After Copenhagen

This blog was originally posted on Identity Campaigning.

In our book, Tom and I wrote about how people often use maladaptive coping mechanisms as a means of psychologically warding off the threats posed by environmental challenges.

We suggested (on page 49) that environmental organizations can approach this problematic aspect of identity by developing:

“approaches that help people express the fear, anger, sadness, angst, or sense of threat from environmental challenges that many are probably already experiencing (whether consciously or otherwise)”

and providing:

“opportunities for people to begin to explore and express the unpleasant feelings they have about environmental challenges.”

With the meeting at Copenhagen over and very little having come of it (from what I’ve read), I just want to take this opportunity to share how I feel, and encourage others to do the same.
I do not feel disappointed, as disappointment suggests I had expectations that were not met; unfortunately, my expectations about what would happen at Copenhagen were met.
I am angry that once again economics trumps the environment.
I feel guilty about my many hypocrisies.
I am sad and afraid about the world my kids and grandchildren will inherit.
While part of me is coping with these feelings by thinking about what to write or do next, I also find myself coping through many of the means Tom and I catalogued in our book.
I want to lash out at the diplomats and the businesses who blocked real progress from happening.
I consider the possibility of no longer writing about climate disruption, as it forces me to keep thinking about these issues.
I fantasize about no longer reading the newspaper and instead retiring to high ground.

Tim KasserAfter Copenhagen


Join the conversation
  • rachel francis - December 29, 2009 reply

    I feel quite liberated actually! I have been a grass roots person all my life and I didnt really believe that the system which has brought us to this point was up to the challenge of correcting the balance.
    So i think the failure of copenhagen was helpful becos politicians and corporations have demonstrably accepted the science and demonstarbly shown that they cant change much.
    There was never a better time for community and independant climate initiatives to show leadership. We dont need to have one leader, we dont need one solution. We are diverse. But lets go turn the tide in support of each other, lets turn marketing on its head and sell LESS as a product, lets let many people take responsibility.
    Right now climate change is at the forefront of peoples minds. Embryonic and better developed climate action groups are all over the place. People are disillusioned. Time for a new vision then. Bring it on. Hoorah!

  • John Gray - December 30, 2009 reply

    In an open letter to the then General Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, the dissident Václav Havel wrote about the fear which made citizens comply with the oppressive regime:

    “… the more or less conscious participation in the collective awareness of a permanent and ubiquitous danger; anxiety about what is being, or might be, endangered, becoming gradually used to this threat as a substantive part of the actual world; the increasing degree to which, in an ever more skilful and matter-of-fact way, we go in for various kinds of external adaptation as the only effective method of self-defence.”

    (in Living in Truth: Václav Havel, 1986)

    The context is Eastern Bloc state dominance before the Berlin Wall fell down. I was struck, however, how many people today might respond – in the face of evidence of climate change – with a similar compliance in economic globalisation as the “only effective method of self-defence.”

    Havel uses the phrase “the only effective method” to describe a psychological trap in which expressing contrary opinions, and acting on them, seem to be impossibilities. As a dissident, however, Havel thought and acted otherwise. I wonder whether the word dissident needs a renaissance as we seek effective change in hearts and minds in the current global context?

    As the antithesis of fear, Havel also speaks of hope (source uncertain):

    “The kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. We have hope within us or we don’t? it is a dimension of the soul? it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.

    Hope is not a prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart? it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

  • Joe Brewer - January 4, 2010 reply


    Thank you for suggesting that we share our feelings in an open dialogue. I’ve watched many of the responses of climate activists to the outcomes of Copenhagen and felt that they were all-too-often the feelings driving them remained under the surface, such that their actions were indeed maladaptive.

    I also had no great expectations for Copenhagen, in part because I understand that dealing with climate change requires a fundamental shift in how human beings relate to the natural world. Such a shift goes through several stages, as my friend and colleague Sara Robinson described in Copenhagen: Getting Past the Urgency Trap:

    But the hard truth of the matter is this: change of this magnitude never happens with a single conference, a single treaty, or even a single disaster. The structural changes required to get us off carbon and onto a truly sustainable footing challenge the economic assumptions that humans have lived by for 2500 years. Change that wide and deep will be the work of an entire century, maybe two. (If we’re smart and lucky, our grandchildren may live to see it mostly done.) All of us are well aware of the precarious time crunch we’re under here; but humans change only as fast as they change, and forcing the issue isn’t likely to help. And it may even hurt us in the long run.

    Sara went on to describe six stages of change in a civilization going through a paradigm shift. I encourage you to read the entire article. It offers many words of wisdom.

    As for myself, I have been invigorated by the Copenhagen conference. I have been lucky to become part of a growing community of people who are pro-actively engaging with the great challenges we face and expressing an attitude of solution making by building the new organizational forms and interactive communities that will carry humanity forward through this great transition.

    With each new step along the way I feel more empowered to make change happen. While many of our “leaders” remain stuck in old paradigms, there is a vibrant new leadership rising to take their place. Events like the Copenhagen meeting only catalyze more of this. Emerging young leaders are not wasting their time in old paradigms. We live and breathe the new ways of thinking and acting in the world. It will be our vital optimism and hope that shapes the new world as it emerges into being.

    So take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone. And there is still plenty to be hopeful for. It’s just that true leadership comes from within each of us. We can no longer look to heroes up on high to save us… which is fundamentally a disempowering idea to begin with. Instead, we need to all become change leaders in whichever stage of civilization change we find ourselves.

    Sincerely yours,


  • hrld11 - March 2, 2010 reply

    Fear is not the framing in which to get anything done. We can’t reach our mental potential that way. Moderates respond to a way out that is rational. Behind every emotion there are thoughts, so emotions can direct us or be used to identify a problem and the ideas behind them, if wrong, can be corrected. Therefore emotions can be rational or irrational and both thoughts and feelings can be brought in line to yield to reason.

    We need to understand our feelings first, before we can deal with the fears of moderates or conservatives. The field of Emotional Intelligence seems good for some of that along with a little Cognitive Therapy information. That is that emotions have ideas behind them that, if wrong, can be changed with reason, if we get to the thoughts. Then tested intuition guides us in how to proceed an get what is best for ourselves and the environment.
    A lot of the power of the forces in this world is that they know how to control us with emotions. It’s better that we should know also, or we are not at the helm and become a subject and a victim.
    Intuition and knowledge can guide us through the most complex situations and the intuition can tell us where to get the knowledge or solve depression mostly automatically, if trained.

    Rulers have alway yielded to the people. Louis XVI and Nicholas II for instance, but the people didn’t change that much and there is the problem. It has to be a global mind shift, not just on issues, but perhaps more importantly on the mind part.

    I can’t say much more except that switching from judgmental words to accurate descriptive ones causes a mind shift that won’t quite and compassion comes with it. I think we need that kind of mind shift most of all.

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