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Archive for the ‘Green Psychology’ Category

I am usually fairly casual about my finances. Barely a glance at my Mastercard statement. I pay, no questions asked. Until today, when I noticed a monthly charge of $50.32, from New York Times Sales. That struck me as a lot of money, all of a sudden. The representative at the end of the line confirmed that I had been paying that amount for twenty months in a row. One thousand dollars, I could have saved.

Before, – that is when the economy was not such a scary word – I would not have bothered. Fleeting pangs of guilt from my budding green conscience, and thoughts of all the trees downed because of my indulgence, did not make a difference. I continued to read, and then quickly dispose of the daily paver that made its way to my door every morning. Promising myself that one day, I would switch to an online subscription. 

This morning, I resisted the advances of the New York Times representative to cut me a deal. Half price for sixteen weeks. Or maybe just the Sunday paper. Or would I prefer the weekday edition? No, I told him, I had made up my mind. With the economy, I could no longer afford the superfluous expense of $50.32, or any other amount. Plus, it’s bad for the trees anyway.

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It’s that time of the month again, and I am due for the Green Moms Blogging Carnival, this time over at Best of Mother Earth. I am supposed to write about gratitude, specifically three green things I am thankful for.

We behave with nature, the same way we might with a faithful lover, when we are forgetting how much we are being given, and how much our lives depends on such constant love. That’s the irony, we take nature for granted, because it’s so good to us, most of the time.

Take a few minutes and . . .

imagine a world without trees, and birds chirping in the trees, imagine the silence, and the scorching sun, and the absence of shade and coolness,

imagine a world without water, as in here:

imagine the air so polluted that you could no longer breathe freely, and would have to wear a mask 24/7, or stay indoors,

imagine . . .

While we may never know such extremes in our lifetime, we may get dangerously close, sooner than we think, if we don’t all change our ways.

Today, I am thankful for the trees, and the water, and the air.

How about you? What do you appreciate the most in nature?

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I have this love hate relationship with extreme environmentalists. The freegans, the compacters, the treesitters, the slow food preachers, No Impact Man, the tiny house guy, and the no plastic gal. . . they all dare me with their tales of almost superhuman feats, and I secretly envy their resolve. That’s the hate part. More and more, though, I have come to appreciate what they bring to my not so green party. Somewhere in my brain, their extreme stories are making an impression, and providing a much needed counterpoint to the habitual scripts by which I have been taught to live. It looks like this:

Bottom line is, more extreme environmentalists are needed on the right, to bring about the balance that you, I, our whole planet need. One hundred years of industrial revolution, to be dealt with, fast. In our brains.

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Yesterday, in response to the picture I posted of my grandfather on the farm, Jeff asked,

When you have time, could you tell us more of the story of your grandfather and his family? Where in France was the picture taken? What did he farm? What would he have thought about all this climate change problem that we’ve created?

I lost my grandfather when I was 5. To this day, ‘Pepe Marcel‘ still looms tall in my memory. I realize I owe it to him to care so much for nature, and what’s happening currently. Times on the farm with my him are some of the most precious items in my green memory bank. Like my French blogging sister, Nadine, much of what I write is informed by these early moments.

I started writing a sappy response to Jeff’s question. A romantic interpretation of what I thought ‘Pepe Marcel‘ would be telling me now. Imbued with nostalgia about the old days, without cars, and planes, and supermarkets. Times when his old village was still very much a real community, and seasons dictated the rhythm of people’s daily lives. When organic was a word that did not exist, and yet everything we ate was organic. When tractors had not yet replaced the horse led ploughs in the fields, and the plots were still small and not cultivated to excess. When the bread we ate tasted like the real thing, and was not whitened artificially to make it ‘more enticing’.

Soon, my grandfather’s real voice came through, and it whispered a very different message. If I was living now, you can be sure I would be living just like you and your friends. I would drive a car and shop to Neuville at the supermarket. I would ride a tractor, so I could be home sooner. Actually, I am not even sure I would be a farmer still. Life on the farm is hard. May work instead as a cook in a restaurant  in Poitiers, and drive the 50 kilometers commute every day. I would have upgraded the farm, so that we have all the modern conveniences and your grandmother did not have to do laundry in the big old boiler, and hang it on the lines. I am sure we would have a TV. We may still have a vegetable garden and fruit orchard in the back, but I am not even sure. It’s so convenient getting that stuff at the store. For vacations, we would go on cruises, or fly to America, like all the neighbors. 

That’s when I realized there is no stopping ‘progress’, whether here, or in China, or India, or anywhere else. Moving forward means imagining new ways to live sustainably again, that may appear almost similar to the old. But the motivations, and the awareness are on a different level. Jungian analyst Aldo Carotenuto‘ s image of ‘The Spiral Way‘ comes to mind:

Book Cover for The Spiral Way

Book Cover for The Spiral Way

This time applied to healing not just one woman, but the whole world. 

PS- Jeff, to finish answering your question. My grandfather came from a long line of farmers in the Poitou region of France. The farm is in Champigny, a small village where I spent every summer when I was a child. Pepe Marcel cultivated about 40 acres, most of it in wheat and vineyards. After he died, we farmed it out to other farmers. Now there are only three farmers left in the whole village, and their farms are more akin to industrial enterprises. 

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Lately, I have been discovering the joy of wandering in my new garden, plucking at the plum trees, and the tomato vines, and harvesting some lettuce for our dinners. And I have gotten in touch with the gatherer inside. And realized that this ancient part has always been there. Two million years of evolution can’t just vanish. It has just taken different forms. For my teenage daughter and her friends – and for me also until my green conscience grew too loud -, gathering takes the form of shopping expeditions. Men like to collect big cars, and gadgets. Little kids want more and more toys. What served us once very well, has turned into a dysfunctional habit, that is feeding China’s polluting factories

I propose we become more aware of our gathering instinct, and of the ways that it is moving us, and that we return to its true purpose. Back to nature, spending time in our gardens, not in the malls. 

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Chaos is scary. When faced with uncertainty and doom, our first reaction is to want to control. Imagine for a second, that we are still masters of the universe. And can, will whip our climate and other natural phenomena, into shape. Dammit!

Maybe now is the time, to stop deluding ourselves. Like the addicts that we are, shouldn’t we admit, finally, to our powerlessness. And embrace the reality that is being thrown at us. Oil, more and more elusive and out of our range. Food, no longer so abundant. Water, soon to become like gold. Bees refusing to pollinate.  Angry mobs rising all over, because life is not fair.

I imagine a future when we will be in charge of our destiny, again. Until then, let us surrender, and let go of our addiction.

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Back from another one of my triumphant bike rides to downtown, this time to pick up pizzas at Il Fornaio, our favorite Italian. So glad I was. The three pizza boxes fit neatly into my side basket, not in the recommended horizontal position. The thought quickly brushed my mind, that maybe the toppings might slide, in protest. Oh, well, the risk was well worth taking. Off, I rushed back home. Again, sheer pleasure of being just me, with Pervenche, and the warm breeze. And plenty of times to savor the comings and goings inside my mind.  

Ah ah, just I was going over the bridge, it hit me. What had gotten me on my bike was not carbon calculators, not injunctions from Green Guru,  not my green conscience, not the sinister prospect of global warming. No, what had moved me to pick up Pervenche, was the memory of how fun the last ride had been, and the knowledge that it would take me about as much time to bike, as to drive. Physical satisfaction plus convenience, all at no cost. The personal benefit was obvious. 

Forget the “we” campaign. What’s going to get people from ‘business as usual’, to leaving their cars in the garage, and not shopping as much, is the realization that such moves are not only good for the whole world but for them personally, also, in a very direct, immediate way. The recent gas crisis is another validation

Hence the value of looking at personal motivators. Here is my list:

  • immediate gratification
  • convenience
  • cost savings
  • personal health

These are the big four on my list. Can you think of others?

PS – Do not transport pizza with the box on its edge in your side basket. The outcome ain’t pretty. Bare dough, with all the toppings squished against one side. We had a good laugh. 

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Someone very dear to me has been reminding me that nature’s got its ways, and that we, humans better listen. Someone very dear to me is suffering from a weakened heart, as a result of too much exercise and not enough food. She was in the hospital two weeks ago, and got out, barely out of the danger zone. Forgot the doctors’ orders, and started walking, and biking all over town, like before. A visit to the doctor yesterday brought some sobering news. My loved one’s heart is showing signs of weakening again, and a second hospitalization is on the horizon. That, she does not want. The memory of her first stay in the hospital, and how horrendous that felt, is still very fresh. Finally, she is hearing what her heart has been trying to tell her, and she is taking steps to heal. It’s taken that much for her behavior to change. 

My point is we can only ignore nature’s callings for so long. Our planet is heating up, sending us distress signals all over the place. Many of us are listening, but not really. It is business as usual. Driving, flying, whenever we feel like it. Firing up new coal plants to power our consumption habits. Building new and bigger homes. Drilling for more oil. Eating daily Happy Meals. Like my loved one, we need an experience akin to her first hospital stay. Something extremely unpleasant, that makes clear, the connection between our old behavior and the inevitability of personal disaster if we do not change. 

Of course, this begs the question of, can anything be done to change such a course of events? Can humans be reasoned into a wiser course of action, sooner, and without having to pay the unnecessary costs of  their foolishness? Psychology teaches us that the first step is to become conscious of our thoughts and our actions. There needs to be a public discourse around the personal dimension of climate denial. I have spent many posts in this blog, exploring that aspect, using myself as subject for such self-exploration. That is just a start. Other psychologists, journalists, bloggers, meditators, need to jump in and expose further, the various mental blocks of the climate denying mind.

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We are failing to invest in critical energy and agriculture research. We are letting our infrastructure fall apart. We are spending as if there is no tomorrow. We continue to drive as if there was no global warming. We are gorging ourselves despite warnings from our doctors. We focus on quarterly earnings at the expense of the long term health of our businesses . . . The pattern is clear. Like La Fontaine’s grasshopper, we are so focused on immediate rewards, that we are failing to prepare for our future. 

The price to pay for such carelessness is too high for us to ignore. Hence, it becomes important to examine the root causes of such behavior, and ways to fix it. The image of my maternal grandmother comes up. Meme Marie was more like the ant in La Fontaine’s fable. She lived frugally, and made sure she had enough money saved up for her old days. She also drew much comfort from knowing that her nest egg and her farm would go to her children after she died. Her brother, on the other hand was a completely different story. Always broke, and borrowing from my grandmother, until the day when she got fed up, and told him no more. Americans are like my granduncle and La Fontaine’s grasshopper. Overindulged children with no sense of limits, and a dangerous sense of entitlement. This precarious lifestyle breeds anxiety about the very real possibility of sad endings.

The first step is to recognize the problem. Next, is to regain control of our lives and our future. We all secretly want it. We just need permission from the media, and from our leaders. Building, not wasting.

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It’s been over a year now, since I decided to return to work full time, after a long stretch raising my daughters and pursuing other interests. Job offers have come and gone. So many options, and a sense that I can really do anything, as long as I set my heart to it. And I am still looking, for the perfect job, with just the right mix of greenness and Web hipness. It’s gotten to the point where I am feeling restless, and frustrated. Enters Barry Schwartz, a sociology professor at Swarthmore College, and the author of ‘The Paradox of Choice‘:

I can totally relate. More importantly, Barry Schwartz provides yet another argument for why we need to share our material affluence. It is good for us to deal with less, and the rest of the world needs our surplus. 

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