Friends did a month of rain that fall last night?  Did rivers flood in the Fall?  Did you know 214 all-time heat records were set in the U.S. September 24th.  It was 30 degrees in Toronto, feeling like 37 with the humidity - the heat of the human body.  And just lately, Los Angeles hit an all-time high of 113 degrees – in late September!


Worried about your kids? 


You might have Post Climatic Stress Disorder.  PCSD is a serious condition.  But don't worry, professional help is on the way....


This week on Radio Ecoshock, it’s Climate psychology 101 - with psychologists Robert Griffin and Joseph Reser.  Plus new film on the grand-daddy of the double bind, Gregory Bateson. 


How does that make you feel?


What if humans are not capable of conceiving a slow-moving global problem.  Maybe, we do not have the mental equipment to "see" climate change.  If that were so, we may go extinct, due to a disability in our minds - and evolution works too slowly to fix such things.  Do we have what it takes?  Are we too stupid or psychologically challenged to survive?




Before I get into the debate and our guests - my own article on controversial psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich was published this Summer in the literary journal "The Centacle."  Just click on the cover to get an Adobe .pdf file of this issue. "Wilhelm Reich, The Life and Death of a Social Pioneer" opens the issue.


My thanks to Raymond and his wife - of SpiritPlants Radio! - for patiently transcribing from my reading of this piece, buried on the Radio Ecoshock web site.  I wrote it years ago, and then lost the printed version.  Better to read it than listen, because as my first recording, I sound like an answering machine.  It took me a while to find my radio voice.


Wilhelm Reich began the sexual revolution, and worked for a woman's rights to her own body, decades before the 1960's made it fashionable.  He was heir apparent to Sigmund Freud, until his radical views got him kicked out of the Psychoanalytic Association, and Austria/Germany (thus saving his life from Hitler's goons). 


But free thinking was no better loved in America, where Reich was among the first to criticize the radiation from nuclear weapons testing.  For that, his earlier Communism (it was the McCarthy witch-hunt days), and his medical claims about “Orgone Energy” - the U.S. government arrested Reich and jailed him.  This social pioneer died in American prison.  Worse, in an under-reported example of American book-burning - the authorities burned all of his books- ironically including the classic "The Mass Psychology of Fascism".  Read it and weep.


But on to our show on the psychology of climate change.





Why don't we do more to prevent catastrophic climate change?  Why? Why?


For that, we need to enter the puzzle of the human mind. 


Our guide is a world-recognized expert in the psychology of climate change. 


Dr. Robert Gifford is a Professor of Psychology and Environmental Studies, at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada.  He has taught there since 1979.  Gifford is a Fellow of both the Canadian and American Psychological Associations.  He helped found the Pacific Institute for Climate Change Solutions, has written more than 90 refereed science publications, plus many book chapters.  He's the editor of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. 


Gifford asks the question: what goes on in the minds of humans when they think about climate change?  More specifically, why do they fail to react, or outright deny it?


When I did my research, Gifford found 13 main psychological barriers to dealing with climate change.  For communication purposes, he calls them "Dragons".  Now he's up to 29 different Dragons. 


We discuss a couple of examples, like "Social Norms and Equity".  Apparently, people try to follow others that they admire.  If those others are driving gas guzzlers and living in  monster houses - we want to do that too.


Then there is "Reactance" - a rebellious unwillingness to be told what to do - even if that action could save the person suffering or even their lives.


Gifford has done surveys of people in Canada and elsewhere.  He finds the number of "Deniers" is relatively low (somewhere between 12 and 20 percent of those surveyed) - but they are quite vocal.  We can see that in the number of climate hostile You tube postings and blogs - which turn out to come from just a few people.


Most of the rest of the population knows climate change is happening - but even the accepters have multiple reasons why they really can't make many changes.  This may include a feeling of helplessness.


Not only are we humans different and complex, but it turns out some psychological approaches work better for certain types of problems.  For example, Dr. Gifford found that people in denial were more concerned with products, than with food. 


He also found: "Younger consumers think more about Energy & Water as a climate-change problem, and older consumers think more about Food as a climate-change problem."


I suppose that dates me, because I think food will be the key destabilizing problem arising out of climate change, this century.  But if I want to appeal to younger people, should I be covering other issues more?


Most of the rest of the population knows climate change is happening - but even the accepters have multiple reasons why they really can't make many changes.  This may include a feeling of helplessness.


Gifford also have some solutions, which he calls "Dragon Slayers". 


Here is a quick list of the first 13 "Dragons":


Not all barriers to climate action are psychological, Gifford says.  Some are "structural".  The "The 13 Dragons of Non-sustainability" are the psychological barriers.


#1. Environmental Numbness

            Pure ignorance or tuning out; message overload


#2.  Uncertainty

            Scientific integrity, lack of immediate salience


#3.   Lack of Perceived (Behavioral) Control




#4.   Denial

            20 percent

            vocal group


#5.   Conflicting Goals and Aspirations

            getting ahead

            health, safety etc.


#6.   Social Norms, Equity & Felt Justice

            My peers...

            It's industry or Not Fair!


#7.   Reactance

            Lack of trust

            You'll never make me!


#8.   (Lack of) Identification with one's community

            It's not my nest

            YOU take care of it


#9.   Tokenism

            I already recycle

            I changed the lightbulbs, I'm done


#10.  Habit

            The flywheel of society

            Behavioral momentum


#11  Perceived Risks


            Financial, Functional, Physical, Time


#12  Divine Determinism

            Mother Nature

            Father God


#13  Optimism Bias

            Known to exist for Health, Intelligence, Attractiveness

            ... environment too.


And here is a link to the new version of "The Dragons of Inaction: Why We Do Less Than We Should, and How We Can Overcome" by Robert Gifford (with all 29 Dragons present).   (Adobe .pdf reader required.  That's a free download on the Net, if you don't already have it).  Although my Google Chrome browser seems to show this document without opening any other software...


By email, I asked about the growing number of barriers he was discovering - but Gifford thinks the main ones are already on the list.  More additions are possible, but they will likely be fleeting and minor. 


All climate activists and organizations should check out this document to see why people don't react, and how they can be motivated. 


You too!  We are all faking our way through this fossil disaster, including me.  What rationalizations are your favorites?


There will always be suspicion among some people, about being manipulated by psychology.  So far, we have been abused by psychologists advising advertising agencies, and major corporate polluters.  Regarding climate change, can psychologists really help the general public, average people like ourselves?  Definitely.  Especially the psychologists who are trying to help us understand the environmental workings of our minds.


The Radio Ecoshock Robert Gifford interview (18 minutes) can be downloaded here.  But I think you are better off listening to the whole program.


I think Greens and folks concerned we are wrecking the climate have to pay more attention to what psychologists are saying.  Our next guest explains why.




Dr. Joseph Reser is Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at Griffith University, in Queensland, Australia.  He has written extensively on environmental psychology, and has an eye for impacts in the tropics, and Asia.


I ask Dr. Reser about the new report from the American Psychology Association on climate change.  It's good to see another professional health body working on this.  Environmentalists might have to rethink some campaigns and approaches, once they read this report.


The APA report is called

"Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a multi-faceted phenomenon and set of challenges"

- Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change


Find the Executive Summary here.


Both our guests, Gifford and Reser, worked on this report.


And here is a link to another report into the psychological barriers to accepting and dealing with climate change - this time in Australia.


Speaking of the psychology of denial, in the financial field pundits Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini have some interesting comments on why people allow themselves to deny the financial crisis and the Wall St. Ponzi scheme.  Writing at the site "Institutional Investor" they say:


"Crises breed denial. Whether a crisis concerns an individual’s health, career or marriage, a company’s reputation or market share, or a nation’s place in the global pecking order, powerful incentives exist within the stricken entity to aspire to a return to normalcy — and to proceed as if that result represents the only option. However, as we all know from human experience, some setbacks are irreversible. We believe the recent meltdown suffered by the U.S. and its partners on the liberal side of the global economy is one of them."


The same can be said of the climate crisis.  It breeds denial.  I suppose we can see all the flustering about "climate-gate" and political posturing as a sign that people do see the climate changing.  Denial might be the first necessary step along the road to kicking the fossil fuel addiction?


Dr. Reser also tells us about new surveys on climate change attitudes in Australia, the world's largest coal exporting country.  After the long-standing droughts which have driven many Australian farmers to suicide, after the deadly bush fires and floods, public acceptance has risen sharply in that country.


As an aside, not all Australians want the dirty jobs and money from climate-killing coal.  A group called Rising Tide Newcastle just shut down the operations of Australia's largest coal shipping port.   A sign of taking responsibility DownUnder.


Back with Dr. Reser, I found it interesting that studies show most people think climate change will happen somewhere else, and remain optimistic about their own locality.  All around the world, humans think climate change is going to hurt people far away - but we'll be all right Jack!  We are crazed monkeys....


Dr. Reser points out that no psychologist, and few social scientists were involved in writing the big climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the IPCC.  That is a real weakness, as we have seen.  The hard scientists, the ones measuring ice loss, ocean acidification, and so on - are not always prepared to communicate well with the public, with the average person.  Communications has been a break down point with the IPCC.


In the excellent ABC National Radio Program called "All In the Mind" - Reser pinpointed the difference between "adaptation," as understood by the IPCC, and the way individuals experience it.  In fact, it seems the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was entirely focused on government responses, as though individual citizens are not part of this challenge.


It sounds like we need a sweeping program, to reach and prepare common people for the psychological shock and trauma, brought on by climate-driven fires, drought, floods, and heat.  There is no government agency to do this, and I am unaware of any movement, even among environmentalists, to help the individual.  Who can do this public outreach, and education?


I'm also worried that millions of good people are not only blocked from action, by the overwhelming fear of more chaos in the natural world - but they are suffering, psychologically.  We probably need a new therapeutic field developing, to help people through climate anxiety?


But, isn't anxiety or depression an appropriate reaction to the destruction of the climate system, and much of the natural world?  Perhaps we shouldn't lull or heal people - but hope this personal pressure finally drives them to change their lifestyles, and demand real change from politicians and corporations.  Can people be frightened into making the right choices - and will they ever change without some painful stimulus forcing it?


Dr. Reser suggests we need the right balance of "fear appeal".  And he suggests we need to add something to the old slogan "Think Globally, Act Locally".  Find all that in the radio interview. (20 minutes).





It was a real pleasure to talk with Nora Bateson about her new film "An Ecology of Mind". It is an intellectual history of her father, the famed social scientist Gregory Bateson.


Gregory Bateson was an innovator and founder in many fields.  I learned of his ecological theories in the 1970's, partly due to Stewart Brand, publisher of "The Whole Earth Catalog".  Bateson quotes inspired and mystified me, at the same time.


We start with a quick look at the many fields where Gregory Bateson was a co-inventor.  He worked with his wife Margaret Meade in New Guinea, making thousands of photos and early films of life there.  They were helping to create the field of "Anthropology" - the study of humans and their origins.


As an aside, not mentioned in the film, most intellectual historians credit Margaret Mead (1901-1978) with beginning the dialog of sexuality in America.  Her anthropological studies in the South Pacific showed a much more natural and wide-open attitude toward sex - a current that was picked up in the 1960's sexual revolution.  (And back to Wilhelm Reich as a sex pioneer as well....)


Bateson's work was interrupted by World War Two, where he served as both an intelligence officer and a teacher about Asia.  After the War, Bateson joined an influential group of world intellectuals, called the Macy Conferences. 


There Bateson helped develop the field of "Cybernetics" -"the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems."  All that led into our world of computer today.


And Bateson was among those who brought out the importance of the "double bind" theory in psychology.  Although this was at first promoted by some as a "cause" of schizophrenia - the double bind theory was much more useful in a lot of other fields.


As a civilization, we are in a double-bind right now. 


In early February 2010, I interviewed Dr. Tim Garrett from the University of Utah.  He published a peer-reviewed paper showing that only a severe economic crash could stabilize carbon dioxide emissions at 460 parts per million - a level still to high to maintain ice caps at the Poles.  Such a crash, or rapid withdrawal from fossil fuels would kill hundreds of millions of people.  But hundreds of millions, at the very least, will die if Planet Earth re-arranges into a hot-house world.  We can't win. Is there a solution to the double bind?


Nora Bateson says "Yes!".  Her father suggested that the impossible choices of the double bind actually motivates evolution.  A new change, a third alternative had to be found to survive.  In our radio interview, I add a wonderful description of the double bind, as Gregory Bateson speaks to an audience.  He uses the "bread and butterfly" example from "Alice in Wonderland".  Don't miss that.


Stewart Brand was attracted to Bateson's work, in part because of what it said to a generation looking for answers, particularly a "Whole Earth" solution.  We talk about Gregory Bateson and the new young crowd in the 1970's.  And about Nora's upbringing in a series of new age communities, from Essalen in Big Sur to Lindisfarne.  The whole New Age hippy trip!


Gregory Bateson died of cancer in 1980, in a Zen institution in California.


Here is another good page about him.


This film has a subtext: Nora's learning relationship with her famous father.  But there isn't much dirty laundry or sex affairs in "The Ecology of Mind".  Instead, Nora kept the focus on the difficult but important ideas Gregory launched into the world.


One of the deepest, in my opinion, was his insistence on our personal connections with the whole of Nature.  After watching the film (three times) - I realized none of us is ever really separated from Nature.  Even the Chilean miner trapped deep underground, or the Astronauts on the Space Station, have to get packages of nature delivered to them.


The oxygen I breathe now may have been created by algae in the South Pacific.  I may have Mongolian dust in my nostrils.  My food comes from Nature.  We are all connected.  In a way, it made me feel better.  Even our life living in electronic screens can never really disconnect us.....




We could say the whole project of the Enlightenment, starting with the dualism of Rene Descartes, was to build the individual.  Perhaps Nietzsche was the peak of the movement.  Then, in the early 1900's, people like psychologist Carl Jung began to question.  The German philosopher Martin Heidegger even suggested there was more of our glorious "self" deposited in other people, than in our own cranium.  It seems Gregory Bateson went further still, insisting that we are all part of a grand being, which includes at least everything living.  What did he mean, and how is that different from Eastern mysticism?


Nora Bateson's film "An Ecology of Mind" played at the Vancouver International Film Festival October 2nd and 3rd.  She will take it for a showing and discussion at the upcoming Bioneers conference in California, and then off to other film festivals in Europe.


You can find a trailer, and information on film showing here.


Or just look for Nora Bateson's Face book page.


Our interview with Nora Bateson was recorded on Skype by Vodburner.  Check out our video page, at, and our You tube channel.  I'll be posting an extended version of that interview with Nora, in a couple of weeks (when I have time for a little video editing.)


Feel free to link to, or even repost the Radio Ecoshock interview with Nora Bateson, found here.  Remember, I don’t claim copyright on my work, so it’s free to share as widely as possible (we have a planet to save.)


Don't forget October 10th is the day to express all the climate frustration.  Go to to find your local action.  It's now and forever.  Get creative, get active, October 10th - all at  


Thanks for caring enough to find out more!


Alex Smith


Radio Ecoshock