This post is part of a series on emotional and psychological aspects of climate change that get little to no attention or acknowledgement, yet have a tremendous impact on the ways we are responding to climate change and on what is possible. Some of the posts are factual and literal; some are poetic. For an overview of the series and links to all the individual posts in the series, see Climate Change: What Isn’t Talked About.
Ever since my last blog post that promised forthcoming explorations of the less-acknowledged emotions and psychology of climate change, I have been diligently working on those posts, but I’ve also been struggling in some ways. And I haven’t been able to fully understand why. The work feels meaty and complex, but I keep having trouble finalizing any single post.
I think I know why now: I’m a left-leaning person who has come to question some of the left’s response to climate change.
This is a new place for me that isn’t yet clear and definitely isn’t comfortable.
What is clear is that my questions and discomfort are not just ready-made material for this blog post series; they also form a gate that I have to walk through, here, in order to be able to write about any of the other stuff.
I used to fit pretty neatly into the left’s view of climate change: I believed climate change action was urgent, NOW, above all else, and I was frustrated with and confused by those who questioned this stance. It was only after I had spent some years digging into climate change and Trump’s election galvanized the left that I began feeling hesitant.
Why do I feel hesitant?
Because I experience the extreme left as having adopted a narrow and rigid response to climate change that leaves little room for any view other than theirs. And I can’t comfortably put both feet in with any group that disregards and even actively shuts down the voices of so many others.
I’ve seen people online who seem to genuinely care about what’s happening with our planet try to advocate for different approaches or talk about what the science can’t predict, and they are usually labeled negatively, as a denier or clueless or part of the problem. People who want to engage with climate change from a different perspective or in a different way tend to get criticized and dismissed.
Does this mean that all folks on the left are like this? Absolutely not. There are individuals and organizations working wholeheartedly for meaningful change in ways that include reaching across respectfully to those who see things differently or have challenging questions. Unfortunately, though, it’s the extreme left’s voices that command much of the media and social media attention, and this has created a face-of-climate-change that stokes apocalyptic fear on the left and evokes everything from eye-rolling to rage to other types of fear on the right.
The dominance of these extreme left voices, and the resulting absence of other voices, causes us to miss out on creative, robust solutions and what might actually be possible. It increases the risk of making decisions out of blind fear and other intense emotions. It causes people who might otherwise come forward in helpful ways to turn away or give up.
We also lose opportunities to make true, long-lasting change as each extreme group (left and right) keeps reacting to the other and trying to force its will on the other, resulting in a kind of Pyrrhic victory again and again. The “win” that one “side” might achieve is automatically, inherently brittle and temporary because it was achieved by disregarding or even actively disrespecting the other side. And it comes at the price of good will and trust and respect.
When the same old patterns and extremes dominate, nothing is able to truly move or change. Interestingly, the point when a repeating pattern in people’s lives has become intolerable is usually when they show up in offices like mine for therapy. And it is pretty much always the case that expanding to make space for what’s been marginalized–unacknowledged, unfelt, or rejected—helps untangle the knot.
Given what could be gained from having other voices in the mix, I’ve been wondering: how many people in the “radical middle” aren’t speaking up? (“Radical middle” is my term for this place I’m in because being in the middle feels pretty radical these days.)
How many people on the left aren’t speaking up because of the extreme left’s criticism and policing? Possibly even more tragic, how many people on the right who are starting to feel some concern about climate change aren’t speaking up because of the extreme right’s own rigid perspective on climate change? It has been (and continues to be) hard for me to find my voice with it, so I can imagine that others, on both sides, are also having a hard time bringing in their voices or just don’t bother.
We, the radical middle, are a whole group (and a pretty large one, I suspect) whose experiences, thoughts, and ideas aren’t enough a part of the conversation and struggle that’s going on about climate change. And just like in therapy, our perspective, our contributions, can help untangle the cultural and political knot that has been created by the rigidity of the two extremes.
Advocating for a variety of voices to be a part of the conversation feels just as important to me for our future (maybe more?) as the efforts that are being made in regard to climate change itself. Climate change isn’t a separate issue or a different problem than the divisions among us—it is a super large mirror that is showing us we are out of balance, not just with nature, but with ourselves.
If you feel yourself being in this radical middle and you too feel nervous or uncomfortable about being there, I invite you to find ways in your life to bring your voice to the table. I have been trying it out quietly in my life, offline, with some fumbling, with people I am willing to take the emotional risk with. This is my first attempt at putting it into words in a public-facing way. I feel vulnerable doing it, but I also feel relief. I think you will find relief too as you find ways to express your thoughts and feelings that feel right for you.