On the uses (or uselessness?) of hate for #climate activism #emotionalrescue

Over the last year CEM Core Group members have been writing about what various “big emotions” mean to them in the context of the Climate and ecological emergency.  (see Fear, Hope and Joy).  We got kinda distracted (some of you may have noticed we spent a bit of time on a certain petition).  But now, we’re back, with some hate….

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For me hate relates to what triggers an angry emotional response on a regular basis within me – some of it is conscious, but I’m sure at other times its unconscious. I’ve not looked forward to writing about this, but we all have to deal with hate in our lives – both of things we hate and the hate from others. So from that perspective there’s still merit in exploring it further. It’s a slippery entity which can provide you with sufficient energy to go from anger to some form of action. This action might be more energetic than without hate, but I suspect it will lack logic or clarity than if hate wasn’t the primary driver. I find it’s something that can spread quite quickly as an emotion from you to others and this could be consciously with the words or actions you take or it could be more subtle and you might not even know you’re doing it.

I usually deal with hate in two ways – you either avoid or confront it. That would apply to both the giving or receiving ends. When something has angered me and continues to do so, this generally leads to a typical response. This is my usual way of dealing with hate – it will probably be more emotional than necessary. Alternatively I can reflect as to why this continually causes this response and question whether it makes sense to react that way and how it might affect others. If I do the

former, I’m probably stuck in a loop, which may become more emotional every time it’s triggered and I’d have found ways of defending the reaction. The latter lets me work through the emotion and hopefully dissipate the hate, anger and stress that usually accompanies it. It might still lead to a response, but hopefully it’s more measured and thought through than without thinking it through. I try to do the latter, but find it’s harder and takes more time and effort than the initial triggered response. I also try to think there’s plenty of hate in the world and I don’t want to add to it as it isn’t helpful or healthy.


Hate is a word that’s arguably much overused in the modern lexicon. 

“Daddy, I hate stupid reading“ says my son when he doesn’t want to look at a book with me.

Online, commercial loyalties to faceless corporations divide people into “fanbois” and “haters”. 

But it’s used in common parlance as well. “Don’t you just hate it when that happens” we sigh, wearily, when something moderately annoying happens.

And yet, these common everyday versions of “hate” are just echoes of the visceral emotion, just like “Ooh, I love Coco-Pops” is a pale shadow of “I love you, Mum”.

So what has all this got to do with climate activism? In preparing to write this, I was going over in my mind what motivates activists to spend their free time trying to change the world. Is it hatred of oil majors peddling greenwash to their investors? Of climate deniers and delayers telling us we need not do anything, or even that it’s too late to act?  Of people who leave their car engines idling as they wait for their children to come out of school? 

Or is it love for the living world, or for our children, family and friends, that motivates us? Can climate activists in the developed world, living in a relatively clement climate, truthfully compare our motivations to people living at the sharp end of the effects of climate change?

There’s a lot of questions here, and whilst they are instructive to think about, I don’t know that I have found any clear answers. The existence of humans and corporations that would burn the world if it turned them a profit, makes me simultaneously very sad, and very angry. But I choose not to allow that to metastasise into hate. We won’t help this world by perpetuating the mistakes that got us here in the first place.


When we agreed to write about hate my first impulse was to declare hate something bad, an unproductive emotion, more unequivocally so than the others in our series to date. But why? Did I hate anyone? I hoped not. An idea, or a system? Maybe.Compared to love, the staple emotion of literature and song, few discussions of hate leapt to mind.

Some time passed and I tried again to distill my thoughts on hate. I asked: what causes hate, and what happens when we hate?. Hate rarely exists alone. It comes from fear, and its manifestations get all caught up with anger. Hatred of other groups, or of people because of who they are (the type that leads to hate crimes), typically springs from suspicion and a lack of understanding. Hate – wanting someone else gone, exterminated, eliminated – is a very violent response to feeling threatened.

Hate breeds hate. That’s an adage, but also a famous line from ‘La Haine’, one of my favourite films as a teenager (just below Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, which also contains a lot of hate). There are numerous iconic monochrome scenes from this ‘day in the life’ of three young men from the Parisian banlieues (projects). Even if you don’t know the film, you might have seen a clip of Vincent Cassell doing a French Travis Bickle before the mirror. I’m sure it was the look, as much as the message, that made such an impression early in my film-watching career. On subsequent views I’ve only been more struck by the pointlessness of all the hate depicted on screen. Vinz (Cassell) can barely contain it as he lurches and struts. But to what end? Avoiding plot spoilers, let’s just say that none of the hate – not that of the police, nor the three main leads – leads to anything useful. It results in stupid petty destructive acts. And the cycle continues.

As for the title – la haine – it means hatred more than hate. You can only ‘have’ hatred (avoir la haine) in French. There’s something in the image that comes with the grammar. It makes me think of hatred as a worm that could get inside of us and, once there, eat away and corrode.

So whilst my other reflections have tended to recognise the value of other emotions, I don’t think there’s space for hate. No, more than that: let’s actively try to avoid perpetuating the conditions that lead to hate, and those hate cycles. If we get to hate, it might be too late


As I get the teensiest bit older, I find it harder to sustain “active hate” for other individuals (though there are of course  one or two…).  That’s because I’ve had – through no earned effort of my own – a sheltered/privileged life.  Also, I have seen hate (in myself and others) cloud the mind, push other people away and score major own goals.

That Buddha guy said it best – hate is like drinking poison and expecting the person you hate to die from it.

I guess that’s my main beef with ‘hate’ – that it is (for me at least) really hard to harness, to turn into fuel for something useful, hard to avoid it leaking out and wrecking other things you care about.  And in any case, the person who you are actively hating usually doesn’t care, is amused, secretly validated and encouraged in their douchebaggery.  There remain of course, one or two people I would not piss on if they were on fire.

So how does it connect to climate activism?  I guess besides the smug and futile local lies and gaslighting, what I hate is the sheer waste of it all. That “we” were smart enough, in theory, to avoid what now seems inevitable. I hate that I took so long to become active (1988-2006, really) and that I’ve wasted so much time since then. But that is to slide into narcissistic self-recriminations, I guess. I hate what our species does to its own, I hate what we do to other species. I hate the contempt we have for future generations (of humans and other species) and the untold misery we are heaping upon them for present convenience… It makes me, as hate so often does, weary, unimaginative, ineffective…


Of all the emotional rescue posts we’ve written, this one feels the hardest. I’m not exactly sure why, but I’d wager it’s in part because those operating within the spheres of social justice are largely working in opposition to divisions and disparities that are bound up and unremovable from hate. As a result, talking about hate in relation to ourselves feels like a taboo topic.

The notion of hate as something inherently bad was definitely a concept I was raised on- an eye for an eye, and all that. But whilst there are so many instances where hate is dangerous, damaging or trauma-inducing, sometimes it does require a heavy counterbalance. I would say, for example, that a hatred towards prejudiced hatred itself is not only understandable, but appropriate and necessary at times.

It’s hard to see the innumerable injustices that take place in the world and not feel hatred as a result. I’m very ready to admit that when I see the effects of the climate crisis, and reflect on the opportunities to salvage some form of environmental damage limitation that seems to be so rarely taken, I feel hatred towards the institutions, governments and corporations that are destroying the ecosystems, lives and futures of so many of the planet’s inhabitants for their own personal gain. The pandemic has only exacerbated my propensity for this emotional response; I have to admit on a personal level as an immunocompromised person, I feel hatred towards the willful bending and oftentimes breaking of the rules designed to keep the most vulnerable people in our society safe- viewing disabled and immunocompromised people as merely collateral damage is something I will always viscerally hate (maybe I’ll finish my tangential rant soon? Who knows).

Whilst I’ll admit and own these feelings, I like to think that although I am a person that experiences hate, I’m not emotionally comprised of it. I am at times hating, but not hateful- and I think that’s an important distinction to make. Hate can be a motivator where appropriate in its counterbalancing, but in order to enact changes to the disparities and injustices that we so vehemently oppose, our intention should also come from what we might consider to be the opposite side of the same coin- from love of the things that we want to protect. 


Hate is an all-consuming emotion, demanding one’s time, energy and attention. It takes up mental and emotional space, but offers nothing constructive in return. That’s why I’m baffled by how easily people give in to hatred instead of engaging in difficult conversations. This is true especially in the case of climate sceptics and deniers, who are quick to discredit environmentalists and young climate activists fighting for climate justice. After all, it is much easier to create and engage in hateful rhetoric rather than confront the existential threat posed by climate change. As James Baldwin put it, people cling to their hate so stubbornly because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” 

Hate only breeds more hate, precluding any meaningful climate action.  Although I’m aware that hate is counter-productive, even I struggle to resist it especially when I encounter climate deniers who actively try to undermine the efforts of activists. Climate denial and inaction, and the ongoing destruction of our planet fills me with anger. But this is an emotion that mobilises me to take action. However, I need to be wary because anger can easily give way to hate – and I refuse to make room for hate in my life.  


I’d like to say that I don’t experience much hate. But I think that statement would be driven by the mainstream view that hate is a bad thing. Saying that you are not hateful is kind of the ‘correct’ answer. But hate is there whether we like it or not, because it’s fundamentally a passion and I don’t think we can escape it.

My take on emotions and passions is increasingly informed by interpretations of Lacanian psychoanalysis. It offers intriguing ways of thinking, and helps us make connections between big socio-political questions and emotional registers. Take misogyny, which is an example that alerts us to the connections between hatred and love. The Lacanian cultural critic Renata Salecl argues that both love and hate involve fascination with the X in the other. The X is something sublime, which the other does not really have. To illustrate this point, Salecl tells the story of a man who, while in love with a woman, finds her sipping of coffee to be a beautiful gesture. Once he has fallen out of love, that same sip of coffee becomes disgusting to him. The audience laughs at Salecl’s story, but it is awkward because similar dynamics are at stake in domestic violence or in the hateful ideology of the misogynist ‘incel’. The audience also laughs when Salecl describes an encounter with a eugenicist who designs dating apps linked to genetic codes. Awkward, awkward, laughter.

Hate is there, carrying dangers, and it won’t be suppressed by denying its existence. Better to talk about the way that hate links to the (ideological) ways that we see the world. Although I think doing so is a ‘good idea’, I don’t find it easy to talk about my personal experiences of hate. I am more ready to discuss and even embrace anger as an emotion, rather than hate. Debatably, anger is more related to people’s behaviours or to unjust situations, compared to hate which is often directed at people themselves (especially dehumanised, stereotyped groups of people). If so, then anger is a more socially acceptable emotion.

I would be suspicious of someone engaged with climate issues who did not feel anger. It would suggest to me that they do not understand the injustice of climate change, or the severity of the likely impacts, or the way that the powerful seek to extend business as usual with its relations of exploitation and dispossession. Either such people fail to really get it, or they understand such things while repressing the emotional response. I think a bit of anger in the face of injustices like climate change is healthy for us. Personally, I find it energising. Politically, we won’t get anywhere close to resolving the climate crisis by playing nice and never getting angry.  

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