(Collective) Displacement: Solve for Y, When X Is Too Tough?

In Freudian psychology, displacement is an unconscious defence mechanism whereby the mind substitutes either a new aim or a new object for goals felt in their original form to be dangerous or unacceptable. [Wikipedia, my emphasis.] (1)


  • When Mr. A’s boss shouts at him. But he doesn’t want to lose his job, so he doesn’t argue back. Instead, he comes home, kicks his dog, and yells at his wife.
  • Mary Q. can’t get Ken into bed, so seduces Barbie instead.
  • Z. refuses to confront his own laziness, and resorts to amphetamines to do lots of pointless busywork.

These are varieties of displacement.

In past rants, I sometimes dubbed the CAGW Mono-Narrative a misdirection or a deflection. The first maybe sounds a little too planned and manipulative; the second a tad fuzzy. The concept I was groping for is displacement.

(Which doesn’t rule out a place for true mis-direction, ala magicians or… intel-types…? Nah.)

[CAGW: Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming. The Mono-Narrative is a discourse that recruits almost anything unusual, extreme or bad in weather or the environment as a whole to Greenhouse Gases (more precisely, the theory of “Radiative Forcing from Greenhouse Gases / GHGs”).]

Like Mono-Crop Ag, where complex ecosystems are wiped out to produce a single commodity crop, there is only one answer to everything that seems fucked up – “Global Warming / Climate Change.” There is only one acceptable version of global warming theory, the one that results in getting rid of fossil fuels ASAP. Only one way of looking at climate — via GHGs / Global Warming. Even to talk about other (non-GHG) ways humans influence weather or climate – by land-use, for example — is a quasi-heresy. (2) To ask pointed questions about Global Warming will get you tagged as a Denier — with the quick follow-up slur that you must be on somebody’s payroll (this happened to me – and what sent me on a 5 year journey into the depths of “Denialism”). Questions are not kosher. Only outrage against Right Wing politicians and Fossil Fuel companies is good. And Global Warming is the Biggest Problem of Them All, subsuming all other ecological disruptions and social problems. Coral bleaching? Global Warming. Invasive species? Global Warming. Extinctions? Global Warming. Polar Vortexes? Global Warming. Syrian Civil War? Global Warming. Refugees? Global Warming. New human diseases? Global Warming.

Displacement better describes how the process works, for most people, most of the time.

But, a kind of **collective** displacement, too. Displacement operates in the psychology of the individual, but serves a collective function as well. As, we are all dependent on common infrastructure.

BUT. Before we proceed with this vector — which many will find uncomfortable — let’s clarify our position, so you don’t lump us in with Right Wing Climate Skeptics:

We are all addicts and captives of our high Net Energy, predatory, biosphere-parasitical lifestyle. Some of us a little less so, some more so. Some more conscious about it, some less. Some making marginal efforts to free themselves or reduce the load or fight some aspects of The System. The vast majority trundling along mostly anesthetized by buffers that separate us from the roots of birth and death and the drudgery of direct production of food and energy. We are bubble-wrapped in a technoid womb enabled by (once-high-net energy (4)) fossil fuels, and the massively amplified technical creativity endowed by science. Probably, we won’t change unless we are forced to change, by circumstances. Although I’d like to imagine otherwise.

— {Official position statement of P6 – The Pink&Purple PolkaDot Pirate Parrot Party}

Subscribing to a **MIS-CONSTRUCTED** narrative like CAGW allows us to go through the motions of change, to symbolize & signal, while covering up our complicity in an infrastructure that is relentlessly gnawing away at the biosphere.

Most of the big impacts of (alleged) GHG-driven warming are projected for decades to hundreds of years out. (At least, if you read the direct science, and not the media reportage.) If we keep going along this curve, then 97.4% probability by 97% of the experts says, it will get 1.349 degrees warmer in 3.72 decades, and the glaciers will melt by X%, and the sea levels will rise 2.9 meters. Oh, and every year of the last 5 years has been .001 degree warmer than the last. Etc.

But the impacts of “the Mega-Machine” (Mumford) are plainly visible today, and have been for decades.

True, some of the worst cases of river and stream pollution have been partly remediated in the wealthy West. Meanwhile every day brings new stories of the ocean plastic apocalypse, the scourge of microbeads, whales and birds with stomachs filled with sixpack rings and shopping bags. Amphibians with screwed up sexes and too many legs, wrecked by endocrine-disrupting synthetic additives (BPA, phthalates). Over-fishing. Loss of habitat and ensuing population declines, extinctions (maybe sometimes a little overblown, as new species are discovered; drastic population declines among many larger and charismatic mammals seem inarguable, though). Superfund cleanup sites. Coal ash waste ponds seeping into water tables and spilling out into watersheds. Red tide from fertilizers (a natural phenomenon, check, but exacerbated by ag runoff, hundreds of red tides a year around the world). Wipeout of soil microbial ecosystems by glyphosate, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, monocropping. Deforestation. Coral bleachings. The list goes on and on.

All these are real, have been happening for decades, and most seem to be accelerating, with the “insect apocalypse” possibly the most directly dangerous, as we depend on pollinator insects to fertilize many crops. If there is one key tipping point, it’s this.

(Of course some of these may, in part, be attributable to natural or cyclic causes we don’t understand. But most of it is directly attributable to human activity. And yes, it’s also true that CO2 is having a ‘greening effect’ on the planet – whether it can make up for deforestation is less clear. CO2 is plant food, yes, sad to say – ask an indoor weed grower. But that reality doesn’t negate the many other vast, cumulative and accelerating impacts the technosphere is having everywhere.)

By “mis-constructed” we mean the narrative contains elements of truth, and near-truth, but framed in such a way as to shift attention from awkward, painful reality. Ie, Facts and feelings that, if confronted fully, would put us in opposition to our comforts and pretensions, and next, in opposition to the systems and people that maintain and most benefit from those comforts and pretensions.

‘CAGW’, then, sounds / looks / feels almost like what is really happening, but transposed thru a technocratic, speculative lens:


  • heavy reliance un-elected bureaucracies, endless committee proceedings and self-styled ‘climate experts’ – activist scientists who think their technical expertise or renown gives them authority to drive complex public policy decisions (2)
  • heavily politicised science summaries (also, unreadable – maybe a worse sin!)
  • scientific truth by majority vote / consensus, rather than through rigorous falsification of claims and challenge of assumptions
  • control of discourse by demonizing competing hypotheses, limiting debate, tribal control of grant funding and journals
  • unacknowledged influence of vast funding streams for research on the scale of many tens of billions (data forthcoming!)
  • dependency of activist NGOs on establishment or intel-related foundations and charities and opaque funding conduits

And speculative, as in:

  • Billion-dollar super-computer models with infinitely tuneable parameters and projections that morph into predictions or not and back, whenever convenient;
  • ‘scientistic’ and impressive-sounding, but in fact rickety, even circular? chains of logic and inference;
  • excessive extrapolation from very limited data of dubious quality (also, proxies)
  • overconfidence, squelching of (stacked) uncertainties, confirmation bias

And the recommended actions that derive from that narrative, in general, don’t cut to the root.

Swap out the energy infrastructure, make money while doing it, hey, it’s good for business! Keep finance capitalism and global war-machines and the destruction of wilds (both external and internal) roaring along intact. Not enough? Next up, quantify and monetize the Earth’s remaining wilds as “Natural Capital,” “ecosystem support services,” & get some new derivatives transactions out of it all. Swell.

Divert attention away from deep patterns, and keep them fighting over secondary stuff. Convenient — for some.

Thus CAGW functions, we argue, as an emotive badge, a form of virtue signaling, of rhetorical self-absolution. A psychically-charged stand-in and ersatz, or close simulation.

This is what makes it especially hard to have a calm critical discussion about Climate Change with most well-intended, “sophisticated,” “woke” progressives, liberals or otherwise college-educated people. By questioning the narrative, you are attacking a psychological compensation mechanism — something that helps people feel good about themselves, and go about their daily lives undisturbed.

By loudly acknowledging “the Reality of Human-Caused Climate Change” I am therefore less guilty, I must be part of the Solution. I sense in my heart and my gut that we are doing something wrong, that my choices are at least partly responsible, but by swearing my allegiance to this badge, this narrative, and demonizing others who disagree, I therefore must be at least slightly less responsible for the systematic weakening of the biosphere that created and sustains us.

Intimations of pain, grief, anxiety, can be kept at bay, by seeming to address them, but through a distorted lens / look-alike.

All of that is NOT meant to simply ‘psychologize away’ the climate narrative.

Stay tuned for an in-depth unpacking — a “fluorescent green / hyper-left” deconstruction of climate change as both a social movement and scientific ideology.

A perfect symptom of our time, in which the 60s critique of “Bureaucratic Capitalism” and technocracy as an emergent social class / formation has been almost entirely blotted out; and in which scientific (more correctly, scientistic) discourse has become a tool of social control.


(1) Wikipedia, Displacement

(2) See the Net Energy Cliff – a comparative diagram showing how the amount of useable or surplus energy (energy available to social use, after all the costs of extraction and conversion) from various sources of energy is rapidly declining, going “over a cliff,” and the relatively poor net energy contribution of renewables. It suggests we are entering of period of net energy contraction one way or the other. Which in turn suggests that ideas of maintaining the current luxuries of modern Western civilization on 100% renewables may be a fantasy. This line of research is essential, but it’s also very murky, with a lot of methodological problems (where do you draw the boundary lines?) and Apples to Oranges quandaries.

(3) Roger Pielke, Sr., A New Paradigm for Assessing the Role of Agriculture in Climate; a more accessible PDF slide presentation here, A New Paradigm for Assessing the Role of Humanity¬† in Climate Science. This is just one example, from a credentialed Colorado State researcher with hundreds of peer-reviewed publications, who accepts that CO2 must have some role in Gloal Warming. But who is nonetheless reviled by activists as a “Climate Mis-Informer” because his approach simply says, the story is more complicated, humans affect weather and climate via more than one mechanism, not just GHGs!

(4) One example, Better Approaches to Science Policy.

(5)* The new “class conflict,” post-Russian Bolshevism and socialist states, is now between “Order Givers vs. Order Takers,” as predicted by anarchist and ultra-left critics of Marx such as Bakunin, and the Dutch and German Council Communists of the teens and 20s. The revolutionary intellectuals become their own privileged class by taking power, while workers still have little say, though maybe a little less risk of going hungry or homeless. Cf Socialism or Barbarism group; The Imaginary Institution of Society, Cornelius Castoriadis (currently out under MIT Press, the old free PDF online translations seem to have disappeared or been buried); https://becomingpoor.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/the-castoriadis-reader.pdf; various Situationist writings; Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society. Critiques of the “meritocracy” floating around in the US are related, but don’t quite get to the core of it.

(6) The abuse of IPCC’s RCP8.5 extreme climate scenario is a great example of how propagandized the discourse has become.

Comments (5):

  1. neelu_editor

    2019, April at 5:13 am

    Thanks for the kind comment Larry, we follow your website!

  2. neala schleuning

    2019, September at 6:38 pm

    Who is the author of this article? I want to cite it in a book.

  3. neelu_editor

    2019, September at 9:55 am

    Hi Nealaa, for the moment we prefer to just use neelu.net as the credit. What book do you want to cite it in?

  4. neala schleuning

    2020, February at 3:57 pm

    I am just finishing up a book (looking for a publisher). Climate Chaos: Making Art and Politics on a Dying Planet. I want to include this and another article in the bibliography. Sorry it took so long to get back. Please advise how to cite.

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