The Worst Case Scenario for Global Warming — “Normalgeddon” — is Bad for Our Mental Wellness

David W. Oaks
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For four decades I have been an activist challenging the mental health industry. More and more I feel that the climate crisis should be one of the highest priorities for social change led by people who have personally experienced psychiatric abuse, and our allies. I affectionately call us The Mad Movement. It seems that almost every speaker against global warming ends their message the same way, that we can stop this catastrophe if society has the “will.” I believe that participants in The Mad Movement have an important insight into real sickness in society. As a psychiatric survivor, I have seen too much labeling of creative maladjustment as ill. We need to shake off our world’s complacency and numbness, also known as “normality.”

Sunday, September 21st, 2014, Eugene, Oregon, Debra and David (on right) beginning to march against global warming in solidarity with the event in New York City.
Sunday, September 21st, 2014, Eugene, Oregon, Debra and David (on right) beginning to march against global warming in solidarity with the event in New York City.

 

The beginning of 2015 marks the fifth anniversary of a little-known campaign by the well-respected environmental group 350.org that asks the approximately 7,000 local chambers of commerce in the USA to oppose the way the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, based in Washington, D.C., blocks national progress in the fight to stop global warming. 350 says that, “The Chamber has long opposed environmental standards, but on climate change, they’ve gone pretty near berserk” (www.chamber.350.org).

350’s main request of local chambers seems pretty modest — to simply issue a statement saying that the US Chamber “doesn’t speak for us” in its denial of human-caused climate change. Unfortunately, despite five years of effort by activists, only 56 local chambers have distanced themselves from the U.S. Chamber about global warming. That is less than one percent! I have helped organize many actions over the past five years to ask our local Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce to say anything about climate change, but regrettably we have been met by a wall of silence.

We have tried everything from writing letters to the editor, personally corresponding with board members, performing public street theater, and protesting inside the chamber office itself. And still, no substantial moves have been made. The Eugene Area Chamber’s board members relentlessly refuse to speak up for values that they profess to have.

I am extremely concerned about the disaster of climate change because I think of it as a one-two punch. The first punch is highly predictable and linear. Almost all scientists agree on this “unequivocal” punch. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spotlights the certainty of human-caused global warming hazards, such as sea-level rise. I am more interested in the second, surprise punch of runaway climate change, which is non-linear.

There has been a quiet revolution throughout the sciences that I like to call “the butterfly effect.” Others call this field the science of emergence, chaos, dynamic systems, or complexity. In short, when complex systems like Earth’s environment are disrupted, chaotic results can occur. Global warming may trigger amplifying, abrupt feedback effects, such as methane release as a result of warming permafrost. A little global warming may lead to an irreversible avalanche of extreme global warming. I call the worst case scenario of climate change “Normalgeddon.”

Right now, the Eugene chapter of 350.org is focusing on valuable state-wide campaigns such as blocking oil pipelines, divesting the University of Oregon Foundation from companies that profit from fossil fuels, and carbon-restrictive legislation. These campaigns are necessary, and we should rally for more support for these local efforts. We should also still support 350.org’s national campaign to get local chambers to speak out against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce president has always been responsive and civil to me personally, but he has also refused to speak out against the U.S. Chamber. He claims that the Eugene chamber is entirely independent. In a way, the Eugene community should see the Eugene Area Chamber’s refusal to speak up as a gift, because the climate crisis is no longer a faceless entity — it is embodied by our local chamber’s refusal to demand real change. Our chamber is also an actual place to peacefully protest. The chamber’s office is downtown at the corner of 14th and Willamette.

The planet’s issues are the people’s issues. Those of us who are the most marginalized and disenfranchised by existing inequality are the most vulnerable to impacts of the changing climate. All organizations fighting for people must fight for the planet, and vice versa. As a mental health and disability rights activist, connecting the issues of mental health and climate change are particularly important to me, but this work can and must be done in all realms. Please take up the leadership to nonviolently urge that the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, and its leaders, speak up about the U.S. Chamber and climate crisis.

After my wonderful wife Debra and I came home from last year’s climate march here in Eugene in solidarity with a huge New York City march, we turned to each other realizing that we had the exact same take-away message: Hope means acting from your own highest principles, without necessarily knowing what the outcome will be. I hope that the Eugene community and the board members of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce will think this through, and act on their own highest principles. After all, real mental well-being requires that we work now with a sense of urgency, unity, purpose and hope. Not only do we need a climate miracle, we need to construct our own miracle in our minds and in our communities.

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This blog first appeared on David Oaks’ website

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37 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for this. I am probably unusual ammonst the readers and commentator on MIA as being a long term climate activist and anti-psychiatry activist.

    Rather than bringing anti-psychiatry activists to climate change campaigns I find I have more success the other way round. I find climate activists are often sympathetic to the anti-psychiatry cause and have provided training and other resources to anti-psychiatry activists.

    I have also supported distressed activists in the climate change movement as protest camps and such like.

    I think both causes are related to the abuses of corporate power though I know many readers of this site will disagree.

    • John, hi– One quick note of feedback…. Materialism proper, and scientific materialism itself both tend toward an oversimplistic reductivism, an ignorant attitude that prevails in endless transformations for accomodating the infinite range of facts that would otherwise militate against this “physicalism”. But, especially in academia and most professions in America, this doctrine of our intelligentsia-that-isn’t-one actually underwrites major corporate abuses of power, forcing the Supreme court into extreme second place as the total ally of multinationalism.

      An exception that comes quickly to mind in a very explicit way on this site is the way that anti-externalism and anti-reductionism informs the attitude of psychologist Tim Carey. He argues against the traditional theoretical dualism for creating an absolute distinction against stimulus and response, pointing out that the response determines (by picking out the relation) as surely as happens the other way around. Thus, the self, subject, or organism remains central to the analsis. This works hand in hand with his policy of giving the reins to clients in establishing schedules and other priorities for their treatment plans.

      The evil that corporations do seems little more than an expression of what Dr. Szasz called the West’s War on Responsibility, epitomized by psychiatric manipulation of law in the insanity defense and interconnectedly by the academic championing of determinism and every type of paternalistic and mechanistic solution to the problem of freedom. Anyway, you may want to put that in your pipe and smoke it, too, as they say.

      It is very rare to find this

  2. This is so timely for me (and yet not timely enough for life on this planet)…for the last two days I have been overwhelmed with the knowledge that the arctic ice is melting away faster than ‘predicted’-there are warnings about methane bombs and the dire consequences that follow…it’s like sci-fi but we’re living thru it.

    The grief I feel, and have been feeling for the last few years, for not only myself and my children, and for the loss of the life-forms around me is overwhelming! My thoughts run to the starvation that surely is coming…drought in California has already sent food prices through the roof-those of us on the bottom-worldwide-are looking at slow, ugly deaths. Unless we are lucky enough to see our government provoke a nuclear holocaust in their march toward total dominion…

    How can we support ourselves and others as we spiral into extinction? How can anyone who sees what’s happening around them possibly remain ‘sane’?

    What can one person who is so compromised economically and physically possibly do? I keep asking for them to send the black pill-why can’t the powers that be just be kind enough to do that one small thing?

    • There’s about as much true science behind the theories of man-made global warming as there is behind psychiatric drug research. Not much science at all!

      So I suppose there is a relationship between the two.

      David, it’s as if you assume every MIA reader shares your political views… I certainly don’t…

      The planet?… I’m more interested in the harm that can come to *people* if this hoax continues! Please take this topic (and others like it) to the Forum section.

      Duane

      • Sometimes readers are going to disagree with what bloggers choose to write about or what editors choose to post… that’s fine, and you’re free to express your disagreement, but please respect that those decisions are not yours to make. It’s not appropriate to try to shut down a conversation because you take issue with some of its tenets. If people want to explore a possible connection between global warming and mental health, they should be able to do that.

        • Like Duane said I feel there has to be some standard in what this site is about.

          I have nothing against people discussing global warming, I just don’t see why it needs to be done here, especially this way where it’s superficial with no one really discussing particulars and what that might mean. It’s a polarizing move, so why do it ?

          Why not stick to the spirit of what the site is about ? Being critical of psychiatry ! Everyone might have a cause they feel passionate about, do they all get up and start using this site for a purpose I assume it wasn’t created for ?

        • Adding more because I can’t help myself =)

          I think it’s important to search yourself when you’re advocating for something to happen. Can you advocate for strict measures on climate change without advocating a lower standard of living … or population control ?

          and are we going to start needing to declare we support these things ? Is everyone involved here going to have to declare they support feminism for instance ? Without asking any questions about what that actually entails or get labeled as a misogynist ?

          I’m just going to say it I feel like there’s a certain element of baby boomer academia represented here, they’ve had their great lives. They’re white, they’re straight, and they’re engaging in a bunch of identity politics which will impact negatively on pretty much everyone in the long run.

          • Maybe people would start discussing particulars if the conversation didn’t get derailed by dissenters every time it came up?

            It’s polarizing if you make it polarizing. You always have the option of simply ignoring posts that don’t speak to your interests or worldview.

            And no, of course nobody has to declare their support for the concept of global warming, feminism, or anything else — the only real condition of posting here is an agreement to abide by the guidelines. However, if someone were to post misogynistic comments, those would be removed.

          • Well I see your reply as essentially complaining about complaining. I’m free to ignore reading things I don’t like it’s true, it appears i’m free to give my opinion too, so I did.

            I’ve said what I think, it’s what I think, it is what it is.

            I think it’s a little convenient (unfair) to blame ‘dissenters’ for not being open, or fleshing out what you’re actually about. It’s also illogical, if you know ‘dissenters’ are going to ‘dissent’ regardless, then you might as well come out and say everything you want to say.

          • How exactly does a topic get “derailed” by a dissenter?

            This topic, so-called “man-made” global warming, could be debated for weeks – with hundreds of comments, without scratching the surface – by those of us who argue that the science is bogus (clearly outnumbered on this site).

            If this were being discussed at this length on a blog post where the topic was about a psychiatric issue, it would be deemed inappropriate for the topic, by the guidelines, and sent to forums.

            Yet someone can start a topic, leading to this type of intense debate, without starting it in a forum discussion?

            OK, whatever.

            All I can say is that it’s no wonder we have nothing to show politically as a group. No progress in ending psychiatric force. Things are as they were, decades ago.

            We’re not focused.
            We’re going nowhere.
            And we’re getting there quickly.

            I’ll take your advice, I won’t read another piece on global warming, or another *completely* unrelated topic again. I’ll sit on my hands, and say nothing, and make no mention of the forums.

            Duane

          • Duane, I agree that people who consider global warming to be bogus could debate that for weeks (or maybe indefinitely). But the topic here is not “Is global warming real?” — it’s “Global warming is bad for mental wellness.”

            This is the third time that David has blogged about this issue, and each time, a few climate change skeptics have sought to turn the conversation into a heated debate about whether global warming is real/human-caused/backed by science etc. And then, after doing so, have essentially said “See? It’s impossible to bring that topic up without heated debate, therefore you shouldn’t bring it up at all.” Which strikes me as somewhat like an online version of the “Why do you keep hitting yourself?” game.

            A blog post that’s published on this site is on-topic by definition. After a certain point I consider it a derail — and disrespectful to the blogger — to repeatedly turn the conversation into a debate about whether their topic of interest is legitimate. I didn’t say anything the first time, the second time I intervened only after the debate got ugly, and now I’m taking more preemptive measures. There are other (and potentially more fruitful and interesting) conversations to be had, and I hope that we can have them. I found Humanbeing’s comment above pretty interesting, personally.

          • Re: “Is global warming real?” — it’s “Global warming is bad for mental wellness.”

            What?

            So, if the topic were about the boogie man, and how frightening he is… the discussion could not be if he is real (that would be disrespectful and a derail), but how bad he was for mental wellness. That would be good, healthy dialogue.

            Ok, got it.
            I’m out.

            Duane

    • Seems to be an emerging theme on the site.

      Are we entering into the Antipsychiatry”+” phase ?

      I also find it strange how he brings up “the most marginalized and disenfranchised by existing inequality”, what do increased energy costs do for these people ? Ohhh wait they get a subsidy right ? So basically… screw the middle class ?

      • I found the forum and found how to get into it. It was a bit of an effort.

        I’ll post there later about and am happy to debate a bit there.

        I agree that the issue is relevant to the site, though not the whole is human induced climate change is happening debate. lets debate that on the forum

      • At this point subsidies go to oil and gas industry. At the expense of investing in renewables which have an additional advantage of not polluting the air and water and causing cancer and other lovely illnesses (some also link air pollution to “mental illness”). In the same time some states pushed for legislation basically punishing people for producing their own energy via solar panels (I don’t know if you’re a libertarian or a liberal but of so it should make you angry either way – it’s clear corporatism aimed at reducing competition). In fact improving technologies for solar and wind could make energy more affordable for everyone (but Koch brothers may not be so pleased).

        “Are we entering into the Antipsychiatry”+” phase ? ”
        I personally and as far as I can tell many others here see psychiatry as a small though significant part of the general rotten socioeconomic system. So it must be “+” – without addressing the whole issue one can never solve the problem with individual components.

  3. Our insatiably greed in this country leads to unchecked resource extraction. Back here in West Virginia that mean’s the wholesale destruction of mountain tops and stream diversion as well as possible poisoning of the water supply due to fracking for natural gas. I don’t think that we need catastrophism to motivate us to dial down our appetite for energy consumption. With 5% of the earth’s population the US uses over 25% of the earth’s resources. The short-term comforts afforded to average America’s life style does not seem to me to be a worthwhile trade off. Similarly, climate change as a concept and a movement is joined at the hip to Al Gore, who represents to me to a sort of false prophet. As for the science of climate change, I reserve a degree of skepticism, and as a way forward to organize people around developing a lower consumption life style, it seems to have become a non-starter.

    • “I don’t think that we need catastrophism to motivate us to dial down our appetite for energy consumption.”
      Exactly. Even if you don’t really believe in global warming – what’s the downside of trying to change our way of using Earth’s resources? We have to do it anyway, the sooner the better.

  4. “Hope means acting from your own highest principles, without necessarily knowing what the outcome will be.”

    Love this! When we follow our intuition and inspiration, we are inherently doing the ‘right thing’ because it feels good and right to us–that is, we are in synch with our actions. What happens afterwards is up for grabs, and that’s true for anyone at any time. We cannot control everything, an obvious fact.

    Attaching to outcomes can be detrimental to our health because we NEED something to happen, and it just might not. We’d then have the option to allow resentment to fester, or to shift perspective and grow in awareness.

    Whereas when we detach from the outcome, we are more relaxed, not needy, and can simply focus on walking our talk. Self-synchronicity is an enormously rewarding and fulfilling feeling.

    I’m not an environmental activist, but this article reminded me of the ups and downs of activism in general. That ‘wall of silence’ is very familiar sounding, and to my mind, an incredibly fertile target for change. That’s an excellent time to exercise our best imagination and creative powers of manifestation.

  5. I don’t think David is wrong in that global warming -“normalgeddon”-is connected to levels of emotional and mental distress for many people. For me it connects like this . Powerfully wealthy people like the Rockefeller foundation, Carnegie foundation,Harriman family, I would add Bill Gates Foundation and Warren Buffett ,Prince Phillip,Ted Turner there are many others . Some for generations others more recently are into and promote eugenics by one name or another. Many have long wanted to cull the population and “control the rest”. I believe many of them consider their forced stealth culling and controlling population efforts through pseudo scientific means in many categories including medicine, psychiatry,dentistry, Monsanto type Agriculture , Water Treatment, Food Additives, Use of Chemicals , Insecticides and various poisons introduced into humans by various means stealthily and by coercion to be their contribution to stopping global warming among other things as they continue blowing up mountaintop coal mining and oil exploration and extraction.
    They will do nothing that limits the growth of their power or acquisitions or goals. They definitely hide eugenic agendas in various other projects like genetic programs much like Pres. Reagan hid the HAARP Project in the star wars program.

    Why not oppose these cartels and corporations if we are for stopping global warming at the same time. I’m not real computer literate but wouldn’t it be possible to have open source websites where cheap ways of harnessing wind , solar ,water power etc . are developed to be affordable by and for the people. By passing the cartels .This may be a way to progress in many areas including health issues and to by pass psychiatry altogether .

    As to issues concerning global population growth I certainly oppose cartels and the wealthy who control them to make decisions and force them on the people ,which they have been and are doing. It seems like any national or global conversation gets commandeered by these self appointed powerful people . I don’t know all the answers but at some level people need to look forward. There are many creative people with ideas all over the planet. Didn’t within some of the original tribes of native peoples in what has become America have a policy whereby they tried to look ahead 7 generations as to the effects of any decisions they put into effect for the good of the people ?
    Check out http://www.youtube.com ( put in the search ) George Orwell: A Life in Pictures full Documentary

    It shows among other interesting things, the revolution by the people in Spain against totalitarianism in a battle for freedom and how afterwards it was commandeered by the communists.

    • Fred: I also took it upon myself to learn about the Spanish Civil War. Noam Chomsky, in his first political Book, American Power and the New Mandarins, debunks the twin myths -Franco’ crusade against godless communism, as well as demonstrating that Stalin supported revolutions when it was in the interest, his own warped view of course of the nation of Russia, and opposed revolution when it suited him, as in Spain.

  6. By the reckoning of the three main agencies that track global temperature, 2015 has so far been the warmest year in more than a century. Coming immediately after the hottest year on record, the ranking serves as a reminder of how much the globe’s overall temperature has risen thanks to the ever-growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    http://news.discovery.com/earth/global-warming/2015-hottest-year-to-date-could-top-2014-record-150417.htm