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.
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.