Facing up to the Risks of Climate Change

I think that to face up to the risks of ecological catastrophe, we need to explore individual and familiar dynamics, and conflicts for changing them. And, in a new-found dimension of fraternal collaboration, to allow every sustainable action for the environment to be creative and respectfully reparative. We need to rigorously follow the reality principle which would become part of a global renovation, but we must also oppose the scepticism of people who think that the individual is reduced to impotence and closed in a suicidal environmental melancholia (Schinaia, 2019).

Enrique Pichon-Rivière (1971) introduced the concept of vinculo. According to vinculo, internal and external realities are not opposed, but are in a continuous dialectic relationship; a sort of helical movement which establishes the mental functioning. Vinculo includes the inside, the outside and an original third, consisting of both realities.  

Janine Puget and Leonardo Wender (1982), following Pichon-Rivière, speak of overlapping worlds (mundos superpuestos). One world of the patient, the other of the analyst, both of them beset with social contradictions and ideologies, which is why it is not possible to refer to an aseptic dynamics transference-countertransference, unmoored from cultural references of patient and analyst (generally they are the same). 

Riccardo Steiner (1989), referring to fascism, maintains that neutrality cannot be supported when a political situation challenges the values which are the basis of psychoanalytic tradition. In this case, neutrality is collusion. 
We know that, when Donald Trump opposes actions for reducing climate change, he is the spokesman of the interests of industrial, economic and financial lobbies, but he is also the spokesman of our infantile greed.     

Sally Weintrobe (2019) writes: “We are incredulous when Donald Trump says: ‘I will build a wall’. We too build inner imaginary walls to keep out our pain of knowing our ‘carefree’ lifestyles entail violence and suffering. We use inner surveillance to spot any felt pain, so we can quickly insulate ourselves from it with fresh applications of disavowal”. 

But that is not enough; the analysts must have a civil commitment to take a clear political position, free from every misunderstanding of the urgent need to preserve and care for our world. 
The analysts must also revive inside themselves the capacity of thinking and dreaming of a better future, and they must fight for it. They are working to contribute to the development of a sense of measure and the maintenance of a good enough life with space for love and creativity, whilst contemplating with integrity and sincerity, the unpleasant aspects of existence and opposing magic thinking.
Obviously, as analysts we must avoid forcing our anxieties upon the analysands, but we cannot collude with their disavowal of the external reality.
There are some similarities between the defence mechanisms against nuclear danger and ecological catastrophe. 
Franco Fornari (1964, p. 10), the Italian psychoanalyst who founded an international organisation against nuclear risks, maintains: “There is a need for every man and woman to feel that they are themselves somehow involved in the guilt and responsibility for the possible destruction of all humankind”. 

For him (1966), the diffusion of the feelings of individual responsibility and the hope of change must leave from recognising the feelings of guilt as a danger signal. 

“Silence is the real crime”, Hanna Segal (1987) wrote prophetically about the need to proclaim the intrinsic risks in the use of nuclear weapons.  She stressed regression from depressive position and wide paranoid-schizoid mechanisms like splitting and projection.
Gregory Bateson (1972, p. 495) writes: “As therapists, clearly we have a duty. First, to achieve clarity in ourselves; and then to look for every sign of clarity in others and to implement them and reinforce them in whatever is sane in them”.

Thomas Mann’s words (p. 307), pronounced on the occasion of the celebration of Freud’s 80th birthday (May, 8, 1936) can still be considered relevant today: “I hold that we shall one day recognise in Freud’s life-work the cornerstone for the building of a new anthropology and therewith of a new structure, to which many stones are being brought up today, which shall be the future dwelling of a wiser and freer humanity”.
I conclude with some words by Greta Thunberg (2019, p. 230), the young student who focuses tenaciously on the environmental crisis and the rights of next generations: “Our limits slowly move forward. Infinite recovers its figure. Not all is possible, and it is right so, because we find in moderation a different freedom, much wider”. 


Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. San Francisco: Chandler.
Fornari, F. (1964), Psicanalisi della guerra atomica [The Psychoanalysis of Atomic War]. Milano: Edizioni di Comunità.
Fornari, F. (1966), Psicoanalisi della guerra. Milano: Feltrinelli. En. tr.: The Psychoanalysis of the War. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 
Mann, Th. (1936). "Freud und die Zukunft" in Imago, vol. 22: 257-274. En. tr. : Freud and the Future, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 37, 1: 106-115, 1956; here as translated by Helen T. Lowe-Porter in Essays by Thomas Mann (1957). 
Pichon-Rivière, E. (1971), El proceso grupal. Del psicoanálisis a la psicología social. [The Group Process: from Psychoanalysis to Social Psychology]. Buenos Aires: Nueva Visión. 
Puget, J. e Wender, L. (1982), Analista y paciente en mundos superpuestos, Psicoanálisis, 4, 3: 503-536.
Schinaia, C. (2019), Respect for the Environment. Psychoanalytical Considerations on the Ecological Crisis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis,. 100, 2: 272-286.
Segal, H. (1987), Silence is the Real Crime, International Review of Psychoanalysis, 14: 3-12. 
Thunberg, G. (2019). La nostra casa è in fiamme. [Our House is in Fire] Trad. it. Milano: Mondadori, 2019.
Weintrobe, S. (2019). “On Climate Change Denial”, IPA website. Sally Weintrobe

Cosimo Schinaia is a Training Analyst in the Italian Psychoanalytic Society (SPI) and full member of the IPA. He works in private practice in Genoa. His most recent English books are “On Paedophilia”, Karnac, 2010, and “Psychoanalysis and Architecture. The Inside and the Outside”, Karnac, 2016. He also wrote the paper “Respect for the Environment. Considerations on the Ecological Crisis”, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100, 2: 272-286, 2019. www.cosimoschinaia.it



You must login to leave a comment.

New Comment:


Edit Comment:

Attachment:      Delete

Subscribe to comments on the page:

Want to subscribe/unsubscribe on comments? Please click  here