Coming to terms
Author and speaker hopes to guide Chicoans to accept reality of climate change’s effect on humanity
If you haven’t heard the name Carolyn Baker, don’t be too hard on yourself. She’s a psychotherapist, radio host and author who’s received acclaim in a corner of the environmentalist community, but hasn’t broken through with mainstream recognition.
The Dr. Phil of ecopsychology she’s not.
When she comes to Chico on Tuesday (Oct. 27) as part of a Northern California speaking tour, she’ll appear in an intimate space at the Chico Peace & Justice Center instead of a large auditorium—and that’s just fine with her.
“I’m not interested in drawing large crowds—in fact, I will never draw large crowds—because of what I talk about,” Baker said by phone from her home in Colorado. “I’m dealing with climate change, and people have no idea how severe it is. I’m really adamant about people facing these things.
“In this culture, we like to be distracted. We like to say, ‘Well, yeah, I’m going to use less water; I’m going to use less fossil fuels.’ … The minute you get into the severity of what we’re facing, you’re also in existential territory—you’re also looking at, ‘Well, humans might go extinct in a handful of decades. How long are we going to be around? What am I doing here? What is my purpose on this planet?’”
Guy McPherson, a noted scientist who’s drawn headlines—and large crowds—for stark statements on humanity’s extinction, covered similar territory during his appearance in Chico last November. (His visit, like Baker’s, was arranged by local speaking promoter Peter Melton.)
The fact that Baker and McPherson share common ground is only logical considering they are professional collaborators. Both host shows on the Progressive Radio Network, an online audio service. They coauthored the book Extinction Dialogs: How to Live With Death in Mind, which came out just as McPherson was coming to Chico. He has provided scientific data that bolstered her talks; she has contributed a psychological perspective that helped reshape his presentations.
“She provides a much larger context for me than just a focused-on-myself sort of approach,” McPherson said, speaking by phone from his New Mexico home. “On the airplane, you’re told to put on your mask first; then there’s the rest of the people … her work falls into that latter category. Once I figure out where my own mask is, her work allows me some context for where we go from there.”
Baker’s presentation in Chico—then later in the week in Grass Valley and Nevada City—is titled “The Global Crisis as Our Spiritual Practice: Who Are You Being Called to Be?”
She did not wish to explain the meaning too deeply, saying that exploring mystery and paradox are part of her process, but she did share that her aim for the talk and workshop sessions is “helping people navigate, emotionally and spiritually, this crisis, and also helping to create community. I hope to plant some seeds that will grow into people supporting each other in their local communities.”
Baker’s Northern California tour, which begins in Sebastopol, represents a homecoming. She practiced psychotherapy in Sonoma County for 17 years, relocating to the Southwest in 1997. She taught history, psychology and English at the community college level before joining the faculty at New Mexico State University.
While at NMSU in 2006, she met McPherson, a professor at the University of Arizona who came to her campus for a lecture. They met for coffee and found their sensibilities coincided.
The next year, Baker watched a documentary, What a Way to Go, that inspired her to dive “deeper into my activism,” she said. “It opened my eyes that we’re not just dealing with a bunch of different problems like climate change or oil depletion or endless resource wars, but that we’re actually dealing with the collapse of a paradigm, and that paradigm is the collapse of industrial civilization.”
She created a website and began to write: “Looking at all these facts and implications, I’m thinking as a former therapist, How are people going to deal with this emotionally?”
Baker published her first book in 2009, her second in 2011, third in 2013 and fourth in 2014. She left academia behind and devoted all her energy to this new work. Her latest book—Dark Gold: The Human Shadow and the Global Crisis—is due out during her speaking tour.
“I get to teach what I want to teach and how I want to teach it these days,” Baker said.
What does she hope to impart on the North State?
“Face the reality of what we’re dealing with as a species,” she said. “Open your eyes and look. I want people to be able to look, and then I want that looking and feeling to make a difference in how they live, so they’ll go out the door wanting to be love in action and they’ll want to get involved in some way with befriending and loving and helping the Earth community.”
Asked what he’d like to see attendees take away, McPherson echoed the theme of their book: “That our lives our short, that we live with urgency, and that no matter how this turns out we be not overly judgmental toward other people and act with compassion toward humans and other organisms in the way we conduct our daily lives.
“I hope that people can—upon hearing her speak and interacting with Carolyn—reach a state of acceptance about the unspeakable, which is our own individual deaths and the extinction of our species, and come out in a healthy frame of mind.”