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Newsletter Issue #9 Those Who Saw the Buffaloes Are Gone: Regret, Anxiety, and Climate Change Denial

Newsletter Issue #9 Those Who Saw the Buffaloes Are Gone: Regret, Anxiety, and Climate Change Denial
By Dr. Karyne Messina  • Issue #9 • View online
I hope this month’s newsletter finds you safe and well, especially as the year winds down and we head into 2022 while still working our way through the coronavirus pandemic. Equally important at this moment is our global response to looming environmental collapse.
What the climate crisis is doing to our collective mental health is only just beginning to be studied. In previous newsletters, I’ve discussed climate grief, mourning a changing planet, bridging the ideological divide, and how fellow mental health practitioners are responding to patients who feel helpless in the face of global climate catastrophe. Today’s missive follows that theme, focusing on the psychology of denial and how green industry must not follow the same destructive patterns as traditional models.

Environmentally friendly industry must consider the entire process.
Environmentally friendly industry must consider the entire process.
Green Industry Must Forge New Paths
Last month, Standard Lithium Ltd. announced a $100 million investment from Koch Strategic Platforms to “pave a path towards lithium production here in the U.S.” Lithium is a low-density metal used in rechargeable batteries for laptops, digital cameras, pacemakers, electric car batteries, and mobile phones. It is an essential element of our electrified, digital world. However, lithium extraction requires billions of gallons of water and can contaminate nearby groundwater. U.S.-based projects are facing increased resistance from environmental groups, who see lithium and other such mining initiatives as no better than the oil and fracking industries they are expected to replace.
Forging a path towards a greener, brighter future fueled by renewable energy will require better methods for extraction that do not result in toxic sludge. Let us hope that the Koch investment–and investments in other renewable necessities to come–will encourage extraction without causing environmental harm.
Where have all the buffaloes gone?
Where have all the buffaloes gone?
Regret, Anxiety, and Climate Change Denial
Psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe is a pioneer in the field of climate psychology. In 2012, she edited Engaging with Climate Change, in which sociologists, academics, and psychoanalysts offered diverse perspectives on the human response to climate change. Her latest book, The Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis examines what she calls the “culture of uncare,” a system she argues “works to sever our felt caring links with the environment and with each other.” By examining the origins of the disavowal of the global climate crisis, Weintrobe hopes to spark discussion among readers of various backgrounds and remains hopeful that humankind can save itself.
She suggests that the last half-century has been beset by governments whose economies and political ideology have worked to deregulate the human mind so that it will fit better with economic progress–an unbalancing of the human mind in the service of economic gain. Weintrobe looks to literary inspiration for this unbalancing, specifically in Ayn Rand’s 1957 neoliberal celebration of Exceptionalism supporting the theory that “selfishness is admirable.” (Weintrobe, 2021). Protagonist Hank Rearden, a successful industrialist, is held up as the model for entrepreneurial grit: “I refuse to apologize for my ability–I refuse to apologize for my success–I refuse to apologize for my money,” he asserts. Weintrobe argues that people like Rearden are paranoid when it comes to sharing their hard-earned gains with workers. As such, these Hank Rearden types feel “unappreciated and resentful and go to extreme lengths to vilify anyone who may question either their wealth or ask for help.”
Bringing this back to the climate crisis, Weintrobe suggests that, like Rearden in Atlas Shrugged, ultra-right-wing billionaires and conservative politicians will pull out all the stops and indulge in fantastic propaganda to prevent entities from enacting environmental policies that may result in diminished economic returns. This epic denial extends to those hesitant to get the Covid-19 vaccine as well.
Despite the odds, Weintrobe sees light at the end of the dark tunnel. “People are reacting to climate reality in two main ways, trying to either avoid it or accept it (and mostly probably struggling between the two,)” she writes. The climate crisis is a collective trauma and eventually, we are all going to feel the consequences of it. Part of the healing process is to ask for forgiveness–of the earth, of those who have felt the crisis firsthand–and then, to work together to find solutions.
It is important to be positive about our chances, but we must also move quicker than we have. Species are disappearing and environments are becoming less hospitable to supporting life. We can enact change, but it must come soon. To that end, I offer a poem of regret by Carl Sandburg entitled “Buffalo Dusk” to remind us that once something’s gone, it’s merely a memory:
The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they pawed the prairie sod into dust with their hoofs, their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.
Source: The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg (Harcourt Brace Iovanovich Inc., 1970)
Green Briefs
On December 6th, climate scientist Susanne Moser, activist Laura Zarta, Fridays for Future Toronto founder Aleinor Rougot, and co-president of the climate psychology alliance of North America Rebecca Weston discussed climate psychology and the work of witnessing human suffering.
What to Watch
The following documentaries explore various environmental issues and are well worth watching:
Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet (TV-PG. 1h 14 m. 2021) David Attenborough and scientist Johan Rochstrom chronicle the biodiversity crisis and how humankind can prevent further catastrophe.
2040: Join the Regeneration (2021) Director Damon Gameau tours the globe to find people actively engaged in reversing global warming.
The Biggest Little Farm (92 min; 2018) This documentary follows John and Molly Chester on their journey from city dwellers to farmers while providing a “blueprint for better living and a healthier planet.”
The Age of Consequences (1hr 20 min; 2016) Climate change disruption and national security are increasingly intertwined, as this documentary investigates.
Other News
My book, Resurgence of Global Populism: A Psychoanalytic Study of Blame-Shifting and the Corruption of Democracy (Routledge, 2022) remains the editor. I look forward to sharing more details with you in the coming months.
I was invited to participate on the Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast, which aired here on Thanksgiving Day!
Did you enjoy this issue?
Dr. Karyne Messina

This newsletter will explore theories based on psychoanalysis and promote the development of the mind and human relationships while also advancing scholarly and social progress.

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