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Psychology[edit | edit source]

Psychoanalysis tell us that we behave Irrational and dominated by fantasies. We have unconscious motives, and we do not fully understand our own motives. It also points out that when we cannot cope with reality, we have mechanisms to lessen the anxiety.

Climate change and ecological crisis pose profound psychological threat: existential threat; threat to the integrity and stability of self-identity; and threat to self-esteem, life plans and internalised expectations of the future. We are reminded of the fact of our eventual death, and the morality of our behaviour is challenged.

Threat responses may involve both conscious and unconscious dimensions, and the processes involved are dynamic: there is possibility for movement of thoughts between conscious and unconscious parts of the mind through processes of suppression and awareness.

Defense and coping can be classified in avoidant and approach types.

  • Avoidant coping Whilst it may relieve stress in the short term, if prolonged is likely to become maladaptive. Avoidant coping is associated with poorer health. It is a defensive form of regulation, involving
    • denial,
    • distortion or
    • disengagement. .
  • Approach coping is generally considered adaptive because effort is directed towards resolving the stressful situation or overcoming the stress associated it. It has three predominant forms:
    • active coping, which is direct action to deal with stressful situation;
    • acceptance, which is cognitive and emotional acknowledgement of stressful realities; and
    • cognitive reinterpretation, which involves learning or positive reframing.

Climate denial[edit | edit source]

only by facing the grief we have the energy to make the changes we need to make[edit | edit source]

With regards to climate change and ecological crisis, we can consider whether coping responses are adaptive or maladaptive, not just personally but also ecologically – in other words, do the responses promote psychological adjustment and stimulate appropriate and proportional pro-environmental action, or do they serve to protect the person from having to make radical changes or take significant action? As Rust (2008, p.160) says: “when we block out our feelings we lose touch with the urgency of the crisis”. Adaptive coping is the basis for transformational resilience.
grief for loss of stable climate

we need to be able to bare the news to dont project and unburden ourselves denial

a Verdrängung (verdringen), a Verwerfung (verwerpen) e a Verleugnung (ontkening)

Maladaptive coping[edit | edit source]

denialism - a special form of denial, is the hardcore denial lobby.

Denial promotes our desires to live in a dream world. Is a quick fix magical way to rid ourselves to disturbance and anxious (you denial only what you know it is true)

negation is saying what is, is not / it is not true - it restores the world from the bad news / it is ok , it was a false alarm. Negation is the first stage of morning. It is one of the steps from denial, grief, anger, reconciliation.

but this is not the most serious form of climate denial

disavowal is.

disavowal is the territory of forged distortions and finding a way to endure ways to dont face the truth so we can hang on to our illusions. One form of disowael is to push the problem aside, minimise it, What disowaw most seek to silence is moral conflict. It is when we face we have conflict we are in touch with our moral self.

disowal beter understood as part of a perverted culture of disowal when it is rather a part of a culture of disowal and less as a feature of us as individuals

this perverse culture is caracterised by a predominance of instrumental values

disonest modes of thinking

perversion - organised distortion of eversion of the truth. to evade our moral conflicts.

Disavowal - a specially kind of denial ( Verwerfung (verwerpen/ deflecting)) - Disavowal usually goes together with disassociation from care

disavowal typically has 2 underling drives

  • narcisistic entitlement ( i will have it now and i am worth it whatever the cost) . entitlement - narcisist coping (i deserve to eat meat, I deserve to fly)
  • disowal begets further disowal .

Our culture promotes denial by diminishing our potential to face the future to make the changes we must make. Socially it is linked with uncaring comercial practices.

We acknowledge the reality but minimise the impact by make it seem insignificant / it is turning a blind eye (currently the mainly kind of climate denial in our culture)


lessen anxiety

Disavowal and culture[edit | edit source]

Zerubavel (2006) saw everyday denial as cultural: children learn from adults what to ignore as ‘irrelevant’ - taboos, euphemisms, tact, avoiding the obvious. Denial is socially structured: the silent bystander implicitly accepts the speaker’s denial, and silence-breakers are sanctioned by being discredited or ridiculed. Norgaard’s (2011) study of socially organised denial within a small Norwegian community showed how cultural norms, and the fear of social consequences, inhibited individuals from speaking freely about climate change. Randall’s work with groups wanting to lower their carbon emissions (Carbon Conversation groups) has also highlighted the pressure groups can place on people to stay in disavowal (for example, said loudly in a work situation, “Here comes Barbara girls, best stop talking about flying!”) (Randall & Brown, 2015).

Sally Weintrobe (2019) has written on how neoliberal culture actively disassociates us from our caring side. It works to un-care us. She has termed this a culture of un-care, hyphenating the word un-care to indicate this is actively driven disassociation.

Denial – and particularly disavowal – is a concept that can help us better understand our difficulties in facing and responding to the climate emergency, but not when applied in a blanket way. In general, the concept can help us see we have a range of ways to ward off reality, either by keeping it at bay for the moment or by finding more rigid ways to block awareness. --


slimescapes - comes from the trenches of wwi when the reality on the ground was reduced to corpses and mud , military maps were planned to avoid slimescape . By placing abstract plants on the forefront of our minds we may minimise feeling disturbed by the human cost and devastation and the vliolence of war.

more general we use slimescapes when planning for the future we make risk assessements in states of disowawel to minimise the true consequences of climate change

example: in the cold war, the britisch governemet asked the medical profession to draw a plan of medical services for the event of a nuclear attack, this would be a slimescape - the medical professionals didnt want to do this because there would be no services.


2 kinds of diswal we are more prone to use

- disowal in the risk assessement

- plan future events based on this assessement

Sally Weintrobe, “Engaging with Climate Change: Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives” (Routledge, 2012):

Chart on how to cope[edit | edit source]