Posts Tagged ‘personal environmentalism’

Limits Sustain People and the Environment

July 15, 2011

Part Five of the series on convergence of environmental and mental health (see part 1 here,  part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here ).

image from http://www.20somethingfinance.com

President Obama is correctly observing that budgetary health depends on incisive and strategic limit setting.The same is true for ecological and psychological health. Most people tend to over correct for problems assuming that only massive overhaul constitutes change. Yet we have evidence to the contrary. NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg has created a sustainable urban ecology and economy by taking small yet systemically coherent steps, see here. Likewise, we can produce psychological and environmental balance by exercising limits without cutting off what is best about the expansive possibilities of our minds and our resources.

Is the United States a culture of excess? Some think so, including Jay Slosar.  My take? People have lost the practice of personal and environmental frugality because technological innovation has been exciting and stimulating, and mostly for the good. How amazing to be able to save lives, prevent disease, feed the hungary! How great to be able to enjoy fresh food in the winter, travel to see loved ones, and to know the world! In pursuit of the possibilities of our modern conveniences, we have all lost track of personal and environmental boundaries.  In the end, our landscapes and our minds do have end points. It may be important to tether the open horizon of expansionism and possibility to inherent psychological and environmental, not to mention budgetary, boundaries.  Working within sustainable boundaries doesn’t mean returning to the caves or preparing for life on another plant.  It means integrating a few old-fashioned rules back into the American lifestyle.

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Going Outside as a Mental Health Strategy

June 27, 2011

Part three of the series on convergence of environmental and mental health (see part 1 here and part 2 here).

Mental health experts (and parents) argue that people of all ages need to spend time outside. Richard Louv has gathered some of the latest research in his two books: Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. It is also true that being outside promotes better environmental stewardship.  Yet most people assume that going outside can only mean wilderness.  A woman once explained, “I can’t figure out how to get outside because I live in the city so I just give in and stop trying.” That is a mistake. The possibilities for outdoor experience are endless no matter where a person lives. So are the psychological benefits as well as the opportunities for sustainable practices. My top three choices for going outside can be found after the jump. (more…)

Eat Food, With Others

June 24, 2011

(The second in a series about the convergence of psychological and environmental health)

photo from AP

One strategy that any person or family can adopt to promote psychological and environmental health is to pay a good deal of attention to what is happening at the kitchen table. Almost five years ago Michael Pollan advised “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” While Pollan emphasized that rule as good for our bodies, and our planet, he didn’t explicitly link it to psychological health. Yet, eating food, not too much, mostly plants is good for our planet, our bodies and our psychological health especially if we recognize the role of relationships in the maintenance and organization of food resources.

In taking a broader view of food that is “at once more cultural and ecological” he suggests thinking “about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship.” Pollan clearly states that, “our personal health is inextricably bound up with the health of the entire food web.”

While he emphasizes health in the bodily sense of the word, it is important to remember that health also means our psychological well being. In addition to the fact that physical well-being enhances mental health, food  can importantly impact mood states.  And it isn’t only the chemical breakdown of foods that can affect our personalities.  The way in which food is distributed also shapes and forms personality. Home cooked soup may contain chemical compounds, forge connections to important people (the forager for ingredients, the cook, and those who share the meal), and symbolically enact care and attachment.

Pollan notes, “Of course when it comes to food, culture is really just a fancy word for Mom, the figure who typically passes on the food ways of the group — food ways that, although they were never “designed” to optimize health (we have many reasons to eat the way we do), would not have endured if they did not keep eaters alive and well.”

His point is that there needs to be a producer of food who understands both the individual needs of eaters, the range of available foods, and the relational complexity in which food is situated.  Yes, it has often been mom, but it can also be dad, or anyone else in a family or a group of eaters. That person is not only taking into account the person’s body. That person also uses food to alter the so-called “chemical” mood of the family or group by providing foods that heal, celebrate, get someone through a hard bout of work, or nurture someone through a loss.

What follows is my psychological elaboration of Pollan’s nine food rules.

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What Are We Doing?

June 22, 2011

(The first in a series about the convergence of psychological and environmental health)

News from the natural world continues to haunt and this report from ISPO (international program on the state of the ocean) warns of a mass extinction in our lifetime. And Al Gore is assailing the Obama administration for its failure to take stronger leadership on climate change. If you add the almost daily onslaught of devastating environmental news to the list of plastics, fuel and energy that the average family in a developed country can’t help but use, it is tempting to call out in anguish, “What are we doing?”  In the face of such compelling doom, most people disconnect, dissociate and deny. It is hard to change behavior in the midst of despair. Yet, while the government continues to jockey and pander in the race to win an upcoming election, a good deal of positive work is being done by psychologists, business leaders and educational institutions in the area of climate growth: changing behavior to more expansively support our ecosystems. So, “What are we doing?” is actually a good question. And the answer is plenty.  No matter who you are or what you do, there is a growing movement of others to whom you can attach yourself and start figuring out your own personal, familial and professional green strategy.

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The Changing Climate Changes Me

May 26, 2011

     Do human beings continue to adapt  to their environments? Are some of those changes psychological? Are humans experiencing subtle alterations in their emotional and cognitive organization in response to climate change? While we ponder these questions with regard to humans, we are noticing suh chnages in other mammals. Antarctic Penguins are being driven from their homes, according to the New York Times.  While those on the peninsula have suffered a catastrophic drop in population, those on Ross Island are making use of other environmental changes in order to adapt. The scientific study and tracking of climate change is based on a belief that all species develop specific adaptations to their environment. Are people, therefore, also already changing in small ways?  My tentative answer, based on case studies and field research conducted during 2009 and 2010, is that the human psyche is shifting in subtle ways to adapt to transforming ecosystems whether they be urban, suburban or rural. The same consumerist processes that are causing careless damage to the earth’s ecosystems have also become a part of people’s personalities.I have a chapter coming out in a forthcoming book edited by Nick Totton and Mary-Jayne Rust.  See a preview of some of my findings after the jump.

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What’s Happening in Your Environment?

January 29, 2011

 

photo by Rolf Hicker at hickerphoto.com

Last June I ran an international webseminar on psychology and the environment. During the first week, people sent in their observations of what was taking place in their localities. While many individual observations seemed small, their number and intensity impacted me. It seemed like people everywhere were noticing something. I am trying to broaden what transpired in that seminar by asking a wider audience of people to share what they know.

What is your environmental story? Is your physical environment important to you?  Have you noticed transformations in the physical landscapes where you grew up or now live? Have you observed any signs of climate change or environmental pollution?  I’m interested in people’s stories about their relationship to nature, to their ecosystem (even urban ones), and to the earth: what you see, think and feel, as well as what you remember. And if you don’t have a story but know people who do, please share this link. Feel free to back channel susanbodnarphd at gmail.com.

Family Life and Sustainability

June 29, 2010

Social change takes place through individual and familial transformations. See this article in The Jewish Week for a personal reflection on what sustainability can look like at home.

Gulf Coast Oil Spill #3

May 20, 2010

The news coming out of the Gulf coast suggests that there is a great deal of denial, at best, or according to some scientists quoted in the NYTimes, an actual  suppression of information.  Brit Hume actually asked, “Where is the oil?” (See it at climateprogress.org).  I suppose he hasn’t had the opportunity to check in with sick fishermen. Just today BP is finally announcing that they may be underestimating the amount of oil washing up onshore.  Excuse me, but wasn’t that obvious?

The general population (outside the Gulf) is paying little attention to this event. There is not as much outrage or concern as may have been expected given public reaction to other crises.  What is going on?  Consider that this event may simply be too big and too frightening.  The human mind shuts down when there is too much stimulation, or, when threatened it shifts into ultra-focus.  This can cause people to diminish and ignore what is happening.  People will blame the government for not acting strongly enough.  Yet we should also not forget that few individuals have demanded that their government take this seriously. For the most part, people here in NYC are enjoying their lattes. While this makes sense given what we know about the mind’s penchant for closing itself off from uncomfortable information, it is the human trait that will most directly lead to our peril.

Yet, there is enough education to counteract the cognitive hyper-focus that keeps threatening events out of an individual’s attentional radius. Look here for a local take on what is taking place in Louisiana right now.  Perhaps what is really making this hard for the average person is that this is the world upon  which we all depend and no one wants to contemplate what it might really mean if this is as bad as it seems.  Plus, acknowledging the magnitude of this disaster confronts us all with the reality that those who we have empowered have taken advantage of our trust.

While it may be hard to accept the magnitude of the oil industry’s betrayal, it does seem as though continued blindness will hurt more. More graphic photos will help break through people’s defenses.  The worse it gets, the more painful, harmful, dangerous and ugly this becomes, the more the citizenry may wake up and demand honesty as well as policy change.  Yet one wonders if it might be too late.

Update

I have been told that a few NYC kids will be holding a bake sale to raise money for Defenders of Wildlife and the NRDC, both of which are raising money for animal support, petition drives for climate change legislation, and to cease offshore drilling as well as legal action.   Let’s see what happens. I’m curious as to how passers-by will respond.

Update

As predicted there is more graphic imagery, and  people are starting to get upset, Chris Matthews calling is the “scariest thing he has ever seen“.  Let’s see what happens to the person in the street.

People Don’t Always Act in their Best Interest

March 9, 2010

from uk.canada.travel/ConsumerWeb/ExperienceDetail...

Some people have been debating whether or not scientists should become climate change activists or if they should stick to the data. The concern is that the general population seems less worried about environmental issues.  Given our culture’s typical reliance on external solutions to problems, it doesn’t surprise me that journalists and pundits are looking to Obama, scientists, activists, politicians and economists to motivate change. As someone who helps people transform less than optimal behavioral problems into opportunities for accomplishment, lets begin with this fact:  People don’t always act in their own best interest.  Usually, what most motivates people to behave in a manner that affirms self and others is direct  emotional enlivenment that connects to an inner conviction or memory.  Let me provide an example from my work to illustrate how it might be possible to get people interested in climate change. (more…)

We the People: A Response to Evan Thomas and Al Gore

March 2, 2010

An adolescent with whom I work discussed the complexity of privilege.  “My parents paid just over $12,000.00 for our family to go on a 5-day wilderness backpacking trip, with a service that provides the gear, the food, a plane to transport you there and a guide. I loved it and it changed me, like any amazing experience your parents buy for you. But the fact that it didn’t come from within me made it seem like another thing that someone gave me. Maybe it would have felt less strange if having that relationship to the wilderness wasn’t something only wealthy people could buy, but just a more natural and expected part of how kids are raised.”

His comment reminded me of a question: how will people who have been raised in a time of excess choose to live sustainable lives ?  Evan Thomas said in this week’s Newsweek, “The problem is not the system. It’s us – our ‘got mine’ culture of entitlement.”  I know the people of whom he writes. They are not of any particular subculture but rather inhabit every landscape from poverty to opulence with a unfamiliarity with limits and boundaries of any kind, as well as personal needs that seem small in comparison to what the planet has to offer.

And, Al Gore is asking these people to be the opposite of who they are in order to save the planet. How does the culture of excess shift gears to become a sustainable one?

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