Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An Eco-Anxiety Retrospective

What a Difference a Year Makes

It was just over a year ago when we began to see news coverage about "eco-anxiety." If you recall most of the articles referred to it in a rather demeaning manner as new designer malady concocted to describe growing concerns about environmental threats experienced primarily by neurotic, suburban housewives with too much time on their hands.

Coverage continued in that vein through last spring, then then began to wane until its all but vanished. Not the use of the word. No, just the demeaning tone. At the end of this post you'll find a few examples of the kind of frequent and widespread attention the term is getting today.

If you check these out, you'll notice the term eco-anxiety has become integrated into normal parlance, taken more or less as a given of our time. You'll notice also that rather than its being cast in the pejorative, more often that not it is being used in conjunction with tips and ideas for what someone can do about concerns one feels about such things as peak oils, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Here are several reasons for this quick and robust shift and what I see as the implications for us as helping professionals:

1. There is near universal acceptance now that there are very real and serious concerns about climate change and the future availability of cheap fossil fuel. This both makes the topic and people's concerns respectable and thus reduces anxiety levels somewhat for those whose concerns arose because it seemed that no one else but them was recognizing these impending threats. At least now these concerns can be discussed and options discussed in most polite company.

President-elect Obama's message to the public is certainly a help here. Not only is he bringing up environmental concerns as real and pressing, but also he is saying that the problems we face and the changes we will be needed to make are going to be long and hard ones, igniting some of the spirit of heartiness and endurance Franklin Roosevelt brought out to inspire people to hunker down and work together during the Great Depression and World War II.

2. Concerns about the economy are rapidly overshadowing eco-concerns for both the public and the media. Of course, there is a direct relationship between our living beyond the carrying capacity of the earth and its rapid degradation and our own burdens of debt and economic peril. But this relationship is not yet apparent to many and certainly we can help make the connections between the two. Fortunately many of the things we need to be doing to safeguard our health and well-being lives and address our eco-concerns are the same from living more simply, driving less, spending less, and becoming more self-reliant.

The rapid economic downturn is causing intense concern and suffering, however. Requests for counseling have soared 40% in the last six months with financial worries or marital problems arising from financial stress spurring most of this increase. Concerns among those already distressed over environmental issue can also arise when one is faced with the reality that healthier, "green" ways of life may be beyond one's means in today's economy. Realizing, for example, that one can no longer afford or is unable to relocate to less expensive, more eco-friendly area or to a small,er more energy-efficient home, for example.

3. But offsetting the above escalation in concerns is a growing number of people who are becoming involved in movements like local Transition Initiatives, so they 're no longer alone in their concerns. Instead they are directing their concern into constructive action. The Transition Initiatives were started in Totnes, UK, and has spread to over 100 towns there. It is growing quickly in the United States and spreading to Japan, New Zealand and Australia as well.

There are a variety of additional noteworthy elements to this movement applicable to us as helping professionals. First, they approach the changes we need to make as both an inner and outer process. So the psychological aspects of today's issues are being addressed and helping professionals are getting involved both personally and in their roles.

Eco-nomic concerns and anxieties will most certainly rise in the coming year. It will not be an easy year. Helping our clients understand what's happening, providing resources, and support in making practical, day-to-day changes will be crucial. It will be particularly important for us to resist the temptation to tell them all will be well soon, as it will not. But we also need to uplift our own spirits and those of our clients for affiliating with others who are working to make the fundamental structural changes in the way we live and work.

One of the ways we can help is to reframe all the "bad news" we're being bombarded with by the media as "good news." For example, we're hearing regular reports that shopping is down, people are using their credit cards less, borrowing less, learning ways to be more frugal, making things last, repairing our belongs, doing things for ourselves like making our own meals or entertaining family land friends at home. We're driving less, buying smaller cars, or riding a bike to work, traveling less or not as far. We're buying from local family farmers, volunteering to do more for others who need help, and using the library instead of the video store. (For these reports and more see the Middle Class Advocacy Institute News Updates and Archives.)

Such news is usually presented as a sign of how bad things are. We need to help our clients see that these changes are the very ones we all need to be making both for our own well-being and the well-being of the environment. They are signs that we are waking up, that we can adapt to the challenges ahead, and that we're beginning to move in the right direction. As we begin to think of such changes as an active choice instead of something being foisted on us, we immediately become more resilient and capable of moving on.

It is my wish that the New Year will bring a still greater awareness that "eco-anxiety" is a normal and natural response to the unprecedented challenges we face across the globe but that we can reach out to others in our community, work together to respond responsibly, and when needed find help from nearby professionals who are aware of today's realities and worked to marshall both the inner and outer resources we all need.

Samples of Recent Eco-Anxiety Google Alerts

Quiet Nature: Water- The Essential Source Of All Life On Earth By Sherry Many people are experiencing 'Eco-anxiety', due to the current Economic and Environmental Crisis. My aim is to inspire people weekly to experience shifting their attention and feel the physiological healing possible from Nature. ...Quiet Nature -
Google Web Alert for: eco-anxiety

Eco-anxiety Videos - Watch Video about Eco-anxiety on Mefeedia Watch eco-anxiety videos. Find the most recent eco-anxiety video and clips from thousands of online video sites on Mefeedia.

Soulways Center for Conscious Evolution - Melissa Pickett - Santa ...As in Fox News, Melissa Pickett is owner of the Soul Ways Center for conscious evolution. Alternative to psychologists for many symptoms such as eco-anxiety.

Green products reviews, ethical advice and eco gift ideas Blog ...Posted on Monday December 8th, 2008 at 19:19 in eco anxiety, eco humour, environmental, green energy. The petrol crisis in the UK appears to have dialled ...

How Eco-anxiety Works - HowStuffWorks - Yahoo! Buzz Lifestyle. » View all Lifestyle stories · Image: How Eco-anxiety Works ... How Eco-anxiety Works · HowStuffWorks. Made Popular: Nov 3, 2008 - While it's ...

Diagnosis: Eco-Anxiety EcoSalon - The Green Gathering Eco-anxiety: it’s a new term that’s being used to describe people’s nervousness about global warming or secret guilt about not taking canvas bags to the.

Eco Anxiety Algae fuel Animal rights bio bugs bio fuel Carbon footprint cheaper Eco Button Consumerism eco anxiety Eco balls Eco Button £9.99 eco christmas eco friendly ...

Green Gazette November 2008 - Ohlone College Most people have never heard of eco anxiety, but it is actually recognized as ... Eco Anxiety is the stress that people carry about the their impact and the ...

(c) Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008
Distribution for informational purposes only is encouraged.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: Parity at Last?

On October 3rd President Bush signed the Mental Health Parity Act of 2008. What does this act mean to us as mental health practitioners?

1. It means mental health coverage will be extended to about 113 million people

2. Employers are not required to provide mental health coverage, but those that offer health coverage must offer equality between mental and physical health care.

3. By equality, the act specifies:

- Co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs cannot be greater for mental health coverage

- Separate limitations for treatment cannot be applied for mental health coverage, i.e. limits for out-patient visits to treat a child's behavioral disorder cannot be less than outpatient visits for treatment should he break his leg.

4. Criteria for a health plan determining whether a mental health procedure is medically necessary must be made available to patients upon request.

5. The act does not define what a mental illness is, leaving that up to various plans and, of course, existing state law, but it is generally thought that it will apply to disorders included in the Diagnostic an Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

So what does this mean for eco-anxiety? Well, on the one hand, since eco-anxiety arises from well-placed concern about environmental problems and the economic fall-out that's occurring across the country, it isn't necessarily a mental "illness," but, on the other hand, as many of us have already seen, dealing with problems arising from these concerns can most certainly make one ill, either physically and/or mentally.

Note recent news reports such as the 90-year old woman who shot herself upon facing eviction from her home. Or the man who lived not far from where I live who killed his entire family and then shot himself due to consequences from the recent national economic meltdown.

Generally it is not the source of the distress that determine if it's effects are covered under a health plan but its seriousness. If one's stress, be it from economic, marital, environmental or other causes, lead to development an ulcer, certainly that ulcer would be treated as a medical condition. Thus an equal case can be made that if distress from eco-nomic issues results in severe anxiety, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, or any other ailment that appears in the DSM, then parity would suggest it should be covered equally.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this interpretation. Of course, we must monitor how this act actually plays out plan-by-plan and state-by-state. Please let's share our experiences as the implications of this act unfolds.

E-mail me at or leave a comment below with your thoughts or any developments you encounter. I'll be post them immediately. Let's work together to be sure our clients get the best possible care. Sadly there is and will most certainly be ample need.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: The Good, the Bad and the Strange

Recent news report featured three mental-health-related developments of note to those of us working with eco-anxiety.

First, an article in the Los Angeles Times claims that a troubled economy can be good for our health. Sounds pretty strange, right? Well, it's a classic case of good news/bad news.

The article is based on the correlation between health trends and economic conditions in 27 countries. The good news in this article is that the general "population's physical well-being improves as just about every measure of economic health dips." The statistics show that as economies worsen, the incidence of traffic accidents, industrial accidents, obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking and even deaths from heart disease, which they correlate to lower pollution levels, all go down.

In other words, due primarily to job loss and inflation, the report explains, people are "smoking, drinking and driving less, reducing their risks of heart disease, liver disease and car crashes."

Is this really good news, or is there more to this picture? You have to wonder if this isn't in indication of how disconnected our society has become when we are in many ways healthier in bad economic times. And perhaps it validates the claims of those who firmly believe that once we get through the difficult transition from an unsustainable way of life we will indeed be better off.

But There's One Notable Exception and Some Doubt

Mental health. Stress goes up and mental health declines in bad economic times. That's bad news. Given the mind/body connection, I have to question the blanket conclusion of this article, which does include reference to the doubts of other researchers such as Ralph Catalano, economist at the School of Public Health of the University of California at Berkeley. He says, "I think the evidence is that the net effect of a bad economy is that health gets worse."

Days later another article in the LA Times would bolster Catalano's assessment. It claims today's anxiety over job security amid the current economic woes have employees wrought with fear, stress, and discomfort which is showing up as more disruptive angry outbursts, frequent absences, financial and personal problems, depression, difficulties at home, and alcoholism and drug abuse. Anxiety over rising gas prices are also cited in particular.

So can we be healthier while griped with fear and stress? A pretty strange conclusion. Certainly both articles suggest that a lot of people will be needing mental health counseling. And on that front this is additional good news.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a Mental Health Parity bill requiring health-insurance providers nationwide to cover mental-health treatment on an equal basis with medical care. The Senate also passed similar legislation in a the tax relief bill.

This should be good news, but then some claim this requirement will result in fewer employers providing health coverage, or increasing the portion of insurance paid for by the employee, causing fewer people to be able to afford health coverage. That would be bad news.

It's all pretty strange, but then, Richard Heinberg, author of Peak Everything predict we'll be seeing a lot of "crazy" things as an unsustainable fossil fuel-based economy is forced to powerdown.

(c)Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008
(Distribution for informational purposes only is encouraged.)
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: Reinventing Collapse

A Must Read Book for Helping Professionals by Dmitry Orlov

Reinventing Collapse, The Soviet Example and American Prospects, is not an easy book to read. The difficulty is not in the writing. That is crisp, clear, and exceptionally well-organized. It’s the message that’s difficult to digest. Some refuse to read it; others can take it only in small doses. But as helping professionals we better be reading it. It’s a little like taking your medicine when you’re a kid. You’ll be better off for it, but you’ll have to make yourself strong before swallowing and unless you’re an inveterate cynic with an iron stomach, you may want to have some Maalox handy to sooth the after burn.

Eyewitness to the Soviet collapse during the 1980’s and 1990’s, author Dmitry Orlov, a Russian immigrant to the US, dares to extrapolate from what he saw happen there disturbing lessons for the US as our economy wilts under the pressure of heavy debt, a devalued currency and a major energy crisis. While some will find such a comparison audacious and ask what we could possibly have in common with the experiences there, he points out a host of similarities too blatant to deny.

But the real stickler is the equally blatant differences he lays out between the two superpowers. These suggest that what may lie a head for us could be even more catastrophic than what the Soviets suffered. And millions there suffered mightily.

Orlov points out, for example, that price controls kept the lights on, state ownership meant few lost their homes, and few went without heat thanks to giant, state-run neighborhood steam boilers. The extensive mass transit system continued to run throughout and, because of “the dismal state of Soviet agriculture,” many people already relied on “institutional food” and “kitchen gardens” to keep food on the table. So, there was no starvation and little malnutrition. This is in stark contrast to the issues he points out we will face in regard to these and other essentials of a modern life.

The book is by no means all one big downer, though. Some readers find Orlov’s unfailing refusal to whitewash harsh realities refreshing. Others even find his juxtaposition of wit with threat amusing. While he admits, “Many will suffer and many lives will be cut short,” he also contends human society has a way of righting itself. Latter chapters are filled with specific solutions we can garner to mitigate the effects of economic collapse. Many are unconventional adaptations we’re fully capable of making, including some hefty attitude adjustments. Others foreshadow opportunities that will most likely emerge from the most difficult of times.

Sprinkled through out the book one also finds reference to unique often-taken-for-granted assets of the American psyche we will be well served to cultivate.

Concluding on a surprisingly hopeful note, Orlov writes, "In spite of all this, I believe that in every age and circumstance, people can sometimes find not just a means and a reason to survive, but enlightenment, fulfillment, and freedom.”

Forgiving the occasional meander into gratuitous partisan asides, we pass on reading this gem at our peril.

Why Mental Health Professionals in Particular Must Read This Book

“Economic collapse is about the worst possible time for someone to suffer a nervous breakdown, yet this is what often happens.” Dmitry Orlov

It doesn’t take Dmitry Orlov’s forewarning to see we in the mental health profession had best be preparing for a tsunami of emotionally and psychologically wounded on our doorsteps. The financially distraught middle-class is already experiencing record levels of pain as the economic effects of peak oil, climate change, and environmental degradation empty our bank accounts and erode the unsustainable material prosperity and comfort we’re currently addicted to. But we haven’t seen anything yet.

That’s why we as helping professionals need to read this book. It provides a peek at the depth and breadth of just what could be coming. Having seen the emotional effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union first hand, he presents all-too-painfully just how tenuous the mental health of our US population is and how many of our most prized self-concepts, values, beliefs and aspirations lie at the heart of our psychological fragility.

Scouring Reinventing Collapse with the eye of a psychotherapist, one can glean:

1) Who will be most vulnerable. A careful analysis reveals 19 different categories of susceptible individuals covering the bulk of the US population. Many are not immediately obvious, i.e. men ages 45-55 being among the most at risk, especially those who are also movers and shakers.

2) What psychological maladies will be most prevalent. Stress, anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, criminal behavior, and suicide top the list.

3) The kind of assistance we need to be ready to provide, specifically the dramatic changes in values, attitudes, and beliefs we’ll need to facilitate and the practical hands-on aid we’ll need to offer.

Orlov makes one thing clear – we better be ready. While his book will most likely shock and disturb, it will also prove to be an invaluable guide for those willing to view the mental health horizon with a wide-angle lens.

(c) Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008
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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: Resilience, Optimism & Learned Helplessness

One of our greatest challenges these days is how to validate the seriousness of the problems ahead for our clients without making matters worse.

Believe it or not, an August 25 LA Times article entitled "Can a troubled economy actually improve public health?" reports that our way of life is so unhealthy under normal conditions that we are actually healthier in bad economic times. What an irony! But the article points out, mental health is one notable exception. In difficult economic times mental health "worsens even for the vast majority who maintain their jobs, as the onslaught of bad news causes anger, anxiety and depression."

Perhaps this not surprising. If we're already debilitated from our high-stress, consumer-driven lifestyle, is it any wonder it's difficult for us to draw on the one human capacity we most need in the face of a continuing onslaught of bad news and increasing daily difficulty? And, that we're more likely instead to fall prey to two peculiar quirks of human physiology that make it all the more difficult to respond effectively?

What we most need to draw on in circumstance like those of today isresilience – the ability to absorb, hold together, and continue functioning in the midst of disruptive change. Humans are amazingly resilient by nature. We're all descendants of resilient survivors who have overcome massive changes throughout eons. But as Kathy Harrison notes in her new book Just in Case , we are seeing the first generation of a population that is totally dependent on a fragile network of transportation, communication, and finance over which they have little influence or control and which leaves most Americans only a few days away from hunger and a paycheck away from homelessness.

So we may be seeing a lot of people who, instead of cathecting into their natural capacity for resilience, fall prey to two aspects of our neurophysiology that block resilience.

1. A physiological craving for optimism. Just anticipating the promise of something positive or simply hearing a positive prediction of something we want to hear, floods our bodies with a cascade of brain chemicals that make us feel euphoric. In many ways this is an asset, but it also makes it difficult for us to hear bad news. We tend to seek out a positive spin anywhere we can and if we can't, we may just focus on how we wish things to be and get our chemical high from manufacturing a little "positive thinking."

But this leaves us vulnerable to another debilitating inborn response.

2. Learned helplessness. When faced with an sequence of unpredictable, inescapable negative events over which we seem to have no control, we are easily conditioned to feel helpless. We become apathetic, give up, feel depressed, and stop making efforts to respond constructively to the disruption changes we face.

Unfortunately that is exactly where many of our clients are or will be. "Suddenly" gasoline costs are too high, groceries too expensive, layoffs looming, good jobs scarce, mortgages ballooning, and property values plummeting. And often there seems to be nothing we as individuals can do to stop these events.

But, of course, what is happening now was not unpredictable. It has been predicted as early as the 1950's. If we as a society hadn't been too addicted to optimism to hear the many predictions some have been shouting from the rafters for so long, their arrival now wouldn't be having seemingly inescapable consequences.

And, of course, each day we allow ourselves to go blithely on listening to or conjuring up optimistic images of how we can go on as we have been, and continuing to grow and expand, the more unpredictable and inescapable the negative consequences ahead become.

The alternative is to help our clients embrace the "bad news" and tap into their innate capacity for resilience.

Doing this will be far easier if we can imbue what's occurring with a titillating tinge of optimism. In an effort to do this some try to sugar-coat the issues. "It won't be so bad. Some new technology will be developed." "We'll be living in a better world where everyone can concentrate on what they love most." And so forth. But as reassuring as sugar-coating may feel, and as eagerly as it is apt to be lapped up, it just leads us right back into the optimism trap where we started: unable to escape the surprises we're left vulnerable and unprepared for.

Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Cultures movement and author of The Transitions Handbook, and Australian permaculturist Geoff Lawton are among those who are bringing an optimistic twist to the bad news we must deal with. They are packing standing-room only halls with eager, enthusiastic, and excited individuals across the Western world.

Since as a people we love optimism, let's capitalize on that. Let's immerse ourselves personally in the optimistic messages and activities arising from those who are accepting the "bad news" and responding with resilience.

Let's participate in hopeful, action-oriented endeavors like theirs in our own communities. Then let's share the enthusiasm and camaraderie of these experiences with our clients. Let's bring that energy into our sessions and invite our clients get involved so they too can experience first hand the empowering force of optimism in the embrace of challenging change.


Video Clips:
Greening the Desert with Geoff Lawton
Transition Handbook with Rob Hopkins

The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins

Organizations, Training, and Websites
Transition Culture
Permaculture Research Institute of Australia
Permaculture Research Institute USA

CEU Courses
Six hours of interactive Continuing Education Credits are available online for The Transition Handbook and other eco-anxiety related books and DVD's at Pine Mountain Institute,

(c) Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Consciousness Change and Life After Oil

In an interview appearing on Transitions Culture, psychologist Peter Russell, author of Waking Up in Time, highlights a number of valuable insights for those of us working with people struggling, either consciously or subconsciously with the unsettling impact of peak oil and climate change on their daily lives.

Russell begins by pointing out the need for an inner change of consciousness that underlies so many of our daily habits and our way of life. But he also addresses the pitfalls of getting stuck in the fear, anger, or magical thinking that we can meditate our way out today's realities, any one of which may occur when we focus too narrowly on inner work.

He emphasizes the value of personal and collective visioning about the future given these realities, while warning against the dangers of becoming attached to the ideas we envision for the future, urging instead that we remain open to unfolding possibilities. I too find envisioning to be a valuable way to move out of fear and shock into positive action.

As we've discussed here before, moving past fear, shock, or anger isn't usually an instantaneous process, though, so we need to allow ourselves and those we work time to adjust both emotionally and cognitively as we move through the stages of waking up. Trying to hurry one through this process tends only to deepen the fear, shock, or anger one needs to move on from.

Russell calls for a balance between what I consider to be inner and outer reconstruction, dealing with both the needed psychological and practical change. In terms of practical action he views provision of energy and food as our top two priorities. In general terms I would agree with this, yet I maintain the best place for a given individual to start is with their most pressing concerns and personal priorities. In many cases that may be dealing with freeing themselves from immobilizing debt.

I am interested in knowing your comments about Russell's views and those expressed here.
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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Update: Reality Check

Despite rising prices for just about everything we actually need and the threat of a recession in the air, Americans continue to favor protecting the environment even at the risk of curbing economic growth, reports in a new Gallup Poll, conducted March 6-9. Here's a quick summary:

- Nearly half of American believe protection of the environment should be given priority even at the risk of curbing economic growth.

- 50% of Americans say protection of the environment should be given priority even at the risk of limiting the amount of energy supplies such as oil, gas, and coal that the United States produces.

- 95% of Americans believe the current U.S. energy situation is very (46%) or fairly serious (49%).

- 62% think the United States is likely to face a critical energy shortage during the next five years.

- By a margin of 61% to 29%, Americans favor emphasizing more consumer conservation of existing energy supplies, rather than emphasizing the production of more oil, gas, and coal supplies.

Of particular note for us:

- Most people are worried and concerned about the environment and energy depletion

- But the percentages of folks favoring these positions has dropped since prior polls, indicating that more people are worried about the econom

This means:

- Many people are not yet making the crucial connection between our economic problems and the effects of perpetual growth on the environment.

- The American public is growing more divided in our posistion toward these issues, making effective and timely decisions by national leaders less likely.

For the details of this poll see Gallop's full report. Read more!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: Exploitation and Other Misconceptions

"What about the perception that therapists and green activists who deal with eco-anxiety are exploiting people's fears?" I was asked this question by two reporters this week. I also received a blog claiming eco-anxiety is a "new fabulous fear that is milked by... ruthless profiteers."

Have you encountered such accusations? Do you find these to be odd perceptions? I do. I'm not aware that we as therapists are accused of exploiting those who come to us suffering from other psychic wounds such as depression, alcoholism, addictions, stress from chronic overworking, loss of a loved one and so forth. What is the difference here and how should we best respond?

It would seem one difference is that there are those who think this is a manufactured concern, whipped up by the media and greedy practitioners. My respsonse has been to explain that I certainly hope no fears were being exploited, but instead that the therapists I know are responding to real concerns brought to them by clients who come to them, just as they would when clients come to them with other concerns and problems to us.

Another misconception seems to be that eco-therapists work stricktly with eco-anxiety. Reporters often point out that there are 600 listed eco-therapists and assume we are all specializing in treating eco-anxiety. I've written here previously about the role of ecopsychology, pointing out 1st that it's not a new field and 2nd that eco-therapists work with many different social, psychological and educational concerns. I also explain as I have in the previous article why it is also helpful modality to address eco-anxiety.

Have you been encountering such misconceptions? Are the other misperceptions you're runing into? How are you responding? How would you respond. Let's compare notes. Read more!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: A Time to Grow-Up

A New Worldview – Leaving Fantasy Land, Entering Pioneer Land

“As someone who is studying to be a psychologist,” the young man asked when Howard Knustler spoke at the University of California Bakersfield campus about the implications of peak oil, “what can we in this field do to help people deal with what we’re facing?” Without a moment’s hesitation Knustler replied, “Help them grow up.”

I was reminded of Knustler’s reply recently when I saw an article on Peak Oil Parenting by Annie the Nanny entitled “What Happens When the Reality of ‘No’ becomes Clear to Middle-Class America?” Annie points out that as parents we say “no” a lot, because we know our children need to learn about boundaries. Like it or not they can’t have and do everything they want whenever they want. But as adults we in the US hate boundaries. We don’t like to hear the word “no.” Instead …

Over the past energy-rich half-century, the two-year old developmental task of learning to accept and live within boundaries and the four-year old task of learning to differentiate between make-believe and reality, have flown out the window. We’ve grown accustomed to a world of “Yes.

As Annie extols, ‘No’ has become “a minor inconvenience, which has rarely popped up. Yes, you can have a mortgage with no money down. Yes, you can afford that new truck. Have that trip to the Bahamas because guess what…you’re worth it! Yes…yes, you can.”

In recent years the limited possibilities of past generations appeared to disappear. Most Americans define themselves as part of a comfortable middle-class, enjoying, taking for granted, and feeling entitled to a life filled with luxuries once reserved for and others never even dreamt of by royalty.

In this Fantasy Land of limitless energy and perpetual growth, one never really has to grow up. We can savor a womb-like, climate-controlled environment and be bottle-fed every form of comfort and convenience we can afford, living in a kind of perpetual toy-land of shopping and playing in an ever-larger sandbox of entertaining and high-tech toys.

We’ve enjoyed a sense of omnipotence once reserved for spoiled two-year olds and the unlimited magical beliefs of spoiled four-year olds, thinking that with the right education, good job, family heritage, or a winning lottery ticket our dreams, whatever they might be, can come true. Somewhere out there, we can wish upon a star and find a free lunch waiting.

In his book The Dumbest Generation Mark Bauerlein of Emery University reports that “two-thirds of US undergraduates now score above average on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.” (See the LA Times review “Speeding to stupidity – or not.” July 5th) But this self-absorbed you-can-have-it-all, everything-is-possible, build-it-and-they-will-come, whatever-you-believe-you-can-achieve world of prosperity thinking has been built upon cheap energy, and, of course, working longer and harder to pay for our toys and a place to keep them.

Now Here Comes Mother Nature

We’ve been bombarded with this fantasyland worldview through decades of advertising campaigns that have enticed to spend our way into massive personal debt. But a burgeoning world population, dwindling natural resources, and dramatic climate changes are bursting the fantasy. The rising price of energy has put us on an unavoidably rough and very bumpy long road ahead.

Like every young child, we’re discovering that in the natural world – the real world – neither we nor our technology are omnipotent. There are limits to our power to define reality, not matter what we believe, wish, or pray for. Also, like most children, we don’t like facing the grown-up world where not all dreams can come true. Nature is imposing some big “no’s” on us leaving us eco-nomic anxious and eco-angry at the very real prospect of being banished from Fantasyland.

As helping professionals even though we may be having some of our own issues adjusting to today’s new reality of “No,” we nonetheless need to guide our clients in cultivating a new worldview that’s compatible with a grown-up realty. Of course they’re not children so we cannot treat them as such. We can’t stand them in the corner until they wake-up or give them a swat on the tush. But we can offer a grown-up worldview that will serve and sustain us. We can assume the simultaneously firm and caring attitude good parents use to help their children learn about limits.

Yes, that may make us seem like the “mean bad guys.” But the alternative is for stark reality to be the teacher and it reality can be a mean and ruthless parent if we don’t pay attention to it. Unless we voluntarily adopt a grown-up worldview, economic realities will force us to do so kicking and screaming. That will be much harder than beginning to learn we need to learn now while we still have the resources to make the changes we need to make.

Another Familiar but Near-Forgotten Worldview Is Standing By

Fortunately there is a readily available grown-up worldview we can turn to. Having been stowed away in the cold-storage for decades, it’s a familiar story with deep roots in our national heritage. Wash off the romantized wrapping we’ve stored it in and you find not a Fantasy Toy Land, but a New World Pioneer Land of many frontiers.

Life in the “New World” our ancestors pioneered on the frontiers of yesterday was rough. Sometimes really rough. But our ancestor were tough. They lived through many hardships, yet they savored newfound freedoms from the burdens and constraints they’d suffered in the countries or cities they were fleeing. Like us today, many of them headed into the unknown because they realized that’s what they had to do if they wanted to survive.

As they stepped into unknown territories they didn’t ask, “What all do I want?” They asked, “What do I need?” They didn’t insist on comforts. Nor did they hire others to do anything they could learn to do themselves. Usually that meant they had a lot much to learn, just as we do if we are to survive the today’s new world.

They didn’t want more than they needed. They learned how to make do and how get by with what was available nearby. They relied on themselves, their families and the small communities where they settled. They helped each other, and, as the story goes, prided themselves on developing courage, ingenuity, patience, strength, and endurance. All traits of grown-up human beings.

They didn’t they toss away anything that still worked for a new one at the slightest ding or word of the latest model. They took good care of what they had, including the land, because “just get another one” or “buy some more” wasn’t usually an option. Those who survived had the greatest respect in particular for nature because they knew nature was not to be ignored. Their survival depended on understanding and accounting for its limits and boundaries. They also knew too well that, as Henry David Thoreau discovered on this trip to Mt. Kadaan, “there is a force in nature not bound to be kind to man.”

The men and women pioneers of yesterday also did many things they didn’t particularly like doing and endured many discomforts, but even at the most difficult, so the story is told, they maintained a sense of excitement, hope, and promise on their journeys, taking great deal of pride in their endurance, ingenuity, and tenacity.

This is the spirit and worldview we need to foster today. Not one of doom and gloom. Not one of denial. Not one of hedonistic fatalism or an endless search for easy substitutes. But one of hope for a new world composed of grown-ups who learn, innovate, solve problems, fend for themselves together and take on their journey with the determination and enthusiasm that a child brings to learning to walk, riding a bike, and mastering the other tasks of growing up.

There are still elders among us who remember elements of this old story. They remember times when grandparents passed on treasured, well-cared-for belongings to their grown children who welcomed and treasured them in turn. They remember times when folks were proud to make their own clothes, can their own food for winter, bake their own bread, and save for a rainy day.

We can encourage folks to reach out to this older generation and listen to their memories of the far different, nearly forgotten stories that sustained our ancestors. As permaculturist Marty Falkenstein of Falcon Ecological Design in Eureka Springs, AR, urges her clients, “Let’s return to our roots. Let’s tap into our DNA! We ‘re the descendants of survivors!

Coming soon - Helpful Mantras for Pioneering This New World
Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: 26 Things One Can Do Right Now

A Helpful List from Peak Oil Blues
by Sarah Anne Edwards, PhD

A line from a novel caught my attention last night. "You can't work out anxiety arising from circumstances that remain out of your control," the main character asserted. I'm sure this is what many of our clients and even we may feel at times. But it's not true. As Viktor Frankl pointed out so poignantly in his classic book Man's Search for Meaning, in which he shares what he learned from surviving life in a Nazi consentration camp, we are always able to determine the meaning we place on our circumstances and what the actions we choose to take within their limits.

In other words, we can take action despite uncertainty.

One way to describe anxiety is as psychic energy with nowhere to go. So taking action can reduce anxiety by allowing our concerns to flow into something that is meaningful with the reality of our circumstances.

In the June 18th issue of Peak Oil Blues, which she founded, Kathy McMahon, Psy.D. lists 26 Things We Can Do Right Now to Manage Your Anxiey. Each one is a practical step we can take every day. As I review the list I find I'm already taking and appreciate doing most of the things on the list, but I also notice that, as she also points out, a key to their actually reducing anxiety is to make sure the steps we choose are ones we're comfortable taking.

Dianne Stafford, a reporter for the Kansas City Star who interviewed us last week for a column called "Take Time to Take Control," told us that not a day goes by when at least one letter to editor appears expressing anger about having to stop driving their giant SUVs, recycle their trash or other steps for living "green." Clearly doing such things from a sense of guilt or social pressure risks simply transforming whatever real concerns we might otherwise feel into anger, resentment, and rebellous determination to do more of the very things that underlie the causes of our concern.

McMahon's list of provides such a wide range of options for action - from look at cash you're wasting to seek out quality - that almost everyone can find one or more they will feel comfortable with. So, take a look. I think it can be a very useful tool to helping our clients find steps they can comfortably take to shift their anxiety to action.

One I found personally appealing is "Imagine a vision for a future you’d be willing to live in. ... Go ahead. Imagine the worst. Then, visualize how you can live a satisfying life through the worst of it, and what will make it worthwhile."

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: An Inspiring Response

Eureka Springs, AR, Sets an Example of What's Possible
by Sarah Anne Edwards, PhD

Eureka Springs, AR, is actively taking on a number of simultaneous efforts to address their eco-nomic challenges. While many communities have yet to respond or have gotten bogged down, this community is moving ahead, doing the very things we’ve been writing about here.

Planet Home, for example, is a volunteer group of concerned citizens who are calling attention to global warming and peak oil and busily enlisting folks to take action on many fronts. I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on one of their planning meetings where I was welcomed and inspired.

In just the one year since they came together, Planet Home has produced four brochures – Live Green, Drive Smart, Build Green and Buy Local. The brochures not only provide helpful information but also spur commitment to making specific changes in one’s daily life. Each brochure includes a “Did You Know?” section that presents a bulleted list of facts we should be aware of. For example, did you know:
· A dripping faucet or a leaking toilet can waste 20 gallons of water a day?
· 40% of energy used for electronics in your home is used while these devices are turned off?
· Since the 1950’s, new houses in the U.S. have more than doubled in size, while family size is shrinking?
· Building bigger creates more pollution and consumes more land and materials?
· An average fruit or vegetable travels over 1,500 miles, but only 56 miles when bought from a local grower?
· Farmers, on average, keep only 9 cents of every dollar spent at traditional food markets, but 80 to 90 cents of every dollar spent at farmers markets?
· Raising miles per gallon standards to 40 mpg for all vehicles would save more oil than we can get from the Persian Gulf, the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, and California offshore drilling combined?
· Improving standards to 40 mpg would save the average vehicle owner $2,200 at the gas pump over the life of their vehicle?

Along with a list of websites and other resources where one can learn more, each brochure invites readers to join others in committing to a Personal Yearly Action Plan of carry out up to a dozen specific, practical steps “Change This Situation!!!” For example:

· I/We will turn and unplug electronic devices when not in use, including AC adapters and chargers.
· I/We will use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
· I/We will reduce our home size by 20% or more.
· I/We will make use of natural shade and good ventilation to reduce energy used for cooling.
· I/We will survey local options first before using the Internet or corporate-based sources when considering a purchase.
· I/We will look for and favor local and regional products when shopping at supermarkets and others stores.
· I/We commit to driving less and to combining errands.
· I/We will drive smart by going easy on the brakes and gas pedal, reducing time spent idling and unloading unnecessary weight from the vehicles.
Participants who pledge to a yearly action plan of their choice earn 500 points for each action they complete and are awarded a special Planet Home Pin to wear at the end of the year. Though Planet Home planners were unaware of it this at the time they created this program, it’s an excellent example of social marketing and one of the first I’ve seen undertaken and implemented by volunteer citizens.

Planet Home has also established a well-attended farmer’s market and has a booth where they distribute brochures and raise funds by selling stainless steel water bottles and large cloth over-the-shoulder shopping bags made from recycled men’s shits. Easy-to-use patterns are available for those who would like to make their own recycled shopping bags.

To support local businesses they have conducted a Local Shopping Day, negotiating a special discount at participating stores for that day. They also sponsor periodic, well-attended film showings and presentations. In August, for example, they’re airing a film on Peak Oil. In September they’re holding an event to demonstrate a variety of energy-saving alternatives for personal transportation, such as motorized bikes or scooters. Folks will have a chance to try out the various options.

Now in the works is a Time Bank whereby local residents can exchange services without exchanging cash and a search is underway for a site where an eco-village can be developed.

While in Eureka I also met with Barbara Harmony, coordinator of the city’s Springs Committee, a group of volunteers working as a sub-committee of the Eureka Parks and Recreation Commission. Their mission is to develop community awareness and involvement in protecting, preserving and restoring the city’s namesake - the pure, clean spring waters that once flowed abundantly throughout the area. Growth of the city has dramatically compromised the springs.
The Springs Committee has developed a four-color Citizens Guide to the local watershed that provides both information about the springs and specific steps one can take to make a difference when landscaping, building, and dealing with stormwater runoff or sewage lines.

They offer a variety of protection workshops, have created a comprehensive database of information on each local spring, updated a complete map of Eureka Springs which includes spring locations, a water quality monitoring project, and attractive medallions for all city storm drains that read “Drains to the Springs.” Another example of effective social marketing.

Barbara and others had been working on local water issues well before the Springs Committee formed in 2005. In 2001, she was involved in the One Clean Spring project to restore at least one of the original natural springs. Concerned Citizens, another group of water activists she was involved with, organized in 1979 and later became the National Water Center, Eureka Springs. It remains active today cultivating and articulating clean water practices based upon appropriate use of technology and personal responsibility.

I found the enthusiasm and commitment of the volunteers in Eureka Springs and their many accomplishments most inspiring. I was especially impressed to learn that, unlike so many similar efforts in other communities that struggle to keep interest from waning and projects from stalling, this community’s level of participation is holding steady and growing. Most of the people involved in the founding of the National Water Center, for example, are still active in various issues. One explanation may be lie in how they approach achieving their goals. “To us” their website explains, “the process of cultivating clean water consciousness is just as important as the goal. Therefore, the primary parameter for our organization is to have "fun" while we carry on with the work.”

Patrice Gros, of Foundation Farms and Planet Home member, believes the reason they have been able to sustain their momentum and continue to generate large turnouts for their events is that they have a small core of very active, committed people who don’t go away, allowing many others to be involved more sporadically. “It’s like a growing a plant,” Gros explains. “If the root is there the plant can still grow once the weather changes.” He also points out that they had a very energetic, charismatic speaker, John Seed, come to Eureka to launch Planet Home and motivate people to get involved.

The example Eureka Springs is setting demonstrates how we can address the eco-nomic anxiety and concerns gripping our country by making simple changes in our personal lives and joining locally with others to preserve, restore, and create communities where we can live successfully in harmony with nature.
(c)Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008.
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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Eco-Anger: A Worldview Under Threat, Part 1

An Eye-Opening Personal Experience

I always wondered why professionals reading my eco-anxiety blog often prefer to e-mail their experiences and comments privately instead to posting them on the site. After opening my e-mail the morning the Fox News Hornet’s Nest article I was interviewed for as an ecopsychologist (and grossly misrepresented in) broke, I think I understand why.

In The Waking-Up Syndrome, Linda Buzzell-Saltzman and I identify typical stages people going through in coming to grips with the environmental issues we’re facing and their impact on our way of life. These stages were part of what I shared with the Fox reporter. Although she didn’t mention them, the e-mail and blog posts I received once the article appeared provide an eye-opening snap-shot of where a considerable number of people in our society are in this process right now. You might be surprised.

In short, there’s a lot of eco-anger out there. Possibly as prevalent as eco-anxiety and, most likely, a defense against it. It’s surprisingly virulent, certainly enough so to explain why many professionals exploring this topic might be hesitant to say much about their views on it in a public.

Here, in their own words,* is a summary from the 19 pages of comments I received. Some of them may be directed toward the other therapists cited in the article, as I do not do eco-therapy myself; only offer coursework for professionals. The comments include most of the kind of reactions we find people have to information they’d rather not deal with but find increasing harder to avoid. (*Some basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation have been corrected.)

Stage One: Denial

With recent documentaries, widespread news reports, and nearly unanimous scientific consensus on the challenges arising from environmental issues, it has to be harder now to deny their existence or significance. This may account for why there were not too many outright denials and for the edgy tone of those striving to discount the significance of what they have acknowledged.

Not a problem:
· “There is no global warming problem. It’s been proven. Unfortunately it’s the minority that makes the biggest noise and the only reason it’s in the news is because it sells.”
· “You all go crazy over something that doesn’t exist.”
· “What causes an individual to disregard 50% of the scientific community and cling to the other half that causes you to become paranoid?”
· “Many scientists do not agree with the global warming theories. In fact this winter was one of the coldest on record in some places.”
· “… this anxiety arises from imagined causes … [by] the self-deluded sufferer.”
· “The Bible says that things will spiral out of control as the Last Days draw near. Things are NOT going to get better, they will get worse! … But for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, we see these signs and are filled with excitement and hope, for we know that the end of all things draws near.”

Not a significance problem:
· “… global warming isn’t so much a threat as it is a phenomenon of social hysteria.”
· “Whale populations are devilishly difficult to estimate because they spend most of their time underwater.”
· “Fresh water [from melting ice caps] will reduce salinity … and start a new ice age … think how joyous this will be for the polar bears.”
· “Not nearly the issue it’s claimed to be …”
· “It’s really taking away from the real problems facing our society, such as pervasive premarital sex, pornography, divorce, hatred, and the overall moral degradation of society.”

Not a problem anything can be done about:
· ”[Global warming] is caused by the sun’s natural cycles and the earth’s natural orbital variation.”
· “Nothing mankind can do about it. Relax. Evolution is extinction”
· “You are not single-handedly responsible for the environment and there are many factors that are simply out of our control. If you have a Bible read the Genesis account of creation.”

Stage Two: Semi-Consciousness

Now that it’s harder to ignore either the existence or significance of our environmental challenges and the need to do something about them, the majority of the comments were the kind of offensive or defensive reactions typically seen in the second stage of the Waking-Up Syndrome.

This is a time in the process when doubts begin to creep in, but are staunchly defended against. Most likely the degree of anger expressed is correlated to the degree of effort required by the person to maintain his or her views in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

Although Al Gore was not mentioned in the article, he got a lot of the blame.
”Al Gore is a hypocrite … Those SUV’s he owns and how about that mansion …”
“You are unfortunately one of the many who have succumbed to Al Gore’s new way of making himself a lot of money.”
”Keep giving your money to Al Gore and car companies that make hybrid cars.”
”There is a lot of money to be made in this global warming thing. Just ask Al Gore.”
”He does the same [he] preaches against. He is a con man.”
”Try thinking for yourself. You’ve been duped [by A Gore].”

But Gore certainly didn’t get all the blame:
”Your anxiety is the result of too much education and not having a real job.”
“A PhD! All that money, all that time spend on ‘higher education’ – all wasted.”
“Just another way for you and others to be a victim.”
“[This is the result of] past gross negligence on the part of those claiming imminent dire consequences from human economic and recreational activities.”
”Your moving to [where you live] is part of the problem.”
“You must give up your politics … and conform to God.” (The article made no reference to politics or religion.)
”Give up Liberalism and instead. I encourage you to become an American once again.”
”You are using the issue to promote eco-psychology and earn a nice living off the unfounded fears of others.”
“What you’re doing is unethical; feeding into your clients’ anxiety to make a quick buck.”
”What she is really suffering is the experience of thinking she is able to make a difference in the world.”
”Here is the subliminal influence of the Marxist philosophhy.”
”You are riding the wave of mis- and dis-information provided by Global Warming scammers.”
”It’s a throught disorder created by insufficient rational (adult) investigation.”

“Oh my, thanks for the laugh. This is too funny.”
“You shouldn’t vote in the election because your vote wastes paper and would seriously damage the planet.”
”ROFLMAO 'Ecopsychologist'! LOL! That is the most ridiculous thing I have read all week! … Hilarious!”
”[You] need to have a talk with my old friend Johnny Walker--or another buddy Jack Daniels. Besides neither come in six packs so [you don’t] need to worry about some dolphin getting his nose caught in one of those plastic six pack rings and starving to death and when the bottle is empty you can shove used toilet paper in it and keep it as a prize.”

“I hope more and more of us get more extreme in our consumption.”
“I just bought a GMC 2500HD Xtreme … and I could care less how much it costs to fill it up or how much it uses.
”This is how I deal with the ever-increasing eco-stress of today: I use only materials made of entirely plastic and … throw them away by placing them in a large 55 gal.drum and burning them. I love to watch the thick black smoke rising high in the sky wondering if people in the next county can see it or I just toss the barrel in the river … Oh, I do try and hug a tree … when I cut down one for firewood.”

· “She’s just trying to sell her own ecotherapy by convincing others that their illness is real. Barnum would be proud.”
· “You should consider a hobby.”
· “Stop blaming everyone else for your situation.”
”Eco-therapy! Try something like real work and a belief in God.”
· “Way too many people overeact to the hype and exaggeration rampant within the environmental movement.”
· “Get a life. Get the facts.”
· ”Self-indulgent sufferer.”
· ”You eco-freaks”
· “You ignorant slut.”
· “Outright malpractice.”
· ”The whole stupid article was just an unpaid commercial … what a freakin’ scam artist.”


You might be wondering why I’ve didn’t include any examples from those who empathize with those quoted in the article and their concerns. That’s because there were none. Nor was there any anger expressed about the damage we’ve done to the environment that has led to the issues we face. Also missing were any comments expressing anger that the public has been purposely kept in the dark about these challenges until recently, despite their being foreseen long ago (see Everything’s Cool) when we could have more easily addressed them.

The absence of any such comments can probably be accounted for by the fact they arose from a tongue-in-cheek, make-fools-of article on Fox News. Anger about those things is more common in later stages of the Waking-Up Syndrome, specifically Stage Four (The Point of No Return), and Stage Five (Despair, Guilt, Depression and Powerlessness). Clearly those in this audience with strong opinions were not at any of other stages yet.

So these comments are by no means representative of the general US population, among whom polls show 62% either worry about the environment “a great deal” or a “fair amount.”

These comments represent the anger, beliefs, and coping strategies of a certain element of the population. The culprits behind eco-anxiety in their minds include Al Gore, people who want to make a buck, having too much education, a lack of morals, too little education, pursuing the wrong career, and misguided political or religious views.

In Eco-Anger Part 2 I will address why I believe there is so much eco-anger in these early stage among this population and how to we might best respond to it.

© Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008
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Eco-Anger: A Worldview under Threat, Part 2

Personal Insights into What’s Up

After receiving 19 pages of comments from the eco-angry in the two days following the Fox News Hornet’s Nest (summarized in Part I of this series), I to wanted to understand why I was so surprised with the degree and nature of the anger being expressed. Having identified the stages one goes through in Waking-Up Syndrome, I knew anger was part of the process, but why so early in the process, why so personal, and why toward such seemingly unrelated targets?

I have primarily been interacting with people who have already past their Moment of Realization and are already concerned or with people who weren’t aware enough yet to give anything more than a passing brush off of the topic. So I hadn’t realized just how difficult the transition from oblivious to get-out-of-my-face-with-this-stuff-I-don’t-want-to-see can be.

That so much anger was expressed in those two days with such intensity suggests to me how much more difficult it is to brush this topic off now. As evidence of the problems escalates throughout the global economy and in world-wide weather patterns, media has intensified. Scientists and other experts once marginalized are now in the spotlight. Now that it's harder to ignore what going on, we’re seeing a more escalated response than when these problems were either kept in the closet or less obvious in our daily life. Still … here’s how I’ve come to understand what’s behind the eco-anger I encountered.

Why So Much Eco-Anger?

As we fumble our way through childhood to emerge finally as adults, we get deeply attached to our worldview, or what neuro-linguistic programmers Richard Bandler and John Grinder call our “reality strategy.” We figure out as best we can how to understand life and how the world works. Our resulting worldview becomes the foundation for our definition of who we are, our relationship to others, what we are to do and not to do, what we value and what we don’t, and what it all means for our future.

Even an inkling that we might have to significantly revise our worldview is a threatening proposition. To challenge it destabilizes everything we’ve built our lives upon. We will go to great extremes to avoid having to suffer the shock, trauma, disillusion, and disorientation that come with discovering that the world is fundamentally not as we believe it to be. We know all at a visceral level that it’s literally not possible to function effectively without a workable worldview, but we can’t go out and buy a new one at the store or bid for one on E-Bay. You can’t even go pick one up in a weekend workshop or by watching a DVD, though such experiences could sometimes be a first step to rebuilding one.

Should there be any doubt how threatening a challenge to our wordview can be, just think of the reactions to Copernicus who escaped persecution only by his death when he asserted that the world was not flat. Or to Bruno, who was imprisoned and burned at the stake, and Galileo, whose works were prevented from distribution because their findings challenged such the prevailing view that the sun revolves around it. Think how the emotional reactions even to this day of Darwin’s demonstration that species evolve over time.

Hopefully the realities of environmental change will not engender reactions as extreme as these, but it is precisely that level of threat to our reality strategy Americans are being confronted with today. The scope of environmental changes and their economic impact are forcing us to realize that the view of reality that underlies our anything is possible, we can have it all, culture no longer jives with the reality we’re experiencing. That’s what going down the rabbit hole of The Waking-Up Syndrome is all about.

How Should We React?

As I pointed out in Why Eco-therapy? nature-based counseling or education is an effective, non-threatening way for people to voluntarily reconstruct a worldview with a workable relationship to the natural world. However, individuals who are in early-stage eco-anger are usually not seeking help to deal with their feelings. They see others as having a problem, not themselves. But unless we withdraw and hide our understanding of today’s realities, we will invariably run smack dab into eco-anger at times, just as I did.

So, here are a few of the conclusions I’ve reached about how to understand and respond to eco-anger when it comes our way. I’ll be interested to hear your ideas and thoughts.

1. Don’t tread where uninvited.

No one can force someone else to change his or her worldview. We can’t compel anyone into a Moment of Realization. In fact, research by Zachary Tormala of Stanford University and others shows that even when presented with good strong arguments, those who are intent on resisting a message may become even more entrenched, obdurate, and determined to hold on their viewpoints.

This was evident from the comments from Part I. Consider that these folks took time to step away from their lives to share their views and to attack someone they didn’t know who was concerned about the environment. There was no indication they were doing this as part of a job or a school assignment, so it seems they were feeling a fervent need to defend their worldview against something as insignificant the experience of someone else.

Chances are they’re not at all interested in either information or help, so I would say, let’s don’t mess uninvited with someone’s reality strategy, especially when even the simplest comments get them riled up.

Each person needs to come to his or her own Moment of Realization, or not, in their own time. Usually that only comes about after some dramatic experience that causes one to rethink all their preconceptions about life. Usually it involves some personally traumatic challenge, like a life-threatening situation, the tragic loss of loved loves, or an economic or natural catastrophe. Something that shatters a worldview ill-equipped to comprehend or guide through such circumstances.

Catastrophes of this magnitude loom on the horizon for most of us today. Just this week, for example, there have been an unusual numbers of fires in Florida, floods in the mid-Atlantic, and tornadoes in the Midwest, killing many and destroying whole towns. Homes in the northeast are facing what’s being called the “heat or eat crisis.” An April article in the Wall Street Journal urged Americans to start hoarding food. Last year 405,000 people lost their homes. Some then later lost their belongs when they defaulted on storage unit payments, a phenomena that’s up 50% in some Midwestern areas.

Occurrences such as these have not been in our picture of life in America, the land of abundance and opportunity. But now such catastrophes can occur at any moment and when they do, even the most resistant usually begin to seek a new way to understand and make sense of what is occurring.

2. Don’t take it personally.

While, as in the case of the comments summarized in Part I, eco-anger is often personalized and may be directed at us, our feelings, or our beliefs, it is only indirectly about us. By being who we are, thinking what we think, and feeling what we feel are reminders of what someone faces doesn’t want to deal with.

Admittedly some of the comments directed towards me were a bit difficult to take. For example, it didn’t feel good to have some one ask me to commit suicide, demean my profession, call me a scam artist, or label me a slut. But at the same time, since the people writing them don’t know me, these comments are not about me. They are assumptions and projections drawn with no basis in fact. When we consider objectively what is being expressed we can see them in the recitation of passé information; attributions of underhanded motives; name-calling; demeaning intelligence, education, or a profession; making fun of and mocking someone’s concerns.

There is no value in debating such points. No need to defend Al Gore or our own motives as professionals. Such charges are simply something to grasp onto, as way to negate what threatens someone’s worldview and leaves them feeling vulnerable.

We can only step back and get out the way of such anger. Acknowledge how desperate these individuals must feel and how the attacks they choose are coming from their worldview, one in which people rip each other off, do what they do simply for money, take unfair advantage of each other, or have distorted views because of their education, politics or religious differences. All that may have a lot to do with why we have the problems we do, but not much do with why we worry about their impact on our lives and what we can do the change them.

3. Patience and understanding, please.

Those of us dealing with today’s environment and economic issues have been through our own stages of denial and doubt. We know how unpleasant it is to come to grips with what’s happening to the planet and to our lives.

As I pointed out to the Fox reported, the leaders in this field talk openly about their on-going angst even as they come to acceptance. Johanna Macy, Carolyn Baker, Tim Bennett, Sally Erickson, Daniel Quinn, Derrick Jensen, Jerry Mander, Chellis Glendinning, Richard Heinberg, Thomas Berry, Bill McKibben, Ross Gelbspan, the list goes on. This is a difficult time, painful to come to grips with.

We know how shattering the loss of one’s entire worldview can be. We know it’s understandable to desperately cling to the worldview we’ve built over a lifetime that’s gotten us through to where we are and that we believe will to take us to where we want to go from here. Knowing and living with this challenge ourselves is a large part of why we can be of help to others.

Each person has their own reasons for resisting the issues we’re facing. Often it is religious beliefs. It may be financial. One’s career, health or way of life may be at stake. Most certainly, there’s something important to them they cannot fathom how to understand or protect themselves from if they abandon the worldview upon which it is based.

After all, for more than 50 years titans of government and industry remained in their own state of denial and discounting about issues such as global warming, resource depletion and population pressure. For example, in 1956 Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbert was invited to give speech on the overall state of the world energy situation to the American Petroleum Institute. When transcripts of his now famous and well-documented prediction that oil reserves would be on the decline were pre-released, he was asked by panicked executives to “tone it down,” and take out parts that might be viewed as “sensational.” Hubbert’s, amazed reply: “Nothing sensational about it, just straightforward analysis.”

Later he found the tension level at Shell was very high. His speech, he reported, “caused a jolt… The first reaction was honest incredulity. Then the industry split. One side refused to accept the situation and started changing the figures. The other side, … found they could not change the figures.” (See Shell Execs Were Briefed on Peak Oil in 1956 – Tried to Silence Hubbert.)

Just this past Easter, over fifty years later, Shell Oil ran a full-page color ad explaining why we must reduce our use of fossil fuels. It took them a long time to get there. Can we expect more of others who are only now hearing such news?

So, as Kubler-Ross emphasizes in dealing with the anger often associated with grief, we can empathize with the feelings underlying the vitriol of eco-anger. We can acknowledge how frustrating it must be to be deluged with information we don’t want to hear. We can be patient and understanding. But then we must get on with the matters at hand.

4. Focus on what need doing that can be done.

There is much that needs doing in our own lives and in our communities in response to today’s challenges. There are many to reach out to who are eager for information, ideas, support. This is where our attention must be. We can’t let angry denials draw us away from the urgent tasks as hand, many of which I have written about in other blog posts.

One of the most important things we can do is to begin developing and setting forth a worldview and ways of living that provide for a workable relationship with the natural world. As we do this, the threat to others will lessen. They see there are other ways that actually work, not just in Al Gore’s presentations, not just in a text book or on a DVD, but good, maybe better, at least satisfactorily different, ways to see the world that will give us and our children a more secure future.


Neither eco-anxiety nor eco-anger is a mental illness. They are both natural reactions to real concerns about the limits of the environment that make it impossible for us to continue living as we have. The adjustments we face are concerning and it is natural not to want to face them. But reality has a way of imposing itself upon us whether we want to see it or not. That’s what the Waking Up Syndrome is about. It’s the process we go through as we come to accept an enormous change in our perception of reality.

Fortunately we are a marvelously adaptive and creative species. We can each move as best we can at our own pace through the process of accepting what is and what will be and the role we want to play in it. And allow others do the same.
© Sarah Anne Edwards, 2008
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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Eco- Anxiety: Why Eco-Therapy?

What It Is, What It Isn't, Why It Can Help

Recently a number of news articles have featured eco-anxiety. Often they also refer to eco-therapy as an emerging way to handle concerns about environmental change and its economic impacts. While such feelings arguably should not be considered mental illness, many people are troubled on one or more levels about what is happening with the environment. Who are they and why can eco-therapy help?

At one level many, like hunters, fishermen, outdoor enthusiasts, as well as environmentalists, are distressed about the loss of valued ecosystems like prairies, forests, and wetlands. Or the plight of endangered species such as polar bears and their cubs that are starving as their habitats degrade or disappear. Many also have concerns about re-occurring or on-going drought, floods, and other weather events their communities are recovering from.

On another level many are becoming concerned about how climate change, dwindling natural resources, and population pressure are affecting their daily life, eroding their health and threatening the comfortable lifestyle they enjoy or their hopes for the future. Rising prices of basics like food, health care, gasoline and fuel for home heating heighten concerns about rising levels of pollution and pesticide-based foods.

Still others are feeling isolated and persecuted for having such concerns, while others are uncomfortable with growing social pressures to change the way they live and are feeling judged, angry, or guilty about pursuing the life they’re accustomed to.

So growing numbers of people are seeking information, guidance, and support for how to respond both to their feelings and the pressures of today’s new economic and environmental realities. Unfortunately the examples given in many of the recent articles mentioning what eco-therapy is and how it might help address eco-concerns tend to verge on the ridiculous and provide a highly distorted image of what it offers.

It is not, for example, about getting people to change their light bulbs, take cold showers or hug a tree. Nor is it particularly “new” or limited to eco-concerns.

Just What Is It?

Ecopsychology, eco-therapy, and the natural systems thinking process (NSTP) are educational and psychotherapeutic approaches for learning to live more harmoniously with oneself and one’s environment, both natural and manmade. Though they involve interacting with nature, they can be practiced virtually anywhere and do not require individuals go to a distant, remote, or wild setting, unless they choose to.

Eco-modalities have been used with success to address a wide range of personal, social, educational, medical, and psychological issues including:

· Relieving stress
· Improving school and on-the-job performance
· Reducing anxiety
· Recovering from depression
· Healing stress-related illnesses
· Ending addictions
· Recovering from illness or surgery
· Boosting energy and relieving fatigue
· Improving self-confidence and self-esteem
· Gaining clarity on one's life
· Building community
· Getting a good night's sleep
· Finding the right career
· Simplifying one’s life
· Building healthy loving and working relationships

They have shown to be valuable tools in such programs as:

· Psychotherapy, psychiatry
· Nursing and hospital care
· Learning disabilities pre-school thru secondary education
· Substance abuse
· Holistic health practices
· Career counseling
· Personal growth program
· Career and business consulting
· Preventative health care
· Weight-loss programs

Why Ideally Suited for Addressing Eco-Concerns

Eco-modalities are particularly well-suited for responding to all types of environmental concerns for four reasons.

1. Being in a pleasant natural setting, be it a backyard, park, seaside or forest, puts one in a relaxed physiological state that’s conducive to having and benefiting from new learning experiences. Being in nature allows one to temporarily step away from the weight of daily concerns, encounter a milieu different than customary, open closed-down senses, and release rigid or distressed minds.

2. Interacting with nature through particular eco-activities provides a non-threatening way to experiencing an alternative frame of reference and value system that is more suitable to our current-day environmental and economic realities. Many of the problems we face today are the direct result of living in a society that is at odds with the both inborn human nature and the earth’s ecology. Much of the distress both the planet and we are experiencing now is a result of this mismatch. Being in and interacting with nature allows us to experience and learn about a more compatible alternative for how to live.

3. Learning directly from nature is an unmediated process. Because nature teaches in wordless, nameless ways, we can step outside the limitations of current ways of thinking, experience more harmonious ways of being, and then return to articulate them verbally both to ourselves and others in terms we understand without inadvertent or preconceived pressure or limitations by a therapist, educator or society as a whole.

4. Each nature experience is highly personal, providing opportunities to access the specific lessons a given individual needs and is willing to absorb at a given time. What is learned from a particular nature activity usually differs from person to person because we’re each attracted to those aspects of nature that will provide us with the lessons we most need and are ready to integrate.

There are many resources with information about ecopsychology, eco-therapy, and natural systems thinking. Here a few:

Children and Nature by Peter H. Kahn and Stephen R. Kellert. MIT Press, 2002.
Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World by Joanna R. Macy and Molly Young Brown. New Society Publishers, 1998.
Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind by Allen D. Kanner, Theodore Roszak and Mary E. Gomes. Sierra Club Books, 1995.
Reconnecting With Nature: Finding Wellness Through Restoring Your Bond With the Earth, 3rd edition, by Michael J. Cohen. Ecopress, 2007.

© Sarah Anne Edwards, PhD, 2008
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Friday, April 18, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: Fox News Stirs Hornet's Nest

Setting the Record Straight

Earlier this month I was contacted by someone representing herself as a reporter for Fox News seeking information about eco-anxiety. The resulting article stirred up a hot bed of outrage, anger, and hatred after it was picked up on Rush Limbaugh and blogs of similar ilk. Here's what I actually told Fox News and what came out instead.

I reviewed the basic concepts of I’ve presented here on this blog, focusing on the point that eco-anxiety is a misnomer because our concerns about environmental changes and their effect upon our US economy and daily lives are neither vague nor irrational, thus not a form of mental illness

I also described the two levels of eco-concern are people feeling. The first being concerns about the loss of natural habitats or species they value, such as disappearing wetlands or prairies. The second being when people realize that environmental changes are affecting our daily lives in terms of rising costs of basics we depend on for our way of life. Afterwards the reporter wrote me to ask how my eco-concerns were affecting my life, which included describing the time, effort, and stress involved in retrofitting an older energy-inefficient home, reducing our $850/month propane bill, and building up the strenght to lug 40 lb bags of pellets up and down stairs.

Unfortunately the ensuing article indicated that I’m suffering from a new disorder called eco-anxiety and that I am worrying myself sick about paper towels and plastic bottles. It also suggested that ecopsychologists are recommending, hugging a tree as the cure for this new disorder. Although the reporter expressed to me her own environmental concerns, obviously this was to be yet another of the mocking tongue-in-cheek articles I’ve been concerned about seeing in previous coverage on this topic.

Her take in the article hit the Rush Limbaugh show shortly after it was out and this blog has been deluged with outraged and outrageous comments. There are many useful illustrations of The Waking-Up Syndrome within these comments, so I am collecting them and will summarize them in a future blog. Meanwhile, for those visiting here as a result of this hornet’s nest, I would like to clarify several things.

First, I am not suffering. I am taking action on both a personal and community level as I’ve describe in the blog on Intelligent Response. Second, I am not worrying about either paper towels or plastic bottles, though I realize some people might. Instead of being overly concerned about things we can’t or are not ready to change, it is my experience that the best way to handle our concerns is get busy, taking action to make the changes we can and are ready to make to protect our selves and the environment. Third, I do not believe, or at certainly least hope, that no reputable ecotherapist would recommend hugging a tree as the way to resolve the eco-nomic concerns so many of us have.

Ecopsychology, by the way, is a educational or therapeutic tool that helpful in understanding how we can live in harmony with ourselves and the environment around us. It can help us understand why we’re experiencing environmental challenges and what we need to do personally and collectively to take better care of ourselves and the environment, thus reducing our stress.

As I pointed out to the reporter during our interview, making changes in the way we live can be stressful. It may challenge our definitions of who we are, how we thought the world is supposes to work, and our ideas of what’s possible in the future. Stress can cause physical symptoms, or aggravate pre-existing physical vulnerabilities, but stress is an integral part of living in changing times. Understanding what’s happening, knowing about we can do, and joining with others in our community to respond intelligently will reduce both our stress and our concerns.
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