The Dynamics of Climate Change

By  |  0 Comments

A Case Study in Organisational Learning

[This paper has been accepted for publication in The Learning Organisation, Emerald Group Publishing Ltd., Volume 18, Issue 1, 2011 – Special Issue “Elements of Organizational Sustainability”, Ed. Peter A.C. Smith]   [In view of the relevance of this paper to the current dynamic process, the publisher has generously granted permission for a limited number of pre-publication copies to be circulated to key colleagues]

Structured Abstract

Purpose.  Based in the discipline of applied consultancy-research, this paper seeks to present a synthesis-review of the social dynamics underlying the stalled negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Its aim is to enhance understanding of the processes involved, to offer a working agenda to the organizational learning community, and to act as a dynamic and interpretative intervention in the negotiation process.

The methodological approach draws on a wide range of tools from the consultancy-research domain including force-field analysis of complex social behaviour, informal interviews, direct participation, existential reflection and process analysis, delineation of power dynamics, literature survey and psychoanalytic exploration of the irrational and unconscious factors involved.

Several findings emerged from the consultancy research.  The force-field analysis revealed the intensity of polarisation experienced at every point of the negotiation.  Economic vested interests and political dynamics blocked all possibility of effective decision-making and drove irrational attacks on the validity of climate science as a way of manipulating public opinion.  The influence of unconscious factors was paramount, rooted in the re-stimulation of collective pre-traumatic-stress disorder, and mediated via a set of social defences against anxiety.

Significant limitations in the methodology concern the level of subjectivity involved.  The development of working hypotheses was exposed to constant review to check for researcher-specific projection and selectivity of significant data.

The practical implications of the paper for the development and application of organizational learning are spelled out in the final section.  Particular attention is drawn to the need to take account of irrational and unconscious phenomena driving social psychodynamics.

The paper represents profoundly original work by the author, emanating from his wide-ranging involvement in the content and process of the international climate-change negotiations

Forewords. The December 2009 COP 15 Congress, convened in Copenhagen under the aegis of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, provided a brief but fractal representation of global dynamics.  The hopes and fears of all the world were focused to a point in space and time whose explicate psychodrama gave tangible form to the multi-dimensional matrix of implicate process underlying our global civilisation.  The event therefore provided an extraordinary window of opportunity for observation, reflection, analysis, synthesis and integration of organisational learning at the highest possible level of complexity

1.  Initial Force-field Analysis

Copenhagen provided a stage on which the emerging shift in geo-politics was played out for all to see.  The bi-polar power-play between China and the USA was conducted in the context of a multi-polar world, held in stasis by the cumbersome protocols of the UNFCCC.  The surface script reflected deeper levels of political reality.  Structures of intra-national power and authority underlay the positions adopted by the national leaders.  If China committed itself to given targets, then it was clear those targets could be delivered, but they would represent a compromise between scientific imperative and the necessity to maintain economic growth and political stability.  If the Obama administration set out goals, everyone knew the ability to deliver would be dependent on the turgid dynamics of a Congress rendered impotent by lobbying from conflicting vested interests.  Europe could not find a coherent voice, and in its fragmentation could take no seat at the central negotiations.  New alignments emerged representing the most vulnerable states, the set of emerging industrial economies, those who felt left out from the sub-group power-play, or others simply abandoned to bear the pain of climate impacts without the resources to cope.

Further exploration indicates that the dynamics were fractal, mirrored upward and downwards in scale, from tiny communities (or even individual dilemmas) to world-scale topology.  The most potent polarity of all was, however, masked in the shadows.  Its presence uncloaked briefly only when its vested interests were significantly threatened by possible executive action to mitigate the drivers of climate change.  There is a massively powerful group of nation-states, multi-national corporations, global industries and financial institutions, whose wealth, influence and economic survival depend on the continued and expanding exploitation of fossil energy.  For this group, sustainability means defeating any significant move to implement strategies of climate mitigation with the concomitant limitation of emissions of greenhouse gas.  The growth-oriented economies of the developed world and their complex consumer-lifestyles currently depend on the accelerating use of fossil energy and on the wealth generated by those involved in its extraction and provision.

A force-field in powerfully polarised stasis blocks effective movement in any direction.  Mobilisation of energy for climate mitigation was more than matched by mobilisation of energy to protect the profitability of the fossil domain, using all necessary force and by all available means (fair or foul!).  This is war-mentality in which each side sees survival as dependent on defeating the opposition.  The dynamic impasse is not resolved by rational public education, dissemination of scientific argument or the lobbying of strategic stakeholders and decision-makers.  Any such movement is more than matched by equal and opposite intervention on behalf of the power-block whose wealth and survival would be threatened by mitigation action.  Copenhagen revealed a global community paralysed in the mutual win-lose dynamics of multi-dimensional polarity.

2.  Dynamics of Polarisation

In these conditions the very meaning of ‘sustainability’ itself is rent asunder.  On the one hand sustainability is grounded in the realities of the global life-support system.  It encodes the constraints imposed on human enterprise by the contextual parameters of the holding environment.  These are the boundaries we transgress at our peril.  On the other hand sustainability refers to the maintenance of economic growth, the stability of accelerating wealth-generation, the successful achievements of targets for economic development and the security of profitability, market share and stock valuation.  Strategic action designed to ensure sustainability of the planetary ecosphere may be seen as a direct threat to the sustainability of the economic system and to the consumer lifestyle on which it depends.  Conversely strategic action designed to protect the sustainability of the economic vested interests may be seen as a direct threat to the task of ensuring sustainability of the planetary ecosystem on which every subsystem of the human enterprise is ultimately based.  The polarity was embedded in the ambiguous meaning of ‘sustainable development’ enshrined in the 1987 Brundtland Report[1].  It was reaffirmed in the wording of Article 2 of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):

“The ultimate objective of this Convention… is to achieve… stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”[2]

Moving from linguistics to process, the dynamics of polarisation were acted out in fractal psychodrama.  If the City of Copenhagen was temporarily re-named ‘Hopenhagen’ it was because of the intensity of the fear of failure.  The official Congress hosted in the Bella Centre was mirrored by the ‘Peoples Congress’ in the city centre.  Boundaries were fraught and policed with force.  Inside was good, outside was the enemy, whichever side of the boundary you stood.  Organisational authorisation and delegate passes were used to maintain membership boundaries, but re-drawn in mid process.  With some of the ‘in-group’ now designated ‘out-group’, the remaining ‘in-group’ divided in mirror dynamics of idealisation and splitting.  In the working groups and on the Congress floor, every movement towards effective mitigation was blocked by powerful intervention to protect fossil interests or to preserve political and economic power and stability.  Congress leadership was rendered impotent in the conflicted force-field and imploded under the stress.  Media reporting reflected the polarisation and the digital world of cyber-space became the stage for a bloggers’ war, mapping and mirroring the fundamental polarisation.  The attempt to resolve the impasse, brokered in the final hours by President Obama, produced the document of the Copenhagen Accord[3], but resulted in the eruption of Copenhagen discord in the dynamic process.  A bifurcation in the international stream of action emerged beyond the boundaries of the event.  The official programme aimed at progressing the outcome of the Copenhagen Congress in preparation for next December’s gathering in Mexico, faced a mirror stream condensing in Bolivia, host to the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change[4].  Old battle-lines of polarity opened up between pro and anti-capitalist political ideologies, between those who felt included in the power-politics of the Copenhagen Accord, and those who felt bitterly excluded from the process, between states who could go along with American leadership, and those who opposed what they saw as abuse of power.  If the Copenhagen Accord set a tentative goal of keeping global warming below a maximum rise of 2ºC (albeit without the instruments to ensure its achievement), the Bolivian Congress halved the cap to a rise of 1ºC, repudiating the levels of risk and potential damage implicit in the Copenhagen objective.

3.  Executive Fantasies

One of the critical issues in the organisational analysis of COP 15 concerned the locus of power and responsibility to formulate and execute strategic decisions in the field of response to climate change.  Deeply held and largely unexamined assumptions dominated the approach of the scientific community, civil society and its associated spectrum of NGOs and progressive business organisations.  The primary belief was that political leaders at national level held access to executive power.  The second assumption was that achievement of strategic convergence across a significant majority of national leaders would be the basis on which a global and binding treaty could be based.  Both assumptions were flawed.  Nevertheless, patterns and strategies of information flow, lobbying, protest and persuasion were based on the false assumptions.  Polarised dynamics therefore built up at the boundary between the persuaders and political leadership.  Conflicted polarisation at this boundary was fuelled by executive fantasies.

There was an overwhelming sense of frustration at the political level, articulated as “walking through the corridors of impotence”.  It was matched by the sense of despair among those attempting to co-ordinate international coherence among the representative leaders of some 190 sovereign nation states.  “Herding cats” was a mission impossible.  So where did power really lie?

There was inbuilt structural conflict between the need to respond to the long-term risk analysis presented by the scientific community, and the even more immediately pressing imperative to stabilise the world economy, to re-establish patterns of sustainable growth in trade, production, consumption and wealth generation.  The growth engine depended on escalating consumption of energy, most of it from fossil sources whose increasing emissions were accelerating climate change.  All this in the immediate context of a world recession threatening to spiral out of control.

At another level the political power-base depended on often fragile sanction from its populace.  In that sense political leadership was constrained into acting as public followership.  To overstep that sanction was to commit political suicide.  Public support for radical action to deal with climate change was itself intensely polarised and unable to give a clear signal to its political representatives.  Leaders of those nations most vulnerable to the destructive impacts of climate change, whose people did indeed give a clear mandate to their leaders, carried little weight with the power-elite of the industrially developed world.

Real power, however, lay elsewhere.  Fossil energy was the goose whose golden eggs provided the wealth of nations, of multi-national corporations, of industrial empires, and the economic and financial institutions of the world.  Goose preservation was the order of the day.  Goose preservation demanded that no effective action be taken to mitigate climate change.  Millions of dollars were poured into a globally concerted campaign of goose-protection.  Political leadership found itself to be the impotent victim caught in the middle of a polarised dynamic whose outcome was being managed to deliver stasis.  Lead astray by fantasies of the locus of executive power, the protesters had failed to target the sector holding real power over the strategic agenda.

4.  The Seduction of Climate Science

Scientific objectivity always faces a series of constraints.  Karl Popper’s principle of falsification is fundamental to the scientific method.  An hypothesis does not become a theory by accreting confirmation, but by seeking radical critique, and welcoming information that challenges the hypothetical formulation.  A theory is an hypothesis that cannot (as yet) be shaken.  On the other hand, Thomas Kuhn highlights the human tendency to ignore and suppress all information that challenges the dominant paradigm.  Scientific method stands in fundamental opposition to paradigm protection.  Tragically, as the history of science amply demonstrates, the scientific community is all-too-prone to abandon its methodology and topple into collusion with the protection of the established paradigm.  The tendency is deeply reinforced when, as now, the dominant paradigm is embedded in political strategy, enshrined in legal status, supported by powerful vested interests, seen to be economically rewarding, sedates collective anxiety in the wider population, and is already under attack from conservative forces.

Governmental commissioning and funding of scientific research is designed to elicit support for political goals and strategic positions whose ground may lie far from the domain of scientific reality.  Essential funding is withdrawn from projects whose outcome might challenge the status quo.  Research staff and scientific advisors protect their political leaders by filtering out information that might require paradigmatic change with implications for re-formulation of strategic policy.  Mission-critical information is ignored.  Whistle-blowers are silenced, fired or forced to resign.  Colleagues who persist in drawing attention to significant new data or policy-challenging analysis, are dismissed as trouble-makers, alarmists, overly pessimistic or disloyal.  In extreme contexts those involved may be subject to personal defamation, forbidden to speak or publish, their scientific integrity called in question, their competence denied, their workload overwhelmed with administrative trivia, their research team disbanded, their tenure of office terminated, or the terms of reference of their research establishment re-written.

Under these constraints the scientific community exhibited many of the characteristics of collective paranoia.  Major briefing documents, prepared in the run-up to Copenhagen, yielded ground to the political agenda.  One described its presentation as “A compromise between what is scientifically necessary and what is politically and economically feasible”[5].  Internal debate was suppressed and the community took refuge in presenting a conservative consensus position.  The overt task was to strengthen political resolve in the face of demands from the fossil empire to weaken mitigation targets.  The consequent elision of serious sceptical critique was matched by the exclusion of leading-edge analysis indicating that the consensus position itself gravely underestimated the seriousness of the situation, the sensitivity of the climate system, the accelerating pace of change and the possible onset of non-linear phenomena in the global climate dynamic.  Strategic reformulation taking account of the new analysis was blocked.  Research co-ordination was terminated.  Presentation of findings in academic events was vetoed or air-brushed from the reporting documentation.  Peer-review procedures were brought to bear to exclude critical material from publication in order to protect the consensus position from disturbance.  “Sit down, you’re rocking the boat!”

5.  Disinformation, Propaganda and the Protection of Power

For many of those working on the leading edge of climate-change science, the last year has been one of the most difficult and stressful periods ever known.  Not only did they face enormous pressure in the time leading up to the Copenhagen Congress last December, but they then came under vicious and globally co-ordinated attack on the integrity and competence of individuals, and of leading international institutions.  The very ground of the scientific analysis itself was called in question and there has even been a concerted attack on the scientific method which lies at the heart of our post-enlightenment civilisation.

Many millions of dollars were poured into the multi-media dis-information campaign mobilised with the aim of creating public doubt, crippling political decision-making and ensuring that no international action could be taken to mitigate the threat of dangerous climate change.  The fossil industry and its dependant financial (and political) institutions were (and still are) committed to abort all effective action on climate change that might threaten their immediate vested interests, their sources of wealth and their access to power[6].

6.  Boundaries of Rationality and the Dynamics of Change

It is an illusion, rife within the scientific community, that clear, rational and objective communication of the truth (or as near as we can get to it, taking into account the current state of knowledge and all inherent uncertainties), leads to effective and appropriate action.  History and experience teach us otherwise.  This confidence that cool, rational scientific argument will eventually win the day would, therefore, seem to be somewhat misplaced.  Necessary it may be.  Sufficient it is not.

Stakeholders and strategic decision-makers within the social system are subject to other, darker forces that shape eventual executive outcomes.

We have already seen that defence of wealth and the sources of wealth, motivates strategic activity of the power-elite whether individual or corporate.  Scientific analysis that threatens this area tends to be suppressed, undermined and countered at all cost.  It is also clear that perceived threats to economic stability, consumer life-style and the debt-based ground of sustained economic growth, all tend to block the influence of rational scientific advice.

The dynamics of political process also play their part.  For instance, political reality is driven by the desire to achieve, retain or reinforce power and influence.  Policy-formulation is therefore moulded to that end, rather than to appropriate response to presented scientific analysis.  The short time-horizon in political decision-making and in popular support for political action disempowers long-term political leadership.  Sadly, most of those in positions of executive power are unskilled in dealing with complex systems with non-linear feedbacks and long time-lags between cause and effect.

Moving beyond politics to the business world, the norms of in-group aggrandisement and the exportation of cost to the environment whether natural or social, dominate business and financial systems, emasculating executive engagement with wider issues.  The ubiquitous culture of competition without responsibility for consequences, blocks effective action on issues that are trans-boundary in nature, requiring collaborative action for the common good.  These cultural norms, developed in the early days of empire, are enshrined in company law and ruthlessly enacted in the ecology of globalisation.

Taken as a whole, this set of dynamic constraints marks the boundary of rationality, the limits of cognitive analysis of the dynamics of change.  It provides a partial framework for the understanding of the implicate process of global organisation that became briefly visible in the complexity of the Copenhagen Congress last December.  To be sure, Copenhagen was but one of an historic series of focal nodes, major waves accompanied by fractal patterns of holographic ripples and wavelets in the global social fabric.  The next major focal node was manifest in Mexico at Cancun a few weeks prior to the publication of this paper.  At a conceptual level, the application of complex force-field analysis to global process is one step towards understanding our planetary civilisation as a single complex entity, a meta-organisation.  The challenge is to develop collective skills of organisational learning that can catalyse our capacity for effective management of change on a planetary scale.  That task will stand or fall by our ability to push beyond the boundaries of cognitive rationality into the realm of the collective unconscious, the psychodynamics of macro-systems behaviour.  It is to that domain that we now turn our attention.

7.  Psychodynamics of Resistance to Change

Humanity stands at the cusp of a global metamorphosis.  The larval stage, obese with its exponential consumption of fossil hydrocarbons, senses that the party is over, yet fears the consequences of entering the pupal transformation that might usher in the age of the imago.  “Oh to be a caterpillar for ever and ever!”  I am reminded of the old joke about the two caterpillars munching away on their cabbage leaf as a butterfly passes overhead.  One caterpillar exclaims forcefully to the other: “You’ll never get me up in one of those!!”

The prospect of change always raises anxiety, never more so than when the transition concerns the whole of humanity, threatens the very roots of our life-style, energy source, economic house of cards, and the viability of our life-support-system.  At heart we know that approaching the boundaries of sustainability literally means that “things cannot go on like this”.  Yet we resist the loss of the known and fear to enter the unknown.  As we lose the comfort of historical familiarity, grief, or rather the repression of grief, blocks our ability to see clearly through the tears, to catch a glimpse of tomorrow’s world as it beckons us beyond the darkness of the night.

Anxiety is a life-saver.  It is a somatic-affective response to information that all is not well and that some action needs taking.  It heightens awareness, mobilises attention and initiates preparation for work, fight or flight.  However, when the intensity of anxiety passes a threshold of tolerance it begins to lose its functionality.  Beyond that level the anxiety itself becomes the stressor.  Attention is withdrawn from the real world and energy is increasingly vested in the management of the anxiety.  The boundary of the neurotic response has been crossed.  The source of angst-generating information comes under attack, its veracity questioned, the need for action denied, the messengers silenced or eliminated.  As repression deepens, polarisation sets in.  Dynamics escalate at the boundary between in-group and out-group, between us and them, between goodies and baddies, between friends and enemies.  As the polarity becomes absolute, the capacity for negotiation vanishes into intransigence.  A culture of blame intensifies, often projected into convenient scapegoats.  Polarity evolves into splitting, and simple splitting fractures in bifurcation cascade as the social fabric shatters.

As the anxiety-generating field is abandoned, attention shifts to more comfortable zones in a process of displacement from ecology to economy and armed conflict.  Behaviour is compulsively seduced into the realm of entertainment, or oral (and genital) satisfaction.  (Wine, women and song.  Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow…)  The world of the spectacular, the stimulating or the shocking is coupled with escapism and the dominance of the dissociative trance state.  We make war on terror and reifiy the denial of death in the psychosis of religion.

The emergence of the all-too-familiar dynamics of the paranoid-schizoid state is particularly intense under conditions of high stress, diminishing resource and rapid change.  Reality-testing is rejected in favour of maintenance and reinforcement of the social defences against anxiety.  So Copenhagen mirrored the dynamics of a global society presenting all the symptoms of collective neurosis.  Catalysis of the effective management of change requires that we enlarge the boundaries of organisational learning to include a deep understanding of social psycho-dynamics and the development of new skills of interpretation, intervention and transformation.

8.  Collective Pre-Traumatic-Stress Disorder

Describing common patterns of behaviour in a time-series of events at multiple scalar levels, followed by recognition of that pattern in terms of well-known psychodynamic presentation, raises the question of the causal origin of the syndrome.  Why on earth do we behave like this?

The classical psychoanalytic answer is that the behaviour is normal, instinctive and un-learned.  That paradigm had its roots in the medical model, when the analyst had the brief to treat only abnormal behaviour, when learning was believed not to start until early childhood, and when normal, common or collective behaviour was presumed to be ‘healthy’ or non-pathological.  Today we have come to understand that norm behaviour can itself become pathological.  Our current understanding of learned behaviour now reaches back through birth to foetal development, embryonic imprinting and cellular process.  The rigidity of the ‘instinctive’ label has yielded to an understanding of the syndrome as a learned, shared response to commonly experienced traumatic stress.  If learned, then it is open to re-learning and transformation (in total contrast to the fixed fatality of ‘instinctive’ behaviour).  In true Kuhnian manner the psychoanalytic community is still struggling to come to terms with the paradigm shift![7]

We can take as a starting point the question “Against what anxiety have these social defences been developed?”  If there has been a traumatic event in the early life of an individual, then any later experience that has some associative resonance with the early learning, will flood the person with stress as if facing in the present the deeply distressing event from the past.  A two-year-old child, nearly killed when savaged by an Alsatian dog, may, as an adult, cringe in terror when exposed to anything remotely doggy.  That is an example of individual post-traumatic-stress disorder.

If a large proportion of the population had had the same early experience, then the social group would resonate collectively as a canine-phobic society.  It would defend itself against re-stimulation of the common early trauma by eliminating everything that might lead to associative connection to the original unbearable levels of terror and pain.  The defensive behaviour would be considered ‘normal’ and the occasional dog-lover would be treated as weird and banished beyond the pale.  That would be an example of collective post-traumatic-stress disorder.  Readers may reflect on the collective dynamics of those social groups whose male (or female) children experience ritual genital mutilation at different stages of development.

For the vast majority of the human species, the first change in our environmental relations occurred in the transition of birth.  The final weeks of the third trimester are characterised by overcrowding, environmental pollution, limits to growth, placental degrade and resource depletion.  Foetal life is un-sustainable, the tree of life can no longer support the full-term babe.  Staying put is no option, it would lead to death of both mother and child.

So birth is to the mammal what metamorphosis is to the butterfly, except that for the human species, the stress-levels in birth are normally traumatic.  They involve crushing, eviction, pain, rage, terror, guilt and loss of the known world.  After birth, new relationships with a very different environment are formed, but the traumatic impingement remains deeply seared in psycho-somatic memory.  The early pre-natal state is idealised into a heavenly realm in contrast to the hell of parturition.  Splitting is profound.  Boundaries are fraught with the risk of re-stimulation.  Learning, change, environmental degrade, resourcelessness, limits to growth, all act as re-stimulants releasing into the adult social domain levels of neurotic anxiety from the common peri-natal history.  Defences developed to repress the primary traumatic trace are mobilised collectively to suppress the experienced social angst.  Regression to the idealised pre-natal state with denial of the information that it is inherently non-sustainable, dominates the dynamic of human civilisation.  Foetal assumptions are embedded in life choices that compulsively engage in exponential resource consumption.  Sustainable growth is the economic translation of the denial of placental degrade.  Its elevation as the unchallengeable objective of the world economy is the ultimate defence against the onset of parturition.  From the perspective of the collective regression, birth is the end of the world, to be avoided at all costs.  The transition to a sustainable post-natal state raises the fear of death, preceded by the mother-of-all battles.  In our collective psychotic fantasy, mother-earth has infinite resources, can support an unlimited population and is able to absorb all our pollution, world without end.

The clinical diagnosis of global psychodynamics would be one of collective post-traumatic-stress disorder.  But from the fixated position of collective regression to an idealised pre-trauma state, the impingement is projected into future time.  In fantasy, the catastrophic impingement has not yet taken place, but is imminent, feared and to be avoided at all costs.  As all connection to the originating ground of the syndrome is broken in the process of psychotic repression, so we are left facing a fantasy future calamity whose impact is deemed to be terminal.  This collective pre-traumatic-stress disorder transforms the hope of birth into the terror of annihilation, blocking our capacity to envisage life beyond the transition.  Here then lie the roots of the paranoid-schizoid syndrome mobilised collectively in the face of environmental change.  Foetal assumptions and primitive defences against peri-natal anxiety, become fatal assumptions and dysfunctional dynamics when applied to the reality of contemporary life on island earth.

9.  The Role of Organisational Learning in the Catalysis of Transformation

With massive interdependence and accelerating connectivity, our whole human species can now be viewed as a single learning organisation with all the co-evolutionary phenomena of a high-level complex adaptive system.  If the future of that learning world is to be truly sustainable then the organisational learning community must ensure that second-order (and higher) learning processes are embedded in the dynamics of our global civilisation as a whole rather than abrogated by a small professional sub-group.

We face the daunting task of developing and applying processes of organisational learning in such a way that the skills can be embedded fractally in all levels of institutional life.  That development will need to be able to encompass the complexity of high-level force-field analysis, clarify the dynamics of polarisation, courageously identify structural conflict in the exercise of power, and enable the scientific enterprise to resist seduction in the context of a global disinformation campaign.

At another level, the discipline will have to come to terms with the limits of cognitive rationality and gain understanding and competence in dealing with the unconscious and irrational phenomena of social psychodynamics.  Effective processes of interpretation, communication and intervention are required in order to precipitate a metamorphosis in global civilisation and trigger a phase-change in human consciousness.  All must be achieved on a scale and in a time frame that can enable humanity to avoid the potential still-birth of our species with concomitant irreversible damage to our holding environment.  Clearly there is work to be done!

Afterwords  We are left facing the question about the most appropriate means to move that working agenda forward from theoretical synthesis to effective action, and to do so in a way that is as coherent as possible with the whole ethos of action learning.  I have therefore sought:

  • To adopt a non-directive approach that leaves the reader with the motivation to address the agenda “What needs to be done now? By whom?  How?  Etc.”
  • To provide stimulus and opportunity for learning, rather than spelling out precisely what should be learn
  • To avoid any process of intellectual inoculation by giving a set of inevitably inadequate answers that would leave the reader in a position to critique the proposed agenda and dismiss it
  • To offer an introduction to future process rather than merely conduct a review of the past
  • To leave the ending of the paper open-ended rather than closed with a “Conclusion”
  • To encourage and empower the reader to engage actively and responsibly with the process of learning and application (both personal and professional).

With that set of principles, the final section was constructed as an impressionist overview of themes and tasks, of openings to new levels of learning, of coded pointers to processes, and of hints at overarching constraints and objectives.  I look forward to sharing the journey as together we seek ways to catalyse the needed global transformation.

David Wasdell  21st June 2010

End-notes and References

1.         Brundtland, Gro (1987), ‘Our Common Future’, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York

2.         Article 2, UNFCCC, available at:

3.         Full text of the Copenhagen Accord is available at:

4.         See:

5.         Schellnhüber, Prof. Dr. Hans Joachim, CBE (Chair) et al, (2009) Solving the climate dilemma: The budget approach, German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), Special Report, Berlin, p.25

6.         A detailed analysis of the funding of disinformation regarding climate change has been produced by Greenpeace International.  Available at:   See also: Oreskes, N & Conway, E.K., (2010) Merchants of Doubt, Bloomsbury, London.

7.         For a more detailed exposition of this subject see: Wasdell, D. (2003), Roots of the Common Unconscious: Towards a New Paradigm of Psycho-Social Analysis, URCHIN, London.  Presented in MIT, Boston, at the 14th Scientific Conference of the A.K. Rice Institute.  Available as a download pdf at:

Bio-Note:  David Wasdell is the Director of the Unit for Research into Changing Institutions (URCHIN), a registered UK charitable trust which he founded in 1981.  Since 1987 he has been the International Coordinator of the Meridian Programme (formerly the Manhattan Project of Behavioural Science).  He has designed and directed Group Relations events in Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, South Africa, Philippines, Australia and the USA, as well as at various venues in the UK.  He specialises in consultancy-research with a wide range of institutions and organisations undergoing rapid change in conditions of low resource and high stress.

For the last five years he has directed the Apollo-Gaia Project, a world-wide action-research initiative focussed on the feedback dynamics of the global climate system and the effective human response.  He also led the work-package on feedback dynamics of coupled complex global systems for the Global System Dynamics and Policy Co-ordination Action of the European Commission.

In the lead-up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit of December 2009, he was deeply involved in (and presented at) a series of high-level international briefings, seminars and conferences, with participants from civil society and the scientific, political, and business communities.

Graham Richardson

Graham's career includes managing director, board member and senior executive positions in advertising and marketing. Working for three of the world's top advertising agencies, and servicing the world's top brands and services, he had intimate contact, at senior levels, with such business sectors as FMCG, Automotive, Financial Services, Personal Care, Food, Liquor, Government Agencies, Airline and Travel, and Tobacco. Graham is now an independent management consultant to corporates in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, and USA, in the pursuit of excellence in performance and behaviour. He has been coaching senior executives for over ten years. He works with individuals and teams, including CEO's and top teams, cascading cultural change & learning through management levels. Graham consulted through one of Australia's leading executive coaching organisations, The Stephenson Partnership, where he was one of the founding partners until December 2003. His success has always been based on developing outstanding relationships with clients, where he has proved able to stabilise large, difficult situations and turn them to everyone's advantage. He has found that building team structures, with highly motivated, dedicated and enthusiastic members, constantly produces extraordinary results for clients and service organisations alike.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!