Collective and Systemic Trauma – having difficult conversations in times of pandemic and environmental crisis – 4th March 2021

I recently found out about the Climate Coaching Alliance, a voluntary group of coaches world-wide who are currently asking themselves how they can bring the urgent issue of the Climate Emergency into their work.    They kindly invited me to run a session on Thursday 4th March at one of their global “24 hour conversations” fittingly called “What’s Mine to Do?”.  This is 24 hours, starting at midnight 3rd March through to midnight 4th March where coaches from around the world bring and share helpful input, discussion and connections around environmental issues in a coaching context.  If you are coach or facilitator – or someone who uses coaching or facilitation principles, they have said you are most welcome to join, and sign up for more sessions –  you can find out more about the full event here.

Workshop details

I’ll be running the free, short workshop talking about different kinds of trauma, how we recognise trauma in an individual or group, and what we can do to help find ways forwards.  We will explore how our actions can work positively with our clients, not shut down conversations because we fear we “won’t know what to do!”.   Trauma sounds so serious, we know there are specialists that deal with deep mental problems, we don’t want to make it worse, we fear creating or being drawn in to something messy….  Actually no – what is needed right there and then is you, doing some really lovely simple things.  Find out more and sign up through this page if you are interested in attending the zoom workshop session.

For this session I have joined forces with Emma Spillane, a specialist working with educationalists, child trauma and difficult behaviours.  She has oodles of experience working with engaging language and simple concepts about difficult, traumatic issues.

Tom Rivett-Carnac in conversation

As a warm-up to the 24 hour conversation, on Wednesday 3rd March, Tom Rivett-Carnac, Political Strategist for Christina Figueras (architect of the Paris Climate Agreement) will turn the tables and interview his own coach, Jo Confino, a leading sustainability activist, journalist and Zen mindfulness practitioner.  They will “explore how leaders can increase their agency, recognise that climate change is an ‘everyone everywhere’ opportunity to build a new world that we can only create together.” Find out more and book your space here.

Climate Coaching Alliance Background

It delights me that the group putting on this global “conversation” is not a group of environmental activists.  These are professional coaches, who coach some of the most powerful people in the world.  In their own words:

“Inspired by the Climate Psychology Alliance, Alison Whybrow, Josie McLean and Eve Turner launched the Climate Coaching Alliance with the aim “to enable individual practitioners, and the profession of coaching to develop strategies and practices that provide our clients (individuals, leaders and their teams) the right space to step into their necessary leadership role in the face of the emergency. We want to be able to look future generations in the eye when they ask, “What did you do when the planet was in crisis and it needed your help?” and say “We tried to make a difference”.

An Unexpected Education

Most coaches have never learned much climate science, many of the older generation, those at school in the 70s and 80s probably, like me, only learned about “cash crops”, the exploitation of natural systems and a kind of climate colonialism before going to study or work in different areas.  I applaud this group, opening their eyes and their professional hearts to an area they never expected to broach, and which is right now, quite frankly, more than a little scary to contemplate!   Climate Emergency is right.  Biodiversity Collapse is what it says on the tin. These are shocking concepts and those at the meetings will have to consider also the levels of trauma they may sustain around their new-found knowledge.

In the UK the same lack of basic environmental education is true for those they coach – our current, mainly white, mainly male, mainly older crop of leaders in the UK.  Thankfully we are beginning to see more gender, race and disability equity at all levels thanks to years of campaigning.


Having gone through professional coaching diplomas myself only a few years ago, I know how little concepts around sustainability were allowed into that space.  As with facilitation there are strict principles on “neutrality” and allowing the client or group to set goals, frame questions and so on.

Working explicitly in environmental conflict resolution and deeply ethical issues I side-stepped the issue of whose responsiblity was it to talk about the environment.  I had it easy – they approached me and organisations I worked for because we knew about and were able to cover these issues.  How hard must it be to bring in Bluebell wood with wild garlic Bristol - Alison Crowtherthose conversations as a coach, with a team that hadn’t considered themselves particularly related to environmental issues, in what may be an atmosphere of fear and shame – “hey, come on now, don’t rock the boat – don’t you think we’re having a hard enough time without considering things way into the future?”.  As we know – the portraying of environmental collapse as being “our children’s children” was never correct – the data has always pointed to changes being felt now.  This is exactly why I’m writing Difficult Conversations training and why I’m so excited to hear from other coaches at this event.

Coping with Grief

Ahead of the conference next week we had a preparation chat yesterday and I met another speaker, Andrew Miller from PeopleClimateEarth.  He had worked as an environmental scientist for 25 years before suffering burn out – and becoming a coach who specialises in grief.  This makes perfect sense to me.   There is only a certain amount of time you can work with facts, and see the outlook get worse and worse, when the consequences of inaction will prove literally catastrophic.   We grow up with movies where the good guys win – even against climate change.   In reality the environmental story is not going that way.

I have known many senior staff, especially those in the third sector burn out because they felt they couldn’t bring about change quick enough to make a difference.  It is unfathomable to natural and environmental scientists,  who capture and rigorously track environmental data, that when they present that useful data to business and societal leaders they get ignored!

Not In My Term Of Office

In environmental conflict resolution and consensus building circles we have an word for it – NIMTOO – Not In my Term Of Office.   “Nuclear power – great, cheap!  What will we do with the waste?” NIMTOO.   “Onshore wind as part of solution to climate change?  My constituents don’t like it because it spoils their view!” (… and/or house price…?) NIMTOO.   These and countless other “difficult” questions have been kicked into the long grass for many, many years as a direct consequence of two things.   1.  How we “do” democracy  2. A mistaken idea of “shareholder value”.

Those two concepts I’ll leave for a different day – indeed they are Difficult Conversations of their own.   I’m happy to say I have some wonderful examples of how things have been and can be done differently in both cases.  For now let’s support all our coaches in getting to grips with climate change so they can help ease everybody they touch into working positively with a changing planet too.

If you are interested in this short session Collective and Systemic Trauma – having difficult conversations in times of pandemic and environmental crisis  (10am Thursday March 4th 2021) please sign up by clicking on the title above.  If you have questions about  this or any other aspect of our work please contact me.