Our capacity to learn from experience is not unlimited. Beckerian blocks, and other obstacles thwart our progress. Beyond these limits, no one has yet experienced the death of a planet, or its redemption from the jaws of destruction. In October at Seattle University the EBF conference faculty and about 50 attendeesthought beyond these unthinkables and sharpened the mental and spiritual tools needed to break down the walls of global climate change denial, the focus of this year’s conference.
Janis Dickinson, of Cornell University, delivered the Friday night keynote talk based on her paper “The People Paradox: Self-Esteem Striving, Immortality Ideologies, and Human Response to Climate Change.” Melissa Soenke of Arizona University, a TMT researcher
with Jeff Greenberg at the University of Arizona, filled in for Sheldon, who was not able to make the conference. She provided an overview of Becker’s theory prior to Dr. Dickinson’s talk, which outlined the precepts of conscious pro-social environmentalism as a counter to climate change denial, apathy, and helplessness. The approach optimizes each person’s ability to achieve heroism through making connections to nature and to other people linked by the chain of global environmental impacts and influences. In her model, comparisons to others, competition, and cooperation create a luscious cycle of awareness, collective purpose, and creativity. At Cornell, Dr. Dickinson is applying the model in Citizen Science projects. For example, in Celebrate Urban Birds, city and suburban dwellers report bird sightings online through a dual-purpose system that gives a strong nudge to social networking around environmental concerns while also collecting useful ornithological data.
On day two, Dr. Dickinson expanded on her model and opened discussions of implications
and applications. Melissa Soenke reviewed research on climate change denial and how it can be addressed, including its relationship to Evangelical Fundamentalism as a worldview. Later, Ron Friesen outlined the history and components of this widely held worldview and detailed how and where the ecologically minded will find the possibility for fruitful dialogue with fundamentalists who believe they must take responsibility for the state of the planet. Trileigh Tucker, professor of Environmental Studies, shared her journey from hard-science geology to promoting the value of ecological justice and mindfulness in science education.
William H. Calvin, Professor Emeritus at UW and a theoretical neurobiologist, linked Becker’s work on self-protective defenses with our otherwise powerful scenario-spinning capacity that accommodates to, and is hobbled by, gradual changes such as those in climate creep. Dr. Calvin provided new language and analyses that could enable effective leaders to turn some future Katrina-type event into a pivot-point for reversing our momentum toward catastrophic change.
Richard Young, who is on several department faculties at Seattle University including Environmental Studies, gave the last lecture of the second day by proposing the end of the transfer of the unintended costs of industrial economy to the environment and to those who live at the margins of our national economy or at the receiving end of its global reach for cheaper resources and labor. Dr. Young proposed an ecology tax that would cause consumers and producers to evaluate the real costs of their activities. Its message is captured by the Spanish proverb “Take all you want”, God said, “and pay for it.”
Erika Campbell held a plenary session with Calvin, Friesen, and Young, sharing programmatic
initiatives for supporting positive change and identifying potential allies. Networking, refreshments, and a jam session followed the day’s formal activities.
Sunday morning was reserved for “Talk with the Authors”. Dr. Calvin gave tips about publishing controversial ecological works and answered questions about climate leap. Dr. Young discussed the political contingencies that would have to be dealt with in addressing
climate change, and described an edited book to address these. Valerie Tarico, a clinical psychologist and author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light, shared her journey away from a rigid constraining version of fundamental Christianity to a empowering, liberating version of spiritual humanism.
Audio and video recordings of the conference will be available at our website soon. We will be sure to keep you updated.
Read Henry Richards' blog posts at The Denial File.