#179 Proudly Mad: exploring mental health and the climate emergency with Charlie Hertzog Young
How did one man make the shift from Not wanting to live in this world, to refusing to live in this world? With Author and Activist Charlie Hertzog Young.
If you’ve listened to this podcast for any length of time, you’ll know that I did the Masters in Regenerative Economics at Schumacher college in 2016-17. It was a genuinely life changing experience not least because I met some of the most inspiring people I could imagine – young, motivated and incredibly bright. And of them all, Charlie was the brightest. Even before we met, he’d studied economics at Harvard and SOAS which for those of you not in academia, are both hardcore and supremely activist. And while doing the MA, he was acting as researcher for one of our best known non-fiction journalists and writers. What I didn’t know was that he was already an award-winning activist who, over the course of his career has worked for the New Economics Foundation, the Royal Society of Arts, the Good Law Project, the Four Day Week Campaign and the Centre for Progressive Change, as well as the UK Labour Party under three consecutive leaders.
Charlie has spoken at the LSE, the UN and the World Economic Forum and written for The Ecologist, The Independent, Novara Media, Open Democracy and The Guardian.
I should have guessed most of that. What I perhaps also ought to have understood better was that he was bipolar – he now says of himself that he’s proudly mad which I love – and how deeply it influenced who he was and what he did. So when he contacted me a while ago with news that he’d written a book, I wasn’t remotely surprised. What was slightly surprising was that he is now a double amputee, and that his book is written about the interface between mental health, the climate emergency and what we now call eco-anxiety but which I think needs a rather stronger name than that implies. But definitely, this is something I wanted to talk about on the podcast – the edges to which our awareness of this time brings us, the frustration that arises out of living in a culture that still, broadly, gaslights all of us and does its best to rob us of the power to bring about change. Note that I don’t think it’s succeeding, and Charlie’s book is a testament to the not-succeeding of the dominant culture, to the resilience of people around the world who are living with the reality of the climate, ecological and societal crisis and are forging paths through the chaos. Spinning Out: Climate Change, Mental Health and Fighting for a Better Future is an extraordinary book. It approaches head on the things we often turn away from, and we did this too, in the podcast – so this is a potential trigger warning. We do discuss Charlie’s suicide attempt and how he ended up with two prosthetic legs, so if this is going to be hard for you, please tap into whatever are your resources before you listen. And then sit back and enjoy, because Charlie’s brought his astonishing capacity for humanity, deep thought, and huge emotional intelligence to this and I loved it.
Manda: If you’ve listened to this podcast for any length of time, you’ll know by now that I did the Master’s in Regenerative Economics at Schumacher College down in Devon in 2016/17. It was a genuinely life changing experience, and not least because I met some of the most inspiring people I could ever have imagined. They were all young, considerably younger than me, highly motivated and incredibly bright. And I don’t think anyone in the year will disagree with me when I say that of all of us, Charlie was and is the brightest. Even before we’d met, he’d studied economics at Harvard and SOAS. And for those of you who are not in the academic world, these are both hardcore and supremely activist places to study. And then while he was doing the MA, he was acting as researcher for one of our country’s best known non-fiction journalists and writers. I did know that. What I didn’t know was that he was already an award winning activist. Who over the course of his career has worked for the new Economics Foundation, the Royal Society of Arts, the Good Law Project, the Four Day Week campaign, and the Centre for Progressive Change. As well as working for the UK’s Labour Party under three consecutive leaders.
Charlie has spoken at the LSE, the UN and the World Economics Forum and has written for the Ecologist, the Independent, Novara media, OpenDemocracy and The Guardian. I should have guessed most of that. What I perhaps also ought to have understood better was that Charlie was and is bipolar. He says of himself now that he’s proudly mad, which I love. But I also didn’t understand how deeply it influenced who he was and what he did. So, when he contacted me a bit ago with news that he’d written a book, I was not remotely surprised. What did surprise me was to learn that he’s now a double amputee and that his book is written at the interface between mental health, the climate crisis, and what we now call eco anxiety, but which I think needs a much stronger name than anxiety implies. So surprised, yes. But absolutely, definitely this is something I wanted to talk about on the podcast. I want us to get to the edges to which our awareness of this time brings us. I want us to acknowledge the frustration that arises out of living in a culture that’s still broadly gaslights all of us and does its best to rob us of the power to bring about change.
Although please note, I don’t think it’s succeeding in that endeavour. And Charlie’s book is a testament to the not succeeding of the dominant culture. To the resilience of people around the world who are living with the reality of the climate and ecological and societal crisis and are forging paths through the chaos. And this is not fluffy bunnies. It’s not gaslighting. It’s not making light of the horror of what’s happening to people around the world even as you and I listen to this. What Charlie’s book does is to open the doors onto this and then show us what people are doing under the radar of the culture that is trying to shut us all up. The book is called Spinning Out; Climate Change, Mental Health and Fighting for a Better Future. And it is extraordinary. It does approach head on the things that we so often turn away from. And we did this, too, in the conversation that you’re about to listen to. So this is a potential trigger warning. We absolutely do discuss Charlie’s suicide attempt and how he ended up with two prosthetic legs. So if this is going to be hard for you, please do tap into whatever are your resources before you listen.
But then do listen. Because Charlie has brought his astonishing capacity for humanity and deep thought and massive emotional intelligence and literacy to this. And it was one of the most beautiful conversations I have ever had. So, people of the podcast, please welcome Charlie Hertzog Young, author of Spinning Out.
Charlie, welcome to Accidental Gods Podcast.
Charlie: Hi. Thank you.
Manda: It’s a real pleasure to see you again.
Charlie: Yeah, you too.
Manda: And as I said in the intro, when we met at Schumacher, without question, whatever room we were in, if you were there, you were the brightest person in the room. And I get to say that because I was the oldest person in the room, pretty much without exception. And you’d been through a lot of other economics trainings. The more heterodox, the ones that taught us that capitalism and growth and all the rest were the only answers. And you were the one who knew why that wasn’t true and you were going to ask those questions. And since then, your life has evolved in different directions. It’s probably actually evolved in the same direction. It’s just that I wasn’t as switched into activism then. Extinction Rebellion didn’t exist. I thought I was the only person who really got climate emergency and what was happening, which is kind of slightly arrogant.
Charlie: Well, the isolation is part of the problem, isn’t it? Yeah.
Manda: It is. And so here we are, seven years down the road and running slightly parallel lives. And you have written a book which blew me away.
Charlie: Thank you.
Manda: As I would expect it to, partly because super bright as we said, but also the content managed to stitch together what for me were shamanic realities, economic realities, activist realities, and a vision of a future that could take us forward. So tell us a little bit about how you came to write it.
Charlie: I chose to write Spinning Out because climate change very nearly killed me. I’d been an activist since I was about… I don’t think I could say I was an activist at 12, but um…
Manda: I think if what you said in the book is true. You were an activist at 12.
Charlie: Well, okay. All right. I mean, around that time, like the same time that I was made aware of the terrifying, apocalyptic world shifting scale of climate chaos, I started hallucinating. In various ways through my activism and through my studies and then through kind of serious mental health breakdowns and then a suicide attempt, I don’t know, I was forced to reckon with it in a completely different way. So, the book is an attempt to give people a chance to understand and absorb the relationship between the mind and the climate, in a way that can be harnessed, I guess, through action to use action as a form of recovery. And I’m trying to demonstrate that through loads and loads of examples of incredible people all over the world and celebrating them.
Manda: Yeah. And absolutely you do that. I meet quite a lot of people in this space, particularly the shamanic space, when we’re trying to explore other realities. But also in the activist space, insofar as I engage with it and I’m not as activist as you are.
Charlie: It’s not a competition.
Manda: No, I know it’s not. I know. But I do sometimes feel as if I’m not doing enough. It was The Big One recently and I wasn’t there and I felt really bad. But anyway, we’re each doing our own thing. I meet a lot of people who get to the point where not inhabiting the world seems like their best possible option. That being part of the problem becomes in and of itself, one of the actions that we could take is, okay, I’ll just check out and then I am no longer part of the problem. So, paraphrasing slightly, early in the book, you say that you went from not wanting to live in this world, to actually not being prepared to live in this world. And I meet a lot of people who would like to make that shift, I think. They’re hovering on the edge of what can I do? Because going to live in a straw bale hut on the west edge of Wales and having basically no impact, insofar as you can in Western society, is still not going to change the trajectory of our culture. The RAF boys are still going to take off in Lakenheath and go for a quick spin to the Brecon beacons and back and use, you know, more carbon in that than basically half of our lifetime. And you have made that shift and then you’ve gone out into the world and found other people who have come at least towards the edge of that crisis and decided that activism is a better avenue. And I’m wondering how you made that shift. How did that come about as a reorientation of your life?
Charlie: I guess it was a really fundamental shift. It was something that initially I resisted. You know, I thought I’d made that shift intellectually and cerebrally, but I hadn’t made it in terms of my habits and my kind of daily activities. And I think, firstly, it takes a long time. But it took engaging with other people consistently and I guess what I used to do, and I’m just using myself as an example. But what I used to do is, I have bipolar disorder and whenever I didn’t feel really ill, really depressed or really manic or psychotic or whatever it was, if I felt like I was kind of back to baseline, I was normal again, I would rush at a problem and try and solve it with this kind of urgency. And I know you asked about isolating, but the flip side of that was I would have a breakdown and then I’d isolate. And if the rushing didn’t work, I would just close myself off and feel like the rest of the world was mad or thought I was mad. And what I found over and over again, talking to dozens, if not a few hundred people about this, is that loads of people feel really dislocated from society and that that dislocation can get increased sometimes by engaging further with the world. And the flip for me occurred when I started meeting people who were intentionally creating, I don’t know, I don’t want to say organisations or communities, or even the word activism is, people have a very rigid idea of what that is, really. It’s about finding people that you feel comfortable with, can build healing relationships with and just do stuff together. And it’s the act of doing stuff together, of building bits of a different world, regardless of what those in power do. Just doing it as a group together and connecting with others who are doing the same. It’s like you’re building an ecosystem. You’re creating an ecosystem which is protective and healing and supportive.
Manda: And where you have a common language. Because I am thinking that certainly for me, the times I get really spun out are when I enter back into consensus reality where everyone is busy gaslighting each other and pretending that nothing is happening. And you know, the most important thing on the planet is people in small boats trying to escape the climate breakdown. And we’re all going to focus on the boats and not the larger picture. So what I’m hearing is that you began to move out of the cerebral intellectual analysis, into a more connected and therefore a more emotionally secure space. Is that fair?
Charlie: Yeah. Yeah, it is. I’ll give you a kind of example in terms of therapy. I guess this isn’t so much to do with activism, but it definitely applies. I was lucky enough to be able to access psychoanalysis for years. And I say lucky enough, but actually it didn’t really do a great deal for me, other than give me the ability to talk about myself loads and loads and walk out the door and have it all tangle into this like spaghetti like mess. And after my suicide attempt, I started working with trauma therapists who are much more pragmatic and focussed. I started working with a recovery coach and with people who, I don’t know, this includes friends, this isn’t just explicitly therapeutic relationships. But it went from trying to analyse the problem or talk through the problem, to working out, okay, what next? What are you going to do? How are you going to structure your life? How are we going to structure our lives together so that we can be as resilient as possible? Now, I don’t know if that makes a great deal of sense in terms of activism, but it was exactly the same for me there. You know, I would go out of school or out of university or out of work and I’d do some activism. It was like, you know, a bit part. And then I’d often come home and just feel incredibly alone. And this is more about relationships and about friendships and about just accepting that we have to experiment and we have to trust the process, I guess.
Manda: Yeah and one of the many sentences that I highlighted in the book was when you said psychiatry and psychology are never politically neutral.
Manda: Downplaying the social and ecological drivers of our inner worlds has the effect of forcing people back into the systems that made them unable to cope in the first place. And then you found people who weren’t doing that, who were presumably hooked into a different set of paradigms. And then as part of your recovery, I guess, and at some point we’ll maybe look at your suicide attempt, because it was one of those ones that was really designed to succeed. I am in awe of the fact that you are still here. I’m very glad, Charlie.
Charlie: Me too.
Manda: So maybe let’s talk about that and then I want to talk about the people that you met out in the world. So if you’re comfortable with that, tell us a little bit about where you got to.
Charlie: Yeah, yeah, sure. Well, the bizarre and really fortuitous thing is that quite how extreme the trauma was, meant that my brain has blacked out the memory. So I know what happened from stitching together the stories of people who found me, who were there around the time. And I was on the sixth floor, I was on a flat roof and I jumped and I landed. I don’t know how much detail you want me to go into, but I’m happy to talk about it. But I remained conscious and I dragged myself to a flower pot or a flower bed or something, and ended up talking to a woman who was in the property next door that I landed in. It was a kind of concrete base. And a friend said quite flippantly, but quite funnily the other day that I was just trying to reconnect with the earth.
Manda: The woman thought that you were a burglar of some sort, but you’d landed.
Charlie: Yeah she did. She thought I was trying to rob the house.
Manda: While your tibias were basically in powder, as far as I can tell, because you now have no legs below the knee.
Charlie: I now have no legs. Yeah. I’ve lost both my legs. I was in a coma for a month. I was in hospital for half a year or so. I mean I had, I was about to say it’s funny, but that’s just a colloquialism. It’s strange, I only discovered quite a few of the injuries last week because I got a letter from somebody who’d looked over my medical records. But I had a brain bleed, I had serious injuries in my lungs, both my wrists were broken, part of my spine was fractured. It was close.
Manda: It sounds really close. I mean, it sounds you must be part cat because there cannot be many people, the human body is not designed to…
Charlie: Well I landed on my feet, you know, I’m doing all right.
Manda: Ten metres per second squared from six floors up. It’s just not really designed to survive that. And yet you did.
Charlie: I survived largely because there happened to be an ambulance team on the block and they had this experimental drug that clots the blood. And so it stopped me bleeding out very quickly. And they put me in the ambulance and apparently I was talking a lot about climate change in the ambulance. And I think they knocked me out with ketamine or something.
Manda: You probably don’t remember, because it seems to me the people that I talk to, there are the ones who think I just need to take myself out of this equation, because the equation is too bad and I am part of it. Therefore, my not being here is the only thing that I can do. And I know that when I get to the edge, these days, that’s the edge that I get to. But then there’s the edge I probably got to earlier in life, that wasn’t as connected to this, of I just don’t actually know how to handle the world. And leaving seems the simplest and best option. And I wonder, there’s probably a very broad spectrum and there are probably other options than that. But do you think it was, given that you were talking about climate change in the ambulance, was this a ‘Checking out is the only thing that I know how to do that will make enough of a difference’, do you think?
Charlie: I don’t know. I think it was more that I just, you know, I don’t know because I don’t remember it. I’m just, again, stitching it together from other people. But I think it was a long term build-up of stress, strain, worry, anxiety, fear of doom, and also not feeling like I belonged in a world that – not even the world actually – it’s in a human, socioeconomic, political system that is deeply, deeply oppressive. And it is wedded to pulling people apart, pulling communities apart, pulling cultures apart and decimating us. And I just couldn’t cope on my own with that. And I had a lot of help and I had a lot of support, but just something, I couldn’t cope.
Manda: Thank you. But we’re here now, three years on, I think almost.
Charlie: Yeah, three and a half.
Manda: And you’ve written your book. And in your book you say the goal is not to get rid of climate despair and everything associated. The goal is to transform it into what is bearable and useful and motivating. And you’ve done that, as far as I can tell, by going around the world and connecting with other people who have got to a similar edge and finding those edge places. And just before we started talking, I was reading Rob Hopkins, who had been at The Big One in London, saying, you know, I’ve met all these amazing people and we don’t know what to do yet, or we’d be doing it. But it’s in the edge places, that the fertility is of the ideas that will all coalesce together to be something different. So shall we move on to some of the edge places that you have been, geographically and conceptually. Of the other people around the world that you’ve spoken to, about that interface between where our mental health and our planetary health come together. Pick one and go with it. I don’t mind which one. We’ll go to them all in the end.
Charlie: All right. Yeah, we’ll do a little tour. I guess I’d like to start off by just kind of summarising a little bit of the approach to climate psychology or despair or trauma or eco anxiety, whatever you’d like to call it. But there are so many different ways that this is experienced and there are a few different causal pathways that are worth pointing out. And just before I start, I want to say that a friend shared something with me recently. It was a meeting, saying that indigenous people are basically saying lol, like white people have just worked out what ecocide is, and experiencing eco-anxiety and we’ve been doing this for 500 years. And kind of like this is the tip of the iceberg for people in the global North and people who are kind of living in modernity. Modernity, I mean, is a kind of political philosophy. But there’s eco anxiety and there’s relating to climate change from a distance in the abstract. Which can be really powerful and has driven people not just to anxiety, but to depression and despair and PTSD and psychosis and even suicide. And there are stories, for instance, of the two men who set themselves alight in the States recently. And then there’s like a whole other category, and these all overlap, of people experiencing the physical impacts of climate change.
Charlie: And as a result of that, whether it’s flooding or some kind of natural disaster or a forest fire, these have psychological consequences as well as physical ones. So heatwaves, for instance, like can massively drive up violence and that can go from domestic abuse. And one of the most extreme examples I found in Madrid was that there was a 40% increase in femicide during a heatwave. And police officers, this is another study, police officers are more likely to view suspects with suspicion when the temperature is higher. They’re more likely to shoot people, with all other kind of factors being equal. And then you pair that with like, I found that after Hurricane Katrina, the average consumption of alcohol for police officers went from two drinks a day to seven drinks a day. So combine that with people being in stress and trauma and trying to work out where they’re going to live. All of this has major ramifications for the sense of safety, for precariousness, for depression, anxiety, PTSD. And it can also exacerbate already existing conditions like schizophrenia, you know, across the board. Now, you’ve also got and this is worth separating as a kind of distinct thing, is that a lot of indigenous communities who experience the Land and species as kin, are grieving the loss of that.
Charlie: And, you know, a term that’s been applied to it by Western science is solastalgia, and that’s essentially losing a connection with ancestors, a connection with communities. And it’s been something that’s been going on for a long time. I talk about the example of the Inuit in the book. And there’s also a potential of a microbiome connection with our psychology. And this is something I was talking with Aracelli Camargo recently about. She runs Centric Lab, and they do lots of really fascinating and incredible work on community, race, society, economic health. So, a kind of systems look at health. And she was saying that they’re looking into the ways in which being in different environments physically and having more species diversity around you, in terms of the microbiology and also just kind of plants, has an effect on your physiology. Whether it’s through your gut-brain axis, biome, whatever. But it definitely has an effect. And there are loads of studies that are kind of starting to show this. And you stitch that all together and the basic message is the mind and our mental health is a system. And just like our society is a system, just like ecosystems are a system and just like the climate is a system. And the issue is that so much of the dominant culture is based on pulling all of that stuff apart and treating it like a machine.
Manda: And pretending it doesn’t exist. I would really love to keep going down the microbiome and the exploration of indigeneity, partly because I want to go back to our loss of indigeneity when the Romans came. But you didn’t write about that, and that would be unfair. So let’s head back to Charlie, the activist and your explorations of activism.
Manda: I know, but I’m dead impressed with your activism. You know, there are not many people who hid in a toilet in the House of Commons and then their friend glued themselves to Gordon Brown. You know, we’re not talking placards and marching up and down the street. Gluing yourself to the then prime minister is quite brave, actually.
Charlie: I learnt a lot from how he very gracefully, like untangled himself from the superglue. It was quite impressive. He smiled and just twisted his wrist around.
Manda: Yeah, yeah. And actually, his security officers didn’t stop you before you got there. You know, you could have had a bomb in your pocket, and you didn’t.
Charlie: Well, I mean, yeah, my friend and I were there because we’d won an award that was being presented by him. So, we had to go and shake his hand and take the award. So, there was loads of security and I had to hide the glue in my shoe and the camera phone, which was a flip phone. Like back in those days.
Manda: It was a while ago, yes.
Charlie: Yeah, it was a while ago. The really grainy rubbish picture ended up on the front page of the Metro, which was quite funny. Although my mate, I think I told you of Mike, he now can’t enter the States to release his book. And he’s looking for help from anyone that will give it, to help him get a pardon for what happened.
Manda: Yes. If anyone has a personal connection to Gordon Brown, who could intervene and go, Hey guys, it was only a little bit of superglue. It’s okay. And anyway, it was in a very good cause.
Charlie: Yeah, yeah. Get in touch with me on Twitter and I’ll tell Dan.
Manda: Get in touch with me, I’ll put you in touch with Charlie. We’ll sort it all out. Because this is, I don’t want to harp into that particularly, but this is the microcosm of where we’re at. Which is that the dominant culture has the power to significantly influence how we live, while dragging us along in its train, and then paying lip service to creating change. That it has no intention of changing.
Charlie: False solutions that are going to end up compounding the crisis.
Manda: Yes, totally. And even the really good parts of it like the Club of Rome…. I’m reading their most recent publication, it’s like a second edition of Limits to Growth, and it’s really sweet, but I’m sorry, it’s not going to get us to where we need to get to.
That’s a whole separate conversation. You then were an activist. I’ll say that again in ways that don’t sound that I’m just bowing to Charlie’s activism. But you went to COP, you were involved in COP, and I gather from the book extremely disillusioned. And then you’ve been around the world meeting other people who are in the space where: one, they get it. Two, they understand that our mental health and climate health are completely intertwined and they are equally disillusioned with everything that’s going on. And particularly you met Jennifer Uchendu, if I’ve said that, right, in Nigeria, who had been at the UN climate talks in Madrid. And was completely devastated, as far as I can tell, by the leaders who had gone in there; presumably some of these people are decent people. Presumably they kind of get it on some level. And then they just sit around and talk about stuff. Tell us about Jennifer.
Charlie: Yeah, and there are huge numbers of lobbyists. And well, Jennifer and I, the first time we chatted, I think we ended up talking about our kind of parallel experiences, very different but parallel experiences of COPs. Mine was at Copenhagen, hers was in Madrid. And she was saying that, I guess it’s similar to when you’re a kid and you realise your parents aren’t perfect. Right? And your whole story is about…
Manda: Santa Claus were not true.
Charlie: Yes! Your whole world falls apart. She described it really well. She said that getting to COP, getting to the UN climate talk, for a climate activist feels a bit like getting to the final boss in a video game. It’s like, okay, you know, I’m here now. I’m in the halls of power. And she was saying that she just felt tokenised, she felt kind of used for her race, for her position, and that no one really cared about getting much done. And like, when you’re actually in there, the number of lobbyists, the billboards that are up from fossil fuel companies claiming to be green, like it’s just dystopian. So, it would be a bad film if like, that was the set. Like it would be just a bit too on the nose. And both like she and I had major breakdowns afterwards. She said she was just crying for days and days and you know, really depressed. And she then transformed that. She’d been a climate activist for a long time; she decided to do her master’s on eco anxiety and so did lots of research on XR and the differences between people in the global north experiencing global eco anxiety and the people in the global South. And like for her, she was saying, I’ll be butchering this, but like to reduce it to a sentence. Um, in the global north it was largely about kind of guilt and anxiety. And in the global South it was more to do with anger and injustice. And that kind of makes sense. You know, the UK is going to get smashed up by climate change, but that’s very different from, you know, we’re much more protected than Nigeria, where there’s huge flooding already and floods and heat waves.
Manda: Not likely to end up under a heat dome where where life is impossible. Where you’ve exceeded human body temperature and you can’t sweat it off, whereas Nigeria might well.
Charlie: And Jennifer went to Lagos and she’d already set up a group called Sassy Vibes and she set up a group afterwards called the Eco Anxiety in Africa Project. And the genesis of it, like the first bit, I can’t remember if this was before or after they were actually an organisation. But she decided to get a group of people together to just talk about whether this, she didn’t have the terminology for eco anxiety then, she hadn’t come across it yet. But like whether this climate emotion stuff was worth exploring. And the the outpouring of emotion and similar emotion about how people felt about this particular issue, and all of the ways it was stitched through poverty, through youth in the country and the future of the country, about not just natural disasters, but essentially every element of the country, which is true for everyone everywhere. She then decided to set up TEAP.
Manda: The eco anxiety project Africa. Yes I will link to that in the show notes.
Charlie: Yeah, please do. And now they do kind of listening cafes, climate cafes where they come together and talk about eco emotions and climate emotions, but they also do really practical stuff like tree planting and litter clear ups in cities. And she was saying in Lagos they do litter clear ups, not just as a way of just picking up a piece of litter and, you know, drop it in the bucket action, but a way of doing some kind of deep canvassing. Where you speak to people about not just the plastic and where it came from, but also the fact that the plastic is clogging up this really antiquated rubbish drainage system and that they live on a floodplain that’s very susceptible to being put under water. You know, there were floating cars there last year. And that’s a way of talking to people about the issues. By talking about a piece of plastic on the floor. And it at least begins to stitch together a fabric of a community. And, you know, she’s working with thousands of people now, and they’re also working with a group called Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI). And they have been doing loads of free mental health support, volunteer led. And they have phone lines that people can call, they do stuff on social media.
Charlie: They’ve now expanded over the whole continent of Africa. I came across something saying that they are now the largest mental health provider, support provider in Nigeria, which is huge. And they’re volunteer led. And there are other organisations in the country that have been founded by people who’ve got lived experience of mental health problems. And there’s this peer to peer like network building, that is just huge and it’s so much more transformative and meaningful for all of the people involved than, you know, not just what’s currently there in Nigeria, which is a really punitive system. And it was just this year that they signed in a mental health law to replace what was previously the British Lunacy ordinance, or at least derived from it, where it was illegal to to try and kill yourself. It’s true in loads of countries. But yeah, that peer to peer system is better than what we’ve got in the UK with the NHS.
Manda: Yes. And that to me is really important. And I don’t think you were quoting Jennifer, but it was within that conversation, you said, this is not a snowflake issue. It’s about making sure people feel comfortable, peeling back layers of distress and trauma, which only happens healthily if they can trust that what is shared will be respected. And that seems to be said a little bit further on, that Individuals sharing deep dark and personal thoughts, feelings and traumas only to be met with a head tilt and that tokenistic, you know, I hear you. And then you just move on as if nothing had happened. And that seems to be such a lack in the UK. We’ve talked to Louis Weinstock, who’s an extraordinary child psychologist who’s beginning to work with nine-year olds who’ve got climate trauma, and they’re not working in school anymore because what’s the point? You know, they looked into the science and they were being gaslighted at school with this pretence that everything’s going on. Why would I do the exams when the world isn’t going to be there? But have you seen in other spaces around the world, it seems to me there’s peer to peer support and then having a way, if you decide that you need something, perhaps more professional, having a referral link to something, seems to be what they’ve got in Nigeria and also I think in Pakistan. Is that beginning to spread around the world? Because it seems like everywhere is going to need that.
Charlie: I mean, it is beginning to spread, but it’s also like it’s more that there are seeds that have been… Not even lying dormant, I guess seeds is the wrong analogy. But there have been communities that have been doing this for a long time. And what’s starting to happen is that they’re getting stitched together and they’re finding each other, and that’s absolutely incredible. One quick thing I’d like to say about kids in the UK, like I’ve spoken to a lot of parents who just don’t know how to discuss this stuff with their children. And there are good materials out there about how to talk to kids about climate change. But I hope that this book could help people, help parents. In fact, I spoke to a parent today who told me that his daughter’s got eco anxiety. And the book was really helpful for him to understand how to talk with her about her feelings, but also to demonstrate that there are a ton of other options and ways of doing things, and things that she can get stuck into if she wants to. And in Nigeria, just in terms of linking to other professional services, one story that Jennifer told me was about a guy who had got involved, because they were doing a photography project, but the level of distress that he was presenting, it was clear that he was quite suicidal. So, they linked him in with therapists, they work with kind of psychological professionals, and they connected him with somebody who helped him with those feelings. And now he uses photography and community action as a way of coping. I haven’t spoken to him personally, but this is what Jennifer’s told me. In Pakistan, for me it’s one of the most moving things that I came across, was the work of a psychiatrist called Dr Asma Humayun. And she’s worked with the WHO and she’s worked on the ICD, which is like the international equivalent of the DSM. And I mean, it’s other diseases that are classified, not just psychiatric ones. But she’s been piloting this program in Islamabad where previously a million people in this area had one psychiatrist. Now, that is the result of a market system that leads to like there being one psychiatrist.
Manda: One very overworked psychiatrist, one feels, who’s probably only seeing upper middle class people who’ve got the money.
Charlie: Yeah, I mean if there are a million people, it’s like, what are you going to do? And she also told me that when partition happened, partition between India and Pakistan, there were three psychiatric hospitals in the country, and they were all really quite punitive. So, there wasn’t any primary care for mental health. There still is very little primary care. So, what Dr Humayun did, was set up this pilot where in a week they trained a thousand people, who were social workers, teachers, people who were connected into the community and saw a lot of people a day. They trained them in mental health first aid, psychological first aid, connected them through an app which required very low kind of signal bandwidth so anybody could use it.
Manda: Did one of them design the app? Or is it an off the shelf one?
Charlie: It’s bespoke to this project. And then people can, if they come in contact with somebody that they think might be struggling, they can talk it through with this person and then offer to connect them with a psychological professional. And there are various tiered levels where eventually you can get to, you know, a therapist or a psychiatrist or whoever needs to be seen. If it’s helpful. And they piloted it in the Kurram District as well, and they found that 50% of the people that they had referred and were seen, came back again. Which is an alarmingly high, an amazingly high proportion, because I guess people felt connected and seen and heard. It was actually a nested community system. It’s like a collective system that operates a bit like an ecosystem. And whereas what we’ve got at the moment is like you can call… I mean, I got a call from my mental health care coordinator today and I’ve never met her, and I haven’t spoken to her in maybe seven, eight months. And the last time I spoke to her was her asking me if I still needed a care coordinator. That was the first time we’d ever spoken! And there are loads of reports in the UK recently of people getting kicked off the system, because they’re not deemed ill enough. And just to be clear, I understand the pressures on the NHS, but it’s just, yeah, I mean, don’t get me started on psychiatric units or any of that.
Manda: Well, exactly, because predatory neoliberalism is breaking down and the NHS is intimately bonded in there. My partner, one of her daughters has special needs and there is no adult special needs service in Shropshire. And the people who are there, they cut off the phones to them, it was one person and the only way they could get a signal on their mobile phone was to put it on the window ledge. And it’s not surprising, then that they’re basically doing… There was a fantastic novel which claimed to be fictional a long, long time ago called The House of God. And it was a look at the American health care system. And they had a thing called buffing and turfing, which was you buffed the notes to show that whatever speciality you were in, this patient had nothing to do with you, and then you turfed them to the next speciality down the line. And the final turf was the turf to pathology, and the orthopaedic unit had the turfing beds and you set the height to where you wanted to turf them to and how high you put the bed turf into the relevant place. And it didn’t read like this was really fiction.
You write really movingly what’s happening in Nigeria and what’s happening in Pakistan, and yet it has always seemed to me that you cannot help people whose mental health crises are a result of the system, unless you are also addressing the system. Otherwise you’re simply sticking bandages on.
Charlie: Yeah, the only thing to do when it’s the system that’s making us sick is to build new worlds together. That’s the only thing we can do, right?
Manda: So, I really want to move on to how we’re going to change the world, because that clearly is what matters. But before we get there, I want to take a quick sideways step into Mexico, because in Mexico also you met some really interesting people who are engaging at this interface between mental health and climate health.
Charlie: And loads of other stuff.
Manda: And loads of other stuff. And the other stuff was really shamanic. And really the shamanic stuff has been all the way through. And I’m sure you didn’t write it just to keep me happy, but it made me very happy. So tell us a little whatever you would like about Mexico.
Charlie: Oh, first trip or second trip?
Manda: Well, both, actually. I’m reading a little bit at the moment about the words for Moon, Belly button…
Charlie: Metztli, Xictli and Co, Yeah. Well I’m butchering it, but the name Mexico comes from the Mexica people, but the Metztli (Moon), Xictli (belly button, or centre) and Co (denoting a position or place) is the main theory of where the name came from, which kind of means in the belly button of the moon. And the reason it’s called that is because Mexico City or Tenochtitlan was largely a raised city in a lake at the top of a volcanic crater. So when the moon came up, it would, you know, reflect and they were in the belly button of the moon. I thought that was quite amazing.
Manda: Until Cortez arrived and destroyed everything.
Charlie: Until Cortez arrived and yeah, assassinated a bunch of unarmed ceremonial drummers. And then I think he disembowelled some.
Manda: Oh, don’t. Yeah. The things that they did in South America are unspeakable. Yeah, I get very cross, but let’s not go there. Let’s go to the slightly different parts. Because there was a COP in 2010 and you were there way back.
Charlie: Yeah, I was there with a group of people. It’s a group called Unfair Play, which was really fun to be part of. Really stressful but also we realised a bit too late that if you googled unfair play, it turned up some dodgy porn stuff.
Manda: Oh dear!
Charlie: Journalists would look it up and be like, Is this you guys? But our job was to help transcribe some of the meetings, because a lot of the underrepresented nations, which typically were those who are most at risk of climate impacts, often didn’t have enough delegates to go to all of the meetings that were running simultaneously. So that it was impossible for them to actually know what was going on, even if they were running at full capacity.
Manda: Because there are so many streams happening all the time?
Charlie: Yeah, there were like six often happening at a time. And a lot of delegations had five delegates or fewer. Usually smaller nations that were likely to get harder hit. So yeah, I was there for that. And I was also I was hallucinating a lot while I was there. Um, the wolf was with me. I don’t know if you want me to talk about the wolf.
Manda: You haven’t mentioned the wolf, So let’s take a quick step back to telling us about the wolf early on. And particularly, I would like to know about the bit where it helped you in an action.
Charlie: Okay. All right. Sure. So the wolf was the first and main.. I feel odd calling it a hallucination, but I’ll just, you know.
Manda: You could call it an entity. Would that feel better? Or a companion? I don’t know.
Charlie: I don’t know. I haven’t worked that out yet. But potentially companion. But I would see the wolf a lot when I was on my own from kind of early teenage years. Most of the time at the beginning it would attack me, and I’d have these fights. Sometimes on my own in the bathroom or walking through an alleyway in the back of Kilburn. And sometimes it felt much more like an ally. And the example you alluded to was when I was part of an action to try and shut down a major UK airport for a while. And really stupidly, I kind of camoed up on my own and went through this forest thicket. I could have got shot, like super easily. And the wolf was with me, just stalking alongside. And we got up in this tree and were sitting watching the runway. And I was basically scouting to make sure that security didn’t come at the wrong time. And yeah, they did. And that was a whole drama. But it was successful in the end.
Manda: Did you get arrested?
Charlie: I didn’t get arrested. A lot of people did.
Manda: Did security know you were there?
Charlie: I don’t think so, no.
Manda: Okay. Well done, The wolf.
Charlie: I think I was 15 or 16. That was my very specific role was to just make sure nobody was there.
Manda: And it’s worth saying that you’d done quite a lot of wilderness, Tom Brown Wilderness training at that point. That was a way that you were able to ground yourself and and connect to realities that were not part of the Western consensus reality. Is that a fair summary?
Charlie: Yeah, for sure. I spent a few years as a student of, some people call them survival skills, but nature awareness, you know, spent a lot of time on my own in the woods at night and kind of camped on my own a few times for like three weeks with very little.
Manda: Which is a transformative experience, I think. We send our students out for a night and it’s transformative. Three weeks would be huge.
Charlie: It really is. Yeah.
Manda: And just before we segway into the wolf, we talked right at the top about indigeneity and the indigenous peoples understand the connectivity to the earth, in the sense that they feel an integral part of the web of life. When you spent time out in the woods, you probably didn’t have that language because we tacked that on in a Western sense. But did you have that sense of interbeing with the woods around you?
Charlie: I did, and I really miss it. It’s much harder to experience in a direct way, partly maybe because of the trauma I’ve been through and the dissociation. But also possibly the medication that I’m on. I’m going to take meds for the rest of my life. I do need them. But I think also what got kind of wrapped up in all of that, tangled in that, is that I was really desperately seeking that connection. And I often found it when I was on my own, but I wasn’t ever part of a community and culture that was really rooted in place. And we’re talking about, you know, on the video we’re putting brackets around it, but nobody can hear that. Indigeneity as a concept. And indigenous peoples as a group are the most diverse group of communities in and of themselves in the world, even though they comprise a comparatively tiny amount of the population now.
Manda: Yeah, yeah. There’s 532 separate nations of indigenous nations in the US alone. And that’s not all of them. That’s just the ones that are acknowledged. So yes, absolutely.
Charlie: Yeah. But I felt like I was trying to connect with some version of an Indigenous culture in the UK which felt really disembodied. And maybe this leads back to what you wanted to say about the Romans. But yeah, I’ve never found it and I think it’s borderline impossible to, at the moment. I don’t know. But I can’t just transplant somebody else’s culture. It would be wrong to transplant somebody else’s culture into a different space without any of the cultural knowledge.
Manda: No, it did occur to me to wonder if you went to live with one of, let’s say, the northern US nations, because you have a contact there. Would being in that community help to cement that connectedness? But then you would always, I imagine if I did that I would always feel like an outsider, and that what I really want is to connect to the Gods of this Land, in a held community here and feel that I was at home.
Charlie: Which leads us back to the whole complex, systemic dynamic process of building real communities, right? And supporting each other’s kind of psychological and physical well-being through community building that’s real and rooted. And I guess that then branches out, not even branches out, it almost in concentric rings, spools out or spins out into society, into culture, into economics and politics, into ecology, biomes and climate. Like it’s all a nested system of complex dynamics.
Manda: And to what extent do you think that is possible? Because what I find, and again I can only speak from my own experience and I’m endeavouring to foster those communities of place, purpose and passion that are absolutely grounded in a connection to the Gods of this Land. And this is the United Kingdom, Britain, the land of Britannia, to the web of life here as we see it. And doing that takes a lot of work. Thinking that it’s a nice idea, is not the same as actually sitting on the land and actually opening to what is there and actually letting go of our projections. And we’ve had 2000 years of a system that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, and that has steadily dislocated us from the land.
Manda: And I find quite a lot of people who think it’s a nice idea and when presented with this will require half an hour a day of quite focussed work, that’s just not going to happen.
Charlie: Why do you think that is?
Manda: I think the dislocation is an integral part of some people’s lives and part of that is microtoming our time. There’s an interesting book recently came out called The Price of Time, and I don’t necessarily agree with most of its premise, which seems to be quite neoliberal, but that time is our most precious resource. Partly, we now exist in a social media system where harvesting our attention is a thing and the race to the bottom of the brain stem is highly efficient and is conducted by people who have PhDs in how to grab your attention and hold it. And they’re weaponizing it.
Charlie: Yeah, backed by corporations with huge amounts of money. Yeah.
Manda: And I think it’s one of those things, the people who do put in the time, it becomes addictive quite quickly and it has its own feedback loops. But getting over that hump is a step too far. And people would rather do mushrooms or do ayahuasca or, you know, think that there’s a shortcut. And my experience of that is watching people spin out beyond the point where I could reach them. Which isn’t to say that medicine plants are not a good thing. I think medicine plants are a grand thing, but you need to do you need to work with them in a really, really grounded way with people who understand the pathways along which they lead you. And someone who’s done a weekend, with someone who’s done a weekend, with someone who’s done a weekend, with someone who once watched a video on ayahuasca, is not the way to do that. Sorry. Now I’m ranting. So it’s hard. And finding the places on the Land where you can connect. I’m sure it is possible to stand on top of the sixth floor of a building and connect, but you have to be quite good at it.
Charlie: I guess. I mean, it’s helpful to chat about this, but as somebody who’s lived in London for most of his life, like there isn’t really much Land that I can connect to.
Manda: Hampstead Heath?
Charlie: Yeah, I mean, yeah, which only survived because of massive protests, because people wanted to be able to drive their sheep over it. You know, I do go swimming there quite often, which is lovely. But it’s also one of the reasons I think people are kind of pulled away from community work or like connecting with the Land, is that it’s got this brand of, I don’t know, of it being too… You know, we’ve been talking about connecting and I think a lot of people see it as an escape. You know, a lot of these things are called retreats, right? And I think people do still want to be part of modernity in some way and find some fusion of like being present and being contemporary and also being grounded and being real. I think that being part of some kind of supportive community, whether it’s a mutual aid community or whether it’s like getting together with a bunch of friends to try and raise money and help insulate each other’s houses and your neighbour’s houses. I live in Camden and down the road there’s this new space that’s been opened up where they will teach you how to fix your stuff.
Manda: A repair cafe sort of thing.
Charlie: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Rather than having to go out and buy a new thing and planned obsolescence and destruction is a key part of the economic process, right? You know, we need to keep consuming. But I don’t know what the getting people over that hump is. And I think it can happen gradually. I don’t think it has to be like suddenly I decided to do this. It can be just a feeling in the culture and like enough shift is happening around us that we decide to join something. And if we find a group where we feel comfortable. One of the strategies I have is I always go with somebody, because the number of times I’ve turned up to a meeting and been so anxious that I can’t go inside and then I just have a cigarette and go home. It’s happened so often. I’ll go with someone. We’ll go in together, try and avoid, just like chatting to each other and being really snarky, but like, get involved. And I’ve had a few people say to me that one of the best ways to sense how healthy and supportive and communal spaces is often how they deal with conflict. And if people are just shut down, if there’s an obvious power dynamic of shutting people down when there’s a disagreement, or people don’t feel safe sharing rather than an actual discourse. Or some kind of, I don’t know, principles of restorative justice and like actually trying to work together to build something and to move through trauma and to move through. You know, I’m rambling now, but I think that there is a way for us to engage in and build enough diverse different communities that are engaged with and rooted in not just Land but also cities and cultures and histories.
Manda: And cities are Land too.
Charlie: Yeah, they are. They are. I mean, they’re very mono species land. But yeah.
Manda: Yeah, but that idea that there’s kind of gateway drugs into activism and that planting.. I think we’re going to have to grow our own food. And if you can grow half of it in the city of London, it means that less of the periphery is down to food that’s all going into the city.
Charlie: Or just like get together with a group of people and go and like sow seeds somewhere and see what happens. That is a way of actually actively expropriating space. And to just give you an example, a friend of mine, Max, he’s a filmmaker and he years ago decided that he was going to plant some corn an abandoned lot and went and did it. And him and a friend would go and like tend it and they ended up putting up a scarecrow, you know, because birds were coming to kill it.
Manda: Are we talking maize, corn or are we talking? Yeah. Okay.
Charlie: Yeah. And eventually it was big enough that they could go and wade through it and sit and have a picnic in the sun and just be in this beautiful space that was previously a derelict building site. And it was gorgeous, but it was temporary because, you know, the developers sold it and somebody came in and paved over it and built something. And the bit that had the corn on it was a parking lot. So they paved paradise.
Manda: There was a song about that, wasn’t there.
Charlie: Yeah there was. Yeah. But he went on and continued to do things like this and he now goes around with a hi-viz jacket on pretending, people just assume he’s from the council.
Manda: Oh yes, of course, so he looks like a council worker.
Charlie: So he’s got his jacket on and carries a pick and just goes and pulls up paving stones, makes sure that it won’t affect accessibility for wheelchairs on pavements and things like that. And then plants a tree and will go around and tend them. And he says that it’s a really joyous thing. And that’s just one example of how people can create different kinds of spaces with knock on effects for your own mental health, but also the mental health of everybody that lives in those spaces, right?
Manda: Yeah, yeah. Because again, there’s all kinds of work on the more that you live with living plant life, the calmer you are, the less your amygdala is triggered and all that kind of thing.
Charlie: I came across something recently. Sorry, just to jump in on that, which was a paper from Singapore where they found that people who do communal gardening have significantly larger mental health benefits from the gardening than people who do private gardening. So the community part of it.
Manda: Open your gardens up, right?
Charlie: Yeah. Or just like, I don’t know, find somewhere and make it beautiful. Just start a garden, but do it with people, you know?
Manda: Right. So we are going to run out of time quite soon, but I would really like to look at your ways at the end. Because part three of this is regenerative rebellion, climate action as recovery, and you have your three R’s: Resist, which is how to stop the bad stuff, Reconnect, which is getting our act together and Remedy, which is how to change the things we cannot accept. And I love that.
Charlie: It’s an Angela Davis line.
Manda: Because you’ve said, ‘People often talk about action being the cure for eco anxiety, but it has to be the right kind of action’. And that was Emma Lawrence who said that. And that seems to me that you’ve got together at the end of this book some actions that I had no idea people were doing. I mean, the planting one we kind of knew about. But do you want to tell us a little bit about letting down tyres?
Charlie: Sure. I mean, just to be clear, if we’re near the end, there’s loads of other stuff that isn’t basically just sabotage. But. The tyre extinguishers movement is inspired by a group that, I think it was 2007 that they started letting down tyres of SUVs in Sweden. And I think after that, the sale of some SUVs dropped by about a third. It was a really difficult kind of conflict-ridden experience for the people involved and for the community. And Andreas Malm talks about it in his book, How to Blow Up a Pipeline. But since then, well, I think it was a couple of years ago or last year, a group called Tyre Extinguishers was set up, based originally in the UK and now it’s global and they’ve been letting down the tyres of I think for tens of thousands if not more, of SUVs all over the world and leaving little flyers in the windscreen saying it’s not you, it’s your car. And then all the details about why it is that 4×4’s are so dangerous, not just for the climate, but also for air quality and as a result, mental health.
Manda: But then you did point out in the book and in our conversation offline, that this is a sort of global North activism. There would be deep consequences to doing this in, say, Mexico, where you might have let down the tyres of the local drug lord, and that would be an extremely bad thing to do.
Charlie: Yeah, I mean, I finished the book when I was in Mexico and I was talking to a friend who’s an activist out there, and he was saying that he felt very conflicted about the whole thing. Because not only is there the inherent danger of letting down the tyres of the wrong person who might do something really terrible, but also he didn’t see that it would really have any use there, because people would be unlikely to connect the act of letting down the tyres of a car with climate change. We’re all coming at it from completely different spaces.
Manda: Right. And it might make you feel better temporarily, but it’s not necessarily going to make a difference in the long run.
Charlie: Yes. So, there’s a need to think strategically, internally as well as how it’s taken outside. It’s like, is it going to have a positive impact on your life and your sense of security and safety and meaning and purpose? And also how is it going to play out in the rest of the world? How are people going to interpret it? And one of the best ways of figuring all of that out is by doing it with other people.
Manda: Yes. Which is I think one of the takeaways from this podcast is that acting together gives you that sense of community and the empowerment. Watching the photographs that I saw of the big action in London from XR, it’s just the sense people had of realising that they were not alone seemed in and of itself to be huge.
You know, I’ve just looked at the time and I think that might be a good place to stop. I really wanted to talk to you about your ideas of UBI and UBS, because they seem to me the next economic step in how do we fix this broken culture?Charlie: One of them
Manda: One of them, Yes. I was reading in the Club of Rome book about their idea of universal basic dividends, and I really wanted to just have a conversation with you about that. But maybe, Charlie, that’s podcast number two and we let this one go now. Because if I were to sum up, your book is a really heartfelt, very personal, highly emotionally literate look at that very narrow knife edge that we walk of understanding that things are very, very bad and that we have limited agency personally. But then looking at what agency we do have, looking at what agency other people have taken, finding voices around the world of really extraordinary stories. I was so moved by a lot of this, because it was stuff that I had never heard of. Because of Global North, privilege, all of those things. And that people in places that are being physically impacted know by climate change are getting together in ways that it feels like we’re only just beginning to do in the UK and the places that are more likely to listen to this podcast. And I think the emotional literacy of your book was what really struck me. When you said that people are finding it’s useful to help them to talk to their kids, I think as a way of opening conversations with people, this book is going to be an amazing starter. Because it acknowledges that things are bad and yet there are still things we can do. If you were to sum up, or if you were to speak to people listening as a rep, what would you say?
Charlie: I guess the problems, the mental health epidemic and the climate crisis have both been caused by disconnection and domination, and it’s disconnecting people from each other and it’s disconnecting people from ecology. And the only way that we can solve that is by dedicating ourselves to reconnection and equity and to finding spaces where we can practice that and learn it together.
Manda: That’s fantastic. Charlie Hertzog Young, author of Spinning Out, thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods Podcast.
Charlie: Thank you Manda, thank you so much.
Manda: And we need to tell everybody that you’re going to be at Hay on Wye on the 27th of May. I’ll put a link in the show notes. Charlie is going to be at Hay. If you’re anywhere near hay, come and listen and we’ll all be there.
Charlie: Please be nice to me.
Manda: Yes. We’re all going to be nice to you. Thank you, Charlie. Talk to you again sometime soon. So, guys, as often happens, Charlie and I continued to talk and we just decided that actually this is quite interesting. So, we’re sticking this on as a bit at the end.
Manda: So, I have a question that I always come up against, which is the difference between taking personal responsibility and taking personal agency. And we know that BP set up the climate footprint calculator as a very cynical way of getting everybody to stare at what they’re doing themselves and thereby not look at the greater problem.
Charlie: Hyper effective bit of psyops.
Manda: Yeah totally. People scream at other people for taking flights when you know, your or my capacity to sit on a plane is not what’s going to make the difference. How do you walk that knife edge between understanding that personally, I could leave tomorrow, we could both check out tomorrow and the system would roll on as if we were still here. And yet I can take agency. Over to you, Charlie.
Charlie: Well, for me, it’s slightly easier to walk a knife edges because my feet are made out of plastic.
Manda: Well, last time I spoke to you, you were feeling like the mermaid who’d walked on land. And it wasn’t good at all.
Charlie: Blisters on the edge of carbon fibre and prosthetic. But yeah, no, I’m better now. So you’ve asked me on the right day. I think the personal responsibility thing is huge. First, if you start talking about this in the wrong way, if we start talking about this in the wrong way, then it’s possible to make people feel guilty about feeling guilty about their carbon footprint. And, you know, meta guilt never helped anyone. But I think that, I can’t remember the stats, I don’t know if you have any written down anywhere, but if you worked out your own individual carbon footprint as a percentage of the excess emissions that are in the atmosphere at the moment.
Manda: Yeah, I have it here. The one that you worked out in the book. Okay. It’s 0.00000000064491165% of all historical emissions. It’s extremely small.
Charlie: Which if you translated it into the distance between here and the moon, would be like half of going on tiptoes, I think.
Manda: Yeah, yeah. 2.5cm, which is a hand’s breadth. Less.
Charlie: So with that in mind, I think it’s very easy to get hung up on personal action. It’s also very easy to get hung up on people getting hung up on personal action. But the way I try and think about it is quite similar to the way I think about mental health issues, because it’s quite easy to blame yourself for depression. It’s quite easy to blame yourself for anxiety, and that’s not hard given the biomedical model of mental health, which is what most Western medicine approaches us with and tells us that there’s some brain glitch that we need to sort out.
Manda: Yeah, and if you just thought better, you’d think yourself out of it.
Charlie: Yeah. Whereas actually if you start thinking, Oh wow, there are loads of other things, like my economic situation, my relationships, all of these things. What I eat, what I’m exposed to in the air, you know, everything is, is systemically connected. And our minds are porous and they absorb all these things and they could be cultural things and anyway, spooling off spinning out. But the way that I like to think about it is that with physical disability, there’s a something called social model. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, Manda, but.
Manda: Explain, because I’m not.
Charlie: I think it’s more useful as a political tool than it is an actual explanation of reality. But I think it’s really useful. So, some scholars and academics talk about disability as created by the system and the environment that you live in. That a body might have an impairment, which is different from a disability. So, the impairment, my impairment might be, it’s mostly talked about in physical terms so I’ll stick to that. My impairment might be that I, you know, my legs end halfway down the shin. Now that is an impairment, but it’s only really a disability if a society isn’t structured in a way where I can have the right prosthetics. If I need to use a wheelchair at times, which I do, then the paving needs to be right. The transport systems need to operate. Like last week I was in my chair and I couldn’t actually leave my house without paying for a cab because of all this bureaucratic mess up with a blue badge and my disability benefit. But I guess the reason I’m mentioning it here, is that personal responsibility, like what BP has done is it’s made people feel bad for living and for their actions and also for their inability to do much about it. So, if the focus gets shifted onto system change and one of the easiest and best and most enjoyable and meaningful bridges to that, is by joining a community of care. If we can shift that, if we can kick out of our heads, I think that would be a good thing.
Manda: Yes. Brilliant. Well, that’s it for another week. All of it. And huge thanks to Charlie for being who he is. For being so honestly all that he is and for writing a genuinely remarkable book. I know that I am prone to hyperbole, and I know that whenever I have a book on the podcast, I tell you how amazing it is. And that’s because it’s true. They are all amazing. I don’t bring people on if I don’t enjoy their books. But this one weaves together all of my worlds. We didn’t really go into the shamanic aspects of where Charlie’s been in his world, but it’s there in the book. His climate activism leaves me gobsmacked, as you will have gathered. His capacity for self-awareness and the emotional intelligence and the literacy that he brings to what seems to me the crucial point of where we are just now, is magnificent. So wherever you are in your understanding of the climate journey, I genuinely recommend that you read this book and or go and see Charlie at Hay-on-wye on 27th of May. I totally expect that there will be a lot of other book festivals and events around the country that are going to want to talk to Charlie, but Hay is definitely happening and I will put a link in the show notes.
Manda: So go for it. Share this book. Share the ideas in this book. Because it’s not simply looking head on at where we get to when we really accept the way the world is. There are also steps forward, and some of them are completely out of my previous awareness. So go explore and then if you know people who are struggling with this, share the book with them and listen and let’s see where we can all get to.
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