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Posts Tagged ‘ecopsychology’

I have become a good green girl. Whenever possible, I combine my errands, so as to minimize car trips. A visit to the hairdresser yesterday, became the perfect opportunity to stop by Bloomingdale‘s next door, to replenish my supply of Clinique makeup. I rarely go to the mall now, and when I do, it is no longer a source of temptations and excitement, as was the case not too long ago. I have watched The Story of Stuff, and I am a conscious consumer.

I was on a mission, and went straight to the Clinique counter. I was going to buy some foundation and blush. The blush, I really needed, was down to the last bit. The foundation, I still had half of a bottle. I debated for a second, then decided against buying more. And bought just the blush. Preempting the sales lady with a “And no bag please”. Dropped the small box into my purse, and started walking out. I felt weird, leaving just like that. I was in the mall, after all. Wasn’t I supposed to shop? I felt the pressure, the slight pull. No, the desire had left me. I was going to walk straight back to my car.

That is, until I caught a whiff of . . . a smell so pleasant and so intoxicating. It made me want to linger. My nose could not get enough of the stuff. Had I not been thinking about what was going on, I would have stopped and turned left, into the nearby Abercrombie store. I had smelled the scent many times before, whenever I had gone shopping in the store. The Abercrombie people have it down to a science. I’ve got to admit. They nearly got me, once more.

I drove home mad. Mad, for having nearly been tricked. Another case of Not So Green Exposure, I thought. This one, so subtle though, that it was all the more potent and dangerous. I started to question the notion of freedom in a consumerist world. As much as I like to fancy myself as a free individual, the truth is my environment won’t let me. I remembered an interview, last year, on NPR Marketplace, between Kay Ryssdal and Benjamin Barber, when the two discussed Barber’s book, ‘Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole‘. Benjamin Barber, a political theorist, professor at the University of Maryland, blogger at Strong Democracy Blog and the Huffington Post, and principal member of the Democracy Collaborative, is one of the leading thinkers on capitalism and democracy.

This morning, Benjamin Barber wrote a very thought-provoking article in the Huffington Post. I urge you to read it. His question to presidential candidates is right on:

‘how do you suggest we get out of recession without getting into trouble? Without encouraging all those bad habits of too much spending, too little savings, too much foreign energy dependency and too much borrowing that have gotten us into our economic morass to begin with? How do we create a prosperous economy that does not depend on Americans buying not only more than they can afford, but far more than they need or want!?

Whoever can answer that question — or even understand it! — gets my vote.’

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It hit me yesterday, as I was staring at the running water. I was brushing my teeth, and immediately, my green conscience stepped in. You cannot let it run. Got’ta turn off the faucet right away. And then, at once, annoyance. Why? I wondered. Why was I feeling so bothered? This was a familiar feeling. The same emotion that pops up whenever I grab the car keys and start feeling guilty, or when I forget the green bag at Whole Foods, or I stare at the power strip, and realize I better turn it off.

During that moment, in front of the sink, I made the connection with Steven Running’s theory of ‘Climate Grief’. And realized the professor was probably right. I am grieving life as I knew it, before I heard of global warming. Care-free times marked by abundance, convenience, and the freedom to do as I pleased. Those times are over, and I have a hard time adjusting. Here, from Dr. Running’s web site, are excerpts from his paper on ‘5 Stages of Climate Grief’:

I recently took a fresh look at the widely recognized concepts on the “5 stages of grief” that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined back in the 1970s to summarize how people deal differentially with shocking news, such as being informed that they have terminal cancer. It seems that these stages of grief provide a very good analogy to how people are now reacting to the global warming topic, so I have formulated my “5 Stages of Climate Grief” as follows.

The first stage DENIAL, are the people that simply do not believe the science that the earth is warming, or secondarily that humans are the cause. Despite seeing a 50 year record of global atmospheric CO2 rising every year since 1957, and global air temperatures of the last dozen years in a row being the warmest in a millennium, they dismiss these trends as natural variability. These people see no reason to disturb the status quo. Most people rightfully started at this stage, until presented with convincing evidence. That convincing scientific evidence recently summarized in the 4th IPCC report has, according to opinion polls, dramatically reduced the number of people in Stage 1.

Many people jump directly from DENIAL to Stage 4, but for others, the next Stage 2, is ANGER, and is manifested by wild comments like “I refuse to live in a tree house in the dark and eat nuts and berries”. Because of my public speeches, I receive my share of hate mail, including being labeled a “bloviating idiot”, from individuals that clearly are incensed at the thought of substantially altering their lifestyle. My local newspaper has frequent letters to the editor from people angry to the point of irrational statements hinting darkly about the potential end of modern civilization.

Stage 3 is BARGAINING. When they reach this stage many people (such as self-righteous radio talk show hosts) who used to be very public deniers of global warming begin making statements that warming won’t be all that bad, it might make a place like Montana “more comfortable”. It is true that the building heating requirements for my hometown Missoula have decreased by about 9% since 1950 due to milder winters. At this stage people grasp for the positive news about climate change, such as longer growing seasons, and scrupulously ignore the negative news, more intense droughts and wildfires, and no glaciers in Glacier National Park by 2030. Most importantly, at this stage people are still not willing to change lifestyle, or explore energy solutions that are less carbon intensive. They seem willing to ride out this grand global experiment and cope with whatever happens.

Many people at my lectures have now moved to Stage 4, DEPRESSION. They consider the acceleration of annual greenhouse gas emissions, the unprecedented speed of warming, and the necessity for international cooperation for a solution, and see the task ahead to be impossible. On my tougher days I confess to sinking back to Stage 4 myself.

The final stage ACCEPTANCE, are people that acknowledge the scientific facts calmly, and are now exploring solutions to drive down greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, and find non-carbon intensive energy sources. Two factors are important in moving the public from DEPRESSION to this ACCEPTANCE stage. First are viable alternatives to show that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is possible without the end of modern civilization. It is very heartening to see wind turbines, LED lighting, thin film solar and hybrid cars on the market right now, not some vague future hope. Second is visionary national leadership, a “Marshall Plan” level of national focus and commitment, so everyone is contributing, and the lifestyle changes needed are broadly shared, in fact becoming a new norm. Progress on that front has not been good so far. An obvious flaw in this analogy is that many people are simply ignoring the global warming issue, a detachment they cannot achieve when they are personally facing cancer.

It is both welcome and important that some leaders of the business community, from DuPont, General Electric and WalMart down to the smallest entrepreneurial startups are now strongly pursuing goals of de-carbonized energy, improved efficiency and conservation. Large social changes always unavoidably breed pain for some and new opportunity for others, depending much on how rapidly people react to new realities. We really need most of our political, business and intellectual leaders to reach Stage 5 ACCEPTANCE in order to move forward, as a nation, and as a global citizenry. There is no guarantee that we can successfully stop global warming, but doing nothing given our present knowledge is unconscionable. How otherwise can we look into our grandchildren’s eyes?

Steven Running’s contribution to the understanding of the psychology of climate change needs to be brought to the attention of a wider audience, as it may help rally some of the deniers and skeptics. My only criticism deals with his presentation of grief as a linear process. While that makes for good logic, I don’t believe it represents reality. I, for example move back and forth between anger, depression, and acceptance, and often times, may experience all three feelings concurrently.

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Once upon a time, I used to be a social worker. ‘Used to’ is probably the wrong word, since social work is more a frame of mind than anything else. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the value of the social work model, as it pertains to the climate fight. Social work is the stepchild of psychology, and a discipline that promotes what may seem like a simplistic approach, and yet is a very profound way to deal with human problems. From the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers:

A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.‘  

Also, from Carolyn Saari – my teacher at Loyola University of Chicago, and one of the lead thinkers of social work theory, in her book, ‘The Environment: Its Role in Psychosocial Functioning and Psychotherapy‘:

Clinical social work, as a profession, has always believed in the importance of the environment and has regarded theories of the “person-in-situation” or the “person-environment configuration” as necessary in order to understand human needs . . .

Applied to the climate fight, this means looking at the environmental forces that perpetuate old behaviors and make it hard for people to adopt carbon neutral lifestyles. And no longer placing most of the responsibility on individuals. This is not about making excuses and absolving people from taking action. Rather, it is about looking first at all the factors in the physical, social, economic, and political environments that create and contribute to the problem. And second, exploring solutions in that environment to facilitate desired changes in behaviors.  

The social work model, gives meaning to how I, and the majority of Americans have been feeling and acting. It also validates social experiments such as the North Karelia Project. One of the most flagrant negative environmental factors is the situation created by sprawls. For more, read recent post in Daily Green on ‘Stop Sprawl to Protect the Climate and Save Money’.

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Last week I received this mail from Simon Donner, a climate scientist at University of British Columbia:

‘I came across your site, thanks to links you have to the letter I’d written for desmogblog and to my colleague Michael Oppenheimer‘s work. It is good to see some discussion about the psychology of climate change. You might be interested in a recent paper/essay of mine in the journal Climatic Change about how long-standing traditional or religious beliefs about the separation of earth and sky pose an obstacle for climate change education.’

I was so taken by the originality of his insights, that I asked him to write a guest article for La Marguerite. Here it is:

‘Climate change is so obvious. Where’s the outrage?’, the writer Bill McKibben once wrote. Scientists, environmentalists, politicians, op-ed columnists, you name it, they have tried, some say in vain, to answer that question.

The problem is too long term. There is no direct cause and effect. It is too expensive. Scientists are poor communicators. People don’t want to give up their SUVs. It is Exxon’s fault.

What unites all these answers? An anecdote from the South Pacific, told in a recent essay of mine in the journal Climatic Change, might give a clue:

Each year in the Fijian village of Matacawlevu on the island of the same name, the people hold a festival to celebrate the planting of crops. There is food, music and no shortage of kava. But the most important part of the festival is a church service where the local minister leads the village in prayers for good weather and a strong harvest. According to Fijian religious tradition, a mix of Methodism and animism typical of the South Pacific, proper prayer assures that the rains will come. In the event of a drought, people blame either each other for not being devout, or blame the minister for failing to properly deliver the people’s message. The tradition of the planting festival masks a sophisticated system of land management that has sustained indigenous people in Fiji and across many islands in Polynesia and Melanesia for centuries. In Matacawalevu, the Chief’s decision to sanction planting is based upon years of experience and the advice of a villager trained in agronomy. Crops are rotated and selected land is left fallow to maintain soil fertility. The village’ s agricultural practices follow directly from a deeply held belief that people exert control over land. The weather, however, is up to God.

In virtually every traditional and religious belief system, there is a clear separation between the earth and the sky. The earth is the domain of humans, and the sky is the domain of the gods.

Separation of Earth and Sky

The very notion that we could be influencing or controlling the weather and climate runs counter to thousands of years of belief in a separation between earth and sky. From the essay:

Today, the concept of human-induced climate change may not directly conflict with the everyday religious beliefs of the majority of people in North America or Europe, as it does in many Pacific Islands. Yet doubt about human influence on the climate may be grounded in a more general feeling, a remnant of thousands of years of belief in earth– sky separation, that unspecified forces grander than humans control the climate. Skeptics of climate change have effectively exploited this spiritual uncertainty about human influence on climate by stressing the natural variability in the climate system. For example, organizations discouraging reduction in greenhouse gas emissions often distribute material that focuses on the large forces that alter climate over time…

Whether intentional or not, the argument taps into our pre-existing doubts that humans could disturb the domain of the gods.

This is not an indictment or endorsement of religion, rather a discussion of the separation of earth (the domain of humans) and sky (the domain of the gods) in different traditions and the need for a long view of human history when communicating climate change. I encourage people to read the essay and provide feedback on how we can use these ideas to improve climate change communication efforts. Perhaps we are overlooking the magnitude of the paradigm shift that human-induced climate change truly represents? The essay:

From Galileo to Darwin, science is full of examples where new discoveries challenged traditional beliefs. If history is a guide, it can take decades or centuries for the new science to become the new orthodoxy. The battle over public acceptance of natural selection is still being fought 150 years after the publication of the Darwin’s The Origin of Species. The potential for human-induced climate change may not belong on a list of the most fundamental scientific discoveries of last 500 years. Like those discoveries, however, it does challenge a belief held by virtually all religions and cultures worldwide for thousands of years.

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Just found on YouTube, this ‘3650‘ video from MTV Switch:

3650 is the number of days – ten years – before the effect of our CO2 emissions are irreversible. Yes. Only 3650.

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No Impact Man nailed it this morning in his post on individual action. The important thing is not to worry about the outcome. Instead one should act, because one feels moved to do so. When considering environmental activism, I realize what stops me most often, are some thoughts I have about what the results might be, should be, probably won’t be. By now, I am familiar with all of them:

  • ‘This is such a small thing, why bother?’
  • ‘I want to put my energy in a bigger initiative that will reach many people’
  • ‘Other people are better at this than I am, let them do it’
  • ‘I am not quite ready yet, maybe next year’
  • ‘I am going to put in all that effort, and for what results?’
  • ‘What difference can I make, I am just such a small drop?’
  • ‘There are already enough activists doing this.’
  • ‘I have never done this before.’
  • etc . . .

You add your own thoughts, now!

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I get so much from the people who comment on my blog. They help me with blind spots. Darmok and Nadine, both struck me with the gentle ways in which they approach their greening process. I have gotten caught in the trap of looking at all I do not do, rather than appreciating the many steps I have been taking. I am getting impatient. I want to turn green overnight, and it is simply not possible. Greening is a process of give and take, a willing attitude, and an awareness. It is about savoring the victories, and reflecting on the ‘oops’, laughing along the way. It is about sharing all of the above with others, friends, in real life, and on the web. It has to do with loving one self, and others. My little green victories:

  • Unplugging my computer and cell phone charger, most of the times
  • Turning off the lights, always
  • No longer feeling like shopping for clothes
  • Not flushing
  • Not wasting water
  • Skipping on paper towels whenever I can
  • Refusing to use plastic bags for produce
  • Hardly printing anymore
  • Walking places more and more
  • Taking the train instead of the car

I caught myself counting. Ten things, is that enough? I want to be a good green girl. Marion Woodman’s book, ‘Addiction to Perfection’ has been gathering dust on my bookshelves. Maybe I ought to reread it. Green perfection is dangerous, it can eat at you, and then, what’s the point?

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I just recently made mine the old slogan, ‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.‘ These twelve simple words have had quite an effect. Now, I think twice before flushing, and the sight of yellow gets immediately translated into a ‘don’t flush’ command. I have even become a militant, having toilet conversations with whoever wants to listen. Darmok and I had a brief but funny toilet exchange yesterday.

Slogans are old tools of the advertising trade, and it struck me that I can’t recall a single green slogan, other than ‘An Inconvenient Truth‘. The problem with those two words is just that, they are inconvenient, they are party spoiler, and not what people want to hear. ‘Inconvenient Truth’ was successful in capturing people’s imaginations and instilling enough fear in them, that they had to stop and listen. It worked with me. It convinced me of the urgency of the crisis, and of the need of becoming personally involved. Now, other words must take over, to make people want to become green.

Nadine, who just discovered La Marguerite, made an inspiring comment. Nadine has been a long time greenie, and spreader of the Green Word. She brought up the importance of using sweetness and humor, when trying to inspire green changes in others’ lives. I agree with her one hundred percent that humor can be our way into a greener world. The reason the yellow mellow slogan works, is that it’s funny in a quirky kind a way. What’s needed is a green slogan, that will make people laugh so hard, that they will want to share it, and think about it during their everyday activities. Any ideas?

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I am an addict. And I need help. In the absence of a clear program, I am left on my own, to find an approach that will work for me. It’s been confusing, so far, and I can’t tell what’s helpful, from what’s not.

The Not so Green Zone
First, there is the danger of the not so green zone. You know, that fuzzy place where it’s pretty much up to you to decide what your green regimen should be. It’s very flexible, and understanding of your situation as a recovering consumer. Let’s set our expectations low, since we know the moon is out of reach. The problem is just that. Low expectations produce dismal results, coupled with the dangerous illusion that one is doing something. The not so green zone is where I dwelled until a few weeks ago, when I decided, enough was enough, and I wanted results.

The Absolute Green Zone
Second, and just as dangerous, is the absolute green zone. No room for error here. You are green, or not. There is a list of things you know you have to do, all of them, and there is no skipping any. The advantage is you know what is expected of you. Things are clear. Relapses are frowned upon, and you better get back on the train quick. Very much like going on a diet. You know what happens to chronic dieters, though. They follow the diet for a while, and then one day, they just get fed up, and say, the hell with it, I am going to eat as a please. I am a living testimony of why (green) lists alone rarely work. Lists are tools that need a context.

The Green Steps Community Zone
Outside of these two danger zones, lies a third space, one I am just starting to formulate for myself, and who knows, maybe others if they want. I call it the Green Steps Community zone. It borrows from the 12 Steps model and the community principle of social networks. 12 Steps was built on the notion that the support from other fellows struggling with similar addictions, coupled with accountability to the group and a sponsor, are essential to the success of the recovery process. People cannot accomplish recovery on their own. Couple 12 Steps with social networks, and you’ve got the beginning of a solution. Social networks are not the privilege of Web 2.0. There are many other different types of social networks, starting with families, neighborhoods, churches, schools, workplaces, all of which need to be considered for this idea of Green Steps Communities.

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I used to be a printing maniac. Until I decided to move my office down to the first floor guest room. The printer got forgotten in the move, and is still sitting in my old closet office. I am enjoying all the freed up space on my desk. All of a sudden, it has become really inconvenient to print. I have to take my laptop upstairs, and hook it up to the printer. Result: I have not printed once since the move, several weeks ago. Instead, I have developed a better filing system for all my emails. Number of sheets of paper saved: at least one hundred.

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