Coping with Climate Despair: Rosemary Randall

What if you woke up one morning and realized humans really have changed the world's climate? We show no signs of stopping this unfolding catastrophe. Maybe you already see it, and cannot bear knowing.

We need help. And a pioneering psychotherapist from Britain says we can help each other. Starting in 2005, Rosemary Randall was was part of a team founding a movement called "Carbon Conversations".

We have a conversation with her now on Radio Ecoshock.
Listen to/download that 29 minute interview here.

You can find "Ro" Randall's blog here.

The organization has become widespread. It links up people who want to talk about climate change, and puts them into six meet-ups which use the ideas from psychotherapy to talk through their fears and emotions. But it doesn't stop there. Each person develops their own plan to reduce their carbon emissions. It's a movement that needs to happen big-time in North America, and all over the world.

Rosemary Randall tells us about her pivotal paper "Loss and climate change: the cost of parallel narratives" found here.

The "parallel narratives" is best explained by Rosemary in our interview, but in a nutshell: media and scientists paint an awful picture of what will happen in the future due to climate change; meanwhile we try to live "normal" lives, ignoring the fact that climate change is not a future event, but is already happening now. This disconnection between our every day lives and the awful future actually reduces our motivation to make the large changes necessary (or at least fits in with our comfortable carbon lives?).

So when we focus on the Arctic melting by 2020, or the end of coral by 2050, that may also be a form of denial that cripples real action.

Please listen to the interview to get a better explanation from Rosemary. It's important stuff and all too true.

I can't tell you how many times friends and listeners have fallen back on the model of coping with the ultimate loss of death, developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Does that work well for the end of a loved and stable climate? Randall says "no". the Kubler-Ross formula was developed for people who were dying. We need a way to handle the burden of knowing, while we keep on living. So Randall finds more help from a formula developed by William Worden, among others.

J. William Worden wrote the book "Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy" where he outlined "the four tasks of mourning". Randall has adapted them for dealing with climate change, where we mourn disappearing species, changed places, lost stability of weather, sea level, and so on.

Here is an example from the conclusion of that paper "Loss and climate change." Randall writes:

"My second example is from a public art project. The educational charity Memo is building a memorial on the Dorset coast, made from local Portland stone, to commemorate plants and animals known to have gone extinct in modern times. They describe it on their website:

'The memorial will be a stone monument bearing the images of all the species of plants and animals known to have gone extinct in modern times. It will incorporate a bell to be tolled for all extinct species, including the great many ‘unknown’ species which it is believed perish each year unseen by scientists. The bell will be tolled on the International Day of Biodiversity on 22nd May each year.'

The project has met with a mixed reception. Some find the public acknowledgment of our loss hard to take and brand it as an acceptance of defeat. Others see it for what it is – a recognition of the need for grief. One of the ways humankind has always dealt with its losses is through the creation of rituals and memorials. They can help us value what is gone, provide form and structure for painful feeling, help us reassert our determination to rescue something from grief and work towards the future.

By publicly stating, not what we might lose but what we have already lost, the Memo project brings us face to face with reality. Tangible, public statements of this kind have the potential to provide the containment that will allow people to engage properly with their grief and move on.

Loss is painful. We need to detach ourselves piece by piece from what is past and gone, or from that which is no longer sustainable. We need to grieve, with the full range of emotion which that implies. Only then will we become able to re-make our futures using all of our creativity, reason, feeling and strength. "

(end quote from Rosemary Randall)

This memorial to the species project has not yet gone ahead, due to lack of funding. Find out more here, with glorious pictures.

The Independent newspaper in the UK published this powerful article about the Memo project (June 17, 2012)

In the end, Rosemary helps us to understand we are not alone in our anxiety about major changes to the climate, and thus the economy, food system, and the species we love.

She offers a method and tips for coping with knowing how serious our situation is. This is already one of my favorite interviews of the year.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock