “denying climate change” ? It is stupid and very misleading. For two decades we opposed the AGW hysteria by explaining that climate has always changed and will always change, and that the warming we saw during the 20th century was neither exceptionnal by its speed nor by its magnitude, and now these people tell us that we deny climate change ? Come on…

  25. Ben Pile

    Marcel – Why don’t you fight the the expression “denying climate change” ?

    Because there are only so many hours in the day.

  26. geoff Chambers

    I googled “Rosemary Randall” + greenpeace to try and track down your source.
    I found
    where she says:
    ‘Consumerism’ has long been attacked by society’s moral guardians as evidence of moral decline. Contemporary labels of disapproval such as the ‘effluent society’ and ‘affluenza’ replace older ones such as ‘the throw-away society’ and ‘conspicuous consumption’. The long tradition of English puritanism can always be relied on to disapprove of anything enjoyable, dubbing it feckless and self-indulgent, and promising damnation in some form or another for those who succumb. It is not my purpose to join such voices…”
    Hear, hear to that.

    She also justifies the use of the word “denier” by quoting Freud’s use, which I haven’t found cited in the videos (though I haven’t watched all 6+ hours):
    “When Freud first wrote about denial (or disavowal as it is sometimes translated) he identified it as a response to something in the external world which is experienced as traumatic. His example was the small boy’s discovery that the little girl does not possess a penis. (Freud 1923 and 1924).”

    Zapping through the two-day conference at the Institute of Psychoanalysis, it’s surprising how little psychoanalytic thought is on show. Maybe psychoanalysis, like politics and scientific journalism, is just another corner of our intellectual world (and a not insignificant one at that, whatever some here may think) that has lost all confidence in itself.
    If you’re suffering from fears of castration, (impotence, loss of control) what better boost to your ego than a graph that goes wooooooosh! upwards?

  27. Alex Cull

    Must have a go at transcribing some of those ecopsychological videos and podcasts – ecopsychologists doing their thing and Bob Ward, it’s difficult to resist the thought of adding these to the collection.

    One thing that I find intriguing, and which Sally Weintrobe refers to in her comment that we’re “in a culture of denial”, is the way it seems the psychologists have turned the traditional model of therapy on its head, almost. In the past, society in general was held to be largely “well” (a huge generalisation, possibly) and someone suffering from excessive depression and anxiety was held to be “sick” or somehow maladjusted.

    However, one of the implications of ecopsychology is surely that the majority of us who are either mostly indifferent to or sceptical about climate change – and who might also consider ourselves reasonably happy – are actually “sick” and experiencing a kind of false consciousness, while someone who is feeling depression and despair when they think about climate change would be considered less sick, because they would be transitioning away from denial and through the stages of despair, fear etc., towards acceptance and (presumably) wellness. A rather curious, topsy-turvy state of affairs, really. The aim would be to get everyone to go through depression and despair! (In a different context, recall the words of Dr. Steven Moffic: “remember that at times we indeed try to make our patients more anxious or guilty when we want them to be more compliant.”)

    As an experiment, google “ecopsychology” and a few words from Krishnamurti’s saying “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” and see how many fascinating ecopsych articles you find!

    Re Ro Randall, she blogs at http://rorandall.org/ and seems like a gentle soul, although the tone of her posts seems to be mostly that of quiet despair. Here is her reaction to the London Olympics, for instance:

    In the euphoria of the race, the chase and the victory lap, anything seems possible. Ordinary people, watching from the comfort and safety of the sofa, are temporarily uplifted and reassured. The downside is yet to be felt – from the arthritis that cripples athletes in later life, to the financial debt and the 3.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions estimated by the organizers as the baseline footprint of the games (London 2012, 2010). The sad truth is that we are not Gods. Our relationship to the rest of the natural world is not as we dream.

    Oh, dear. She also has problems with the term “fracking”, reminiscent as it is of another, similar word:

    So the young geologists joking about ‘fracking’ play into a view of the earth and its natural resources as a woman to be similarly objectified and exploited. She is to be explored, controlled and penetrated. Once used – damaged and polluted – she can be abandoned and virgin territory sought.

    The protestors adopt a similar language of domination, this time framed as masculine ownership: “Get your fracking hands off my village.” “Frack off our land.” It’s the voice of the young man squaring up to his rival, or the patriarch seeing off the invader who has dared to make an advance to his women.


    The idea of the earth as female or maternal has long been a rich metaphor for poets, painters and writers struggling to express the complexities of human relationships to the other-than-human. In the impoverished language of ‘fracking’ it reaches a new low however, normalising male dominance and locking the debate into an argument about whether or not the procedure is harmful rather than one about the necessity to abandon all fossil fuels, however they have been extracted.

    Here she does get a comment, from a woman who tells her: “If you as a person are offended by the term “fracking” then I would be inclined to think that you don’t have enough problems in your life!” She responds patiently, reminding her reader that the point of the post is that it is about how language frames the way we think about an issue and that in this case, “a complex issue is framed through a metaphor which views women and nature as subordinate to male control.”

    Here was me thinking that the issue was about abundant, affordable energy and the opportunity to heat our homes and avoid freezing to death in the winter. But then I’m still in deep climate denial, infected with the false consciousness of consumerism and obviously in urgent need of radical ecotherapy, so what do I know?

  28. Vinny Burgoo

    Shit! Same doc.

    Sorry, Geoff. Definitely time for bed.

  29. Peter S

    Geoff – thanks for transcribing the Thinking Allow programme. It’s very useful.

    Sally Weintrobe: … I think our relationship with Mother Earth is not just reducible to how we relate to our mothers, that mother, but it does actually help us to understand issues like dependency. We’re very dependent, as children, on our mothers and on our parents, and we have great difficulty in allowing ourselves to know about our dependency on the Earth. In fact, we have these little mantras like “Save the Planet” as if the Earth is dependent on us. We reverse that relationship. You know, so I think there are parallels, but only up to a point.

    Sally seems to be pushing ‘dependency’ for all it’s worth. So we might wonder what you can do with a dependent adult that would be more difficult to do with one that isn’t.

    It’s true to say that humans feel need throughout their lives, but is Sally trying to mischaracterise need as dependence? Young children need as much as adults do – the difference being that they are dependent upon a third-party for those needs to be met. ‘Mother’ represents ‘authority’ and a young child’s dependence is on this authority agreeing to allow access to the needed object (eg, ‘breast’).

    By forcing this description of early life into being accepted as the model of all life, Sally risks being seen either as useless at her job… or, as harbouring a secret wish behind it (a wish obscured by fluffy clouds?). The ‘Earth’ (or bits of it) may meet our ongoing needs as adults, but the authority in the transaction now belongs elsewhere. In fact, we have internalised it as part of the process of growing up.

    Rather than being dependent on an external authority, we are now reliant on our own internal one. And, because it is an integral part of who we are, it is just as much a resource as outside objects are. As such, we put it to use negotiating and exchanging the things we have a felt need for… a process that was psychologically and physically impossible in early childhood.

    If this is a good-enough description to use, Sally’s project becomes a brutal attempt to split adulthood apart and reengineer ‘dependency’ and its causative surrogate ‘authority’ back into the experience of living. If negotiation and exchange are recognised by healthy psychoanalysis as an achievement to reaching full human potential – sick psychoanalysis identifies them as the obstacle to its dark intent.

    Skimming around the internet, a number of psychoanalysts most loudly privileging ‘dependency’ appear to be menopausal women. Of course, the lack of public interest in analysis coupled with their own redundancy as mothers may be an unconscious motivator behind their outbursts. But only by blowing away the fluffy, virginal clouds of ‘climate change’ will we begin to get a glimpse of the what lurks beneath.

  30. geoff Chambers

    I started transcribing Hoggett in 2012, and I transcribed Bob Ward’s reply to Rosemary in 2010. I listened to quite a few excerpts, trying to find out who and what they think sceptics are. Not much luck. Hoggett in 2012 quotes just one sceptic, Sarah Palin, and one climate authority – George Monbiot. They reminded me of Richard North’s description of the BBC executives in 28gate, who seem to know no more than what they read in the Guardian.

    The Weintrobe paragraph you quote puzzled me whe I transcribed it. Humans are dependent at both ends of their life, so there’s nothing illogical in “reversing the relationship”. What’s illogical is comparing the planet to a person, since it is to all intents and purposes, immortal. Its infancy and eventual senility are unknowable. Unless you think of it as being like a seriously ill person, of course – another dependent group.
    I’m wondering what kind of Hippocratic oaths psychoanalysts have to take. Freud insisted on not making moral judgements, and not trying to influence patients’ political and religious beliefs. Not only did the mebers of the seminar do it all the time, they seemed often unaware of it.

  31. Paul Matthews

    In today’s Thinking Allowed, Laurie Taylor read out several letters from sceptics, see
    starting at about 10:40

    Could this be added to the transcript?
    Some good bits eg

    “The subject is being hijacked by bandwaggon-jumping politicians and social scientists seeking to turn genuine doubt into a psychological problem”.

    and he read Ben’s “There is a dark history…” paragraph.

  32. Neil Bailey

    I heard this programme and the following morning reeled off a complaint straight away to the BBC. I used the programme website so was limited to 1,000 characters but hopefully still got my message across.

    What a dreadful one-sided bit of propaganda this was and how typical of the institutionally biased BBC on the issue of climate science. I’d never heard of Sally Wahteverhername was but boy was she on the green message and is probably the first scientist I’ve ever heard talking about “mother earth”!

    You didn’t need all the pschyobabble to understand that people don’t buy into the AGW/CO2 hype not because they’re stupid or awkward or in deniil but because they have the intelligence to spot when they’re being sold a pup.

  33. Peter S

    Geoff – “What’s illogical is comparing the planet to a person, since it is to all intents and purposes, immortal.”

    Sally uses the word ‘dependent’ to mislead (either her audience or herself). She could have made a psychoanalytical point by describing a child’s life as being contingent upon its mother. But that would not have lent her words the emotionally manipulative content she wanted them to have – especially in her attempt to equate this relationship with an adult’s to the ‘Earth’. By the time she gets to adults, her meaning of dependency has subtly shifted in tone towards addiction (and, of course, its denial).

    It’s common knowledge that a parent plays a vital dual role in a child’s life – both as a resource and as the maker-of-boundaries determining access to resources. It’s a truism that the Earth is a resource for adults – but what Sally leaves unsaid in trying to force her association (and what she hopes we don’t notice) is the Earth’s inability to control and set limits to its use. To agree to Sally’s “reality” of the Earth is, by extension, to agree to a surrogate power her accomplices are demanding for themselves.

    In a child/parent relationship, pretty much all the boundaries set are non-negotiable. When we try to impose this same dynamic onto adult/adult relationships, we call it fascism.

  34. Lewis Deane

    Yes, I heard Laurie Taylors rather ‘bitchy’ reading of an out of context arch acting of a quote from Ben. Well beneath him.

  35. Lewis Deane

    To add, it was the last letter that he read on that subject but the way he read it seemed to tell something – what, I don’t know? For, to do him justice, he read quite a few ‘skeptic’ letters without the aforesaid archness (and I can imagine he was sort of compelled to by a deluge of ‘skeptics’ and ‘enthusiasts’ some of whose missives must of been very much less than sub -par – an embarrassment!).
    As a sociologist, however jaded, surely that might have piqued his interest – a so called psychoanalyst, at this moment in history, provoking a reaction! Or that this subject, itself, is fought over. Even if he felt nothing for the deeper issues – ie politics, that we are, to quote the man, political animals. That rational discourse is more than infantile ’emotion’, is rational.
    More, that is to say, than merely psychology, more, even, than a societal construct – a question of truth, of political morality, of being ‘concerned’ (as in Heidegger), of thinking? But we live in a reductive world were every action of a man or woman is reduced to some kind of stupidity, a jadedness, a cynicism. Laurie Taylor is a jaded cynic (from the Greek for dog). (Even being a dog can be gracious – read Bunyan, ‘the worst of sinners!)

  36. Lewis Deane

    Peter S,

    (Yes, I’ve got a day off!) What intrigues but then repels is the ‘poetry’ of psychoanalysis, the way language can be used to tell a story (so that, and I know this is unfair, an ms sufferer is ‘persuaded’ their symptoms are those of hysteria), a kind of sophistry (in the best, Greek sense of that term) which, if abused, can make any colour any colour. Sally is not abusing this but using it. A bad use but where are the rules and those rules are merely ‘fuzzy’ ethics and ‘so called’ personal integrity. It is a discourse that has lost all faith in itself.
    Don’t get me wrong, those ‘stories’, ‘by the best hands’, can be incredibly powerful, I’m sure, therapeutically, for the ‘analysand’. They are ‘stories’, nevertheless. (From a Jungian point of view, no problem). But they can tend to infantilise and undermine proper, adult, rational attempts at understanding and the consequent debates. Debate and listening to debate as debate, rather than the temptation to ‘reduce’ that debate to ‘impulse’ and ‘Mother’ etc. What do you think?

  37. Lewis Deane

    Geoff and Peter S,

    As for the ‘earth’, it is a very ahistorical term for something that is very much determined in time and place – I’m sure Erde or svet means something completely different. The concept of an ‘Earth’ is not quite what the Greeks, for instance, understood – the Earth, par example, as apposed to the Sea. What do we think by the term Earth – perhaps, that picture taken from the moon? Completely inconceivable in earlier times. If some now fall into an Attenborough-like sentimental anthropomorphism that is a very late and perhaps really stupid ideation. A German and less than German conception (Welt – Wald – the woods). Yes, the ancients had a sacred perception of their ‘ground’ but it was very territorialised and, as it were, disassociated from it’s use, except for ‘sacred’ points or places. The latter ‘sacredness’, then, extended, stretched thin, ‘like butter’, like a massive condom, over the whole Globe – another modern invention? A word ‘over-determined’ as to mean almost nothing? Or, Peter S, how can one be infantalized, be made ‘dependant’ about that which one stands on? “What have you been doing in the Earth?” “Walking up and down it” Goethe, Faust, Intro.

  38. Alex Cull

    @ Lewis: Yes, I noticed the way Laurie quoted Ben, and toyed with the idea of adding “[puts on a mock sinister tone of voice]” to the transcript at that point.

    @ Peter S, Lewis, Geoff, everyone: There’s a paradox, it seems, in ecopsychological thought. On the one hand we encounter the idea of childlike dependency (and implied powerlessness), as infants of Mother Nature, but on the other hand, we also encounter the idea that humanity is all too powerful.

    First the dependency, as David Suzuki describes it in an interview for Democracy Now during last year’s Rio +20:

    And if we don’t see that we are utterly embedded in the natural world and dependent on nature, not technology, not economics, not science – we’re dependent on Mother Nature for our very well-being and survival. If we don’t see that, then our priorities will continue to be driven by man-made constructs like national borders, economies, corporations, markets. Those are all human-created things. They shouldn’t dominate the way we live. It should be the biosphere.

    However, humans are also powerful, but it seems in a negative way, as ecopsychologist Renée Soule describes it here (very long link, therefore compressed):

    The human psyche has become a mighty force of nature. Our attitudes, everyday behaviors, passions, and ambivalences shape life on our planet. Inexorable pressures of technology and globalization are causing more and more people to live in urban settings where water comes from pipes, food magically appears in bins, and cash materializes with the push of a few buttons. Modern consumers in the developed world live viscerally and mentally separated from sources of life that sustain physical existence. Due to our lifestyles and ignorance, ecosystems are in radical decline. Ecopsychology arises in response to this precarious situation…

    So we’re totally dependent on nature but are, at the same time, a mighty (negative) force of nature?

    The term “ecopsychology” seems to have originated with Theodore Roszak, who also I think originated “counterculture”. Here’s an interview with him from 1998 which is fascinating (once you get past the numerous typos). Some deeply odd stuff in it; at one point he says “… you know urban culture is very recent, it’s a very recent development. The first urban society which was England is no more than about a century and a half old.” (Really?)

    There’s also much here about the earth or biosphere as mother:

    Jeffrey Mishlove: One of the things that you suggest is that Freud may have almost gotten it backwards when he talks about a primal crime against the father that perhaps the crime was against mother – nature.

    Theodore Roszak: Well, that’s a rather lyrical way of putting it. But it’s true. I mean usually we think of the earth as a mother figure. And what if the foundations of human madness have more to do with a crime against that mother than they have to do with any transgression against a hypothetical primordial father. At least that’s what I’m suggesting might be the deepest rout [root?] of madness and that madness is most highly emphasized most crucially in a society that is becoming more and more urban and industrial and growing further and further away from the mother earth that bore us into life in the first place. So it’s an interesting new image to use for understanding human nature, the nature of madness, the nature of sanity.


    … there are cultures that have survived for a very long period of time in conditions of trust and reciprocity with the natural environment. I don’t want pretend for a moment that I’m not trying to idealize or romanticize those relations between primary societies and the natural world because there’s often recognition that nature can be harsh and be severe. It can be punishing. The Gaia is an earth-mother, she can be a tough mother, a punishing mother if you want to speak in those terms. That there’s a kind of mature recognition of the fact that those are the terms of life. And you don’t break trust with the planet and seek to dominate it and exploit it for some short term advantage simply because the going is sometimes rough.

    The underlying sentiment seems to be that humanity should never really grow up, that it would be far better to remain forever sustained within a sort of planetary womb and that if everyone could somehow be persuaded to regress to a perfect childlike state and be reconciled to mother earth and her moods, how wonderful life would be.

  39. Ben Pile

    I wouldn’t be too worried about the tone in which Laurie Taylor read out his letters. I think it’s the way he often reads out all letters — mock exasperation, rather than in condescension — not just those about climate. Actually, I think he is unique (as is the programme) in having high expectations of the audience.

  40. Robert of Ottawa

    SPRU is a socialist propaganda tank, set up to provide a veneer of scientism to the socialist propaganda.

    BTW You have great patience with these twits.

  41. the diet solution

    I pay a quick visit daily a few websites and blogs to read posts, except this weblog provides quality based posts.

  42. Stew Green

    – Thanks for your post Ben, and to the other commenters particularly Alex Cull for transcribing the replies Laurie read out. I had also written to Laurie to complain. It’s good to know there are so many us in the real world despite the alternative reality the media bubble people throw at us, and that we sufficiently numerous to force Laurie into following up (however briefly).
    – PROJECTION is common characterisitc among activists so when Activists say “Skeptics have a psychological illness” we know what this really means.

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