This is not a drill

This is not a drill

Based on Magritte’s ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ or ‘The Treachery of Images’

…because it’s just an image

…because it’s not the kind of drill meant by the phrase

…because it’s an emergency, a Climate and Ecological Emergency, a collapse of our planet’s operating system.

But, because of the complexity of the situation, our clever brains have ways of reassuring us that this IS a drill. We might variously tell ourselves that:

  • “Oh, it’s a manageable emergency, and if I just do a small single thing I will help.” (Minimising.)
  • “This is a helpful practice-run for future crises, and in the meantime, we have to be hopeful, and keep telling people to be hopeful.” (Conditioned optimism.)
  • “These actual impacts we are experiencing e.g. strange weather, food insecurity or coastal erosion, are not obviously related to the actual causes so I’ll wait for some more clarity about what those actual causes are.” (Rationalising)
  • “I wasn’t (very) responsible for causing the crisis so I can carry on a bit longer fuelling it.” (Disavowal)
  • “It’s exaggerated. It’s not happening, fingers-in-ears, la-la-la, I quite like my life as it is…” (Denial)
  • “We all deserve to die anyway. The planet will be OK without us.” (Nihilism)
  • “There’s nowhere to evacuate to and nothing easy to do to solve it, so I’ll have to carry on a bit longer fuelling it.” (De-nihilism)

These frames of thinking are formed collectively, partly arising out of physiological reactions to news of threat, combined with (at least in the UK, for many*) the absence of actual immediate harm or direct witnessing of impacts. Partly these frames are deliberately constructed by propaganda, a ‘Treachery of Images’, from lobby groups denying human-caused Global Warming and delaying climate action over the past four decades.

If we were to recognise the way that these frames are constructed socially and industrially, can this help us flip the thoughts into more positive and alert framing?

What would these statements sound like if they were flipped?

  • “We can’t manage this Emergency, certainly not by the responsibility only being laid on individual shoulders, so we need to collaborate to have a bigger, systemic impact”
  • “This is not a practice run. Many people are directly suffering now. While we still have any stability, resilience and health, we must be driven by hope.”
  • “There is no scientific doubt that the Climate & Ecological Emergency is complicating and accelerating many of the environmental and social changes that are happening now. There are some clear actions that will be effective if we start doing them now, and ask Governments to start doing on a larger scale.”
  • “We are all differently complicit in worsening the Emergency. Some, including fossil fuel company managers and hyper-wealthy consumers, are the most responsible of all. Many, especially those living in the Global South, are being most affected by impacts but are least responsible. I will own my contribution to this situation and make the changes I am capable of.”
  • “It has not been exaggerated. If anything, the speed, scale and complexity of the planetary crisis has been played down. Everything is rapidly going to change, whether you like it or not.”
  • “If I think humans deserve to die, I am condemning billions of innocent humans and future generations. And millions of entire species are also becoming extinct. The planet may be OK as a ball of rock with some forms of life hanging on, but the injustices of allowing mass death and extinction are too unthinkably immoral to entertain as an acceptable course.”
  • “I have to be where I am now and do what I can. I can let go of my expectations of the future, and explore ways to change my way of life to adapt to inevitable changes, and to contribute collectively to a reinvention of society and economy. That way lies the possibility of hope.”

Tools that might be useful to help sustain these flipped frames include:

The Precautionary Principle, work by Rupert Read and others, that encourages decision-making that anticipates future risk and avoids action unless you are completely certain that no harm will be done, to humans, other species, places and planet.

Values and Frames, work by the Common Cause Foundation, to help understand how mental frames are constructed and how they can be shifted into more compassionate values.

Resilience, building a world of resilient communities, providing alternative models for how to live (which can influence our mental frames).

Transition Network, a movement of communities reimagining and rebuilding our world.

New Way, Old Way, a growing chart of ways that mindsets/approaches could change, from the Wellbeing Economy Alliance

This table where I’ve laid out the frames explained in this post.

And this tool about Climate Coping Strategies 

*This blogpost is intended to address people in the UK or similar places where impacts may not be directly experienced, or known as such.

*Update: When I wrote this, I hadn’t known that Extinction Rebellion’s forthcoming book was called ‘This Is Not a Drill‘. I might have seen the phrase on social media, without knowing the context, which gave me the idea for this post. 

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