Friday, April 4, 2008

One World

A new video featuring the ideas of Barack Obama: I love it because it takes us back to earth. The current global environmental crisis will only be ameliorated when we recognize that the politics of one nation against another will only continue to hurt all civilizations. The diversity of our languages symbolizes the creative diversity of our souls. Yet we are all one people living life with the same goals: food, safety and love of self, family, community, culture, landscape and life itself with all of its roaring colors rushing from the universe. How long will it take for people to break down the barriers of defensiveness that isolate us from one another? How long will it take before people recognize in the face of the other a shared destiny? How long will it take before we understand that the fate of our planet and the sanctity of life depends on a shared international focus on collectively taking care of our world? As a psychologist I know how greed, envy, anger, revenge, and all the other darknesses of humanity can infiltrate our psyches. I also know that the triumph of humanity is to be found in our abilitry to wrestle with this darkness, make it a part of us and evolve as integrated creatures who know how to use aggression on behalf of our common humanity, and the true human potential of life's majesty. We start, at home, on the ground by living in harmony with our ecosystems.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour Here at Home

Both my children were adamant that we participate in earth hour this evening, even though my son and husband were to be out of town on a school father/son trip. Earth hour was organized by the WWF to call attention global warming. In cities across the globe citizens, businesses and civic buildings dimmed or shut off lights for one hour. Here in NYC that hour fell between 8:00-9:00pm. My eight-year-old daughter and I had just eaten dinner and were watching a movie when we noticed that it was 7:50. My daughter turned off the movie, and I lit three candles, one for each side of the house. Then we grabbed two flashlights and went to huddle in my bedroom. The cool dark soothed us and we marvelled at how different the city looked with fewer lights. She said that it was beautiful. When the Empire State building went dark, she squealed,"This is so exciting." We read a book together by flashlight, and every now and again walked around the house to see out all the windows, observing how many windows and buildings were dark. Mostly we enjoyed being so close, she and I, our legs and arms wrapped around each other and our big, soft, pink "blankie". We read, we cuddled, we talked - mother and duaghter navigating through the darkness, a glimpse of a world not even we can remember, a time when darkness necessitated that everything stop now, for a bit. At 9:00 pm the skyline lit up, and the Empire State building flashed brilliantly. As I put my daughter to bed, we thought about our night. Then she asked, "Just tell me one thing mommy --- why doesn't it snow in winter, and why is it cold when it should be hot and why is it hot when it should be cold? What's happening? And don't tell me that it isn't happening because I know that it is." I wiped the tears from the corner of her eye and held her worried heart close to mine. I answered, "The earth is in some trouble but some of the smartest people in the world are working on this, and so are your mom and dad." These words comforted her. Her words, however, haunted me. What will her future be like? Will she know the volumes of snow that I remembered from my childhood? I imagined the cold steely world of her future generated by the behaviors of today.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I just attended a meeting at CRED. We discussed Herman Daley, an environmental economis,. who suggests that only an environmental macroeconomic theory can help us think about sustainability in ways that include the value of the environment and its creatures. The question of what people value and desire is typically hard to measure precisiely because there is no pure type for value or desire, all have been operated on by culture. Yet, according to Daley, we can give value to our earth and its creatures either by understanding their worth to us, or by assessing their instrinsic value independent of their relationship to humans. Either way, the equations we use to calculate optimal scale have to incorporate the larger context in which we are embedded.
On Peoples' Minds: A neighbor of mine wonders whether or not to drive or fly to her vacation destination. The price of gas makes the plane flight almost cheaper, but the plane's engine emissions are also costly to the ecosystem. I note that the idea of not travelling isn't an option. We have grown so used to travel. What happens if we have to cut back? What if travel to far away places was exotic for a reason?
In the News: Simple and brilliant editorial in todays NYTimes. We have all the evidence we need to articulate that climate change is already happening. Global warming is upon us. It won't suffice to simply switch over our consumerist practices and to buy green products. We have to alter the way we use and acquire resources, and change the way we live. My work is all about articulating what such a changed life might look like.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Visited the water exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. I was fascinated to learn that fresh water comprises only 3% of the world's water supply. I'm not sure our behavior reflects how precious this resource is. Would our society even be capable of surviving if we behaved in a manner that conserved this resource? Water is life sustaining. We need it to stay alive, and we need it to raise the food that helps us to live. The desire for it has caused us to alter the earth to have more of it where and when we need it. We now, therefore, have less of it.
Less water vapor, less water and less ice.
Dissociation is the psychological concept that can help understand how we can treat the earth's resources so destructively. It is possible for our minds to create a disconnection between concepts, like an extreme form of compartmentalization. This process explains how someone who has been hit by a car can get up and act like nothing happened, only to become upset hours later when hearing a thump in a different context. Our minds are designed to help us survive and overcome serious threats. This also enables us to not fully feel or experience the implications of our behaviors.
The cultural categorization of cities and nature as separate splits related conponents of a whole into different and unequal parts. In reality, cities are made from nature, and nature has been shaped and formed by the many civilizations who have thrive upon her resources. A disconnection between the natural and technological leaves people at the mercy of nature and impulse, or at the will of the technology and control. This bifurcation allows one to act upon landscapes as though nature were impersonal and not a part of us, or to treat humans as if they weren’t part of a larger whole in whose terms we are all equal. We consume water as if it weren't a part of us, as though it were some external substance that we can dominate. Water, however, is a part of our biological sustainability and humans don't get to control how much of it we will have.
On peoples' minds: Overheard at the water exhibit, "It makes the idea of everybody having their own swimming pool in the their backyard a little misguided - but I'm not sure I would be willing to give mine up if I had one!" I wonder what sacrifices people would be willing to make to conserve water?
In the news: Also, note, climate change may create more of this, another aspect of water's power.
Ecological tip of the day: Don't let water run, ever. Fill a vessel to get what you need, turn off the faucet when brushing teeth or soaping, and take shorter showers.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Our Earth, Our Selves

Now that the AP is reporting the contamination of our drinking water by pharmaceuticals we are ever more aware of the blurring boundaries between individual biology and the ecosystem. The presence of antibiotics, hormones, sedatives and other medications is an easy way to track the merging of what is in the environment with what is in our bodies. Consider our psychological health for a moment. If we can accept the mind-body link, then our minds and bodies are interdependent. It stands to reason, then, that our minds and our environment are also mutually affecting each other. I see too many people in my practice who complain of psychological problems that don't stem exclusively from difficult relationships to parents. Some of these problems like depression, social acting out (symbolized by Britney Spears), anxiety and attentionality issues seem to be caused in part by the same cultural forces that have brought us global warming and other features of climate change.
On Peoples' Minds: A discussion at my kitchen table began with some talk about the pharmaceuticals in the drinking water. An elder member of the family said, "Well, the amounts are considered to be insignificant." Where have I heard that before? The reassuring thought that the amounts are insignificant is a defense mechanism. The truth is that we don't know enough about chronic exposure to insiginificant amounts of toxins to feel relaxed about this. Also, we do know that some peoples' metabolisms are more sensitive than others. A younger person said, "That is too overwhelming to even think about . . . " I find most people are scared to think about this stuff . . . but we have to. Its easier if we grasp that climate change is already happening to us.
In the News: This is why we need to think about climate change as already arriving.
Ecological Tip of the Day: Don't throw unused pharmaceuticals down the drain or toilet. Find out the proper method of dispoal for the drug in hand. And, read a good book about how we might be treating our psychological symptoms without really recognizing the root cause.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Oh no!

Distracted by the current media blitz on the sad news of Governor Spitzer's tragic flaw, Geraldine Ferraro's disappoinment about being forgotten, and the supposed racial dynamics of this campaign, President Bush has slipped in more damage, this time to the earth. This is bad on many levels: 1) Most important, this hurts our planet. It is like discovering that you have an allergy to bee stings and deciding to hang out by the beehive just a little longer; 2) This hurts people, not just glaciers. Greenhouse gases will cause more health problems, and they will change our culture and our economy. Ultimately we will die from this; 2) This degrades the office of the presidency. Leadership is no longer guidance for the good of the people. It is protection for the wealth of the few - for now.
For those who think that this is a problem for the future, recognize that climate change is already happening. Even if we try to fix it today we might not succeed. And if you imagine for one minute this isn't affecting you, let me tell you that there is a reason so many of you are anxious and depressed. In my research, I am exploring how many psychological symptoms are the early warning signs of environmental change. If you understand that we humans are a part of nature, and a member of the complex ecosystem we know as earth, what society does to the climate it also does to us. This will have an effect on our bodies and our minds. In this sense, our own government continues to abuse its citzens by violating the environment that sustains us. Try reading that headline to your kids at the breakfast table.
On peoples' minds: "I don't understand this mommy! What is going on? Why are people shooting wolves? Why are they killing elephants? Why do people need money so badly that they do these things to animals? And why can't we just stop global warming? Why is President Bush doing this to us? Why is he not trying to lower the ozone levels? Why?" - my 10 year old child, at the breakfast table this morning. Do I dare share the news a colleague sent me about the salmon?
In the News: Unfortunately, while TPM and some of the major print media continue to plug away at the environemntal issues, most other journalists, especially TV, and, unfortunately, some bloggers, are fixated more on who said what about whom in this election and much less on one of the biggest problems confronting the human race.
Ecological tip of the day: Stay informed. And then, instead of psychologically disconnecting from the overwhelming reality, feel it. Then act on it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Elections Aside, The Earth Beats On

Like many, the democratic primary has drawn me in. And now, news of Eliot Spitzer.
Yet, while we get all worked up about the political jousting and disappointments, the earth beats on, and she's not so healthy. How easy to forget about global warming. Not to mention threats to animals (this week wolves, elephants, fishers, lynxs, and whales). May I remind that without our planet we no longer exist? Why are so many willing to take our creations for granted? I think the reason is that people have already changed. We no longer experience ourselves as part of nature. But evidence suggests otherwise. And it is never to late to fight for our earth rights - to take back and redefine our rightful place within the ecosystem.
On Peoples' Minds: Said by a participant in my research,"I'm feeling pretty annoyed by this election . . . politicians come and go but life is sacred, and I am worried how little we are doing to protect it. On all levels from the soldiers we lost in Iraq to the failure to take any substanative action on the environment."
In the News: Sad to hear more evidence of how brutal we are to the animals who feed us. I no longer eat animal flesh of any kind, but I swear it off again. This is more proof that what hurts the animals ultimately hurts us as people. And there is more to suggest that we are what eat, and that what we eat is what we are. It is time to let go of the false idea that there is such a strong separation between people and the environment. It is important to focus our politicians away from each other and back onto things that matter. As it turns out, new studies suggest that even with "0" emissions we might be able to fully reverse the damage we have done.
Today's Green tip: My eight-year old daughter read a couple of words on this post and felt worried. Of course she is. And it is our job - each and ever one of us - to change our lives now so that the ecological problems our children will encounter will at least be manageable (because no matter what we do the enviroinmental issues they face will be far worse than ours). My daughter suggested that everyone plant something - for life.